The old apes rose up and began to walk with their heads held high. They wandered far through lush, cool forests and found at its edge an open savannah ripe with meat to hunt and food to forage.

They quickly found their thick fur far too heavy in the glaring heat and sweltering sun of this new land, and survival here became uncertain. But our ancestral line is a blessed one, and nature—through environmental pressure and sexual selection—found a way to keep their large brains, the jewel of our species, cool.

The thick fur receded. The skin beneath became exposed and darkened, and sweat began to pour from their bodies.

These apes became naked, and it was good.

“To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. ( The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.
To be naked is to be without disguise.
To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own skin, the hairs of one’s own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.”

― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

We are not alone on this earth in having bare skin, but we are undoubtedly the most aware of it. In nature, no other animal is as preoccupied with how much of the body is shown, and how much must be covered up as we are. We alone experience the shame, the exhilaration, and the outrage over the exposed bodies of others and of our own. We may not be the only ones born so nude, but we alone experience our nakedness.

Among the primates, our closest relatives in nature, we alone lost our fur when—we believe—the genes that determined hairlessness, and the linked genes affecting the number of sweat glands, began to be selected for in warmer climates.

Now, Each of us comes into this world uncovered, and our first sensations are the bonding that occurs when our skin first meets the skin of another. This first skin to skin bonding is critical for our emotional well-being and the way our skin is treated and our nakedness acknowledged during the coming formative years affects us for the rest of our lives.

Depending on your culture, when you were born, and how you were raised you will have a different feeling about your nakedness. You may cover yourself from head to toe, by choice or by law or you may live somewhere where covering is impractical, uncomfortable, and unnecessary. You may live somewhere in which the social norms and laws don’t agree with your own level of inhibition. In those places nakedness can become a protest, a resistance, a revolution.

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

― The Bible, Genesis 3:7

I’m not sure if anyone knows which came first, the need to cover up or the taboo of exposed skin.

As we moved out of Africa and off of the sweltering savannah, we once again needed protection. The fur could not be grown back, but we had our minds. We no longer had to wait on nature, we could compensate and enhance, and we started with clothing. We took the hides and fur of our kills and made simple cloaks and coverings to keep us warm and to keep us hidden.

Our ancestors, the ones who stepped out onto the savannah, while critical to our future existence, they were not us. They would not recognize what they saw if they could look into our eyes. The ones who chose to cover up, they carried the true seed of humanity.

I would argue they made us more us than any form of humanoid to come after. Even the Neanderthals, with their simple cloaks, they knew us too. For what we had in common was the elements and the desire to overcome them, but we had over them was the desire to make more out of our coverings.

“It’s the invention of clothes, not nature, that made “private parts” private.”

— Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Adam and Eve if they existed, may have found they were naked when they ate from the tree of knowledge but what need was there to hide their bodies from each other?

Beyond the need to protect the body and the skin from harm, why is there such a pervasive feeling of shame when it comes to exposure? The story of Adam and Eve’s shameful awakening perpetuates an idea that with the loss of ignorance and innocence must come modesty and that nakedness is an evil. Clothing became a way to control the masses.

As society spread and culture grew more complex clothing became a clue to who you were, where you were from, where you stood in rank and relation to your peers, to the rest of the tribe. The more we spit, came together, mixed, warred, and grew, our clothing changed to reflect who we were becoming.

Your clothing could indicate what beliefs you held, what Gods you worshiped, and to which king you were loyal. Clothing could tell someone if you were married or not. It could tell you if someone was a servant or citizen, and if they were an “us” or a “them,” to let live or to dispatch to their death. Clothing has become a way to place us firmly in a niche and to keep us there. The naked ceased to have a place at all and nakedness became invisibility.

We’ve come a long way since those simple fig leaf coverings and cloaks, haven’t we?

And now what is nakedness to us? In western cultures particularly, after so much indoctrinated objectification and shame, the nakedness of others is no longer seen as a person’s natural or normal state. Seeing the bare skin of another human being elicits strong emotions and reaction. We may feel lust, disgust, shame, or envy. We may feel disturbed and filled with rage. The nude figure is susceptible to lust and objectification now and is often displayed as an art, which is only another kind of decoration and disguise meant to provoke. Nakedness has become a message, just another kind of clothing.

