The first 18 years of my life were relatively nudity-free (not to be confused with free nudity), with the exception of the innocuous baby butt or accidental slippage of towels in locker rooms. Then I came to college, and nekkidness exploded into my existence with the force of the entire cross country team running only in what they were born with. The nude body count per year quadrupled; most were viewed at high speed, some in the dark, and some in a very confrontational frontal position. My brain has subconsciously placed strategic censor strips over the delicate parts of those in the last category; sometimes high, full-Monty resolution is not always preferable.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t actively seek out nudity, but on a lush campus-and I’m not talking about the vegetation-it pops up with frightening regularity. The cups and the kegs empty themselves. Faces begin to glow, eyes to glaze and people say, “It’s getting hot in here!” especially if a certain song is thumping. With hearts and pulses pumping, clothes are the first things to go, and with it, inhibitions too. That’s when you get derrieres shimmying on window sills and the stories of “that guy who’s always naked.” There seems to be one of these offenders in every class: those who must answer the call of nature and strip. They are often seen cavorting around certain shadowy, sketchy stretches of the social quad.
Nakedness is more than the mere lack of clothing. It is a racy taboo; it’s something that we look at through fingers that don’t always stay closed; it’s a fascination, a near obsession. The skimpy shadow of cleavage is enough to work male salivary glands into overtime. The female trigger is the hint of an underwear line, often first encountered with a Ken doll and later sustained by Tyson Beckford and all of his scrumptious boxer-brief friends. Halle Berry’s arbitrary disclosure of her breasts in “Swordfish” caused a media frenzy. The same happened when Mark Wahlberg whipped out his prosthetic limb in “Boogie Nights.”
And yet when we are confronted with it, we often instinctively look away. We turn our heads sharply, in a strange combination of near-repulsion and curiosity. Perhaps, outside of the cinema, nudity loses some of its enigmatic thrill. The computer enhancement, the deliberately-placed shadows and camera angles are replaced by unerring reality. We see it all: often flaky skin, moles, stubbly patches in dire need of depilation, scars, where gravity pulls down. We are slightly disturbed by this collision of the private and the public; private parts are seen in public places, and we blush … unless we’re drunk, of course.
As several people who attended last year’s infamous naked party testified, the experience of total nudity is startlingly asexual. It did not erupt into a colossal orgy, but became, quite simply, a bunch of people without clothes on. So, how does nakedness maintain its choking grip on the interests of people? Why does it remain so mesmerizing, despite the fact that we all have an intimate visual knowledge of our bodies and those of the opposite sex? Maybe it’s because we’re so paradoxically preoccupied with covering up. Imagine if women pranced around topless as much as men did. Eventually-no matter how much you males might not believe it-those milk jugs would not be so fascinating. You would become desensitized to them, and although you might never be able to approach one as casually as say, an arm or a toe, it would lose some of its mythical, mammary status.
The power of the birthday suit lies in the fact that there still is a suit. There’s still some room for imagination, some unanswered questions about whether that sagging gut is real or just an extra layer. The naked truth? Who wants it?