Nudity and bravery

Screen grab from Girls
Screen grab from Girls

Nudity is, paradoxically, both emblematic of strength and of vulnerability. Daenerys Targaryen, (spoilers!) emerging from the ashes of her husband’s ritual cremation with dragon triplets, represents strength; with a sense of confidence and self-assuredness, you feel no shame at displaying your body in all its disrobed glory. Conversely, if you want to emphasize someone’s vulnerability, a quick way to accomplish that is to remove their protective armour of clothing—better yet, put them in contrast with someone who’s fully clothed.

Simply put, nudity is manipulated to suit the needs of the story. But what’s tremendously frustrating is the tendency to state that a woman is “brave” if she dares to go bare, particularly if her body doesn’t fit the slim-and-trim archetype of dainty femininity. Lena Dunham is “brave” because she doesn’t cover bits in her Girls sex scenes; a model is “brave” because her belly doesn’t collapse into a concave stomach that defies belief, and is applauded for her courage in showing what real women’s bodies look like.

I think we’re confusing the meaning of being brave—or rather, we’ve become confused to the point of perceiving displays of reality as courageous. Of course it takes a certain amount of spunk to take it all off, whether for cameras or in real life. But we’re taking “brave”—a word associated with wars and political struggle, with asserting your rights, with countless other acts that risk life, limb, and security—and lumping it in with showing off your lady lumps. I’d say that shows a decided misunderstanding of bravery.

My argument gets complicated with the politicization of nudity, where Femen protesters go topless, and the removal of clothing can be associated with removing ties that bind. Nudity in those instances can serve a purpose, and speak to a larger bravery. The fact of removing their clothes takes guts; the fact of protesting and asserting their rights requires bravery. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t the same either.

The thing is, I’m technically arguing over a technicality, a difference in synonym where bravery and guts are likely linked in the thesaurus.

We’ve devalued women’s bodies which don’t the fit the traditional image of beauty, to the point where it requires gallantry to remove one’s clothing, or bravery to wear a bikini to the beach. Saying that a woman is brave for showing off her body suggests that she should be afraid, or ashamed. She has pluck for accepting her body as it is, when really, it should be a total normality to do so. At the very least, saying that a woman is brave perpetuates that idea that the natural state is somehow unnatural.

Women’s worth is forced into holding hands with her physical appearance. We talk about women in relation to their appearances like that’s the single layer that we can judge them on. Emphasizing this further by suggesting that a woman’s bravery is associated with showing off her body, or choosing to forego makeup, or wearing horizontal stripes, not only demeans women and the definition of bravery, it also belittles female bravery to physical appearance. When she’s brave for wearing stripes, is she simply brave for standing up for herself?

“Brave” becomes an all-encompassing word that consequently encompasses nothing at all. You aren’t courageous when you show off your body. You’re a person, with a body that is worth showing off if you want to; if you feel comfortable showing off inches of skin, all the more power to you. It says nothing about your bravery whether you choose to bare it all or not at all.

Hello gorgeous,

Natalie Serafini