As one common story goes, Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, had no idea that there was any shame in their lack of clothes; they were perfectly confident in their birthday suits among the animals of the Garden of Eden. All was well until that day when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and went scrambling for fig leaves to cover their bodies. Since thAs one common story goes, Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, had no idea that there was any shame in their lack of clothes; they were perfectly confident in their birthday suits among the animals of the Garden of Eden. All was well until that day when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and went scrambling for fig leaves to cover their bodies. Since then, lucrative businesses have arisen to provide many stylish ways to cover our nakedness, for the naked human body now evokes powerful and often contradictory ideas—it thrills and revolts us, signifies innocence and sexual experience, and often marks the difference between nature and society. In A Brief History of Nakedness psychologist Philip Carr-Gomm traces our inescapable preoccupation with nudity. Rather than studying the history of the nude in art or detailing the ways in which the naked body has been denigrated in the media, A Brief History of Nakedness reveals the ways in which religious teachers, politicians, protesters, and cultural icons have used nudity to enlighten or empower themselves as well as entertain us. Among his many examples, Carr-Gomm discusses how advertisers and the media employ images of bare skin—or even simply the word “naked”—to garner our attention, how mystics have used nudity to get closer to God, and how political protesters have discovered that baring all is one of the most effective ways to gain publicity for their cause. Carr-Gomm investigates how this use of something as natural as nakedness actually gets under our skin and evokes complicated and complex emotional responses. From the naked sages of India to modern-day witches and Christian nudists, from Lady Godiva to Lady Gaga, A Brief History of Nakedness surveys the touching, sometimes tragic and often bizarre story of our relationships with our naked bodies. ...
|Title||:||A Brief History of Nakedness|
|Number of Pages||:||286 Pages|
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A Brief History of Nakedness Reviews
I wrote the following review in 2010 for Bookslut:In 2003 a group of British women shaved their pubes and sent them to Tony Blair with the message, “I got rid of my Bush -- now you get rid of yours.” This kind of protest -- laudable, clever, comfortable -- appeals to me. However, I’m thankful Dick Cheney was only Acting President of the United States for a few hours. Now that Bush is gone and, politically speaking, Americans are shaved, it does feel freer, cooler. Unfortunately, this feels like a temporary phase, as if we all shaved our bushes out of necessity rather than principle, as if Lady Liberty had pubic lice, but now she’s letting it all grow back. It’s awfully itchy.Did you know we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan? I’m not terribly keen on it. I may be anti-military, but I support the troops, although my definition of support is more radical than the meaning attached to the bumper stickers; support, in my interpretation, is a preference for soldiers not to be placed in positions in which they’re likely to be blown up or shot, and for them not to be sent home limbless or head-traumatized or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or denied benefits because they suffer from supposedly pre-existing psychological conditions that didn’t exist before they signed up. Some American troops are leaving Iraq. To draw attention to the forces that aren’t being pulled out of Afghanistan, I wanted to call for a Great American Pull-Out. It’s exactly what you think it is. There are a lot of logistical problems with that one, but wouldn’t it be a blast? Then I was going to designate October 7, which will be the ninth anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, as International Go Commando for the Troops Day, but it turns out there’s a Facebook group with a very similar name, although their commando week is in March. So now I’ve decided that we just need a naked march on the Pentagon. The protesters need to be naked to symbolize the vulnerability of the soldiers and the people of Afghanistan, and they need to march on the Pentagon because it’s full of the pricks who run the war.All of these ideas and more were inspired by reading Philip Carr-Gomm’s new book A Brief History of Nakedness, which, even if it doesn’t make you want to get naked for peace, will make you want to get naked.I like Philip Carr-Gomm. I like his style. He takes a risk in the very first sentence: “Here’s a suggestion: stop reading and start taking off your clothes.” Most writers would be wary of asking their readers to stop reading. I didn’t take the author up on either part of his suggestion. I wanted to take off my clothes, but it was daytime, and the apartment has a lot of windows. (His point is that if you take off your clothes in the bathtub you’ll get naked, and if you take them off while browsing through his book in a bookstore you’ll get arrested.) Carr-Gomm is knowledgeable but not arrogant, thorough but not boring, and A Brief History of