Nakedness and self image

I recently wrote a post about nakedness – nudity, actually – that was sparked by reading an autobiography of sorts by a nude model.  That post sparked a lovely conversation with a Naturist from the UK.  And then, a few days ago, I showed a bunch of pictures of naked people to my college class.

I do this every semester in the first week or two as part of our conversation about anatomy.  It is rare for American college students to have seen many naked people – just normal people, only without their clothes on.  So I show them a number of pictures from Greg Friedler’s series Naked New York, Naked Los Vegas, and Naked London (Friedler’s website, and a Google search for Friedler’s images).  I particularly like Frielder’s Nakes series because they show the same person fully dressed in street clothes and then fully naked in the same setting.  It is ripe fodder for discussion for people of all ages – from children to teenagers to adults.

This summer, one of my students, An Huynh, wrote a particularly poigniant response to her experience viewing these images.  She has graciously agreed to let me share her response:

“I think I experienced this epiphany in class today… When we were looking at the naked pictures of women, I was thinking “Gosh, females and males look SO alike.”  I started thinking that perhaps men and women are actually quite the same biologically and even internally.  It seems that the clothes we wear, what society has taught to be “right,” isolates us from being alike with one another.  I think it’s our clothes, that are produced by society, that is keeping us isolated from each other.  It seems that our material items are what makes us female and male.  The way we wear our clothes, our hair, our jewelry and even our attitude make us “female” or “male.”  I feel like these things that we wear are materialistic items that make us so different and ultimately so lonely.  I feel like big fat corporate bosses are sitting around a big red oak table thinking about how to make money.  One of them jumps up and says, “We make them feel shitty.  Because people who feel shitty buy more shit.  Ultimately we want shitty people buying OUR shit.”  So they create these advertisements and commercials and TV that create this “norm” that people must become.  I’m so sad about this.  I’m sad because, this is most likely true.  Big momma and papa industries don’t care about people, they care bout making money.  But I’m even more sad at the fact that I didn’t realize how much of an impact these commercials and movies had an effect on me until now.  I just always thought men and women are different.  The phrase men are from mars and women are from venus is a big ass lie.  It’s these goddamn sick riddled commercials, social norms, laws, and religion that has made human being so different from one another.  So alone.  When seeing those people naked, I felt so alive.  I felt that women aren’t as gorgeous and curvy as the magazines make them to be.  I felt that my body was NORMAL.  My body is the same as every other body, male or female.  I realized that it’s those goddamn fat ass greedy son of a bitches that made me feel so humiliated, so alone and so…UGLY.  I’m sad that I use to think this was normal.  That feeling fat, non-curvy, shirt, not blonde, just ugly was just normal.  I thought I handled my self esteem well.  Just think of the several hundred girls being born into a society in which they first learn how to kiss from watching ABC’s “Life of an American Teenager.”  For them to learn that everyone is beautiful on TV.  To learn that being ethnically different is like being ugly.  To learn that not having hips or small boobs mean you were undesirable.  When I saw those pictures it made me feel that if we never had these material items in the first place, and that we were all showing our selves bare and naked, that the world would be such a happier place.”

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Wow, what a reflection. Please thank An Huynh for allowing you to share her comments. I never thought about how much our clothes make us male and female. There are so many layers of messages in advertising and television. I have recently vowed to stop watching TV so much, and this provides greater impetus for that vow.

  2. Really excellent post today. What a deep, thought-provoking and heart-felt response from your student. Thank you.

  3. I am totally and completely stunned that this young lady was able to write such a truthful article. A few times I had to stop reading because I was finding it hilarious when he truthful. Such insight into the corporate world of greed. I will also say, she hit the nail squarely on the head.

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