Saturday, August 26, 2006

The social impact of body acceptance

As a person who enjoys being naked myself, I found this article interesting in how it "covers" nudism in a very positive and amusing light:

"I don't see why it's such a big deal," said Alec McPherson, a recent high school graduate as he sat at a coffee shop table, browsing a thick volume of artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Everyone's naked in this book."

His companion, Jeremiah Compton, a high school junior who plays in a local metal-and-punk band, agreed. "It's just that we're bored and expressing our right," he said.

"We have a nuclear power plant a few miles away and a ridiculous war in the Middle East, countries getting bombed," said Ian Bigelow, a 23-year-old who had gathered with some of his friends outside a bookstore. "So why's it such a big problem if we chose to get nude?"

There are disproportionately fewer nudists amongst Gen-X / Gen-Y than their parents' generation, so the demographic from this article is a good sign.

When I attended college at Rice University I participated in a tradition called Baker 13 that involved streaking through campus wearing only shaving cream. It is such a significant tradition at Rice that many undergraduates feel compelled to participate; they want to experience something wildly divergent from their normal personality types in order to challenge themselves and their inhibitions. But that doesn't mean they aren't nervous about it. Women especially have been conditioned to outsource approval of their figure, and are typically the most fearful of running Baker 13. They're also the most brave, because they participate in equal numbers despite these artificial but pressing concerns.

What I discovered after running Baker 13 for years was that the throng of streakers began the run with all thoughts directed at themselves and their awkward discomfort. In nearly every run, within 10 minutes people began to realize that everyone was so preoccupied with themselves that they weren't gawking at each other as they had feared would happen. It became evident that nobody was in a position to judge, nor were they doing so. And the thrill of freedom from judgement, especially in contrast to intense self-criticism, is exhilarating and liberating. This positive experience generates the word of mouth interest that keeps such strange traditions alive on many campuses and across many waves of student bodies, so to speak.

Challenging social norms and personal inhibitions is a powerful way of understanding who you are and what makes you tick. You can study your response to your biggest fears and develop confidence that you can take on future challenges and inevitable societal changes. This is why college has been important for so many people in discovering themselves. For these high school kids in Vermont to open their minds so early is terrific, and I applaud them.

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