Another Look at Writing on the Body

After finishing the previous post about ‘writing on the body’ as the theme of a couple of films, I decided to follow up with a post about writing on the body as a way of making a political message. One of the most frequent bodywritten political messages is body acceptance. For example, this message is highlighted and celebrated by N3K’s outstanding work in the Naked Black Justice Series of photographs that throw what may be many viewers’ assumptions back at them as responses written on the models’ bodies. In this series, body acceptance is brought into relief through its intersectionality with race, age, gender, nationality and other aspects of identity.

Some of the photos show writing on more than just the torso. Some of the photos feature writing on top of the model’s tattoos as a kind of palimpsest. All of these photos show how bodywriting can have the effect of giving a new “reading” to the way a body might be perceived.

Protest groups will sometimes strip to lend power to their message, and very often the protestors’ bare bodies then become living placards for protest messages. A classic nudist example of writing on the body as political message is the WNBR (World Naked Bike Ride). As Max Bochmann points out in the current issue of N (37.4, p. 17), the WNBR “has had a consistent worldwide message about fossil fuels (‘less gas, more ass’) and the vulnerability of bicyclists (‘Can you see me now?’), with a clear element of body positivity (‘as bare as you dare’).”

collage from the Internet of WNBR photos showing bodywriting

Participants get very creative with their messages, and that’s certainly a large part of the fun! Bochmann’s own message for the event this year in Madison was “Bladder cancer pisses me off,” which he wore proudly with his ostomy pouch.

In my novel Co-ed Naked Philosophy, students at Gulf Coast University organize a nudist activist group called the Corporal Right Movement. One of their projects is to draw attention away from the exploitative nudity of women flashing their breasts for beads at Mardi Gras. They travel to New Orleans and commandeer a balcony along the parade route. When they remove their clothes, they paint each other and show off their purple, gold and green bodywritten messages front and back: “Nude for Mardi Gras / And every other day too!”; “Nude Daily not Annually / Topless AND Bottomless”: “Breasts are Beautiful / No Beads Necessary”: “Just Nipples, No Beads / All Bodies are Good, All Year Long” and “This is a BODY. You Use it to Live Life Fully.” Their efforts are successful, but only for a short while; soon enough they are forced to deal with a “Girls Gone Wild” style camera crew. Yet they do win the support of a mounted police officer, who paints her horse’s flanks “I Ain’t No Clothes Horse” and “My Other Rider’s Lady Godiva.”

I’m sure there are many more examples of body writing as art, as process and as protest. Where better to display a clever, pithy political message than written boldly over the exposed skin of the body politic?

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