Now the loss of clothing has become a loss of identity, of ego, of self, a specific humiliation. Physical nakedness is both an exposure and a loss of social standing leaving you feeling lost and afraid. Few among us could suffer being so seen in front of our tribe. The skin, the real gateway to the human soul, must be protected.

Our skin, its color, the scars, the calluses, the softness, it’s all part of who we are and where we have been. The skin, the largest and most exposed organ, displays our whole being. Nothing is hidden. So, much like the ego, a facade must be created to cover what is fragile. What is underneath must be protected with layers of illusion and lies a protective “identity” has to be displayed like a shield. So whether through covering up, or by alteration, a new nakedness is placed over the first, and forgotten.

But our attempts to cover only reveal us further, not so much for who we are as individuals, clothing lies the way that language does, but it reveals who we are together. Even in cultures where nakedness is mundane, there is ornamentation, an alteration of the skin in some way with paint, tattoo, scarification, piercing, and more, and more extreme.

“Nakedness has no color: this can come as news only to those who have never covered, or been covered by, another naked human being.”

— James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

To be truly naked even with only ourselves is an exhilarating and titillating experience. To be so naked with another person takes a great leap and a risk. When we lost our fur, we became defenseless against nature. We also became defenseless against one another.

Our fur protected us from all sorts of disease and danger. Our skin has made advances, but no one can deny the trade-off has been only barely in our favor. Parasites and bacteria have an easier time, and we are defenseless against the teeth and claws of our predators. Worse, what protection do we have against the bare touch of another human being? Nothing so weaken us as nakedness pressed against nakedness.

And this is the human experience. We are not alone in our exposure to nature, but we are the only animal brought to such heartache, fear, desire, or rage over the touch or the lack thereof, of another person’s skin. We may cover and alter our skin, we may shame ourselves and others, and we may use, abuse, and objectify the nude, but there is no doubt what we crave to feel our own skin freely and to feel the skin of another with no loss of dignity and no threat of obligation.

We’ve forgotten what we gained when we lost our protective fur. We gained direct contact with our world. There is nothing between us and the sun, the grass, the rain, and the wind. There is nothing at all between us and pure pain and pleasure. There is also nothing between us and one another. We have access to the closest intimacy and with it comes terror and fragility.

With it comes the greatest rewards and the kind of suffering that runs from the epidermis straight to the heart.

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a virtual cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter N under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence.” I am aware that the challenge is over and that I have failed to finish on time, but I am determined not to fail to finish at all. 

Photo by Mubariz Mehdizadeh on Unsplash


Souls in Taboo

We, in darkness and warmth,
coax what is ethereal and ugly
to merge in vulgar and divine ways.


Featured image via Unsplash

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // John Banville

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from John Banville.

Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children’s novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford.

91Educated at a Christian Brothers’ school and St Peter’s College in Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university. Banville has described this as “A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free.”

After school, he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus, which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor. His first book, Long Lankin, was published in 1970.

After the Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left.

Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990. In 1984, he was elected to Aosdána, but resigned in 2001, so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas.

Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls, which was followed by The Silver Swan in 2007. Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like “a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”. Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.

Art is like sex: when you’re doing it, nothing else matters.

John Banville, The Art of Fiction No. 200

As a writer, I know that I am supposed to be an observer of the world. I am supposed to take in the people and conversations around me and use them in my work. I know I am supposed to read all that I can and learn all there is about those who have come before me.

I know that good writing means understanding humanity, telling the truths we need to hear, and showing us the hidden sides of ourselves. To do that I always have to be aware of the more subtleties and the coded messages in what people do, and don’t do, every day.

To be always observing and interacting in the world is time-consuming and because I am always writing, in my head if I do not have a screen or a pen, I forget to maintain my awareness of life. For me, writing happens all the time, and when writing is happening, nothing else matters.

When I cannot write, I want to write, and when I am writing, I can’t think of anything else. I feel very much like I am in a new relationship, where there is hardly time to talk or to get because we cannot keep our hands off of each other.

Writing and I, we think of nothing but when the next time we might be alone together again. Writing and I, we feel the kind of passion for one another that other writers have written the most beautiful and arousing poems about. Writing and I, we long for longer days and sleepless nights so we might feel the warmth of each other’s skin again and again. Writing and I can barely catch our breath.

