Today, I thought it would be helpful to talk about the term “nude.”
Until 2015, Miriam Webster defined nude as, “having the color of a white person’s skin.” Obviously, this is a limiting and uninformed definition.
For years I’ve joked with my husband about how someone needs to make bandages for black people. In all seriousness, it can be jarring to see a “nude” bandage on my dark skin. Often, I want to take the bandage off long before the physical wound has healed or an emotional scar can be created.
As you are writing diverse characters carefully consider, how, where and when you use the term “nude”
After public outcry, Miriam Webster changed the definition of nude too, “denoting or relating to clothing or makeup that is of a color resembling that of the wearer’s skin.”
Although the definition has changed, the perception has not. For most people when we picture nude we still visualize the pale creamy pink color of the crayon. Consider how your reader will perceive a character of color wearing a “nude bra” will they picture it blending with their skin or a strip of pale pink lace standing out against dark skin?
Fashion standards no longer dictate women to wear nylons. For years many minority women had to wear nylons that made their legs look like a transplanted part of their body. For many of us, nylons have gone the way of the corset, but makeup is still worn by many women. Author L.c. Grioux writes, “Having worked for years in cosmetics and having been the Fashion Fair rep this is a subject near and dear to my heart. In the late 80’s and early 90’s when ‘Nude’ makeup was the rage; women of color would come to me wanting the makeup that was advertised everywhere and I couldn’t in good conscience sell it to them because it looked like chalk on their skin.” Something as simple as makeup becomes more complex for women of color. Describing a character as wearing a “nude” lipstick or eye shadow can alter how the reader visualizes a character.
Nude is a legitimate name for a color. The problem is, it shouldn’t be used as a one size fit’s all description. More and more, the term “flesh” or “skin” tone is used as an alternative although the word “flesh” can also be problematic. When Michelle Obama wore a beautiful creamy Champaign, pink gown the Associated Press described the color as “flesh.” Many wondered whose flesh the reporter was referring to.
It’s helpful to think of nude as a classification for a range of shades. While you may know what you mean when you use the word nude, your reader may not. Challenge your reader and yourself by defining what “nude” means for your character.
Consider the following, for a character of color, “She slipped on her favorite nude camisole.” Or, “She slipped on her favorite camisole, the silky fabric blended with her golden-brown skin.” How did you picture the camisole on the character in the first sentence compared to the second?
Please don’t get discouraged, you can do this! I understand that writing with inclusivity and diversity in mind can be difficult and intimidating. Hopefully, this article will give you some guidance as you develop and write your diverse characters.
Founder, Writers for Diversity