JohannaOlson

Culture Writing

 
Nakedness (Published in print for Off Centre Magazine 09/09):
 
I have a great deal of respect for nudists.
 
Though I’ve never been to a nudist retreat, I sometimes imagine the conversations that may take place. I’d like to think that people courteously warn each other not to get too close to the campfire and to make sure they check for insects before sitting down. They might comment on the tattoos that are usually covered or awkwardly answer their daughter’s questions about Gary’s penis.
 
I wonder if there’s a sign on the door that has a picture of clothing, circled in red, with a bold stripe through it.
 
Aside from that and their bravery when it comes to using knives and owning pets, I respect naturalists because nakedness has always been portrayed as intrinsically shameful. As if exposing yourself, all of yourself, somehow also means you are giving part of yourself away and when you do that you suddenly become less valuable. Once you are exposed, you are exposed. There are no secrets or retractions. If the cotton shield has been removed then security has been surrendered. I suppose this is exactly why so many people find liberation in nudity and others find bondage.
 
I’ll admit, the notion of covering our natural form with human-made materials seems equally as wrong. Sure we need to protect ourselves from frost bite and sun damage but at some point we started using that necessary covering as a way to distinguish male from female, rich from poor, and young from old. So our clothes became less about what was being covered and more about who was being created.
 
But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe it is logical for women to wear skirts all the time, just in case they unexpectedly need to give birth or something.
 
Once women put on their skirts and men put on their slacks, the only thing left of nakedness was the expectations we placed on it and the shame it generates. Expectations on muscle and fat and size and skin that make us feel insecure because we can’t seem to live up to them, yet we continue to uphold them. Probably because we know that our clothes have come to hide more than the scars on our skin.
To consummate a relationship couples don’t start wearing matching outfits, they expose their complete nakedness to one another. They become vulnerable to criticism and expectation, without the comfort and security of denim or polyester. Then with more passion and more meaning than a Danielle Steele novel, they embrace. And there’s freedom in that.
I have a female friend who used to walk into a room of women and undress simply because she preferred to be naked. She usually followed that up with, “What? We all have the same parts” If that were true, that being naked is just about having the same “parts” or not being phased by different “parts” then being naked would be simple. Yet, never once did someone respond to her statement by shrugging their shoulders and beginning to undress themselves. She always stood alone. Just her and her naked body.
I imagine that she was very self-aware in those moments because nakedness gives you no choice but to subjugate to how you truly feel about yourself. I think she found solace in the fact that she wasn’t like the rest of us- paper dolls, awkwardly covering ourselves with shapes and patterns that someone else has cut out and we then used to determine who we were. On top of that, I think we still believed clothing was necessary in order to cover one’s sexuality and to keep sexual urges to designated release spots like bars and bedrooms, the appropriate places to undress. But she was a virgin and there are no skanks in nudist communities.
 
I’d like to believe that stripping off our clothes could also mean stripping off the chains of eternal shame and social expectation, but I’ve never walked by a naked woman and thought, “She’s Free!!” Which makes me realize that nudity could never just be about the body and freedom from its bondage can never be found just by removing our clothes.
 
No disrespect, nudies.
 
 
Letter to Humanity (Published in print for Off Centre Magazine 06/09):
 
Dear Humanity,
 
You have been getting a lot of flack lately. Frankly, most of it has been justified.
 
You seem to have trouble getting along with each other. This is probably rooted in your need to self-satisfy. If you all focus on yourselves, it makes sense that you will have a hard time living in harmony.
 
Please don’t be angry, it’s natural to not like criticism. If it makes you feel better, you can pretend that I’m talking to everyone except you. I’m sure you’ve already done that.
 
There has also been some confusion over what is truth and what to have faith in. You probably thought that would be an easy thing to figure out.
 
To those of you who have chosen to put faith in yourselves alone… failure must suck.
To those of you who have chosen to put your faith in money… ‘Recession ’09’ was not a party invite.
And to those of you who have chosen to put your faith in science… Let me remind you that this is the same science that told you Pluto was a planet and year 2000 would be the end of time.
 
It sure makes identifying liars and lies hard when you don’t know where to look for the truth. It’s okay, these things are tough.
 
