A Brief History of Nudity

September 17, 2008 at 10:52 pm

First Published THURSDAY, MAY 1, 2008

      Ever since Adam and Eve discovered that there was more to life in the Garden of Eden than picking apples, the world has become obsessed with nudity.
It began with curiosity, segued to intense interest and then blossomed into lust, where it remained for a good many years, sweeping the world’s continents and finally ending up in America where it was forbidden.
      Puritans believed that nudity equated with sex, which was also strictly forbidden outside of Christian marriage, although a few managed to work it in on the side.
We railed against what came to be called smut as it was celebrated in books, music, art, photographs, movies, neckties and stained glass windows. Most difficult to exclude was classic art, notably portrayals of naked women created during lapses in the world’s purity wars.
      All was going very well for morality until the 1920s when a form of madness caused women to begin revealing more than was allowed, kicking and squirming to wild music in public places and drinking alcoholic beverages until their eyes went white.
      Sanity was restored during the depression when we were too busy looking for work and praying for pork chops to be concerned with nudity. But then good times returned with World War II, restoring previous interests but without prurient content. It was, after all, the Eisenhower Era. There was laughter and sweetness in the air.
Who could have anticipated the 1960s?
      They began when, for the first time in history, the sex microbe was isolated in a Berkeley laboratory to considerable fanfare, reviving interest in its potential when combined with nudity as a catalyst. The government immediately banned any use of an extract refined from the microbe, but it was too late.
      Free love and free will were upon us.
      During riots that accompanied sit-ins and protests on the U.C. campus, students broke into the endocrine lab, stole the sex formula and sold it to Timothy Leary. That was once more the end of a morality cycle in America.
      Bras flew off, panties came down and bare nakedness in public soon became, for reasons obscured by the revolution itself, the new morality, created in the name of peace and freedom. Exactly why it was established as a logo for social change remains unclear, but it worked. The Vietnam War ended and we elected Nixon to lead us into the future.
      But, alas, instead of once more retreating into a climate of purity, we continue to be obsessed with nudity, led by movies, the Internet and the hedonistic behavior of those such as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and, to some extent, daddy’s little girl Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old Hannah Montana of Disney fame.
      Photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Vanity Fair show daddy’s little girl in various provocative poses but exposing only a little of her midriff and a corner of her “pea green bra” as one writer put it. She did not bare it all as first suggested but revealed just enough to continue piquing our curious obsession with nudity.
      While teenaged girls flash considerably more than pea green bras on the bikini-rich beaches of Southern California, those girls aren’t being promoted as Disney’s shiny little virgin while Miley Cyrus is. She’s supposed to be Tinker Bell, not Lolita.
      Because she is worth a lot of money to Disney, Cyrus will no doubt continue in her role as the unblemished little girl next door until the day that she really kicks off her clothes and declares herself grown up. Then she will show us every aspect of the body God gave her and we will look upon it until we are drained of our drool and then we’ll return to other more profitable indoor activities.
      Perhaps it is my age or my familiarity with human anatomy, but I am growing weary of our obsession with the human body. However, I do understand that there are men who have never seen a real naked woman and women who have never seen a real naked man, leaving them to wonder if the pictures they study are real or altered. Curiosity alone can keep them awake at night.
      I suggest that for their sake and as a possible way of turning the titillating nature of nudity into just another boring aspect of neighborhood life, we appear every Monday at exactly 7 p.m. after the cocktail hour, standing naked on the front porches of our homes facing the street. By that, you see, first-timers will have their curiosities satisfied and we will all be so damned tired of looking at naked bodies that our obsession will pass and we can move on to other interests.
      Stripped of our outer personages, we will appear as human beings, differing in details but the same in basics, and no matter how many of us you look at, it will always be just that. Now scoot inside before you’re arrested. All of you.