As much as ‘the nude’ itself still has a power to excite, delight or frighten us, depending on setting and attitude, ‘toplessness’ of the female variety can be equally alluring or appalling, also on the grounds of setting and attitude. Given my naturist background, and the context of this blog, I thus read a BBC article on the subject of toplessness, a ‘Victorian taboo that won’t go away’, with great interest, particularly as the author, Sara Sheridan, is Scottish and working -some of the time- in the realm of crime fiction.
Scotland, I should add as an aside, produces a great number of crime writers. As a blow-in, I used to wonder why, until someone explained their theory that Scots all grow up against a backdrop of murder, often of an alcohol fuelled variety or domestic violence or a conflation of both. My educator at the time went on to explain that in the 1970s, when neighbouring Northern Ireland was routinely in the global news for sectarian fuelled violence and death, year on year Scotland had more murders per annum than Northern Ireland’s terrorist groups achieved, yet at the time the statistic went largely unremarked. My educator’s theory was that the Scots were routinely used to media reports, at length, on grisly or ‘intriguing’ murder and that this somehow percolated down into the imaginations of writers.
Anyway, back to toplessness.
Ms. Sheridan posed topless herself (see above) for a photograph for the Edinburgh Book Festival and you can read her reaction via the BBC link at the top of the page. (Incidentally, I’m pleased to read that the thistle on her back is a drawing, not a wretched tattoo).
I’m not going to pre-empt any more of Ms.Sheridan’s article, I urge you to follow the link for yourselves.
While the examples she gives have a largely Anglo-centric focus, they’re not so different in any other part of the western world. Which got me thinking as to whether those real life values also pervade our virtual world. So…adopting both my ‘Eve’-alt avatar and ‘Adam’-alt avatar, I stripped Adam down to a pair of jeans, and Eve to a long skirt and fishnet top and began to tp around the grid to see if Adam or Eve’s bared nipples encountered any sort of reaction within SL, and if views expressed, if any, reflected RL attitudes, the caveat being that in the weird and wacky world of SL, where you can have a conversation with a petite giraffe about the space time continuum as if it was a chat about the price of coffees, not everyone will know/care/remark/look at a topless avatar. Remember: Adam’s fully topless, Eve is wearing a top, even though her breasts are clearly visible.
Because I spend maybe 95% of my SL time in naturist sims, it’s sometimes difficult to assess how other avatars, in everyday SL locations, react to a bit of nudity. The topless Adam encountered no comments whatsoever, anywhere, when either shopping dancing, hanging out, wandering the grid, other than in one ballroom where he was gently reminded about the dress code and how his viewer might not be showing that he had no shirt on. Adam simply responded ‘whoops…mesh fails me again, lol’ and put a shirt on, thereby ending the only reaction he achieved.
‘Eve’…on the other hand….
‘Nice tits’ (Thanks…there’s as much fat in them as there is in your head’)
‘Didn’t you read the rules? No nudity’. (It’s Second Life…what are these ‘rules’ to which you refer? And I’m wearing a top, I’m not nude)
‘You’ve forgotten to put a top on’ (Did you say that to the guy over there? No? Surprise, surprise. And if you look closely, I am wearing a top)
‘We have a strict dress code here’ (I’m in evening wear! How much more strict could I be?)
‘We have changing rooms available’ (I’m not changing)
‘No nudity. Enjoy the tp home and the ban from this sim’ (A bit of an over-reaction…you could have asked me to cover up) ‘Suck it up, you’re banned’ (As I was saying about the over-reaction)
‘I can’t say I disapprove of your failure to put a top on’ (I have got a top on)
I did actually get into one long argument about what constituted nudity.
‘You’ll have to cover up’
‘I am covered up’
‘Your breasts are visible’
‘If you look at that girl dancing over there, most of hers are hanging out of a formal gown’
‘What????? By the way, she’s also wearing a dress that is slit up the side so you see a good bit of thigh and bottom’
‘That’s not nudity’
‘You can see most of her backside’
‘You’re just playing with words’
‘I’m not playing. Define nudity for me’
‘Bear (sic) skin’
‘My arms are bare. Are they nude arms?’
‘So there’s nothing on them, and they’re not bare, yet I’ve a top on and you think that’s nude?’
‘Your breasts are visible’
‘If I go into inventory and put a sheer bra on under this top, I’ll have two layers of clothing on above the waist. Would I be nude then?’
‘You’ll have to cover up or leave’.
‘Why? No one has complained. Indeed, (male avatar’s name redacted) has complimented me on my dress sense’
It went on and on, and eventually the ‘n’ word was trotted out. Nipples. The nipples were the offensive element of my evening attire.
At which point a male friend had come online. I IM’ed him. Join me at (sim’s name redacted) and come stripped to the waist. Put on a tie but be bare-chested. He tp’ed in.
‘So if nipples are the thing…you can see that guy’s nipples just like mine’
It rather appears that turning up with some skin showing, in sims where it’s not expected, can cause the same sort of reaction as one might expect in real life. Bans, arrest (even though we can’t get arrested in SL, getting tp’ed home pretty much amounts to a similar sort of behaviour as having the cops called), lascivious male comments. What’s intended to be a virtual, alternate world, with what one might hope is an alternate world view gets siphoned through our own real life mindsets.
As Sara Sheridan points out, it’s a taboo that doesn’t seem like ending anytime soon, either in the real or virtual worlds.