This misunderstanding is probably why you also think you’re fit to judge your peers. On what basis are you determining beauty, intelligence, and worth anyhow? Identity cannot be purchased from a surgeon or a professor, despite that you often indicate it can. I can hardly keep up with your changing expectations of me. Perhaps the local department store will one day stock “likable personality” and “desirable body” so I can just purchase an upgrade every year.
 
Honestly, I don’t see perfection anywhere among you. But it’s not this lack of perfection that concerns me, it’s the hypocrisy and the denial. I know you have good intentions, but you can intend on a lot of things and they will still never come to pass. I just want you to stop saying that you are someone that you are not and to stop advocating a lifestyle you do not live. I saw you eating out of styrofoam before you took your recycling out and I noticed the anti-consumerist t-shirt that you bought yesterday. But I’m sure you had good intentions. That’s probably why you tried to hide those things.
 
I think things would be easier if you stopped screwing yourselves over . If your need for self-satisfaction becomes an obsession, you will have to put a wall between you and reality. If you want freedom and truth, you will have to risk the vulnerability of no wall.
 
I’m sorry to be so hard on you. I’m actually one of your biggest fans. There have been many organizations and historic events that have tried to deny your ability to be good and just. And they have a lot of evidence in their favor. But I want you to know that I have not given up on you. I know what you are capable of and it is far greater than the things that hold you back. I believe in you, even if you give me more reasons not to.
 
All my best,
 
Fellow Human
 

Social Networking (Published in print for Off Centre Magazine 05/09):

 
When I was young, I kept a diary. It was covered in fuzzy purple fabric with pink flowers, and had a small lock, protecting the information inside. I kept it in the drawer of my nightstand and hid the key far away from it. I didn’t want anyone to read its contents. I even avoided referring to specific details or using real names when writing entries in it. To think, I actually hid my personal information. 
 
These days, privacy seems to be just a setting. It’s a temporary veil you put over detailed information about yourself to hide it from all your pre-Facebook friends. Underneath that privacy setting is a list of favorite movies, a religious belief, a cliché favorite quote, and a profile picture put there so people can ‘get to know you’.  It’s official, our lives have now been condensed to the information we display on our Facebook pages and the updates we tweet to our Twitter followers. 
 
Not to mention the extensive social network that is magically attained just by logging in. I, for example, have 679 Facebook friends. (Not that I would recognize most of them without their profile pictures…) There’s something idealistic and simple about being able to discreetly choose how separate and how intimate you are with the ‘friends’ in your life. I can be updated on the lives of my old high school teacher, a boy I used to babysit, and an aunt I’ve never met. Yet, I may never have a face-to-face conversation with them or learn to recognize their laugh. That is both beautiful and tragic. 
 
Like virtual friend networks, I have a love/hate relationship with all simulated things. I love them because they’re not real, yet I hate them because they’re not real. It’s certainly good for the ego to have 679 friends, but if those were 679 real friends then I’ve been getting ripped off on a lot of birthday gifts. How many real friends does 679 pseudo-friends give you? 
 
When we participate in a world that only partially relies on truth, the things we know are slowly redefined. The definition of friendship is confused by the ability to have knowledge about someone, but not genuinely know them. Personality becomes defined by the things that you write because no one sees what you do. Communication becomes more efficient, but less authentic. Real life meshes with virtual life and the line between reality and illusion becomes blurred.
 
On top of my ego indulgence, it’s now been 3 weeks since I created a Twitter account and I have yet to make a tweet. I keep thinking… what do I have to say that 30 other people need to read? Frankly, my life better be pretty important if I need to give 140 character updates to my closest acquaintances every 16 minutes. Maybe I just haven’t caught the Twitter revelation. Besides, revolting against the newest thing would probably black list me as ‘out of touch’. I don’t know if I can handle that kind of rejection. I guess it’s a good thing someone else determines these things for me, otherwise my individual mind would probably be the social death of me.  Then again, I did create the account. Perhaps I’m just denying my inner love for micro blogging and micro friendships. Besides, however much I attempt to demonize social networking and denounce all those who participate in the phony world, I will still wake up tomorrow and have to force myself to do something else before I check my Facebook. What can I say? It’s social crack. I’m waiting for the support groups to start. 
 
In fact, I’ll go first. 
 
My name is Johanna and I am a Facebook addict. 
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