Nudity or nakedness is the state of wearing no clothing. It is sometimes used to refer to wearing significantly less clothing than expected by the conventions of a particular culture and situation, and in particular exposing the bare skin of intimate parts. The term topless is sometimes used—especially in reference to females—to describe the lack of clothing covering the breasts.
Although nude and naked have the same objective meaning (i.e. not covered by clothing) and a common origin, they have differing subjective connotations in various contexts, which partly match their differing etymologies ("nude" originally had a meaning of "plain, bare, unadorned" in a broader sense when introduced into English from Latin "nudus", while "naked" derives from the common early English word for "unclothed" that is cognate with "nudus"). Some consider one term more appropriate than the other. The book Nude, Naked, Stripped suggests that these three terms define a continuum ranging from artistic or tasteful absence of clothing by choice at one end, and a forced or mandatory condition of being without clothes (e.g. strip search) at the other.
Although scientific anthropologists and Christian Biblical literalists offer conflicting accounts of it, they agree that humans originally lived without clothing as their natural state. The former describe the adaptation of animal skins and vegetation into coverings to protect the wearer from cold, heat, and/or rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates. The latter describe the first humans Adam and Eve, after their transgression against God's rules (the original sin), being ashamed of their nakedness and making aprons of fig leaves.
Following the introduction of clothing, different cultures have held a wide variety of attitudes and practises about being nude.
In some hunter-gatherer cultures in warm climates, near-complete nudity was (at least until the introduction of Western culture) standard practice for both men and women. However, this was not always the case. For example, native Americans of North America were generally quite prim where nudity was concerned. A notable exception were the Chumash native Americans of southern California who were nude most of the time: men were usually naked, women were often topless. Native Americans of the Amazon Basin, however, usually went nude or practically nude; in many tribes, the only clothing worn was some device worn by men to clamp the foreskin shut. The native Americans of the mountains and west of South America, however, such as the Quechua, kept quite covered.
In at least one African tribe, the men would go completely naked except for a string tied about the waist. With this string they would be considered properly dressed for hunting and other group activities, without which they were naked. In a number of tribes in the South Pacific island of New Guinea, the men use hard gourdlike pods as penis sheaths. While obscuring and covering the actual penis, these at a longer distance give the impression of a huge and erect phallus. Yet a man without this "covering" could be considered to be in an embarrassing state of nakedness.
At one time in some regions of Greece, such as Minoa, Sparta, and Olympus, nudity was more or less accepted, which indicates that nudity is not foreign to European culture and being a hunter-gatherer society is not a prerequisite for a society that tolerates nudity. In Classical Greece and Rome, public nakedness was an accepted in the context of public bathing or athletics. (The Greek word gymnasium means "a place to be naked".) Athletes commonly competed nude, but many city-states allowed no female participants or even spectators at those events, Sparta being a notable exception. However, it was also common for a person to be punished by being stripped and whipped in the public square. In Biblical accounts of the Roman Imperial era, prisoners were often stripped naked, as a form of humiliation.
In the Middle Ages, men wore codpieces or, later, tights, and even later, tight trousers, and these were all intended to cover the male genitals but at the same time to display them. In the early 20th century, exposure of male nipples was considered indecent at some beaches. Ironically, as in the Middle Ages, the bathing suits worn by men, while covering the genitals, often nonetheless made them quite obvious.
During the Victorian era, public nakedness became untolerated, and even objects that were somewhat anthropomorphic were required to be covered. For example, it was considered somewhat inappropriate for table legs, piano legs, and the like to be uncovered, so furniture often had skirts to cover the legs. In addition to beaches being segregated by gender, bathing machines were also used to conceal the naked body.
Various modern-era attitudes
Nudity in front of a sexual partner is widely accepted, but even here there may be restrictions--for example, only at the time and place of sex, or with subdued lighting, or covered by a sheet or blanket.
Nudity in front of strangers of the same sex is often more accepted than in front of those of the opposite sex, for example in open showers, common changing rooms, etc. Gender-specific restrooms serve to prevent accidental partial nudity in front of the other sex. Urinals may have partitions between them to avoid the partial nudity of men to be visible by other men. In some cultures, even for people of the same sex to see each other nude is considered inappropriate and embarassing.
In general and across cultures, most restrictions are found for exposure of those parts of the human body that put in evidence sexual arousal or sexual dimorphism between male and female adults. Therefore, sex organs and women's breasts are often covered.
Some strict interpretations of Islam that require women to observe purdah, covering their entire bodies, including the face (see burka), on threat of severe punishment.
In the United States of America, exposure of female nipples is still not usually allowed in public; public breastfeeding, since the exposure it involves is functional, may be looked upon more mildly, but still it is sometimes considered problematic. However, courts in some North American jurisdictions—including Ontario and New York State—have legalized the exposure of women's nipples on equal protection grounds (see United States Constitution/Amendment Fourteen). The movement of "topfree equality" promotes equal rights for women to have no clothing above the waist; the term "topfree" rather than "topless" is used to avoid the sexual connotation of the latter. However, there are still extreme reactions on the parts of many to exposure of the bottom half of the breast, as in Janet Jackson's partial breast exposure during the half-time show of the 2004 Super Bowl.