Nakedness, with its fascinating photos and anecdotes, is a pleasure to read. I appreciate the author’s understated writing style. Consider this sentence from a passage on naturists: “At Sandy Balls in Hampshire, adult members of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, a youth movement created in 1916 as an alternative to the Scouts, sometimes met together in the nude…” A less confident author, aiming for cuteness, would have written something like: “At the aptly named Sandy Balls in Hampshire, adult members of the even-more-aptly named Order of Woodcraft Chivalry,” and so on. There are other instances in which the author chose not to beat his readers over the head with a stick, but I forgot to mark them.Even if you hate to read, you should get this book for the pictures. Carr-Gomm collected a wide variety of photographs, and if you browse through the book you’ll see an advertisement from an old nudist magazine, Marilyn Manson’s tuck-back juxtaposed with Nick Oliveri’s (of Queens of the Stone Age) more open stance, and a picture of Peter Sellers with a guitar for a fig leaf. There’s a naked women’s soccer team and some naked men’s soccer fans. There are naked shoppers, naked men in Mickey Mouse masks, and several streakers. There’s a naked perfume model and a woman wearing a one-piece string bikini that just looks uncomfortable. Make of this what you will: none of the penises depicted are erect.There are six chapters, but the book is structured around three themes: nudity and religion, nudity and politics, and shifting public opinions toward nudity. Carr-Gomm roots proscriptions against nudity in religion, but he also notes the importance of nudity within mainstream religions, particularly Christianity. Jesus was naked on the cross (and depicted as such by the likes of Michelangelo and El Greco), St. Francis walked nude in the snow, and Pope John Paul II wrote in Theology of the Body that the body alone can make “visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God.” As Carr-Gomm points out, the body is a paradox, both beautiful and -- regrettably -- shameful. “On the one hand the body is a creation of deity -- in Christian terms made ‘in the image of God.’ On the other hand it is both the locus of our suffering and its cause… The fact that the body can be cast as both temple and prison has resulted in the ambivalent attitude to it that is found in many religious approaches.”In the middle two chapters he discusses nakedness in the political realm. My favorite chapter covers nudity as a protest tool. Carr-Gomm starts with the legend of Lady Godiva and moves on to show how nudity has been used by environmentalists and other activists -- like Breasts Not Bombs -- to draw attention to their causes and protest injustice.The final chapters cover the loosening of strictures against nudity, from streakers to musicals to advertisements. The section on streaking is a highlight. My favorite Ray Stevens song has always been “The Streak,” and my favorite photograph in the book is of a muscular, tattooed naked guy being held in the air by an angry-looking footballer. Some people would be offended by A Brief History of Nakedness, but there’s no doubt we’re more tolerant toward nudity these days. Even in my lifetime I’ve loosened up. When I saw Kevin Bacon’s cock in Wild Things I was shocked. Ten years later, when I saw Jason Segel’s in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I laughed. Now I think there should be more cocks in cinema for the very simple reason that they’re funny.Is nakedness a human right? Carr-Gomm doesn’t state that human beings should have the right to go naked; he assumes it. I’ll say this much: there should be more nakedness. There should be more clothing-optional beaches and facilities, women should have the right to breast feed in public, universities should look the other way on mass student nudity, and streakers should not face stiff penalties. But as Carr-Gomm points out, “Being naked is often an act not only of celebration, but of defiance: of the individual claiming their right simply to be, in the face of potential obliteration or of tyranny.” Nudity is a powerful protest tool. If nudity becomes totally acceptable it will be stripped of its power. We still need that power. I’ll protest for the right “to express oneself freely and without inhibition… as the birthright of every individual” when there’s nothing left to protest.Almost all the causes -- peasants’ rights, animal rights, women’s rights -- for which people get naked are liberal causes. Why should liberals have all the fun? Here are a few ideas to get conservatives started. They could have a Shirt Off My Back party where they walk around topless to protest letting part of the Bush tax cuts expire. You won’t find a ton of conservative men willing to go The Full Monty because a lot of them don’t have any balls, which is a shame because the N.R.A. could have a really fine naked rally under the slogan Glock Out With Your Cock Out! They could hold placards that read, “You can have my handgun when you pry it out of my tight little ass.” Of course, conservative people tend to be pro-stricture and pro-Establishment, while naked protest is generally an anti-Establishment activity. If I ever get my naked march on Washington, there will probably be some clothed counter-protesters with signs that read, “Keep your clothes on for the status quo!”
