The Empowered Nude: Is Female Nudity Always Sexual?

A reflective brain-dump by Jazz Moodie, founder of Mude Threads. Jazz hand-embroiders nude designs and nude commissions onto clothing as a means of reclaiming control over how female nudity is portrayed in society.

 

Until recently I have run Mude Threads alongside my University studies, making it really hard to dedicate 100% to either! I am finally creating art full-time this summer, until I start a full-time job in September. As a freelance artist I have faced quite a few challenges that I wasn’t expecting. Running Mude Threads full time has made me realize how important self-imposed structure and self-motivation are. It has become so important for me to set myself goals at the start of every day, so that I don’t slip behind! My advice:

Set your ‘work’ goals at the start of the day, so you can feel a sense of achievement when you tick off orders and admin.

I’ve recently found it really important to put time aside to create art for myself, not for business. That means, saving time to go with the flow, use riskier materials and be okay with pieces that come out ‘wrong’. I always need to remind myself that sketching and embroidering nakedness isn’t just for fulfilling orders…I started this ‘business’ because I loved doing those things for feeling of sharing and wearing my creations!

The second challenge I find running a feminist art business is that some people disagree with my art. Over the last year, I have received a handful of messages from outsiders who have interpreted my art and mission as ‘problematic’. It has led me to this point – I need a big ol’ brain dump of my thoughts and feelings to really reflect on the art of embroidering real womens’ nudity.

Can nakedness ever be empowering or have our nude forms been hijacked by the male gaze forever?

It feels as if nudity and sex are naturally intertwined, after centuries of patriarchal structures cementing this notion in place. Can we really look at our own bodies and breasts with a purely neutral mind, after a lifetime of conditioning that they are there for straight-male pleasure?

Mude Threads’ mission is to celebrate the empowered female form on our own terms, in the face of censorship and sexualization of our bodies.

A few days ago I received a pretty loaded DM via Instagram from someone who didn’t understand the ethos of Mude Threads: “I don’t understand why the sexual aspect should be removed from it [the female form], or treated as if it’s a bad thing”. This was a refreshing take on my mission from an outsider. Sometimes I assume that everyone has a clear understanding of my mission and the message behind my artwork. This particular question made me realize that Mude Threads sits on the knife-edge of empowerment and ridicule.

For me, embroidering real women onto clothing has never been about ‘removing’ the sexual aspect of our bodies. Instead, it is about making room for an empowered version of nakedness in a world that only has space for sexualized and objectified nakedness.

If my mission was the remove all sexuality from the female form, I’d be fighting a losing battle. It would also be a battle I wouldn’t want to be a part of – our bodies should, and always will, be naturally intertwined with sex.

SEX IS GREAT! Our bodies are great for sex!

The female body is scattered with erogenous landmines (anywhere on the body that has a heightened sensitivity and can elicit a sexual response when stimulated). The nape of a neck, an inner thigh, an armpit (who knew!?) – proving that ‘removing’ sexualization from the female form would quite literally require a physical removal of our naturally occurring erogenous zones.

In my eyes, we don’t need to completely eradicate the sexual meaning of female nudity in order to make room for a new meaning. My experiences of drawing real women have helped me to understand how empowered nudity can coexist alongside sexualized nudity. I have received intimate nude photographs from countless women who have trusted me to turn their body into a work of art.

The majority of nudes that I receive are unapologetic and natural – by this I mean, there’s no tummy-sucking, there’s no spine-arching, there’s usually unruly pubes, there’s body rolls and stretch marks, there’s funny faces and smiles. They certainly don’t feel like the nudes we’re used receiving, sending, or imagining.

The rules suddenly shift when women realize they can take nudes for themselves as an act of rebellion and/or self-love. When women acknowledge that the only viewers of this intimate image are themselves and an artist (a woman myself), any burden of appeasing to the male gaze can evaporate. Nakedness becomes empowering. Instead of avoiding spending time with their own nakedness, these women challenge themselves to spend hours with every inch of their bodies, for no reason other than art. Power-poses replace ‘sexy’ poses. Body rolls replace tummy-sucks.

Context changes everything – nude art created for women by women is powerful. A woman displaying her nudity for herself and for the process of turning herself into art, has no sexual baggage.

The current view of the female form is lazy. Society’s no-nipple policy is lazy.

Without bothering to understand new contexts, any kind of nude female form is sexualized. Humans are so much more complex than viewing a nude form and being immediately and uncontrollably titillated…(and if you are immediately and uncontrollably titillated by static nudity, check yo’self).

We can appreciate art, we can appreciate the curvature of a line intended to represent a breast, we can appreciate a nude female body as an act of self-love not solely as an act of performance for a viewer’s pleasure.

For women to reclaim control over the female nude, we need to create an abundance of new material. For every derogatory and hyper-sexualized image of female nudity, we need an empowered image of female nudity. Unfortunately for us, there are structures in place to stop us from carving out this new meaning…the elusive female nipple is censored and removed from any portrayal of the female nude, sexual or empowered. My original art account was deactivated with no warning by Instagram for ‘sexually explicit content’, despite all images being of a sketched or embroidered empowered nude.

Until we can display our own nudity on our own terms, our bodies will continue to be sexualized without our consent. Until we can display our own nudity on our own terms, there will be little means of creating a counter-gaze of empowerment. Until we can display our own nudity on our own terms, I will continue to sketch and embroider the empowered nude form!

By Jasmine Moodie

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