Nudity, Consumerism, and Our Relationship with Fashion
A few days ago, the image below (the uncensored version) appeared in my Instagram feed (via the lovely @ayakamileon). I was shocked, not that the subject's breast was fully exposed, but because the image was so profoundly beautiful. Evocative of oil painting and sculpture at once, it seemed made in another time; produced for an era when we consumed everything, imagery included, in a slower, more measured way. I noticed the texture of the fabric, the light against her skin, the softness of her silhouette.
The work is part of a self-portrait series by fashion, beauty, and lifestyle photographer Jaime Beck of Ann Street Studio. She recently began working and living in the South of France, an opportunity she is using to explore and expand upon the motivations and themes of her work.
Not long after I liked the image, her post was reported and removed by Instagram for violating community nudity guidelines. She re-reposted the image as it is above, with this context:
...Another aspect of these nudes is trying to find a freedom of expression away from consumerism and commercialism. This is why I am not wearing clothing, makeup, or have my hair done. I always do this in my natural state, as I am when I get out of bed. This is me. This is raw. I don't need anything to make me feel beautiful—beauty comes from within. Can we appreciate beauty if you can't buy it? If it's [sic] value is sold as self-confidence? Am I more or less valuable to you if my body has nothing of value on it?
This is the most relevant and compelling remark I have heard from a creator of fashion images in recent memory. Coupled with the artist's intention, the image took on a whole new level of significance for me. At the heart of it, I think there's an uncomfortable truth here: it says a lot about our society that we're more shocked by the image of a bare body designed to inspire us to accept what we have than by the image of a clothed one designed to inspire us to buy what we lack.
Our modern relationship with fashion is riddled with these kinds of inconsistencies, a lot of which stem from the consumerist nature of the industry: we have to feel empty to turn to our things to feel full. To break the cycle, to decouple style from consumption, to ultimately know who we are, we need work like Ms. Beck's that pushes us to examine our own biases and assumptions about fashion, beauty, commercialism, our bodies, and the relationship between them. More than ever, I think we're called upon to bypass quick judgement in favor of taking time to understand the intentions and motivations behind the work. We must read, and think, learn, and question. But most of all, we have to feel. Recently, I've gotten into the practice of taking stock of how I feel after I see a fashion image: do I feel lacking, or do I feel enriched? Has it allowed me to tap into something I know exists within me, or has it compelled me to look outside myself for what I seek? I'll gladly take an exposed breast that connects me to the boundless creativity and beauty within me over a covered one that tries to persuade me that I can buy my way to that feeling.