My blurb for this book says: Body as temple, body as prison; source of pride, source of shame; object of beauty, object of disgust - in this lucid and wide-ranging book Phillip Carr-Gomm examines that most hidden-in-plain-view of subjects: the naked human form. In doing so, he strips bare the paradoxes of humanity’s attitude toward their own naked figures. Using a snappy blend of history and imagery, Carr-Gomm invites readers to join him in making thrilling, confusing, funny, and beautiful realizations about that simultaneously mysterious and obvious state of unclothedness. From the rituals of witchcraft to the human art installations of Spencer Tunick to the non-nakedness of the Naked Chef, Carr-Gomm offers the revelation that far from being merely a basic physical state, human nakedness - sacred, obscene - holds the key to understanding politics, culture, and our very nature as human beings.
Reading this, I found myself very quickly contemplating the revolutionary power of nakedness, considering the possibilities of a Benjamin Franklin air bath, wondering if Donald Trump will follow in the line of previous politicians who've posed in the nude, and remembering my experience as a delighted recipient during Brown's Naked Donut Run. I love the fact that nudity can be at once a display of human vulnerability and a means of wielding political power. In our daily lives, I think, we are all navigating levels of nakedness. There is that desire to really be seen, but also the wonder at just how much to reveal, at the boundaries, if any, in between...
Philip Carr-Gomm is co-author of the excellent 'The Book of English Magic' which has been reviewed elsewhere by us on GoodReads. This is in the same vein - a measured and sympathetic account of what might be regarded as a human eccentricity that, on closer examination, suggests that it is the clothing convention and not nakedness that may be odder still. It is, as the title suggests, a history of nudity and nakedness but not in high art or in commerce (adult entertainment) or as sexual pehenomenon but as a spiritual, political and self-expressive tool, including comment on its use in the arts outside the academic tradition.Like his book on magic (which is a masterpiece of its type), it is descriptive rather than analytical or theoretical but with a considerable number of good quality photographs. It avoids the prurient and each picture is directly relevant to the text. While not afraid to show the naked body beautiful where relevant, the book is heartening in showing the essential ordinariness of most expressions of the naked. Though not perhaps common in life except in the fantasy world of publishing, cinema and erotica, nakedness is multifaceted and filled with meaning for many people in their private lives, and in their occasional calculated 'outrages' in public life, as a form of liberation and defiance.Carr-Gomm is a kind man with an open nature - or so this book and 'English Magic' would suggest - so the motives of the naked are mostly taken at face value as courageous and honourable. At one point, perhaps without realising precisely the import of what he is saying, he produces a devastating argument against the theoretical approach towards 'objectification' of the grumbling and humourless ideologues of post-68 feminism and Marxism. The fascinating short description of the the sense of empowerment given to life models and others who choose to make themselves apparently vulnerable by their nakedness suggests that, under certain conditions, objectification is positively liberating - and, of course, it is for free persons to decide what those conditions are. He confirms this as his own experience with all the diffidence of the true eccentric Englishman finding that transgression is a path to freedom. The general picture of the popular nude and of the naked is one of fun and wit rather than deadly purpose.He also briefly explores the self-objectification by which people use a mirror to understand themselves better, referring back to Uwe Ommer's photography. What is apparently narcissistic is nothing of the kind if the observation is contemplative and meditative, sweeping away both negative body images and, ironically, the obsession with one's own looks in society. Mirror observation of the naked self has even, it would seem, been used in spiritual meditation. This book is thus another quiet blow for free individual choice against theory. Ordinary people have highly personal approaches to their own bodies. While many or most would prefer to stay clothed, those who do not clearly gain great psychological benefits from their freedom from restriction and display and are neither necessarily exhibitionist nor libidinous in doing so.However, culture is everything and enforcing nakedness as humiliation is not forgotten either. Many examples from the Axis forces in the Second World War might have been chosen but to demonstrate the point, Carr-Gomm does not choose these or just the criminal thuggishness at Abu Ghraib but a grim photo of the victors of 1945 (that's us, folks) humiliating a Japanese prisoner of war by forcing him to scrub the deck of a battleship in front of the entire crew with photographers coldly relishing the moment for the 'folks back home'. A third photograph shows Corsican 'patriots' stripping and cutting the hair of a prostitute who made the mistake of earning her living from the occupiers - though we doubt if those who sold eggs and milk or conducted services in the local church were similarly treated. The lesson is that, while we expect totalitarians to act viciously, there is a callousness in humanity that knows no ideological boundaries.Carr-Gomm is also effective in showing how innovative acts of nakedness by ordinary citizens and artists become manipulated by the PR industry into 'stunts', political as well as