Naked Week: The Cold Quest for Body Acceptance

By Paul A. Djupe

[image credit: The Denisonian]

For some it’s a spring tradition at Denison – take off your clothes and run across A Quad. As The Denisonian put it glowingly in 2014, “The methods are unorthodox, but the results are outstanding” and “the future for social acceptance at Denison looks brighter than ever.” But that sort of conclusion hinges on widespread buy in from the campus. Who is into it? Is support for body positivity in this unorthodox way universal?

127 took a look using the February 2022 survey (due to a snafu, the question was only asked of about 150 students out of the total of 540), simply asking if they approve or disapprove of Naked Week. As shown below, there is a healthy majority approval of 58 percent with a strong runner up of apathy about the whole thing – a third say they neither approve nor disapprove or just don’t care. Only ~9 percent disapprove. That’s not universal buy-in, but is still strong support.

Reading through the Denisonian archives, one gets the strong sense of relief that Naked Week affords from the “constant cultural bombardment of ridiculously high standards.” One piece describes a set of stereotypes that students evidently feel and more strongly among women. Another piece reminds us that, “It’s important to remember that anyone can have terrible anxiety about their bodies.”

So, if Naked Week is about body positivity and fending off one-size fits all social standards, who is likely to support Naked Week? I’ll bet women, to be sure, but also liberals and those feeling more stress. What do the results say?

The following graph shows results from a statistical model that shows the boost (dot on the right side of zero) or drag (dot on the left side of zero) on approval of Naked Week made by each variable. Women are 22% more likely to approve than men, and those who know where their graduation tassel is are 25% more likely to approve (yeah, I don’t know why that is either). Students showcase the understanding of Naked Week as a pressure release – more stressed students are considerably more supportive. But it’s also unorthodox and conservatives (proxied here by warmth toward the Republican Party) are less supportive.

Beyond that, approval of Naked Week is incredibly pluralistic. There are no differences by class year, by race, sexuality, or org involvement levels. Lonely students may be less supportive, but the relationship is very noisy so we can’t tell for certain. On the flipside, those students with more social support are more supportive, so perhaps going out on a limb (or, uh, showing more of them) is not something students do in isolation. Or, it takes an organized group to break social standards just like any campaign for change.

Naked Week has become an enduring institution and for good reason. It’s a pressure release valve to help break down high standards that many students feel beholden to. It’s also a break at the end of the worst month of the year – February – and who doesn’t need that? I look forward to averting my eyes yet again next February as a new group of students fights the good fight.

Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who runs the Data for Political Research minor. He started a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action. He’s on Twitter and you should be too, along with your president.

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