Jerry Seinfeld opined on the nature of nudity during a monologue in the Seinfeld episode, “The Truth.”
“When you have clothes on, you can always kind of make those little adjustments … but when you’re naked it’s like it’s so final — you’re, well, that’s it. There’s nothing else I can do,” he shrugged as he stiffened his body in an awkward mimesis of a deer in headlights. “That’s why I like to wear a belt when I’m naked.”
Last week, Nudity in the Upspace, a workshop series organized by Becca Wolinsky ’14, Camila Pacheco-Fores ’14 and Gabrielle Sclafani ’14, addressed this discomfort toward nudity and how it intersects with social issues including race, class, body image, gender and sexuality. This is the second year the event has taken place.
According to the official Facebook page for Nudity in the Upspace, the activities offered varied each night: nude body painting Monday, nude yoga Tuesday, nude mural making and a discussion panel Wednesday, a theatrical production Thursday, a devised piece Friday and an open mic and cabaret night Saturday.
Until she participated in Nudity in the Upspace last year, Sclafani said she had never been in a group situation without her clothes on — and the prospect “terrified” her.
But she added, “meeting (Wolinsky), who loves to be naked, and seeing her streaking around the dorm and being okay with that, was really eye-opening to me. I recognized a lot of courage there, and I realized it was a courage that I wanted to understand and nurture in myself.”
The panel discussion, titled “Stripping Privileges: Undressing the Isms,” replaced last year’s nude figure drawing event and was the only event requiring clothes. It was introduced this year in an attempt to more directly address the overarching themes of Nudity in the Upspace and to make the event “more mindful, meaningful and intentional, to even further break down the barrier of silence,” Pacheco-Fores said.
Wolinsky echoed this sentiment.
“Questions around who can occupy naked spaces are important to talk about because there are reasons and structures in place that allow certain bodies to be validated,” she said, citing cultural beauty standards such as weight and ethnicity as key examples of these structures.
She added that other on-campus nude events, like the Naked Donut Run, feature primarily white, physically fit males with an alternative bent.
While the performance events invited audiences to disrobe as much as they felt comfortable, body painting, yoga, and mural making enforced a strict no-dress policy to protect the safety of the space and avoid creating a divisive atmosphere.
“As performers, we’re in our most exposed, vulnerable state, and that’s an important part of instilling our message,” Pacheco-Fores said. But she added that in participatory events, “there are certain power dynamics associated with whether or not some people are clothed and some are naked.”
The week’s events received national media attention.
Jesse Watters, the correspondent from the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” who crashed Brown’s annual Sex Power God party with a camera in 2005, returned to campus this week to report on the workshop series.
Watters interviewed students who both did and did not attend the events, and his questions largely centered on cost of tuition and whether their parents were aware of the workshop series, according to a student-made video responding to Watters.
The Brown Political Review produced the video to showcase students’ responses to Watters. Most students in the video criticized Watters’ coverage of the event, and some expressed surprise that Nudity in the Upspace was considered so newsworthy in light of the recent federal government shutdown.
Emily Kassie ’14, one of the video’s creators, said she worked on it because she sensed an overwhelming “aggravation toward his presence on campus,” adding that Watters’ behavior toward young women in talking about revealing their bodies was “highly inappropriate.”
Kassie also said she had surprisingly little difficulty finding students to interview for the video. The first student she filmed was someone who had been interviewed by Watters, but as passersby noticed what was going on, “people started jumping in and wanting to speak their minds,” she said.
Watters addressed the campus response in an Oct. 5 episode of “The O’Reilly Factor” but made several factual errors — including referring to the event as “Nudity Week,” mistakenly citing nude cabaret as the Wednesday night event instead of the discussion panel and attributing the BPR video to a “student-run newspaper group.”
Responding to allegations in the BPR video that he had behaved disrespectfully toward female interviewees, Watters said, “I also asked a male student about his mother, what she would say — you know, fair and balanced.”
The BPR video aimed to “incorporate the student voice, which is the most essential voice to hear,” Kassie said, adding that she has sent it to major news outlets who recently covered Nudity in the Upspace in hopes that it will gain enough exposure to undermine the credibility of Watters’ upcoming report this Wednesday.
Comments on these news websites, including CBS and the Huffington Post, have demonstrated a range of responses from support to condemnation, with many posts containing pejorative speculations about the bodies of the organizers, attendees and Brown students as a whole.
“Most of the comments we’ve been getting are comments that seem to stem from a combination of disgust and ignorance — and I, in response, have been disgusted at this prejudice against virtually any body type that isn’t skinny,” Sclafani said. “It’s unclear to me what their ideal body type is, but clearly we are not it. People need to start valuing others for more than their external appearance, be that clothed or naked, and start having a conversation about why those things don’t matter.”
Wolinsky agreed. What many critics do not understand is that “this is not a naked party, it’s not a donut run and it’s definitely not Sex Power God,” she said. “It’s a space to address issues people might not feel comfortable addressing. It’s nudity with a purpose.”