commercial, that diminish the meaning of individual choice and challenge. He does not dwell on this - perhaps wishing not to give them the oxygen of publicity himself (although Tesco's stunt in Hastings shows the inauthentic cowardice and shallowness of the marketing communications industry at its worst). The message is, however, clear that economic interests effectively steal creativity from the general public and create a sort of bored fatique with what should be something that is culturally more important than this. Commercial interests jade our palates with manipulative novelties that liberate no one ... and, indeed, the parade of naked bodies in this part of the book does raise a bit of yawn when compared to the preceding and fascinating section on spiritual or lifestyle nudism.However, beyond the manipulation and exhibitionist self indulgence lies a more genuine struggle for the right of an individual to stand up to convention and choose not to cover their bodies. Carr-Gomm is on sound philosophical libertarian ground in implicitly defending these rights throughout the book. Indeed, one starts to wonder after a while why precisely even an erection should be regarded as intrinsically obscene if it just stands full and hard without harming anyone. Authority throughout the world seems determined on doing more damage to the naked than the naked do to the world - unless an image in itself is counted as an assault which raises all sorts of questions in turn about what is public and what is private. If I arrest your body, I have to act with force in some way and clearly do harm so the harm that is done by me must be greater than mine to justify the force. But what is the harm in nakedness in itself except to 'feelings', sentiments, customs, habits and tradition? If I only strike your mind, simply by standing passively naked before you, then surely you striking my body to end the striking of your mind is a worse assault. It might be bad manners to stand naked before you but then might it not be bad manners to stand clothed before me. Bad manners, however, are a matter for social negotiation and not the law.Similarly, Carr-Gomm raises the issue of what is exhibitionism, leading to the question of what precisely is wrong with it in its milder forms or, indeed, with voyeurism, if they are both 'worn lightly' and are not obsessive or pathological. Of course, in law, exhibitionism and the 'peeping tom' are disturbing to the 'victims' and perhaps we are in territory where the law does have something to say and with some force. People do have rights to privacy and perhaps to being not shocked inappropriately and out of context. But a lot of 'shock' is in the eye of the beholder and some shock shocks a person in a positive way, changing their world view in ways that open their eyes to their own manipulation and received ideas. A culture that avoids shock is like the dead hand of excessive health and safety legislation - a defensive anxious communitarian culture fearful of risk and distrustful of others. There is a line to be drawn but perhaps we need to think about whether we draw it too tightly on the passive nudist and not tight enough on the crass commercial or special interest exploitation of shock to sell goods and services or manipulate the political process (although even here, commercial and political shenanigans can have creative and positive cultural effects). The book is recommended.
I wanted this enough to order it in hardback.I love nakedness. A large proportion of our European summers were spent at naturist campsites. Here in Oz, in our secluded house, when it's warm enough (which is most of the time) we walk around naked, we swim naked, we certainly sleep naked. Naked, to me, is a natural state, and something that feels good. It's not sexual, not in an everyday context. But being naked, especially outdoors, feels so much better than being clothed. The sun on your skin. Or the rain. It's how we were meant to be.So, given my love of nudity (public or private), it's no wonder I was attracted to this book.The book talks about nudity on three fronts: in religion, social nudity, and nudity as a public statement or protest. All were interesting, but I found the chapters on religion to be the least interesting. Yeah, so the Jains, Wiccans, and other (mainly eastern) religions embrace nudity, and most of the Christian-type religions consider it sinful and damning. Basically, I know all of that on a macro level, so this was rather a reprise.The political section was better. Nudity as a form of protest. Showing you care enough about a cause to expose yourself completely in its support. Showing you have 'nothing to hide'.The best section was the social nudity one. There was a lot about the roots of naturism -- in the UK, in Germany, about the health benefits associated with nudity. There was the obligatory section on how there is absolutely nothing sexual about naturism. There was mention of Spencer Tunick, who is very successful at persuading hundreds of people to disrobe for his photographs - take a look at his site -- I LOVE the second Irish one, with the ferry coming in behind the pier and also the Swiss ones on the Aletsch Glacier. There were some joyful tributes to streakers, Puppetry of the Penis, and Annie Sprinkles and to various people who have taken to the courts for their right to go naked. Mainly, though, the book shows quite deftly how stupid humans are that they have made something so natural into something shameful and to be hidden. That those little folds or pouches of skin that are our genitals are somehow different and offensive.The photos throughout the book are wonderful. The text was always interesting, although I would have liked a little more depth to the analysis of why nakedness is still a social taboo.
Well researched. Clear and concise. Excellent primer.