The power of naked
Here are the results of my survey of modern naked behaviour. This is not a scientific poll – it is a sounding.
Half of us sleep naked, to the despair of pajama manufacturers. Half of us walk naked around our own houses. Of those who have their own private swimming pools, 90 per cent swim in them naked. Half the British population has stripped for a charity calendar. Perhaps.
Men and women are equally interested in nakedness – being naked and seeing other people naked. Half those studying bare breasts in The Sun every day are female.
There are some national differences. But there is still plenty of nudity even in chilly Britain where we have naked bike rides (sounds uncomfortable), nude days at theme parks, lots of nude beaches, and mediatised nudity on a heroic scale. Nude is no longer especially rude although exposure does not limit the potential for embarrassment.
Nudity is a subject of endless fascination for everybody – moral philosophers, psychologists, artists, editors – but it is a complicated subject. There is a place where nudity segues to perversity and becomes in itself a symptom of madness. What are we to make of all this flesh?
It is timely that Philip Carr-Gomm, a writer in Lewes, Sussex who specialises normally in the mystical and Druidic, should have authored A Brief History of Nakedness (Reaktion Books, London, 2010).
In a lavishly illustrated tour of the horizon, from religious and artistic confrontations with nakedness, to the quotidian nudity of today, Carr-Gomm advances the thesis that there has recently been a fundamental shift in attitudes towards nudity. He posits this began in the sixties and heralded a shifting of the idea of nakedness from something perverted to something socially responsible and even heroic. Even before the body scanners are rolled out to strip us all naked at the airport, this is the age of bare, he proposes.
Perhaps. The sixties were without doubt a social-sexual milestone but a point of departure? I am a little more sceptical. I’d propose that the Internet has had more to do with demystifying the human body – of which there is no nook or cranny that is not a click away. The counter-argument, and Carr-Gomm makes it himself, is that human fascination with the nude is eternal. So technology has really changed nothing other than to make the nude prosaic and maybe slightly less interesting. Books. Films. Videotape. The Internet. Nudity is a cross-platform driver. There has been a widening experience of nudity since the sixties, but this has also coincided with the availability of cheap holidays to climates where it is fun to be nude.
I am not certain whether nakedness is a serious subject to be lightly treated, or the opposite. Philip Carr-Gomm obviously isn’t completely sure, either, because this is a serious and funny book that is certainly revealing, and also very naughty, with extraordinary pictures of naked people, often behaving very oddly. The copy I received did not have an index but there will be one when the book is released. This ought to be something of a classic in its own right, given the depth and eccentricity of the subject. An amazing story. Read it naked.