In the past week, I’ve been a part of several conversations about community at Denison, and nearly all of them have, in some way, brought up the topic of Naked Week. I won’t mince words about the exact number of people who participate in it each year, or try to raise it up as the best attended Denison event. But, I will take the position that no community event on campus generates more school spirit, or bestows more fond, shared memories upon its participants than this 10-year old student-founded Denison tradition. Whether or not you decide to partake in its nightly events, that’s something that should be appreciated.When I was a first year, upperclassmen would routinely remind me, “Naked Week is coming up, are you going to do it?” And for a good while, I would reply, bashful, “Maybe, I’m not sure yet.” What I wasn’t sure about was how I felt about my naked body, which at the time I had plenty of reservations about, and letting that body be seen by my friends and peers. Frankly, I didn’t much like being naked.
I was always that kid who stripped down in locker room stalls during gym class, or faced away from the group in the event that I had to change my underwear.
Flash forward to my freshman year, and my ideas about streaking were mostly tied up in the legality of the act. I knew that streaking the quad was something you could get arrested for at other schools, if security caught you—and such charges could bar you from gaining employment in certain professions after college; education, for example. The fact that, in the eyes of the law, being naked in public (or otherwise) implies deep-seated moral turpitude is deeply problematic, and it says something very troubling about our culture. But I digress.
At Denison, and during Naked Week, things take on a different hue. We, as a community, have decided that running naked during one week a year is no big deal—and we’ve found that it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun. What may have begun as a small, disrobed middle finger to the administration has grown into a triumphant, unifying and liberating experience for all Denisonians. Especially since students are willing to step out of their comfort zone, to get out of their minds, and get into their bodies.After all, it is our minds that tell us that being naked in public is against the rules, that people are watching and judging and sexualizing us, because that is how we’ve been taught to imagine everyone treats the naked form.
None of those things—except for watching and cheering, of course—take place during the course of a Naked Week event. For those who choose to run on a given night, Naked
Week is not a sexual or sexualizing experience. After all, naked bodies, out of a sexual context, are not inherently titillating. Seeing people’s naughty bits does not immediately inflict psychological trauma. When you’re packed into that Brownstone or Chamberlain apartment with a crowd of new naked friends, when you’re running through Slayter, or the Library and being bathed in the cheers and supportive laughter of your friends and peers, that’s not what you’re paying attention to at all.If you’re spending any amount of your brain cataloging information about dong and breast sizes, you’re missing the point of Naked Week—in fact, you’re perverting its true purpose: to provide a means of self-liberation, from the constraints of authority, from one’s insecurities about body image, and from our culture’s preoccupation with everything we hide under our clothes.