What’s Up With All The Nudity?

“What’s up with the nudity? What does it have to do with travel, or women’s empowerment?” It’s a question I get asked frequently, since I post nude, artistic photographs to my social media accounts with some regularity. I like to pair them with my poetry or prose, which usually addresses themes like travel, adventure, freedom, […]

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“What’s up with the nudity? What does it have to do with travel, or women’s empowerment?”

It’s a question I get asked frequently, since I post nude, artistic photographs to my social media accounts with some regularity. I like to pair them with my poetry or prose, which usually addresses themes like travel, adventure, freedom, or strength.

I’ve been meaning to break down the why of it for a while now.

I’ll start with the simplest answer: I like to be naked, and I love nudity. I think the human body is absolutely gorgeous—art in its own right—and my personal moral code missed the memo on modesty, so I don’t really have any qualms about sharing something I think is beautiful, although I know some people may take offense. (That’s a losing game anyways. Someone will always take offense, so I try not to base any decisions off that.)

Of course, my love for nudity doesn’t make me more “empowered” or “right” or “free” than any other woman or person who makes different choices. I think every woman is perfectly correct in her decisions about her body, and I would never judge any of them. It just means I don’t personally find meaning in covering up.

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Modesty has never been one of my virtues. I know my strengths, and I’m not shy about saying so. I love my body, and I defend my right to reveal it whenever and however I choose. I respect the choice to dress, behave, or speak modestly, but it is not my path. For me, in my body, modesty feels like the opposite of wildness. Throughout human history, across many cultures, we have subjugated our animal nature—our sexuality, our appetites, our intuition—in the name of transcendence. As if to be more human, we must be less animal. But I feel most myself, most in balance, and yes, most human and animal both, when I shed modesty, shame, and fear in order to fully inhabit my body. When I slip comfortably into my skin and dance, sing, and melt into everything, then, then I begin to understand transcendence. For me, in my body, modesty tastes a lot like shame. I challenge the implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumption beneath it: That this body is dirty. That this hair (this sexuality) is threatening. That this skin, that movement, these rhythms of my blood are impure. I reject the fear—of and for and by women. This body cries out for honor, for love, and for respect. Not because it is draped safely in modesty, but because it *is*, and its being is sacred. This skin will not hide to make others more comfortable. This skin will not cower for its vulnerability. This skin will not tame its power. Any god of mine loves me in my wildness—she loves to see my skin. (Stay tuned for the poem that goes with this intro!) ° ° ° 📷: @marcmaksim

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on May 2, 2019 at 8:47am PDT

Nudity is also convenient.

Practically speaking, I also spend a significant amount of my time fully or partially nude (I don’t think I own any real shirts?) — made easier by the fact that I often work from home, or from small off-grid communities where no one is bothered about it. Chances are that many photos from recent years show some, or a lot of skin.

In addition, I’ve collaborated with several artists and photographers on shoots, and a lot of the highest resolution, best quality images I have are artistic and nude—or partially so. And thus much of my poetry and prose, much of which explores themes of freedom and empowerment, ends up paired with those images.

However, I certainly never mean to imply that nudity = empowerment, or that in order to be strong, empowered, or liberated a woman must disrobe. I would hate for someone to leave my page thinking that’s the takeaway.

Empowerment is, simply, a human being deciding who they areand how they want to move through the world. There are countless examples in the world of how that can look.

Is femininity or freedom related to nudity?

Let me try to unpack that. No, not necessarily. However, many cultures and religions throughout history have sexualized, demonized, or otherwise shamed the naked female form.

Does my skin make you uncomfortable?

I believe it is worthwhile to ask ourselves some questions:

  1. What cultural and social forces are at play that make us feel uncomfortable with nudity?
  2. What cultural and social forces are at play to compel women to share nude photos (many of these forces just as nefarious)?
  3. When we criticize women for showing skin, who is sexualizing whom?
  4. When women show skin and call it feminism, who benefits?

All questions aside, I can attest to the power of nudity in my personal journey. Nakedness has often accompanied some of my most transformative experiences of liberation and connection. Not even in a metaphorical sense—in the literal sense that many of my most sacred moments of connectedness to my own body, sexuality, and spirit have involved frolicking naked in various bodies of water and forests around the world.

