A friend once told me that the problem with comparing yourself to other people is that you're always comparing your internal life to someone else's external life. You see all your dorkiness, manias, fears, and you hold those up against some super-woman in a sharp dress suit, holding power meetings and jetting off to Geneva. It's an unfair comparison, as inside that mega-woman there might be even more neurosis than is worming around in your own brain. The same is true for naked photos. When I look at naked women, golden light shimmering on their flesh, not a dimple or pimple in sight, I compare them to my stark white self, straight from the shower, wet hair glued to my head, body like something from a medical text book: yes there are two breasts, a belly, outer labia, and a couple of legs below that. Nothing to get excited about.
This month, Patti Davis, the 58 year old daughter of Ron and Nancy Reagan, was photographed naked for More magazine. The picture is shot from behind: her face is mostly obscured by hair; her back, the top of her ass, and her arms look beautifully taut and molded. It is a staged photo, of course, a naked woman who is well-lit and posed to the greatest advantage. This is no different than the naked women in playboy, Penthouse or any other "girlie" magazine. As doctors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists can tell you, looking at naked people is not the same thing as looking at people whose bodies and photos are manipulated in a way that make them more compelling.
Recently I was asked to talk at Naked Book Club that was reading my book, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties. Although all of the members of the Naked Book Club were naked, I didn't undress and join in for precisely the same reason Patti Davis didn't pose for More face-forward, straight out of the shower. I wanted to look better than reality. I told a friend that the only way I would appear undressed was if I could lie on my back, knees bent up to slim my legs, head tilted back to elongate my neck, belly and chest arched up, while I read from a teleprompter hanging somewhere above me. The question is why can't I evolve enough to join the naturally naked crowd? Why do I insist that if anyone views my body, they view it in the best possible light (I'm using the word light literally here)? To be unabashedly naked feels contrary to everything I've sensed from the moment I started developing breasts and hips. Subconsciously I've been trained (through magazines, TV, movies, boyfriends, friends, etc.) to either cover myself up, or expose myself in some modulated state (Wonder Bra and Spanx, anyone?)
My mother-in-law used to say that snow was the great equalizer-covering up the groomed lawns from the un-groomed, the freshly painted homes from the more run-down ones. Unposed, untouched nudity is also the great equalizer-rendering bodies into, well, just bodies. Sure there are people who are stronger, slimmer, curvier, bustier, smoother, more wrinkled. But no matter what your body looks like, if you stand around with your arms dangling, stomach not sucked in, without porn-high boots to accentuate the curve of a back, you look like any rough-heeled nudist at the beach (or the Naked Book Club!).
When it comes down to it, we're all a bunch of sparsely haired apes clomping around in clothes, playing dress up, so we can appear alluring. Remove the clothes and you have to dress up your ape-ness in other ways-through shimmering lotion, fake tans, blood-red nail polish, scraps of lingerie, and your body pushed into poses that you would never hold were you lying around the house alone watching American Idol.
I would love to see a line up of naked celebrities with no special lighting, no high heels, no arms lifted--all of them simply standing as if they were waiting in line at Starbucks. Like houses after a great heavy snow, we'd probably find that ultimately, they're more like us than we'd thought--each one just a slightly different version of the same standard form. Of course, I'd never have the nerve to stand beside them. I'd be the anonymous person in the background, draping my body in swathes of pink satin, trying to hide my normalness the best I can.
Causes Jessica Blau Supports
Baltimore School for the Arts, 826DC, CityLit Project.