Arielle Pardes | Confronting the naked truth
The Screwtinizer | Why Penn doesn’t have the balls to host Nudity Week and why we should care
October 2, 2013, 5:49 pm · Updated October 2, 2013, 10:35 pm·
Like a flash of bright-white lightning, half a dozen streakers tore through Lower Quad’s junior balcony at midnight on Monday.
In keeping with tradition, a crowd of freshmen had gathered on the balcony for the annual Econ Scream with droopy eyes, preparing to bellow into the night with their midterm woes. Just before the collective scream, the streakers appeared.
While the nudity was just a flicker against the inky night and chaos of the Econ Scream, our Ivy League colleagues at Brown University are devoting the entire week to the subject with their second-annual “Nudity Week.”
On Tuesday, they offered a nude yoga class. Yesterday, there was a discussion of “stripping privileges,” undressing the way body privilege intersects with race, class and gender. Today, there are nude performances: an exploration of how costuming — or lack thereof — plays out in theatrical performance.
Full disclosure: I nearly went to Brown, and it’s times like these when I sort of wish I did. While I love being a Quaker and don’t regret coming to Penn, the culture here isn’t one that would support an event like Nudity Week — and that’s a shame.
At Penn, like many other Ivy Leagues, we mostly get naked for folly. Columbia celebrates an annual Naked Run, Harvard students streak through Harvard Yard for their Primal Scream, and Yale hosts notorious naked parties (Princeton used to hold the Nude Olympics, but the competition was banned in 2000).
The nudity traditions are inoffensive, but they hardly provoke a meaningful conversation about naked bodies — we’ll take our clothes off, but we don’t want to talk about it.
At Brown, seniors Becca Wolinsky and Camila Pacheco-Fores are challenging that by heading Nudity Week.
“We’re not trying to be prescriptive and say ‘everyone should be nude!’ We just want to provide a safe space for those who want to examine why these topics are so taboo,” Wolinsky said. “In my opinion, we’re all born naked, so why is there such a stigma surrounding nudity?”
At Penn, that stigma is pronounced — accordingly, an adaptation of Nudity Week would never fly here. Not only is the Penn community markedly conservative about these types of issues, but the air of pre-professionalism makes most Penn kids squeamish about baring it all.
“I think I’m going to wear a bag over my head,” one of the Econ streakers, a sophomore, contemplated before dropping his pants. “I don’t want anyone recognizing me from this.”
These concerns have hardly surfaced at Brown, where students seem eager to engage in conversations about bodies.
“The Brown community has been overwhelmingly supportive, which makes me think that our message is important,” Wolinsky said. The only controversy, she added, has been from outside media sources that misunderstand the message of the event or conflate the emphasis on nudity with an emphasis on sex.
But Nudity Week isn’t about getting naked and getting it on — it’s about questioning which bodies are viewed as valuable, what bodies are capable of doing and why we consider nakedness so taboo. There will be penises, vulvas and nipples, but there will also be bellies, body hair and stretch marks. The point isn’t sex — it’s the anatomy of body privilege.
And while the Penn community would be hard-pressed to support an event like Nudity Week, we could absolutely benefit from the messaging of the event.
Penn is home to high rates of disordered eating and negative body image. Coupled with a culture of perfectionism, body image issues are propelled by “Pennface,” which CAPS Director of Outreach Meeta Kumar described as “the ‘mask’ or image of needing to appear perfect at Penn.” And while organizations like the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women promote positive body image through events like the Love Your Body campaign, there’s much more to untangle.
There’s no reason we can’t be provoking the same kinds of discussions. Something is lost in doing them as a clothes-on conversation — the medium is the message, after all — but it’s better than avoiding the conversation altogether.
The messages of Nudity Week are valuable, and they can exist at Penn, too — even with our clothes on.
Arielle Pardes is a College senior from San Diego. Her email address is email@example.com. You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Thursday.