There is an image that has popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a lot recently that has me thinking. The image is a drawing of two people, one person is naked and the other person is fully dressed and has their head covered. It also says something along the lines of “Nudity empowers some women and modesty empowers other women”*. While this is rightfully targeted at women because women have traditionally been the ones who are classified a certain way by their appearance and had their clothing options chosen for them by patriarchal societies, I think it applies to all humans.
I’m not sure exactly how to define empowerment, but in this case it seems to be actions we take that give us confidence when dealing with the outside world. It gives us the strength to face the day and challenge anyone who would try to usurp our ownership of our own bodies. Empowerment is the choice we freely make with our own body, mind, and labor.
I don’t think it always comes easily though and empowerment, like many things in life, requires practice and discomfort. You can find the idea of being nude or modest to be empowering but lack the strength to exercise it yourself. Instead, it becomes easy to dress the way you are expected. If the concept of modesty is empowering to you that may be difficult if you feel that society and your social group expects you to show your skin. If the concept of being nude empowers you it may be difficult if you have friends or a culture that shames or imprisons people who show certain portions of their skin.
Thus, it requires practice and work to get to the point where you can freely do what empowers you. You must take babysteps… maybe you dress more modestly or nude at home first, then you take pictures alone, then you dress that way among close friends or send pictures to friends via Snapchat or Tumblr, then you go out in public where that dress is accepted, then places it isn’t accepted, etc etc etc. As you take steps towards your goal through areas that are uncomfortable because of societal norms you will push the boundaries. And, through some hard work, you will get to the point where you are comfortable in situations you never thought you would be.
Not only will you find out if a certain thing actually empowers you (it might not, but that’s okay, at least you tried it out instead of spending your life wondering “what if?”), but you will inspire your friends, family, and strangers. People will become more comfortable wearing clothes or not wearing clothes because of the example you set. They will see the humanity in your actions. Your body and clothing will show others that they can do what you do, they can be empowered, they can have strength when they pursue things outside of the norm.
* I don’t think there is one side of this coin that is better than the other. Nudity and modesty are up to the individual. I do think it is universally healthy to be comfortable with your own naked body when you are alone. Our bodies are the most amazing gift we have and we should try and love them. Personal body positivity is important and helps with increased self-confidence in other situations, even if you decide to keep your awesome body out of the public eye.