The trend in some European countries (for instance Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands) is to allow both genders to bathe together naked. Typically, older German bathhouses, such as Bad Burg, remain segregated by gender. The reverse is true of Japanese sentos. Most of the newer Japanese bathhouses are gender segregated, whereas the older baths in the countryside are mixed gender. In both cases (mixed or segregated) public bathing in Japan is done in total nudity.
Some people enjoy public nudity in a non-sexual context. This movement is known as nudism, or naturism, and often practiced in reserved places that used to be called nudist camps but are now referred to as nudist (or naturist) resorts, beaches, or clubs. Such facilities may be designated topless, clothing-optional, or fully-nude-only.
Others practice public nudity more casually. Topless sunbathing is considered acceptable on the beaches of France, Spain, and most of the rest of Europe (and even in many outdoor swimming pools); however, exposure of the genitals is restricted to nudist areas in most regions, Eastern Germany being a notable exception. (Nude bathing was one of the few generally tolerated liberties people could take in the communist GDR, which explains its popularity.) In the United States, topless sunbathing and thongs are common in South Miami Beach, Florida. There are a number of nude beaches up and down the West Coast of the U.S., as well.
Nudity is closely associated with sexuality in most cultures where some level of body modesty is expected (in that, nudity is considered to be immodest). This is evidenced by the existence of striptease in these cultures. As an effect of Catholic cultural heritage, in Latin cultures the common sense of modesty does not generally admit genital nudity, but the definition of what is lewd has changed and women's breasts are now commonly exposed or depicted without scandal.
It is common for children's nudity to not be seen as being particularly disturbing until they reach puberty, or more restrictively, until a younger age. However, in many places children are taught to never to be seen nude by those of the opposite sex (especially of the same approximate age). In these circumstances, children would be ashamed or very embarrassed if anyone (except perhaps a parent, sibling, or other close relative) of the opposite sex saw them wearing no clothes. They may even be subject to giggling and teasing by clothed children of similar culture. This attitude toward nudity and gender separatism usually peaks at about age nine, later very gradually changing to allow for a sexual partner to eventually see them nude. It is also common for adults to have strict limits on how many members of the opposite sex may see them nude (especially simultaneously), and under what circumstances. In some cultures, it may be acceptable for males (particularly children) to be seen nude by females, but not vice versa. This was formerly the practice in parts of the rural United States, for example.
Social sensibilities towards the nudity of children have become far more restrictive in many developed countries over the past two decades, while conversely the nudity of adults has become far more acceptable in many of the same places. Newfound social awareness about paedophilia and child pornography has instilled concerns over dangers and negativity with child nudity; the nude form of children has come to hold negative sexual connotations, while previously prepubescents would often be viewed as being innately asexual. For example, in New Zealand in previous decades the appearance of photographs of naked minors in newspapers and magazines was socially acceptable, whereas the publication of the same depictions nowadays would almost invariably invoke horror and revulsion amongst the readership.
An exception is usually made for infants, who are often depicted nude without negative social connotation. The work of Anne Geddes, for example, often depicts nude infants in scenes that would be considered in quite a different light if the children were several years older.
Nudity beyond social norms
Streaking is running naked through a non-nudist public place, usually for fun.
Nudity has sometimes been used to attract more attention to a public protest, a tactic used by the Doukhobors in the early 20th century, and later (particularly from the 1960s onwards) used more widely. Modern slogans include "Disrobe for disarmament", "Nudes, not nukes!", "Naked For Peace", "Dare 2 Bare 4 Freedom + Peace", "I'd rather go naked than wear fur!" and "I Got Rid Of My Bush! Read My Lips - No To War!"
Sometimes the phrase "extreme nudity" is used, implying that the absence of clothing is very special (either good or bad).
By far the greatest exploitation of nudity is in the sex trade. This takes three primary forms: soft-core pornography media, such as mainstream magazines Playboy and Playgirl (and a host of others, gay and straight); hard-core pornography; and nude dancing.
In softcore pornography, which was originally presented mainly in the form of "men's magazines", it was barely acceptable to show a glimpse of nipple in the 1950s. By the 1970s, graphically explicit views of women were being printed.
Originally, nude dancing was mainly presented in the form of the "strip-tease". This was generally a stage show in which the dancer progressively removed her clothing while dancing to music. Prominent early- to mid-twentieth century "strip-tease artists" such as Gypsy Rose Lee rarely included total nudity as part of their sometimes quite elaborate acts. Now most "exotic" dancers perform topless (independent of gender, of course), perhaps wearing a thong bottom. In the 1970s, on an official level, men entered the strip club field, performing partially-unclothed dances primarily at clubs aimed for heterosexual women (the Chippendales being the most common example). Both genders had been unofficially dancing at clubs for many years (at least since the 1950's), and today at clubs catering to gay, straight, and everything in-between clientele.
