On the immediacy of nakedness
Immediate. Today, I am sure that most of us hear this word and understand it to mean now, to mean without delay, or without the barrier of time separating me from the thing I want. Immediacy, in our fast-paced world driven by consumerism and access to information, is about speed and convenience more than anything else. That is, after all, the most common definition you’ll find in any dictionary: “occurring or accomplished without delay.” But the wordy guy in me, the one who took all those linguistics and language history courses in school, has been thinking a lot about those less common uses of the word and how that relates to our body and our experience of the world around us, whether we truly experience any of our world immediately, and whether immediacy should even be the goal or if it’s just one of many important ways to experience life.
Latin roots for one hundred
If you scroll far enough down the dictionary’s list of definitions for immediate, you will eventually find the one I’m referring to: “without intervening medium or agent.” That is the essential meaning of the word if you break its parts down to its Latin roots: The prefix IN- meaning “not" or “opposite of” and MEDIATUS meaning “in the middle of.” Immediate, then, simply means that there is nothing separating, nothing mediating or filtering or refracting the one from the other, the now from the next, the want from the have, the cause from the effect, the body from its environment.
It is from this same MEDIATUS that we get words like to mediate, meaning to go between, and, importantly, media (itself the plural form of medium), which we often just think of as the assembly of the various forms of entertainment, television, news… which of course it is. The umbrella term that we use to refer to all of those channels and forms of communication indicates that they are a go-between, that they connect us with information, events, and experiences through an intermediate agency. It is a filter of sorts, but one that broadens our knowledge and awareness beyond what we would have experienced on our own.
A medium might also be the tools, materials, or canvas we use to create art. These are the means through which we communicate complex ideas, emotions, and experiences. It can be the paint or the paper or the stone that is worked and reworked to tell us a story we needed to hear. While not strictly found in a list of dictionary definitions, we could expand this idea of the mediating material beyond just time, or art, or the communication of ideas, to include any layer or step between ourselves and the raw, unrefined experiences and elements of the world, to include other lenses through which we experience life, the apparatuses that grant us access to the best of life, and the buffers that dampen the blow of the worst of life.
That could be a news broadcast reporting the horrors of a war or a disaster that we are fortunate not to have experienced first-hand. That could be diving equipment that gets us to the sea floor to explore marine habitats. That could be clothing to protect us from the cold or the sun or some other danger posed by our environment. These are all media, go-betweens, channels of communication, and layers of protection.
Stripping the layers
In the subtitle of this piece, I openly promised a discussion on immediacy in the context of nakedness, which, if you have been paying attention, fits the definition of immediacy: Experiencing the world without an intervening medium, which I’d like to assert can include clothing. And that’s something I will always advocate for: A little more time spent naked. In nakedness, one experiences the world more or less as it is, unrefined, uninterpreted. Naked, one experiences the cooling breeze with no material shielding or filtering it. One might experience the textures of the ground, the wet of the grass, the coarseness of the sand, and the heat of the pavement. One might feel the warmth of the sun or the resistance of the water passing across every inch of the body. Undamped by fabric and protective layers, the skin might experience the full gamut of natural sensations that it is equipped to feel. Unhindered by layers of social statuses and signifiers, we might even connect with one another more immediately and see each other more directly.
Nakedness removes the layers, the filters, the means through which we are accustomed to experiencing the world. Some of those layers are for protection: A wide-brimmed sunhat, a big puffy coat, an umbrella, all to protect ourselves from having to experience the discomfort of a sunburn, a winter wind, or the dampness of a rainy day. And some of those layers are less about protection and more about social expectation: A clingy swimsuit that protects a few bits of skin from prying eyes, a t-shirt that seems like it’s only really keeping the heat and sweat in on a summer day, or those shoes you wear that hurt your feet but look great. We all, admittedly, spend a great portion of life softening all variety of experiences and sensations in shoes and under clothing, filtering out discomfort, protecting from danger, complying with social expectations.
What a shame, too, because the body seems to yearn for those experiences. It rejoices in the sunshine and in the breeze and in the cool grass. It longs to connect with other people physically, sexually, socially, artistically. It chafes and chokes under the wools, cottons, leathers, and poly blends we squeeze it into. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but surely our bodies are equipped and eager to experience more of our world much more immediately than they’ve been doing. There is so much world within our reach that we simply choose not to touch, feel, or know directly.
