On Defining Nude

What’s your nude?

Adding yet another thing to the list of stuff white people take for granted: Undergarments that more or less match their skin tones. While I distinctly remember thinking the “nude” crayon in my big box of Crayolas seemed strange (and indeed, after public outcry, it was changed), and that “skin-colored” bandaids were anything but for darker people’s scraped knees or banged thumbs, I never thought about lingerie. That’s probably because I’m white.

If you are like most (white) women, you probably have white bras, black bras, riotously colorful bras, and at least one or two “nude” colored bras – they’re as great for tees as the classic white button down. There’s the NuBra that’s just two cups that adhere to each breast and attach in the middle – but it only comes in white women’s skin tone (though evidently, only Caucasian women buy this product anyway, according to their customer page).

But NuBra’s not the only guilty party here; Victoria’s Secret’s new BioFit bra comes in both nude and buff, in case you are a really pale white woman instead of a normal pale one. Look at any conventional or boutique brand of bra and you’ll see plenty for white women to cover up with – but little for women of other skin tones.

So what’s a bra-wearing black woman to do? Make change herself, of course. Tara Raines is an African-American psychologist who decided to lobby for darker-hued nude bras. This came not only after her own fruitless searches, but when she discovered that friends and family would buy buff and nude colored bras and dye the bras themselves.

Raines says: “Women of color have tremendous spending power in the U.S. and it’s absurd to think that in 2012 we are essentially disenfranchised when we shop for lingerie,” says Raines. “It’s my hope that this campaign will drive not only awareness, but swift action by bra makers.”

The What’s Your Nude campaign has a simple aim: To get lingerie manufacturers to make bras in a wider variety of skin tones. The campaign is asking women of all colors to “contact their preferred bra manufacturer or bra retailer on February 1st via phone, email, social media or snail mail.” However, you can still call in and participate in social media. Follow the What’s Your Nude campaign on Twitter and spread the word by using the #WhatsYourNude hashtag.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask that bra makers include darker hues when manufacturing their collections,” says Raines. “Women of color deserve to look and feel sexy, and a big part of that is looking like ourselves.”

Perhaps brands should do away with the “nude” descriptive entirely. As Alexandra Phoner-Faury writes in Essence (regarding the nude trend for F/W 2011), “While beige may be ‘nude’ for most white women, ‘nude’ for me would be brown. This isn’t the first time this loaded word has been used in the pages of glossies, but it is the first time that the fashion world’s hidden racism has been exposed on such a large scale and caused many to finally take a closer look at the ingrained language of fashion.”

Image: tanakawho

Starre Vartan

Starre Vartan has been covering eco fashion, natural beauty, ethical travel, and sustainable design for over a decade. She's written for magazines (Whole Living, Metropolis) and online (Huffington Post, MNN, Elle.com, Inhabitat) and she has been honored as a thought leader by Glamour and Self magazines, as well as quoted in the New York Times (thrice). She's the author of "The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green" (St. Martin's Press) which was based on her longrunning blog, Eco-Chick.com. Starre was born Down Under in Sydney, Australia and has dual citizenship with the United States, as she grew up and was educated in the Hudson Valley of New York. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in Geology from Syracuse University and a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction writing from Columbia University. She splits her time between the Connecticut coast and Manhattan and loves to read, hike, snowboard, horseback ride, travel, and she will swim in almost anything (from lake to sea, cenote to mountain swimming hole).