Baring it All

Are you resolved to revamp your life for 2013? Have you promised yourself to hit the gym at least three times a week, avoid eating after 7pm, bid adieu to tobacco, and give your bod an overhaul? Gym memberships nearly triple during the first month following New Year’s Eve. That number remains strong for about the first month, then steadily dwindles until it surges again a month before bikini season.

When I hit the YMCA, I face more of a social dilemma than a personal commitment issue. My problem is that I can’t seem to make it in and out of the locker room without brushing elbows with teachers from my high school. This would be fine if it weren’t for my unfortunate timing to always run into them just as they make their way from the showers, drop their towels and reach for their underwear.  We all come into contact with nudity in different ways.

When I started practicing Hot Yoga, I kept seeing people I know naked in the locker room but for the first time I saw women around my age strip down to their Lululemon thongs — or less. 17-year-old girls crossing the chasm from adolescence to adulthood, women I recognized from classes at McGill, baby mamas, liposuction-enthusiast mamas, and lithe yoga teachers alike would let it all hang out in the argan oil-scented changing room.

These events contextualize how seldom we come into contact with nitty gritty nudity. I mean nudity on a more than you-and-your-significant-other scale. I mean more than the near-nude, airbrushed ideals sprawled across ads for Buffalo, Victoria Secret, or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I mean the type of nudity that caused uproar at the Salon des Refusés in 1863 and continues to cause uproar today in ads for American Apparel’s bottomless tights.

“The History of Impressionism” exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts offers a glimpse at how shocking the Impressionist painters came across to a 19th century audience. They rejected the conventions of academic style art on every level from brush work to composition, choosing to represent the commonplace in a raw, violent and powerful way.  Manet’s realist masterpiece Déjeuner sur l’herbe, a painting not exhibited at the MFA, paved the way for the defiance of the Impressionists and scandalized every spectator at the Salon des Refusés. The canvas portrays an afternoon picnic attended by a commonplace woman sitting completely naked, her two fully-dressed, male companions, and another woman in the background, draped only in a chemise, wading in a pond. When the artist unveiled this painting, the critics cried “pornography!”

Has anything changed since the 19th century? Do we not continue to cry “pornography!” at the provocative American Apparel ads featuring women untouched by Photoshop, bearing nipples, cellulite, and pubic hair? Meanwhile, we accept La Senza models from the store windows on Saint Catherine because these women, Photoshopped to excess, as merely showcasing the latest underwear trend.

The New Year is about change. Maybe it’s not your body that needs an overhaul but the way in which you perceive it. We live in an age that fosters striking individualism and greater acceptance of social diversity. When will the media catch on? The cultural moment dictates the general opinion of beauty and the cultural moment of emaciated, graphically-enhanced Kate Moss has passed. 2013 calls for a celebration of Manet’s nudes, a celebration of the women in the yoga studio changing room and yes, even a celebration of ex-high school teachers in their birthday suits. In essence, 2013 calls for a celebration of the unaltered, unadorned and unusual human body.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

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