Whose nude?

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on May 17, 2010

According to what the fashion press say, for those who find femininity attractive, nude garments have a provocative, but subtle, appeal on the female body. I don’t dispute this – whether in leather or soft chiffons, ‘nude’ (much more fun than ‘beige’) has been embraced into celebrity wardrobes and designer collections.

When you think ‘nude’ (in colour terms), what do you think of? I think of this:

I’m sure you do too. But whose nude is this? When Michelle Obama wore a ‘nude’ colour, it looked like this:

Gorgeous, yes, but not nude. At least, not for her. The term ‘nude’ appears to only be appropriate for white skins, yet it is used globally. As a brown person, I have also used the word ‘nude’ to apply to colours that would not look nude on me. The use of this tricky and insidious term has so far continued undetected (at least by the majority of people who use it in a fashion context). But now it appears to have sparked some healthy controversy.

Dimewars wrote: This is what happens when white people are considered people and black people are considered a special kind of people, black people.  “Flesh-colored” becomes the skin color associated with whites and darker-skinned peoples are left out of the picture altogether.

Fighting battles over words is often dismissed as ‘political correctness’ or ‘hyper-sensitivity’ on the part of those who are being excluded. But language and words are powerful signifiers of meaning – we use words to express and to think. Any terms that manage to exclude millions of people, while being applied as a ‘universal’ label, need to be updated and revised.

A conversation with my (white) friend on the topic went something like this:

Me: What do you think of when I use the term ‘nude’? In a colour context.

Him: I know it’s a very hegemonic way of thinking but I guess an off-white light sort of  colour.

Me: Me too! I never thought about it before. Another example of insidious ‘othering’. I’m finding new ones every day.

Him: I guess so, although the meaning has changed over time and the word is more neutralised now? Sometimes academic ideas aren’t realistic in the real world.

We didn’t get the chance to pursue the conversation, but my ultimate argument would be that things that don’t grow and change are dead. And I would very much like our languages to keep evolving to reflect our growth.

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2 Responses

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  1. sophie said, on May 18, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Excellent, excellent, excellent! Language is huge in reflecting and creating hegemonic ideals! Let’s get together and do some discourse analysis, love it!!

    • Nancy said, on May 18, 2010 at 9:28 am

      Thank you! I don’t know many technical terms – with our powers combined we could articulate this stuff a lot better.

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