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Female Nudity: How 'Empowerment' Lost Its Meaning In Capitalism World

Is nudity empowering? In today's culture, it appears so, especially for the rich, famous, and white. The 1960s feminist movements saw female body exposure as a powerful political act, but modern feminism seems more focused on profit than protest.

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Ishika Thanvi
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Nudity Empowerment

Image Credits: Wagepeaceau on X

The feminist movements of the 1960s boldly embraced the act of baring the female body as a powerful political statement. The liberated breasts of that era sought to reclaim the body as a site of political declaration, recognising the inseparable link between women's political lives and their bodies. Issues such as sexuality, birth control, marital rape, and domestic violence were brought to the forefront through this visually impactful gesture. The bared body became a symbol of power, both social and political.

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The Ironic Legacy of 20th-Century Feminism

However, the legacy of 20th-century feminism seems to have evolved into a culture where female nudity is less concerned with protest and more entangled with performance and profit. In today's commercialised culture, women's bodies are relentlessly reduced to objects, commodified, and sexualised. The challenge for modern feminism is to find innovative ways to reframe the body, expressing the complexity and diversity of women. While we advocate against censoring images of breastfeeding mothers and promoting body-positivity for our daughters, the commercial culture relentlessly reduces women to bodies, overshadowing their voices and commodifying them based on narrowed beauty ideals. 

Is it a revolutionary act challenging established norms, or does it perpetuate existing power structures?

The question of whether women who profit from their empowerment are right or revolutionary is a nuanced one, exemplified by the words of the internet sensation Urofi Javed in a conversation with The Dirty Magazine. Javed challenges societal norms by asserting her right to showcase her body on her terms, emphasising personal agency and rejecting the constraints of societal expectations. She points out that visibility sells and acknowledges capitalising on the sexualisation of her image, sparking a debate about self-exploitation.

Is this a revolutionary act challenging established norms, or does it perpetuate existing power structures? Javed's assertion implies that her actions are a form of resistance within the confines of a culture that commodifies and objectifies women. Understanding this moment requires consideration of the broader societal context in which women navigate empowerment and exploitation, emphasising the complexities surrounding the commodification of one's image in the pursuit of empowerment.

She says, "I haven’t even sexualised my body the way people do... But I am capitalising on the sexualisation.” A woman exploiting her own exploitation? Revolutionary.

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The acknowledgement here is not a condemnation of the commercialisation of bodies or women profiting from their empowerment. Instead, it emphasises the importance of understanding empowerment and nudity within the broader context of societal power structures, including capitalism and commercialisation. It calls for a nuanced examination of how these dynamics intersect, recognising that the issue extends beyond individual actions to encompass larger social forces shaping the perceptions and experiences of empowerment.

The Complications of Empowerment

Is public female nudity empowering? It seems so, especially if one is beautiful, famous, and white.

However, the issue is more complex. The financial benefit celebrities gain from nudity does not necessarily make it a feminist move, especially from an intersectional feminist perspective. The empowerment associated with nude photos appears to be limited to certain individuals, primarily beautiful, thin, and white women, raising questions about the inclusivity of modern feminism. How many disabled women are 'allowed' to feel empowered when nude? The stark reality suggests that the empowerment narrative is restricted to the white, rich, abled, and skinny.

Cultural Perspectives: India's Oppressive Relationship with Nudity

In the Indian context, nudity is often equated with promiscuous behaviour and lacks the space to become a political statement. Instead, nudity is often used as a tool of oppression or punishment, as evidenced by incidents such as the parading of Manipuri women. This raises critical questions about the cultural significance of nudity among tribal communities and the need to challenge oppressive practices. Instead of also acknowledging the cultural significance of nudity among tribes, there is a tendency to shame and oppress those who embrace it. 

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The discussion on public female nudity and empowerment raises important questions about who is allowed to feel empowered through nudity. Rather than dictating whether women 'should' or 'should not' feel empowered in this way, the focus should be on dismantling the restrictive narratives surrounding female nudity.

‘True’ empowerment lies in expanding the definition to include women of all shapes, sizes, colours, and abilities, challenging the commercialised and exclusive standards that persist in our society. 

Views expressed by the author are their own

intersectionality inclusivity oppression nudity empowered me capitalism
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