Reimagining empowerment and inclusivity of streaking at Carleton

“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.

 

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3 thoughts on “Reimagining empowerment and inclusivity of streaking at Carleton

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  1. Thank you for this article! To be honest, I was so shocked my freshman year to see streakers at Synchrony II. I had never seen anybody willingly run naked in front of people. It was definitely very eye-opening; in high school, you could be sent to the principal’s office for wearing a tank-top or wearing shorts that were too short. Streaking was everything that my high school’s dress code was not – it was an experience that was all about feeling confident in one’s body without criticism. But I agree that streaking is not an “all-inclusive” activity. Most of the people who participate in streaking at Carleton are white and slim. Streaking is not a community that everyone feels welcome, and it is hard for those who are not white or slim to feel comfortable. Thus, it would be truly empowering if everyone felt comfortable in the streaking community at Carleton; however, it is because it is a predominately white institution that streaking is also (unsurprisingly) white.

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  2. Like kmiles, I was shocked to see streakers for the first time at Carleton, but more than anything, I was confused about the explanation that I was given about the joys of streaking: that it was liberating to be so exposed and concealed (within a large body of people) and to be allowed to put that on display. This reminds me of an earlier point that Taylor made in the course — that she feels most free, or most herself, when sleeping naked, /because/ she was not doing it for anyone. So, what messages is an audience expected to read from a group of streakers, when we are implicated in their liberation-from-capitalism-and-sexualized-nudity project? There’s no denying that public display is key to streaking, when there are other, less visible ways of still being openly nude (Skin Deep, nude intimacy with other people, finstagram).

    From my personal experience in the people of color circles at Carleton… I have frequently heard students say that “white people like to play with their futures” when talking about streaking. Because while white students can recognize that someone could take a photo that could affect their futures, they are almost literally masked by whiteness. I would like to complicate the thought “the streaking community would absolutely embrace any dark-skinned or large person who wanted to participate,” by asking, if a mass of bodies can only be read as white [because that is all that is recognizable when streakers run through Sayles or the chapel], then they must be protected by that racial homogeneity. So how is a student with dark skin supposed to feel protected in that whiteness, when it is the very thing that singles them out?

    In some ways, I have found that streaking is a reincarnated reminder of white bodily freedom, that the entire audience is expected to watch, whether they like to or not. Because of that, streaking is useful in illuminating that while white bodies may perceivably be innocent of worldly corruption/desire when naked, this innocence only underscores the ways in which white bodies are not neutral.

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  3. I thought about this post just a week or so ago when I saw streakers at Carleton and found out that one of my friends, who is a person of color, was a part of the group. I remember asking this person how he felt about it and he said he felt embarrassed having never done it before. It was one of his good friends, who is White, that suggested that they do this and evidently, he argued that he was satisfied with the “bond” they achieved from streaking altogether. I appreciate melendezk’s comment about streaking as a “reincarnated reminder of white bodily freedom,” because I always seem to notice streakers as a large white blob, telling myself never to pinpoint one person to look at. While it is supposed to be a collective bonding experience, it can only happen if a homogenous blob runs together. In this case, I couldn’t help but think of my friend as giving into this white bodily freedom without recognizing the privileges of being a light-skinned person of color, which allows him to feel comfortable with this empowering, yet exclusive act. I think it is important for people of color who streak to also recognize their embodied forms of Eurocentric norms of beauty that give them the ability to do something that other marginalized groups may not be able to do. POCs don’t get to ignore the privileges they may embody!

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