The jokes write themselves: It’s Nudity Week at Brown University. A sampling from the roster of events: “Love Being Naked? Want to be Naked More? Want to watch others perform naked? Want to step out of your comfort zone? Want to talk about nudity?”
But the organizers of “Nudity in the Upspace,” a weeklong series of events running from September 30 until October 5 at Brown University, are hoping to accomplish a far more serious goal with their nakedness. In fact, the whole point of Nudity Week, say Rebecca Wolinsky and Camila Pacheco-Fores, is to help Brown students remove their negative stereotypes about body image.
The events, Wolinsky and Pacheco-Fores say, are intended to take aim at the prevailing attitudes at Brown—which come out in full frontal force at “the naked party”, aka the Sex, Power, God gathering—and in the "greater world," which go something like this: "Like, 'oh, nudity is sex.'"
Lest you think that students are walking around the whole Brown campus without clothes, fear not: the nudity is confined to a series of events on a part of the campus known as the Upspace, home to a theater group that Wolinksy and Pacheco-Fores belong to. It’s not an administration-sponsored event, although Wolinsky and Pacheco-Fores say they have been in communication with the university and have received the school's support. The events this week include Nude Body Painting; Nude Yoga; Nudity in the Theater (which includes scenes from plays and explores how the meanings change when the actors aren't wearing clothes); Nude Cabaret; Nude Open Mic Night; and a panel discussing nudity and how it relates to the “isms” such as power, race, class, gender, etc. All events are for Brown students only.
“It’s really interesting to and transformative to talk about things I never thought I would be able to talk about in an open way,” Pacheco-Fores tells The Daily Beast. Pacheco-Fores says certain things about her own body make her self-conscious, but “coming into this space where we are totally naked and totally exposed, personally, I couldn’t ignore it anymore and I couldn’t just hide it.”
Wolinsky and Pacheco-Fores came up with the idea for Nudity Week when they were sophomores (they’re now seniors), and put it in motion last year with the student-run theater group Production Workshop. They worked on getting the school to approve the event space, and brainstormed on events—Pacheco-Fores is studying art history and is interested in yoga, while Wolinsky has a double concentration in Africana studies and community health. This year marks the second apperearance of Nudity at the Upspace; while last year's Nudity Week focused on art and performance, this one has been constructed look at why people are so obsessed with nudity—and how it intersects with race, gender, inequality, body image, and heritage.
“I’ve learned that it’s time we talked about these issues and it’s time we make these be normal,” Wolinsky says. She calls the events a “safe space,” and notes, “what is said here stays here, but what is learned here, leaves here.”
So far, Wolinksy and Pacheco-Fores say they’ve received an enthusiastic reception on campus. Nude body painting drew about 50 participants, while Nude Yoga netted around 30 brave souls eager to try naked Downward Dog. These are the only two events so far where all the participants have been required to be naked; the organizers expect more students to show up for the rest of the events, where nudity is optional (but recommended).
Most of the media coverage of Brown's Nudity Week has conjured up visions of “College Kids Gone Wild.” It’s an image that’s especially hurtful to Wolinsky and Pacheco-Fores, who are struggling to overcome the stereotype of silly, naked co-ed partiers that has plagued many a college Nudity Week or Spring Break-a-palooza. While Wolinsky and Pacheco-Fores say Brown’s administration has mainly been supportive of the event, and they’ve received positive feedback from their classmates, some people have indeed mocked the event.(For example, one Twitter user tweeted on Tuesday a photo of the program with the caption “Hippies, hippies everywhere.”) “Sometimes Brown really is a bubble—we never get negative feedback like this,” Pacheco-Fores says.
“The media coverage has been on my mind a lot,” Pacheco-Fores says. “It’s made me realize that I need and want to believe in myself and in what I do in wanting to talk about these in that dialogue and trusting that space that we’ve been creating, despite this negative feedback looming outside the bubble of Brown.”
Still, Pacheco-Fores says, the negative feedback has helped prepare her for life after college—and show her the true purpose of Nudity at the Upspace. “I want to talk about why this vision of femininity is put on women’s bodies,” Pacheco-Fores says. “Like we can’t have [body] hair, but why are my hips and my butt constantly sexualized? I want to bring this up and talk to other people about. I want to address that, and I want to talk about it, and I want to understand for myself and bring it up to other people if they are willing to engage in that dialogue with me—to try to break down what happens on an everyday basis.”