For a long time, I tried to separate out my sexuality entirely from my work as a writer and creator, but I find it harder and harder to do so. My sexuality—my identity as a sexual being—is tied up with my identity as a writer, artist, woman, and entrepreneur.Something links all of those things: the innate creative impulse that forms human beings and books and mountains alike. While I’m not currently aiming to focus my work on sex or sexuality, and perhaps never will, I also don’t want to keep pushing it to the sidelines, as I had done for many years.

My nakedness is me. My sexuality is me. I don’t want to hide it.

(Is there some middle ground between posting revealing images and hiding one’s sexuality? I’m sure there is! I can only speak to my path.)

I am painfully aware of the deeply embedded patriarchal systems that have set standards of beauty and sexualized and exploited women’s bodies since pretty much forever.

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Nakedness is wildness. Nakedness is freedom. Nakedness is vulnerability—and through that, true power. Must one be naked to be wild and free? Of course not. There is a wide array of of cultural and practical obstacles to global nudity. Maybe it isn’t for everyone. But, it is undeniably delicious. The feel of air on skin. The feel of water on skin. The feel of sun on skin. Nothing compares. Nakedness is one of the purest expressions I have found of the freedom and wild nature intrinsic to every human body. It is a path to self, to spirit, to the earth (all of these, really, being the same thing). Why take (and then share) nude photographs, then? I could answer, why not?! That would be explanation enough. But of course, being me, I have an assortment of other why’s, too. Each, alone, is reason enough: 1. Wild freedom. (See above.) 2. There are few things more honest than a naked body. As artists and storytellers, we seek to reveal that which lies beneath the masks. Here is truth, embodied. 3. The body is art. Yours. Mine. Every body. Art accrues meaning through audience. (Trees, stars, and the moon are all audiences just as valuable, if not more so, than human kin.) 4. Because I can. I believe it is worthwhile to honor the breadth of choices open to us by exploring said choices, even if it’s just for the heck of it. 5. Because it might make someone uncomfortable. I (and, I think, most women), have spent far too much time accommodating. Discomfort isn’t bad; if my mode of self-expression makes someone uncomfortable… okay then. 6. Because it might make me uncomfortable. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I think someone said that. Regardless, it’s true! 7. I will not cede to fear. Fear of judgment, backlash, slimy comments, or censure. Fear, I find, is a very good reason to do a thing. 8. Why not?! And so we come full circle. It’s too tempting to take it all so seriously. Here’s to nakedness, truth, art, and growing through discomfort! Photo credit: @marcmaksim (We might be releasing a book of art photography and poetry soon… mayhaps. Stay tuned! 😉)

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on Mar 9, 2019 at 2:25pm PST

I am aware that these same systems drive social media algorithms and modern marketing in subtle and overt ways. It’s a tricky point, possibly inescapable, because these are the systems that shaped our desires and our tastes.

try to study and escape those systems. (For instance, I didn’t shave my underarms for years, because I didn’t want to conform to a standard of beauty that told me my natural body was disgusting. And… I eventually started shaving again, because dammit this cultural paradigm still defines me, and I like my body hair, but I also like my smooth skin!)

As much as I try to escape those systems, they’re in me. Or I’m in them. Or both.

So then, when I shed my garments, who has the last laugh? This question tortures me, and I’ve followed it in circles for a long time.

I like to think that I’m using the system, rather than letting it use me. That may be wishful thinking, but here I am.

I know that my sassy photos will get 2–3x more engagement on average, and thus more impressions (more of my followers will have a chance of seeing that post). I started my Instagram account to reach more people with my writing, so if I can hack the algorithm with my skin and get my content to more of my followers who want to read it, I feel okay about it, at least for now.

Finally, I’m fairly unattached to all of my opinions about nudity, sexuality, and this bizarre digital world through which I blunder. If I change my mind at some point in the future, I’ll just delete all that nudity. 🙂

Creators, what do you think about nudity? Love it? Hate it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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