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. Read more from Jazz in our interview here

Over the last year of running my feminist business (Mude Threads), 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 sexualisation 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 realise 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 sexualised and objectified nakedness. If my mission was to 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’ sexualisation 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 sexualised 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/imagining

The rules suddenly shift when women realise 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 sexualised. 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-sexualised 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 sexualised 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!

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