Not all nudity is sexual. We’re born naked (duh); we give birth naked; we bathe naked; we have to get naked (or semi-naked) at the doctor’s office. And there is also an elusive subculture of nudity at Bowdoin. We all know about naked laps: you lose too hard at beer pong and you have to run around the building naked. There is the tradition of streaking the quad because this is a college. Balls to Mass Hall (i.e. sprinting from Hubbard to Mass Hall) is a trek. When I did it, three quarters of the way through an unbidden complaint popped into my head: “When is this gonna be over?" But I didn’t confess that I found streaking boring.

Then there are the naked parties. I wound up at one last year. I remember being struck by how visible everything was. It was in the Tower and the space had that stark, stale Tower feeling. The fluorescent lights concealed nothing and I was amazed by the range of bodies. Fat bodies and skinny bodies. Boobs of all different sizes. Bodies with tattoos and piercings (I drunkenly read aloud Bible verses off my physics tutor’s back). They were, to my memory, all white bodies, but that’s a different conversation. 

Different levels of nudity were accepted—I decided to keep my underwear on. Most people were entirely naked, though. In describing it later I remembered how many drunk, cold, flaccid penises there were. So hats off to all those dudes who were brave enough to let it fly. After about half an hour, my friend and I put our clothes back on (they had been stored in trash bags graciously provided by the host) and left feeling good about our bodies and the accepting nature of our peers. 

But what if it were different? What if we had walked in the room and been greeted by exclusively trim, uniformly groomed bodies? I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have been able to think of anything besides the not-flatness of my stomach and the not-firmness of my upper arms. Peer nakedness can accentuate insecurities as much as it can normalize a wide array of body types. 

It’s one thing to worry about how you look naked in front of your sexual partner, but to be naked, lined up next to all your other sexual partners? That’s a nightmare. Side-by-side comparisons are only acceptable for Consumer Reports. 

The reality that no one seems to acknowledge is that both scenarios are possible. Nudity isn’t exclusively empowering or shaming. 

MacMillan House, where I live, has been in the security report several times recently for nudity. We’ve gotten in trouble. Not serious trouble—just security report level trouble.

It is not illegal to be naked in Maine. The indecent conduct statute says a person is only breaking the law if he or she “knowingly exposes (his or her) genitals under circumstances that in fact are likely to cause affront or alarm.” So that’s to cover sexual predators, not college kids.

The Bowdoin student handbook does not mention nudity specifically, though it does say, “Certain types of behavior may be inappropriate even though not ‘illegal.’” I imagine this is the authority under which ResLife has discouraged nudity. It is not fitting of the dignity of a Bowdoin student to bear all. We’re not one of those schools. 

But here’s the thing about a ban: it creates camps. Many of my housemates (jokingly) suggested a naked protest on the quad. Pro-nudity all the way! The administration, I gather, is against nudity all the way. Neither side has cited specifics of what could go right or wrong—what could be lost or gained. In the face of criminalization of an act (or substance), everyone has to be for or against. There’s no room left for a nuanced discussion.

Social, non-sexual nudity can be liberating and irreverently joyous. It can also be embarrassing and isolating and create a dichotomy of people who are comfortable with their bodies and people who aren’t. But we will never have a meaningful discussion about nakedness while it is something that people can get in trouble for. Punishment is simply beside the point. 

Julia Mead is a member of the Class of 2016.