I READ with interest about the French picture book Tous à Poil (Everybody Gets Naked), by Claire Franek and Marc Daniau, which shows people of all shapes, sizes and ages disrobing and jumping into the sea.
This is a book that will never be sold in a Malaysian bookstore for, although it contains nothing of a sexual nature (which might be deemed unsuitable for children), I believe a naked body is considered a sexual object by the powers that be. Thus, Tous à Poil would be seen as a work of pornography – obscene and likely to have a degenerative affect on our children’s morals.
Remember how various prominent Malaysians got their knickers in a knot over Peter Mayle’s Where Did I Come From? ? As I said at that point, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we are all born fully-clothed and that everyone bathes in a swim suit. Consider this: several parents I’ve spoken to say that they don’t mind their kids watching the Miss Universe pageant on the telly, but aren’t sure whether they would allow them to read any book that exposed them to naked bodies in the way that Tous à Poil does. I’ll leave you to join the dots in that picture!
By the way, I use the words naked and nakedness, not nude and nudity because I agree with writer and art critic John Berger’s views that to be naked is to be without clothes and “to be oneself”, while to be nude is “to be seen naked by others” – that is to say, nudity is nakedness “placed on display”. Nude paintings of women (you’ve seen them in art galleries and on the Internet) are often passive, submitting to the gaze of the viewer – these, in my opinion, are sexual objects, existing only to provoke desire or as a symbol of sex. From what I have seen of Tous à Poil, the men, women and children in it are all active creatures – they are busy getting out of their clothes so they can enjoy a cool, refreshing swim on a hot day. There is nothing abject about their nakedness, which is a practical state, not one that is assumed for the convenience or pleasure of others.
It’s interesting how nakedness is so linked to sex. Yes, people do usually get naked to engage in sexual activity, but there are other times when clothes are also an encumbrance, for example, when in the shower, or on the operating table. Yet, sex is the first thing most people think of in relation to nakedness . That, really, says a more about people than about nakedness itself.
The authors of Tous à Poil wanted to say that it’s normal and quite natural to be naked. Humans of all appearances are depicted in the book. They are subjects, not objects in the way posed models in a Vogue fashion spread might be. And while the bodies of fashion models present an unrealistic ideal, the humans in Tous à Poil are gloriously and realistically imperfect: No, we mostly do not have six-pack abs. Yes, we all have wobbly, dangly bits. Anyway, I think a very young child, when confronted with the images in the book, would not bat an eyelid. Or, rather, she wouldn’t react strongly unless she’s already been told that the bare body is something “naughty”, something to be ashamed of, something to hide. These notions are widespread, yet the same adults who loudly object to a three-year-old appearing topless poolside, will often not think it inappropriate when the same child is seen twerking at her kindergarten’s annual concert.
Jean-François Copé, president of France’s centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party, was not impressed by Tous à Poil. The Guardian quotes from an interview Copé did with French newspaper Le Monde: “‘A naked teacher … isn’t that great for teachers’ authority! We don’t know whether or not to smile, but as it is for our children, we don’t feel like smiling.’” What I understand from that remark is that children won’t respect teachers because the book reveals that even teachers are naked under their clothes. Now that’s a shocker! Well, the French Ministry of Education has recommended Tous à Poil to schoolteachers, who, I believe, will not be required to be naked when reading it to their students.