Nudity is sternly frowned upon in conservative societies, and it’s no different in Nigeria, one of the predominantly religious countries in Africa. It is believed that a person’s value is largely determined by their dressing, and the belief is accompanied by a popular adage, “Dress the way you want to be addressed.” This adage harps on the importance of modest dressing while encouraging disrespect for those who choose to do otherwise. The bigger problem lies in the double standards of how the law is fiercely imposed on females compared to males, even from an early age.
In Nothing Burns as Bright as You, Ashley Woodfolk briefly explored the reality of growing up female in a quote that has become one of my favourites. She wrote, “Girls are told their whole lives that what they wear matters. Girls are taught that their looks can keep them out of (or get them into) trouble. And girls, especially Black girls, learn that the way they look, and what other people think about their clothes or their hair or their bodies (“grown,” “nappy,” “developed”), can put them in danger.” I couldn’t agree more. Females are accustomed to harmful teachings disguised as protective guidelines, but in reality, these teachings boil down to the over-sexualisation of our bodies. While the moral teachings appear to detest nudity, the rotten effect of patriarchal standards still manifests in the over-sexualisation of female bodies more often than it does when it involves male bodies.
“Oh, your breasts are growing. You shouldn’t wear that. You don’t want to attract rapists, do you?”
“That dress is skimpy and tight. You shouldn’t expose your body like a prostitute.”
“Okay, you can wear the dress but don’t reveal too much.”
I ask myself repeatedly why male bodies are never subjected to the same rules whenever I hear these phrases and similar ones. I wonder why a man can step out shirtless, and a woman faces scrutiny for exposing only a portion of her breasts. I wonder why men are not constantly labelled prostitutes for exposing parts of their bodies. But the answer is not far-fetched. It is right there in belittling women as sexual objects, as nothing other than symbols of sexual gratification for patriarchal eyes.
The perilous effect of this one-sided nudity dissent is the disconnection of females from their inherent selves. When your body has been policed for so long, you have a distorted view of what your body should look like. It becomes easy to see your body differently, which affects how you see yourself in the long run. As humans, the body is our most potent asset and determines a huge part of our input into the universe. It is our first companion, holding us together through life. It makes us, and a disruption in the process of our development, whether through dangerous societal norms or anything at all, can destroy us.
For women, it is essential to find ways to reconnect to ourselves, especially after long exposure to norms that have altered our free expression of ourselves. And one way- out of various ways depending on personal conviction- is to ingrain ourselves into nude art.
Sunmisola Olorunnisola specialises in nude art, portrait and commercial photography. The pure and sensual depiction of the female anatomy through his lens is one never to be forgotten. He captures his muses in a range of winsome positions and alluring poses. The fascinating thing about his nude photography is how he portrays female bodies without sexualising them. Although he doesn’t exactly write out what message he intends to pass, the impact is felt in the unbound avenue of interpretation. To me, the message he sends with his art appears like this: “Here is a gift of nature; of women in their rawest form; of art as it is: of beauty and love to oneself.”
Unsurprisingly, Sunmisola experienced tough challenges at the start of his career. When he newly started sharing his work on social media, he was met with frightening threats. People went as far as reporting his page. They detested that he dared to share what was considered a contumacious act towards society’s belief. But he was determined to continue sharing his work as it was what he genuinely loved to do. He also didn’t think he was going against the law of nature, as female bodies were just bodies to him and fit perfectly for the kind of art he always wanted to create.
Sunmisola’s resilience is what has brought him this far. A praiseworthy trait, I must say. Through his resilience, more women have been able to come across his art and deemed themselves worthy of experiencing the influence of posing for nude photography. In a conversation with an acquaintance- through whom I discovered Sunmisola’s photography after she shared photos of her shoot with him- she revealed it was a liberating experience. Prior to the shoot, she struggled with body dysmorphia and unfurling herself in front of Sunmisola’s lens drew her deeper into herself, thus making it possible to see herself in a different light. For her, she killed two birds with one stone because she isn’t just a woman; she is a plus-sized woman navigating the stigma of being fat.
Unrealistic beauty standards largely determine women’s values, and I believe it stems from a place of not having total control of our bodies. It is easy to be sold ideas different from our realities. It’s not enough that we go through our formative years learning harmful moral prejudice against our bodies; plus-sized women have to add the unending stigma into the mix.
My acquaintance is not the only one who has given the testimony of a liberating experience. Sunmisola revealed he is accustomed to receiving such comments from most clients. Many give impressive reviews about how the involvement in the nude shoot reconnected them to their innermost selves.
It doesn’t end there. Representation is an undeniable force in self-discovery. Sometimes, you don’t directly have to be involved with a thing to be impacted by it. Watching other people explore realities you’ve always dreamed of might be all the proof to know you’re not alone. Representation fosters hope and companionship even from a distance. Some women declared that watching other women involve themselves in Sunmisola’s nude photography nudged them into participating in it themselves. Others stated that representation was of utmost importance. They didn’t have to be directly involved to be influenced by it. In similar scenarios with my acquaintance, a handful of plus-sized women reached out to her to commend her bravery after she shared her nude pictures. Some even uploaded these pictures as wallpapers and profile pictures across several social platforms. They weren’t sure if they would ever get to that stage, but holding on to her pictures nurtured the possibility of doing the same one day.
Situations and moments like this are crucial for women to reconnect to themselves outside of the negativity inculcated into us. It is up to us to embrace ourselves in our rawest elements; to solve the puzzle in the inherited components leading to our distorted selves.
To women who have done the work, and are still doing the work, here’s a shout-out to you and a celebration of your rebirth. You are valid. Keep soaring above the dangerous thorns of these norms. To women who are still in the stages of finding themselves amidst the bias bestowed by patriarchy, here’s a quote for you to digest and guide you to finding yourself through nude art or any means that resonates with you: “Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. “Finding yourself” is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.”