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Nudity in public vs. nudity in art.

By Elliot J. Nitkin

had a very interesting human experience, some years back.  I found myself in the unintended position of viewing some women in a manner more intimate than appropriate.  Lately I find myself wondering why the standards of nudity have changed so much since my childhood.  I am not a prude, I just find it getting to be over-done.

After having re-looked at some well-done photographic art, I began to think about the difference between experiencing nudity in public versus nudity in art.

Is there a way to show nudity properly, without putting people into unwanted interactions with strangers?

The artistic subject matter was photographs of young couples from around the world, some of whom were topless.

The in-person experience was different. Let me set the scene for you:

Retail store, lots of people, various ages, ethnicities and backgrounds and about half were men and half were women.

Here is what concerned me:  there were a number of women whose shirts left little, if anything, to the imagination. While I am always one to keep abreast of fashion, I was not comfortable with viewing their breasts IN THEIR fashion, so to speak.

While I am trying to find some humour in the situation, I’ll bet I know what might be going through the minds of some women reading this:

1.    “What’s the matter, can’t you control yourself?”
2.    “Women can dress as they please, they don’t take orders from men.”
3.    “Stop the oppression of women, they are just breasts.”
4.    “If you don’t like it, don’t look.”
5.    "Stop slut shaming."

Quite frankly, I feel none of these responses are fair.  More to the point they absolve women of their responsibility to participate as social equals.

I believe that true equality has rights, privileges, expectations and responsibilities that are not divisible by any human definition.  What I expect of myself as a Canadian male, I expect of anyone, with the same consequences and the same rewards.

In business I am a consumer, supplier, person, friendly neighbor and basic human being.

As a boyfriend or husband I would view myself in an entirely different fashion (yes, not your business, especially for the purposes of this article, that's the point).

Why shouldn’t I expect the same standard for women?  I do not want to see your breasts as you bend over to show your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband something.  I am certain your breasts have a physical perfection unsurpassed by all other women, with or without the services of a plastic surgeon.

But really, it's none my business.

To me, nudity is a way of showing your partner he or she is special to you, to you and only you; that that person means something to you and you want to mean something to them that no one else means to you.

Call me foolishly romantic.

When I am standing next to you (and especially if your significant other looks like he can chew the glass top off the beer bottle) I start to get somewhat … uncomfortable.

I am intruding on something private and believe me, if I turn my head away, it only makes it more obvious and even more embarrassing; an experience I have had in both a business and a personal setting and could have lived without.

Now the reader might ask, and I want you to ask, if I do not support it in person, why do I support it in art?

Good question.

Art is the portrayal of the human experience; it is not the actual human experience.  There is a barrier between the viewer and the subject that removes the question of personal and involuntary personal interaction. It is a staged interpretation created as a visual essay for the viewer to consider as an intellectual experience.

Art is a presentation of a supposition posed by the artist to suggest an understanding of our experience as human beings.

In the photo essay
“Photographing young couples in bed around the world” the Danish-Dutch photographer Karen Rosetzsky explored young love with all of its hopes, dreams and passions. The work is lovely and the young people in it are intriguing and obviously passionately in love.

Almost all are in an embrace, a few (men and women) are topless and through their interaction we see the wonderment of at least the possibility that falling in love creates.

But here is the thing:

Online I have the choice to look.  The lens and computer screen separates me as the viewer from the people as subject matter.  They are not going to be embarrassed by an accidental display of nudity if I turn away my eyes.  I can let my thoughts run to the message of the art, what the artist is trying to say and what it might teach me.

Try being a heterosexual male in front of a women baring her breasts.  I assure you there is no way to "not look", no way to "avoid eye contact", to be incognito.

The issue speaks to the essence of democracy:  finding compromise.

There are boundaries in life and both genders have to be respected.  Women can rightly expect men not to act like "horn dogs".  However, especially in situations where a man can suffer undo consequences, like a bloody nose or a lost job, women cannot display themselves either.

There is a compromise.

If you want to display yourself, choose the photographic arts.  I really do believe this to be a very valid form of self expression.  Say something of value and encourage debate and feedback.  You will make a positive impact on society.

I just do not have any particular interest to see you and/or suffer the possible repercussions.  And yes, I did “control” myself.

What I question is why a third party decision should require me to have to make this choice?

New addition.

Since I wrote this blog some years ago, I have had a further "experience" with Facebook and Instagram.

I went to post a collage of pieces and it was removed from both services.  Of course, it is perfectly ok for Facebook to sell marketing information to Cambridge Analytica, that didn't do any harm.  But aparently, showing women in striking art, NUDE, is a threat to the mortality of humanity.