Being naked represents having nothing to hide physically, emotionally and spiritually
I have previously written about how humans (relatively recently in our evolutionary history) began wearing clothing to protect us from the cold. As our ancestors began migrating out of the warm climate of Africa, they began draping themselves in animal skins for survival. Then, over time, the quality and quantity of one's clothing began taking on other meanings in culture, like representing one's socioeconomic status, hiding areas of the body we don't like and otherwise allowing people hide their true selves in favor of an artificial representation they chose to display instead. Our clothing is, in effect, the first kind of artificial avatar in the evolution of human society.
Over the centuries and millennia since people began covering themselves, we have maintained a fundamental understanding that removing our clothing represents an unmasking of sorts, an ultimate openness and vulnerability. This understanding is apparent when we examine ancient human ceremonies from around the world. From Africa to North America, a range of human rights of passage have traditionally been recognized through naked ceremonies, with the nakedness being key aspects of the ceremonies.
From transitioning from childhood to adulthood, to marriage to becoming a tribal elder or healer, naked ritual has been commonplace worldwide. It is marked by a shedding not just of clothing but also of pretense, a donning and embrace of humility. It is the exposure of the whole physical self in its purest form and that symbolizes an exposure and openness of the whole spiritual self as well.
Nakedness is not just for individual rights of passage. Community-wide nakedness has also been common for the building of social bonds and celebrating shared goals and accomplishments.
Body painting, for example, of the Suri or Mursi in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia are central to their culture. After a successful harvest, the men will bathe in the river and use white clay and mud to paint elaborate drawings on each others' bodies (see video below). They will also paint their naked bodies in preparation for Donga stick fighting.
Other tribal people commune naked with their herds, as a way of honoring the spirits of the animals they tend. This linkage between nakedness and the natural world is also common throughout history as a way of recognizing the true animal nature inherent in our humanity.
Clothing, on the other hand, puts a wall between ourselves and the world around us that also goes beyond the physical.
The BBC Series The Naked Truth explores this phenomenon in the modern world. The series description reads as follows:
The Naked Truth gives a voice to young people as they share their revelatory, personal and surprising perspectives on life and their bodies…while naked. Every episode focuses on one body image subject matter: loose skin (post weight loss), tattoos, male body image and limb difference.
In each episode, contributors with the same type of body appearance, but with differing experiences of it, are interviewed separately before two of them meet each other naked to talk about how they feel about their own and each other’s bodies. By sharing their experiences, will our contributors come to terms with their own Naked Truth?
Do the contributors come to terms with their own Naked Truth? Spoiler alert: there wouldn't be a series if they didn't. The acceptance of their nakedness, the dropping of the artificial avatar they have created for society to see, brings about a spiritual awakening, because being naked and honest and true in the presence of others is an utterly freeing and beautiful experience that has been so since the beginning of human history. And, that is the naked truth.