“I always feel most beautiful naked, but it is a communal sense of beauty instead of a personal one; being naked with others is inevitably a reassurance that human bodies are weird, but also wonderful.”
–Anonymous student streaker
Streaking is a longstanding tradition at Carleton College. Wikipedia recognizes it as a “custom that spans half a century and garners participation from all sectors of the student body.” (1). The enduring acceptance of the tradition is primarily due to the narrative that it is empowering and inclusive. A Carletonian article from 2012 expresses this sentiment with anonymous interviews:
“I’ve found [streaking] to be a really great experience that has resulted in new friends, increased self-confidence, higher feelings of self-worth, and greater body positivity.” (2)
“Streakers at Carleton come from diverse backgrounds and hail from a wide range of groups on campus, from political science majors to varsity athletes. Streaking is an all-inclusive, no-cut activity.” (2)
Streaking is a unique display of body in its separation from capitalism and sexualized nudity. It casts away control over our appearance with an action of self-acceptance in our purest physical form. It is also an open community. Anyone who shows up to streak is welcome to join. At first, streaking seems to reject mainstream female beautification. However, discourse of empowerment and inclusivity is very similar to that of female beauty. “Beauty is…empowering and improves your state of mind” and “all women have the ability to use beauty as a tool” writes makeup artist and author Scott Barnes (3). Like the streaking, beauty practices can make the participant feel empowered. Kathy Peiss, an author on American beauty culture writes, “women have used makeup to declare themselves…and to proclaim their right to self-definition.” (Peiss 269) Both practices offer an opportunity for agency and affirmation.
However, in streaking and in beautification, this empowerment is not available to everyone who would like to utilize it. In his all-inclusive language, Barnes seems to forget that most women do not have the ability to use beauty as a tool. Even among the subset of women who can afford makeup and fashionable clothing, there is a huge disparity in the ability to be considered “beautiful” that depends on identities including, but not limited to race and body type.
In a similar sense, streakers who claim the “all-inclusivity” of the tradition are ignoring that it is not accessible to everyone in the same way. In my four years of exposure to the tradition, I have almost exclusively observed participants of pale or white skin, and a thin or athletic build. The streaking community would absolutely embrace any dark-skinned or large person who wanted to participate, however the person would stand out against the homogeneous group and thus their personal experience with the activity would be different. Furthermore, people who experience gender dysphoria with their naked bodies do not have the same access to empowerment through nudity. The physical requirements and exposure also discourage participation from those who are physically disabled. Moreover, it is disobedient. Students concerned about the status of their scholarship or student jobs (RAs, SWAs, GSCAs) are less likely to participate (although it is almost unheard of for streaking to be punished at Carleton). This makes it a class concern as well.
Like beauty practices, streaking can be incredibly empowering and validating for some. However, it is not available to or beneficial for all students so the assertion of inclusivity around streaking at Carleton is shortsighted.
(1) “Carleton College.” Streaking at Educational Institutions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streaking_at_educational_institutions#Carleton_College
(2) Alexander, Mike and Walker, Alex. “Let’s get naked? Understanding a longtime Carleton tradition” The Carltonian. Spring Issue 2. 2012.
(3) Barnes, Scott. “Look Your Best, Feel Your Best” The New York Times. January 2, 2013.
(4) Piess, Kathy. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture. 1998.