Depictions of nudity
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|Goya's La Maja Desnuda and La Maja Vestida. In 19th-century Europe, it was common to have two paintings of the same subject for the same place on the wall. Depending on which guests were visiting, one or the other was shown. |
The depiction of nudity in art has generally conformed - at least to some extent - to social standards for public nudity; in cultures where nudity was accepted, nude figures in painting and sculpture were as well. However, some cultures have tolerated artistic nudity more than actual nudity, with a different set of standards of what is acceptable.
As social attitudes about artistic nudity have changed, this has sometimes led to conflict over art that no longer conforms to prevailing standards. For example, the Roman Catholic Church once organized the so-called fig-leaf campaign to cover nudity in art, starting from the works of Renaissance artist Michelangelo.
The nude has become an enduring genre of representational art, especially painting, sculpture, and photography. It depicts people without clothes on, usually with stylistic and staging conventions that distinguish the artistic elements (such as innocence, or similar theatrical/artistic elements) of being nude with the more provocative state of being naked. A nude figure is one, such as a goddess or a man in ancient Greece, for whom the lack of clothing is its usual condition, so that there is no sexual suggestiveness presumed. A naked figure is one, such as a contemporary prostitute or a businessman, who usually wears clothing, such that their lack of it in this scene implies sexual activity or suggestiveness. The latter were rare in European art from the Medieval period until the latter half of the 1800s; in the interim, a work featuring an unclothed woman would routinely identify her as "Venus" or another Greco-Roman goddess, to justify her exposure.
Nudity was acceptable to the 19th-century French Salon-going public, only as long as the setting was clearly "classical", depicting characters in a culture where nudity was commonplace, as in this painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1847
Nudity in art, also publicly displayed, is rather common and more accepted than public nudity of real people. For example, a statue or painting representing a nude person may be displayed in public places where actual nudity is not allowed. However, there is also much art depicting a nude person with a piece of cloth seemingly by chance covering the genitals. A 1960s sketch featuring English comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in an art gallery suggested that there must be hundreds of paintings that are not publicly displayed because the pieces of cloth did not fall in just the right places while the artist was painting them.
In modern media, images of partial and full nudity are used in advertising to draw additional attention. In the case of attractive models this attention is due to the visual pleasure the images provide; in other cases it is due to the relative rarity of images of nudity. The use of nudity in advertising tends to be carefully controlled to avoid the impression that the company whose product is being advertised is indecent or unrefined. There are also limits on what advertising media such as magazines allow. The success of sexually provocative advertising is claimed in the truism "sex sells". However, responses to nudity in American advertisements have been more mixed; nudity in the advertisements of Calvin Klein, Benetton, and Abercrombie and Fitch, to name three companies, have provoked much negative as well as positive response. (See also: Sex in advertising).
Of images of nudity (not necessarily pornographic), the most extreme form is "full-frontal" nudity, referring to the fact that the actor's or model's genitals are exposed. Frequently images of nude people do not go that far and photos are deliberately composed, and films edited, such that in particular no genitalia are seen, as if the camera failed to see them by chance.
The portrayal of nudity in motion pictures has long been controversial. Several early films of the silent era featured nudity; in response to objections voiced by several groups, scenes of nudity were forbidden in mainstream USA films by the Hays Code from the 1930s until the 1960s when the MPAA film rating system was instituted. In the early 1950s the only open cinematic displays of nudity were in naturist (nudist camp) quasi-documentary films. In 1959 the film The Immoral Mr. Teas became the first non-naturist film openly exhibiting nudity. These earlier films were about nudity or about the visualization of nudity, rather than its use in film using incidental nudity as part of a larger story. Only with the MPAA rating system could nudity be legitimately included in a commercially successful film built around some other story. Since then, many films have featured various levels of nudity; however, full frontal nudity (especially featuring male anatomy) is still rare in US cinema. Full nudity has gained much wider acceptance in European cinema, where the audience perceive non-pornographic nudity as less objectionable than the depiction of excessive violence. Nudity in a sexual but non-pornographic context, however, has in many European countries remained on the fringe of what is socially acceptable for public shows, although this situation has been liberalized during the 20th century.
Noteworthy films which garnered controversy at the time of their release due to nudity include:
Broadcast television and most "basic cable" outlets in the United States have been more reluctant to display nudity in most cases, the exception being PBS. A few series in the 1990s, including NYPD Blue, have occasionally used partial nudity. When broadcast on television, theatrically released films featuring nudity are usually presented with the nude scenes edited out, or the nudity is obscured in some fashion (for example digital imagery may be used to clothe nude actors). Several premium cable services such as HBO and Showtime have gained popularity for, among other things, presenting unedited films. In addition, they have produced series that do not shy away from nude scenes, including Oz, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and Queer as Folk.
Nudity is occasionally presented in other media as well, often with attending controversy. Album cover art featuring nude photographs, featuring music by performers such as Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Blind Faith, and Jane's Addiction, have stirred controversy over the years. Several rock musicians have performed nude on stage, including members of Jane's Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, The Jesus Lizard, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
On the Internet, especially on websites featuring images of well known people, the terms nude and nudity have often been used (some would say misused) to signify indecent exposure; for example, a photo of an otherwise fully clothed woman with a nipple exposed. See also: Nude celebrities on the Internet.