Is nudity empowering?

There is something specific about the intimacy of naked. It’s raw, real and transparent. When you stand before another in only your skin, there is no where to hide. It’s beautiful.

But is it empowering? Is it empowering to take that intimacy to the “next level” and share it with the world? Are nude photo shoots another way to dehumanize and objectify women or is it the opposite?

The answer to me is clear as a bell: The empowerment lies in the autonomy of choice.

But here’s the trick: It doesn’t depend on what you think about the woman and her choices, it depends on what she thinks. My friend Jessi Kneeland wrote this beautiful post about her desire to get naked. She waxes poetic on her childhood desire to run around naked, and how glorious she feels in her skin. She doesn’t want it to be misinterpreted as a sexual act but let go of the notion that she can control others’ gaze. I get it. It’s for her.

This last weekend at the goddess gathering, I came in knowing that I wanted to opt out of clothing. I wanted to know if I was comfortable being bear breasted in a space for women where this was an option. I wanted to feel the sun on my breasts, and to enjoy this place where it could be only about me.

My friends made different choices, but all of them thoughtful. Jen Sinkler “dabbled” with an open shirt. My friend Kimbra opted to wear a gloriously low slung dress but didn’t “free the nipple.” My friend K said she is envious of the women who let it out, but that her modesty wasn’t something she was ready to confront. My daughter talked about “boobs for freedom” but prefers being covered. To me, none of those choices were “better.” They were choices. Choices unique to the woman making them, all of them equally empowered in their decisions.


Photo courtesy of Jen Sinkler

I really enjoyed watching my daughter’s gears turn at her own choice.

As I prepared her for the event, I was told to let her know about the nudity. Later that same day we drove by a Hooters restaurant and she asked what happened there. It does look like it’s for children, really. I explained, rather neutrally, about the breast theme. That some people think it’s fun and some people don’t think so. Mommy doesn’t have strong feelings either way. I’m raising a critical thinker, not a clone. I watched her sit in the back seat of the car, connecting dots in her brain. And then she said, “I don’t like that Mommy. I think the boobs at the goddess gathering are about freedom and the boobs at Hooters are for men. I think that’s impolite.”

Impolite is probably not the word she was reaching for, but it’s one she has. I reframed enough to say, “People get to make choices that are right for them, but it sounds like you understand how you feel about that for you. And that’s wonderful.”

The choices we make with our bodies are just that. They are our choices. For me, taking nude photos for my book cover was so empowering. It was a way to put it all out there. To say, “This is exactly who I am. The words. The photos. This is all the way me.” For another woman wearing fabric head to toe may be saying the same thing. Perhaps it’s, “I choose who sees me, I choose how.”

These are not right or wrong answers. They are only what is right or wrong for the individual making them. There are exceptions. Coercion is not empowerment. Abuse is not empowerment. But both of those are the opposite of choice. They are exercising power over another and exposing them in a way they didn’t decide.

My body is not here to be policed by anyone. It is my home. It is not inherently sexual, though my sexuality is mine as well. My body, in short, is mine.

This isn’t about deciding what the “new empowered woman” looks like. To do so is simply more of the same shame. We don’t need to spend more time deciding what the “new skinny” is or what the “new powerful” is. The “new” woman I’m interesting in learning about is me. What do I want? What do I believe in? What’s right for me? When you strip away all of this inherited shame, what do I want for just me?

I’m interested in how other women navigate these choices. But you will never find me judging them or telling them what is wrong. Autonomy is a core value. I offer only peace.

Perhaps that’s why the nudity is so empowering to me.  It’s reclaiming my own autonomy. Being powerful and vulnerable at once. You can’t take shots at me that I won’t receive. You can’t take power from me even if I’m standing before you vulnerable and raw. I carry my power everywhere I go.

The choices I make with my body are mine alone. And I fully honor others’ right to make those choices for themselves.

So is nudity empowering? The choice is. We live in a world that tells us at every turn that something about us is wrong and should be covered, silenced or alternately objectified and paraded for the gaze and use of others. To decide for yourself how you want to show up in the world, what is beautiful, righteous, private, sacred… that is all up to you. Examining and making that choice just for yourself, and allowing others the space to do the same. That is empowerment. Full stop.