An Innocent and Her Audience

Nudity became fashionable in the second half of the twenty-first century, which is not to say that "going undraped" hadn't long been acceptable in several particular social climates--nude beaches, progressive clubs, and so forth. But when it finally became possible to attend elegant, even formal, affairs without so much as a stitch of clothing, that's when nudity joined the ranks of the truly decent.

Simultaneously, however, it was considered the height of vulgarity to bare oneself at the supermarket, in one's own yard, or at political rallies--a fact which leads us to inquire how nudity was able to climb the social ladder in a world which still maintained an active sense of modesty.

The answer, as posited by fashion scholars, is rooted in the pop psychology of the early twenty-first century, for it was that era that embraced the theory of the "intoxicated ego"--the notion that fashion is the perversion of individuality since it's more concerned with advertising than possessing character. Just as lead mouthers of popular bands assume a character when on stage--while authentic musicians perform--models have traditionally played the role of the aloof stroller, the glowing innocent, the disinterested ingenue. Consequently, the clothing industry reacted with culturally sincere intentions when it presented "unfashionable fashion."

An exercise in futility: no matter how much character "sackcloth," the "neo-toga," and their cousins lacked, it only seemed to accentuate the fact that the model was clumsily trying to convey the image of an individual. Fashion had become an inescapable perversion--a kind of "cultural flypaper" that no one was free of until a starry night in April 2072, when the renowned model Henrietta strolled down an east coast runway attired in nothing but a headband, a bracelet, and an iron shackle on her left ankle.

Jaws dropped as eight thousand of the social elite gave birth to a startled silence. Should they indicate approval? "To be the first to applaud is tantamount to going naked oneself!" Should they reject Henrietta? "She's the very personification of fashion! I'm hardly unenlightened!" Backs stiffened, eyes glazed, and breathing turned reluctant as thousands of souls longed to become things.

Then, just as Henrietta was closing on the end of the runway, a solitary inebriated voice from the shadowed recesses of the balcony called everyone back from limbo: "Presenting Henrietta, parading her pirouette-a!"

These words hung silently as eight thousand twisted and contorted bodies, neither sitting nor standing, craned their necks toward the perpetrator. For a moment, the world of fashion paused as indignant eyes witnessed the removal of the babbling drunk. His incomprehensible epithets faded as security escorted him away, abandoning the spiritually recharged crowd to a pregnant silence. As attention wandered back to Henrietta, by now returning confidently up the runway, bodies relaxed into their seats and broke into enthusiastic, interactive applause.

Our story next follows Henrietta for weeks and months--through fame and glory. She frequents marble halls and royal affairs, sharing her presence with the affected poses and appropriately timed laughter of "Society." Hers is a star ever ascending, lending a meditative light to the evening landscape.

June. Henrietta is sporting a black ankle bracelet, bright red clutch purse, pale--suggestively sensitive--skin, and a confident mane of dark, flowing hair. Moving through crowds with the subtle authority of one admired, her presence gently commands onlookers aside. Strolling assertively toward no place in particular, Henrietta's impervious to the regrets of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow; she radiates only here and now, immersing her immediate neighborhood in a blissfully reflective moment. Still, an occasional comment escapes from the gallery: nothing pressing, nothing substantial--just an implicit plea for a smile or a glance. And adulation always bestows grace, for it spares one the duty of bearing arrogance.

August. More often than not, we begin to find our Venus mingling in groups, engaged in longer, albeit tame, interchanges: "Where does fashion go from here?" "Whose idea was it originally?" "Which clothiers would care to finance this new trend?" Noncommittal, Henrietta remains in character, offering comments that can be universally accepted without changing anything but her audience's conviction that they've learned something of value. Others gather and share; our heroine maintains the center.

Henrietta begins to grow bored, and starts stealing glances in search of a more substantial diversion. Her body's weight restlessly shifts from one foot to the other, while a champagne glass follows from hand to hand in order to maintain a balanced aesthetic. The expression on Henrietta's face becomes inert, displaying only the obligatory animation in response to her admirers' attention. Surrounded in solitude, she begins to reflect on her life inside an image--a practical eternity trapped within her most treasured value, her most stable identity.

"Presenting Henrietta, parading her pirouette-a!"

Words hung silently ... security ... incomprehensible epithets ... spiritually recharged crowd ... enthusiastic, interactive applause.

October. Once again, Henrietta's bored with her companions, but this time she enacts a break--moving off with an air of impatience. She wanders absently for a few moments, then finds herself stranded in the center of the room--a bit confused, a bit taken aback by the sight of mindless satisfaction emanating from such prominent figures.

One moment, she's harboring the intense, unfocused attention of solitude; the next, her eyes fix on a tremendous mirrored wall. There it is: the whole elegant affair, as if in another world, dancing on a screen. A gesturing man is circling two companions, but without the benefit of depth or substance; half a dozen more are rolling in silent laughter. It's a world of perfectly serene appearance--graceful and culturally ideal. A dream one could become lost in: a multitude of the most conspicuous figures of society--all dressed in dark formal wear--a hovering swarm of critical eyes compressed into two dimensions, relegated to a background for a portrait of Henrietta--pale, naked Henrietta.

"I'm naked!"

She stands frozen, an empty glass raised halfway to her lips. Populate her mind with frantic, absurd thoughts: "Maybe if I don't move, no one will notice?"

Offer her a potted tree for cover. Slowly, painfully she works her way over. Let's make it a miniature palm tree, one that only conceals her torso.

Someone passes by, pauses, and peeks around the tree: "Henrietta, is that you? I thought I recognized your trunk!"


She feigns a smile, trying to look comfortable. She tries not to look like she's trying to look comfortable.


Move her near escape--a defensive figure in retreat, arms squirming with futility in their desperation to casually conceal.


"Oh! Lucille! Thank you! It was lovely!"

"Bye bye, Venus! Give our regards to Botticelli!"


She's nearing home now, only half a dozen blocks from Lucille's. One used pizza box to the fore, another aft; her posture's compromised, shrunken to the boxes' standards as she hobbles down the lane. Add a little chill to the night air--just enough of a nip to keep her prancing.

There's Second Avenue! Her apartment! Home base! What's this? She's forgotten her purse? With her key! I'll just have to send her scampering back across town like a bashful misfit--a fragile child on a divine mission to reappear at Lucille's on Eighth.


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