Nudity Redefined // Feminism and the Male Gaze in the Nude Portrait

by Selina Macias (@afrogyps). Photography by Victoria Dewey (@tori_ventures). 

Patriarchal ideology has long defined how we perceive feminine nudity, modesty, and sensuality. Through this male gaze, the nude self-image of women becomes distorted and controlled, and traditional masculine interpretations of modesty become a means of restraining the female body. American poet and feminist Adrienne Rich declared that feminism ultimately implies the awareness of this distortion of male-created ideologies and how women think and act out of that recognition; in Rich’s view, feminism is an attempt to reassert female perspective to counter male-dominated ideologies. With this philosophy, I decided to redefine nudity for myself with a feminist approach, through portraits.

When I approached photographer and friend, Victoria, to do a nude photoshoot with me, I wanted to use this opportunity of expression to experiment with how I have come to understand nudity for myself,  outside of the negative connotation society has latched onto it. Nudity is not the obscene, cry for attention that many perceive it to be but rather an act of bravery in being able to showcase oneself proudly, candidly, and vulnerably before those who do not wish to explore its various dimensions.

It is common cultural practice that women are held to a higher moral caliber than men; thus when women threaten the virtuous guidelines in which they are inexplicably incarceratedlike adherence to monogamy, modesty, and submissionthey are often chastised. Notice that these judgments all derive from the objective discomfort with female sexuality. It is not fair to take the primary, divine aspect that inevitably emulates from women, and use it as a form of repression to assert control.

“I think if you criticize someone’s right to express themselves however feels comfortablebe it modesty or vulnerable expressionthen you are most likely projecting some sort of personal insecurity or a mindset that is not about acceptance and inclusivity,” Victoria explains. Nudity celebrates the physical and emotional bearance of a person. It indicates where they are and how they look and feel in that moment. In these pictures, I view my body as a serene, humble haven over my soul radiating in raw, imperfect glory.  

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photographs by Victoria Dewey

If we really want to talk about functioning outside patriarchal ideologies, I daresay that a sense of modesty emits from nudity. “The human form is incredibly versatile, and for as much as conservative society tends to romanticize the notion of modesty, especially for women, I generally find nudity to be the purest representation of emotional vulnerability there is and I’m highly sceptical of anyone who views nudity as strictly taboo/inappropriate,” Victoria asserts. For millennia, religious and political institutions have utilized the term in a manner that has almost exclusively targets women. The idea implies showing less skin to prevent arousal of bystanders (men). In the twenty-first century though, it is time to alleviate this word from this stifling interpretation.

Modesty is not merely a state of dress or undress, but about yielding oneself to others. Submitting oneself to the refinement of their craft to inform to the best of their ability is a kind of modesty. Presenting oneself uncovered, undefined, and unapologetically is also modesty. These facets represent interpretations of modesty and nudity. Both concepts are intertwined with the intention to offer the self without boundaries, essentially, fostering connection from human to another.

I fully acknowledge that there is certainly a way to do everything with social grace. I am not condoning girls to take off their clothes, pucker their lips, poke out their chest and claim that to be art, nor do I berate those who choose to portray themselves that way. I am saying that however a woman decides to express herself, sensuality will inevitably radiate. It is an irrepressible, alluring power that diffuses from our spirits and we should not be reprimanded for its eminence in our expression.

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