But just like relationships that are all passion, in the beginning, I am afraid Writing and I might burn out soon if we don’t slow down. I have to make time for other things because in any relationship you should have pursuits and interest outside of the one you love. You have to go out into the world and bring something back into your little bubble. Writing and I will grow weary of one another if the fuel runs out and I have nothing new to offer.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is, there may come a time when things slow down a little around here because Writing and I have to try new things, learn new things about each other, and keep our relationship fresh and strong. I love the kind of writing I do here, but passion can’t be all there is to any relationship.

There has to be more.


If you like this post, consider signing up for my newsletter. It’s new, but I really put my heart into it. ♥

If you have some time to spare, I encourage you to check out the interview with him from the Paris Review.

Oh and if you’re interested I have used another quote from John Banville in a previous Writer’s Quote Wednesday post. From the same interview too!

Original image via Iwan Gabovitch

Better Porn?

Trust me I am just as surprised as you. Porn is not a topic I ever planned to cover on this blog, ever. But then I became a little obsessed with The School of Life and the other day they posted a pretty interesting video on porn, it’s meaning in our lives, and how it could be made better.

I guess from the start I ought to say that for me personally the existence of porn does not break any moral rules. I think sex is a fundamental part of being human and nothing at all to be ashamed of. I regularly talk openly with friends about my views on sex and porn and none of us get squeamish or judgmental. I also support sex workers of all kinds and believe that those who work in porn (and prostitution) deserve respect and safe working conditions.

Basically I like to think I am pretty enlightened when it comes to issues surrounding porn. Even so, I was still a little surprised to see this pop up in my YouTube notifications:

Because of technology, pornography has become a major issue of our time – affecting relationships and adolescence.

For a video on porn I think this was done very well. It was honest, informative, and inoffensive. I agreed with just about every point they made. If I’m being honest I do have one very big issue with the porn industry:

I hate how far porn is from what sex is like in real life.

I think this gives men and women either some very unrealistic expectations or it makes them feel wholly inadequate. Sometimes I think that is why people watch so much porn anymore, because real life sex just doesn’t measure up to what you can see online, anywhere, any time, and for free. What people don’t see is the reason real life sex doesn’t add up is because it is so often devoid of the thing that makes it great, a sense of respect and intimacy.

I have always felt that the things that have gone wrong in the porn industry affect women much more then men in the real life. Sex work is no longer an easy way to make money for women, watch the documentary Hot Girls Wanted if you want a bit of info on that.* I think the porn industry is moving in a direction that is dangerous to our views of sex. Especially for young people.

A lot of porn is about men’s use and enjoyment of women which perpetuates the idea that that is all women are for. It also gives men the ideas that foreplay is unnecessary, that penetration alone is enough for a woman, and that women are willing to perform all kinds of sex acts and if she isn’t something is wrong with her. It’s hard sometimes for me to reconcile those issues and my feeling that banning porn outright will cause more problems than it solves.

But what if porn was just made better?

I was a bit surprised that an organization centered around philosophy was starting their own porn site but they made a good point, who else should work in porn but people who are both open-minded and concerned with what is good and right. Not from a religious perspective but from an understanding of what make a healthy human! Porn definitely doesn’t make us unhealthy. It’s what we do with it that is harmful.

Pornography has an important and dignified role to play within a good life. It can train and guide our desires and educate our excitements. At The School of Life, we believe that good pornography can be broadly therapeutic: helping us to resolve a variety of inner difficulties and contributing to wiser, more fulfilled lives.

Now that is something you don’t hear very often, porn is important and dignified, and can lead us to wiser and more fulfilled lives. I can’t say whether or not that is true but I think it’s good someone is saying something different from all the other conversations we’ve had about sexual imagery up until now. Someone has taken the middle ground. Someone has said, don’t be ashamed, but also take responsibility, express your sexuality, but do so with self-awareness.

So whatever your views on porn are, or the sex industry as a whole, I think we can all take a moment and reevaluate our views. Maybe we hadn’t considered that there was another way to do things?

*Check out Vice’s interview with Rashida Jones on Her Porn Documentary ‘Hot Girls Wanted’

Original image via Guerretto