There’s some old public speaking advice that suggests that a speaker picture everyone in the audience in their underwear. The idea is that, when they’re half clothed, all of their imperfections are laid bare and the speaker feels less insecure and more confident.
There’s also that classic nightmare where you’ve made it to school and it turns out you’re only wearing your underwear. The idea is that, your naked body is shameful and embarrassing and not fit for human eyes.
I’ve found that both scenarios have a lot of truth to them, but the French series Nude, streaming on SBS On Demand, is on the side of the former, asking:
What if we were required to be naked at all times – by law?
In the show, Frank Fish wakes up after eight years in a coma to discover that everyone is naked all the time. Whether hugging or sitting on – and thereby desecrating - a chair, the Transparency Law requires that you wear no clothes for safety purposes. No clothes means there’s no way to hide weapons. Problem solved.
But this isn’t the only benefit of the law. In the show’s universe, mandatory nudity has increased civility and decreased insecurity, partially thanks to a companion law that prohibits people from commenting on each other’s bodies. Body shaming is a thing of the past (along with, presumably, body complimenting).
But would it work in real life?
It may seem like a small point, but there is a timing issue. All it takes for France to become completely accustomed to all the time nudity is a few years. So not even one generation ticked over before everyone became okay with it. That seems implausible after such a stark cultural revolution. Surely there would be some dissenters - people who either refuse to the leave their homes or vigilantes who run around putting clothes on people.
How much anti-anxiety medication would it take for a portion of the population to accept this new reality? Would the number of patients seeing psychologists soar? What would happen to clothing companies? Would they pivot to making mobile phone cases like so many of us have at our lowest moments? My god what about the French fashion labels? How are they not rioting in the streets?
Rationally, I imagine that constant nudity is something I could get used to eventually, like anything. Nudity would become totally normal, like skinny jeans or bowler hats or calling people horrific names on Twitter.
I would never in a million years voluntarily be naked in public. I’m barely tolerant of my unclothed body in socially acceptable situations, like a communal gym locker room or, god help us all, a “shirts vs skins” basketball game. Even in my own home – my home! – I have to run to the bathroom for a shower, lest I risk being body bullied by myself. I can’t run too quickly of course, because when you run, you can feel The Jiggle. And nothing brings on self-hate (and a solid shower cry) like feeling The Jiggle.
Now, I am not necessarily a Never Nude, but the scientific fact remains that if people were meant to be naked, they would be. Clothes are what separate us from animals! The unclothed animals anyway. There are a lot of dogs out there wearing sweaters. But that may be more of a class issue than a biological one, from what I understand.
But even if by some miracle we were able to get over displaying our own naked bodies in public, there’s also the matter of getting used to being in the presence of other people’s naked bodies in public. How would everyone stop their eyes from darting all over the place? How many instances of “Hey, I’m up here” would there have to be before people were comfortable with the fact that everyone around them was naked?
And yet, there is a lot of evidence that IPNT (Increased Public Nudity Time) can have a positive effect on your own body image.
Some people pose naked for photographers as part of their journey towards body positivity. For them, being openly nude is an exclamation of self-love or at least an attempt at developing a kinder relationship with their bodies. And last year, many naked people gathered in Times Square in New York City as a proclamation of self-love.
As you might expect, Instagram is full of people putting their bodies on display as a way of coming to terms with how they look and increasing body positivity. And if you believe these people, being nude more can help you feel better about your body and the bodies of others.
In fact, becoming a nudist could clear out that self-hate for good. There’s even something in New South Wales called NudeManFest, where men hang out together naked as part of a “celebration of the male body in a natural setting” (oh god) where “you play with nature and nature plays with you” (please no please).You have to become a member, though, which costs $15 per year. Onlookers have described it as “confronting and not pleasant” (sounds about right).
But whether they let “nature play with them” or not, what all of these people have discovered is that in order to accept your body, you need to be around it more. You need to feel it moving through space, look at it, talk to it, sing to it, take it to the movies, buy it dinner and treat it with some respect. Public nudity allows you to see that you, me and everyone else are imperfect. We might as well accept and appreciate our bodies as they are.
So the next time you’re feeling a little dissatisfied with your fitness level, just take all your clothes off. And if the dog needs a walk or your in-laws need help setting up their new router or your church group asks you to give a talk about personal finance management, leave those clothes at home. You might just feel better about yourself.
But you might also get arrested.
And I’m not a lawyer, but you almost certainly won’t be allowed near a school or a park anytime soon.
Nude can be streamed on SBS On Demand.