Even beyond clothing, we also experience much of our world from within walls or behind screens, relinquishing the kinds of touch and feel and sensation that our bodies are prepared to report back to us. In a way, even the body is a mediator—between our minds and our environment—but is the closest we can achieve to an unfiltered, essential “truth,” if such a thing exists. I think we could all be doing a little bit more unfiltered tasting of our world, seeing how it feels to let a little bit of Mother Nature touch our skin, and embracing that immediate connection with our surroundings and other people. We could all be thinking of immediacy in terms of our connections to our environment and not just in terms of getting our needs met as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Some essential truth, if it exists
There is a sense of perceived authenticity, I think, in striving to reduce the layers that separate us from some imaginary, essential “truth.” There has always been this idea that there is something more real out there, something that we cannot know by listening to a podcast about the thing, or reading a book about the thing, or watching a movie based on a musical based on a book about the thing. And to a degree, I suppose that’s true. A first-hand experience is bound to be more raw and real to you than one you read about or saw on TV.
I want to be careful to not imply that experiencing life through these various media is less authentic than living it raw and unfiltered. Truly, there is always something lost when an experience is had through a filter, sure. You can’t feel the breeze of the ocean through the pages of a book, and you can’t feel the bass pumping through a crowded concert hall when you’re watching someone’s Instagram story, though I would argue that a good writer or artist or filmmaker might be able to get you pretty close. And yet there is so much more gained by having access to the experience at all. As much as the idea of a pure and unfiltered experience of our world sounds appealing, we would not be a species of storytellers and artists and inventors and problem-solvers if those intervening media were not important to our experience and survival as humans. We can understand far more of our world by way of these various media, including by way of the clothing and apparatuses and literature and arts that allow us to explore knowledge, locations, and ideas we might otherwise never experience or understand.
I’m inclined to believe that there may not really be some elusive truth to find through shedding layers, anyway, but that we might actually find something closer to truth through one another’s experiences, through venturing outside of our goldilocks zones. Through others’ accounts of events and sensations, we can even understand our own lived experiences better. We might learn to pay attention to something within our own experiences that we had not noticed before or we might venture to a corner of our world that we’d never thought to explore. We might gain a sense of camaraderie, build a friendship. Protecting ourselves from certain pains might open our eyes to other joys, both literally and metaphorically.
I don’t think that being naked more often is going to entirely change our understanding of the world, of nature, of ourselves, or of one another. It won’t reveal any secret truth and it’s not a magic pill, to be clear. But there is something there that we need, some measure of authenticity found through immediacy that adds value and perspective to all of the filtered experiences we encounter.
Certainly appreciating both the media (by which I mean all of those intermediate materials) and the lack thereof for what they offer is the most rewarding approach. What can be learned or gained by removing barriers to our experience of the world around us? When we feel every surface texture, every temperature with our skin, we learn more about our surroundings and can feel more connected to our environment, though in that vulnerability we are also less able to protect ourselves from it. And ultimately, we should also remind ourselves what we gain from the barriers themselves. With access to more of our world, in more ways than one, these various media provide an approximation of experiences we may never have first-hand but also expand our appreciation for those experiences we have had first-hand, unmediated.
Yes, an afternoon spent hiking nude in the forest will grant a connection with nature that many will never grasp, but any nudist can tell you that a good pair of boots or sandals between your feet and the forest floor will sure make the experience more accessible, rendering you more able to appreciate the other connections you’re making to the breeze, the damp, the foliage. If a nude hike is entirely out of reach for you, a fully clothed hike is still an invaluable chance to connect with nature, even if somewhat sheltered, and there’s no reason to diminish the value of that kind of mediated experience. And, to be honest, a nature documentary exploring the natural wonders of our forests viewed from the comfort of your home may not be an “authentic” experience of nature, but it’s nothing to be scoffed at, either. The spaces between these experiences should tell us a lot about the practicality of nudity and clothing, about appreciating the whole range of experiences and what they offer. To me, nakedness is a meaningful tool to understand the world because it’s one of many tools, not because it’s the best tool or the only tool.
When I set out to write this piece, I was ready to proclaim that life is best savored first-hand, unhindered, metaphorically or even literally naked. The oft-used #NoFilter hashtag referenced in the title is, after all, a signifier of authenticity, of supposed truth, a refreshing glimpse into something more real. But the apparent message here turns out to be that life is best savored however we are able to do so, as long as we get to savor it at all. With or without filters or, more importantly, balancing when to filter and when not to.
“Naked when possible, clothed when practical,” as the nudists like to say, seems to hold up whether we’re referring to an actual naked experience of our world, or a figurative one. I’m content with that. 🪐