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In the lockdown days since the pandemic broke, the way we defined sex has changed. It’s imagined, monogamous, Zoomed or Skyped. And nude selfies have become one symbol of resilience, a refusal to let social distancing render us sexless. Nude selfies are no longer foreplay, a whetting of a lover’s appetite, but the whole meal.

Though the debate about art versus pornography has never been settled, a case can be made that quarantine nude selfies are art. Some of us finally have time to make art, and this is the art we are making: carefully posed, cast in shadows, expertly filtered. These aren’t garish below-the-belt shots but, are solicited or spontaneous. They are gifts to partners in separate quarantines, friends who aren’t exactly friends, unmet Hinge matches, and exes.

After face-touching became potentially lethal, nude selfies are a fad.  Kat, an artist in Arizona who just lost her uncle to Covid-19, has been enjoying the creative process of making and sending sexy selfies over a secure app called Wire to a bartender she met overseas just before the coronavirus stopped nonessential travel. “Not to distract from feeling my feelings,” she said. “This is just the human experience, isn’t it? Love. Death. Sex.” Diana Spechler, a novelist writes in the New York Times.

Historically, she wrote, if the nude form in art suggested power in men, think of the ancient Greek sculptures of athletes, and sexuality in women, think Goya’s nude paintings, nude selfies, especially now, imbue the subject with both. The sexuality component is obvious, the power component contextual: the power to seduce without touch, to connect when physical contact is life-threatening, to impress while we’re home and unemployed and to stir up a strong reaction miles away.

Beyond our Wi-Fi, we don’t have much in the way of connection. Many of us are alone and live in small spaces. We lack the distractions we’re accustomed to and the routines we rely on. But some of the most famous self-portraiture resulted from a dearth of resources. Rembrandt was his own subject in large part because he couldn’t afford a model. Frida Kahlo began painting herself when she was unwell and bedridden and all she could see was a mirror.

The nude human form as a subject of art dates back tens of thousands of years to explicit cave carvings and a woolly mammoth tusk-ivory sculpture: Though headless and small enough to wear as a pendant, gravity-defying breasts and some semblance of a vagina. She might be 40,000 years old. But nude self-portraiture, especially of women by women wrestling free from the male gaze to play both artist and muse, didn’t become popular until the beginning of the 20th century.

In these disorienting times, we are psychologically naked, but our nudes are aspirational: We are breasts propped on pillows and Faceted. We are headless, proof that we’re not overthinking or panicking. We are free, cast in a single ray of sunlight, not stuck inside with a vitamin D deficiency. We are taking a risk at a time when we are not allowed to take risks, baring our bodies with no guaranteed reaction. We hit send and hold our breaths, silently asking until we receive the reply, am I safe am I safe am I safe?


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