The answer has me feeling a little exposed.
by Bianca Smith
Every morning, I open the blinds so the cats can start their daily sunbathing ritual. I don’t bother to get dressed. If I’m feeling like it, I’ll move from room to room without throwing a robe on—it’s an extra step, you know? And in the summer, I’ll usually make the trek down to our basement to do laundry in a sports bra and these shorts that are kinda-sorta diaperish. (Unintentionally, I swear. Didn’t know about the diaper fit until after ordering them.)
All’s to say, being the naked neighbor seems to come naturally to me.
My sweet partner, though, covers up. No matter what. Even when he works out, he’ll lower the blinds to avoid accidental eye-locks across the yard.
I am happy for him and his normal-neighbor status. But in my case: do I really care if I’m stamped with the naked neighbor title?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Besides the should-be-obvious, ever-present fears around putting myself in harm’s way (cue literally any narrative from any voyeuristic horror movie) there’s so much cultural and societal baggage re: nudity that gets in the way of me fully owning my naked-neighborness.
Join me in contemplating this list of questions I’m considering in my journey to either accepting or denying the role of naked-neighbor:
If naked me isn’t seen by a neighbor, can I even qualify as the naked neighbor?
The classic thought-starter goes: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?“ A fellow writer and friend of mine posed the question and it got me thinking—is the naked neighbor truly a dilemma of chance? Would it even exist without this dependence on being seen? The answer seems like an obvious “yes,” but I’d like to offer a hot take.
My belief is that being the naked neighbor is more than simply being nude and walking past your windows. Dare I say it’s a mindset? Not flippant or rude. Just confident comfortability. This leads me to my next question:
What about a neighbor seeing my naked body is “wrong?”
The easy answer is “the courteous thing to do is to not traipse around naked if others might see you.” And of course, there’s a conversation around consent—the neighbor who is not naked probably did not “opt in” to their role. But isn’t the actual courteous thing just not engaging? Or looking? With that in my heart, a larger fear of nudity seems to be the culprit…
Is this more about sexualization than nudity?
The modern Western view of nudity is so ridiculously conflicted and nuanced that it’s no wonder I’m having a hard time determining my point of view. It’s acceptable—in Renaissance paintings, in instances when the subject is fit or thin or white, or in most movies where a male protagonist is finally getting what he wants. Simultaneously, when a student shows her shoulders at school or a bikini is worn at a public beach (exhibit A
), even partial nudity becomes a judge of morality, purity, and so on.
The conflation between nudity and sex—this grey area of the conversation—is what gives me pause. Say, if my best friends were my neighbors, would I still feel comfortable walking around sans-robe? The answer should be yes. Or how would I feel about changing clothes in front of others? The answer should be, completely a-okay. Because nothing about this flesh suit in non-sexual situations should be perceived as such.
I suppose I need to confront why I’ve given other people’s perceptions of my body more weight than my own celebration of it. Just plain and simple bodily existence is what I’m after. No sexual connotations or hiding and covering myself in my own spaces. Because why have a body if you can’t walk around, unclothed, eating a breakfast taco on your way into the bathroom for your morning shower unbothered by the stray eyes of the world or your nosy neighbor across the street?
Bianca is a writer and strategist from Chicago. She helps run a digital community called Distant, spends too much time cuddling her two cats Pearl & Norman, and refuses to acknowledge that pasta sauce can also be called gravy. You can find more of her work at www.biancapsmith.com and you can find her on Instagram at @biancapsmith and @distant.community.