I spend 40 hours a week working as a Bra Specialist at a Canadian lingerie retailer. Although, it isn’t what I intend to do for the rest of my life, it has taught me some incredible life lessons and skills. Amoung them are the controversies and issues with the word “nude.”
In the beginning, I thought of the word “nude” as a synonym for the word “beige,” though soon I quickly realized— thanks to the group of multi-racial girls I work with—that that isn’t, at all, the case. As of a matter of fact, the word “nude” is used synonymously with the word “beige” because beige just so happens to be the colour of the bras (or underwear and under-garments) that one group of people can identify with as “nude.”
Now, it might be difficult for people who identify the colour beige as nude to understand why its interchangeability is problematic. Worry not! In a few short paragraphs I will explain why this calling can be insensitive. “Nude” is synonymous with “naked body,” so for a beige bra to be called “nude” essentially categorizes the word “naked body” (which everyone has) as the colour “beige”—and not everyone has a beige naked body. So, it’s insensitive because you’re essentially eliminating various races and colours of bodies by grouping nude with beige.
In the beginning, I too, a black woman, used the word “nude” when referencing a beige style in my store. Now, when I think about it I feel so silly, for double marginalizing myself and other POC (double marginalizing being that I am of the group being marginalized but still use the word which marginalizes me to begin with). My Assistant Manager was the one who pulled me aside and told me that the word was insensitive, and I am so glad that she did. I once helped a woman who constantly used the word “nude” and I asked myself if I should correct her. I should, but I thought to myself, Will she really understand why this doesn’t work? So I did, in the nicest way possible, and she told me the item “is nude” because it matches her skin colour. Obviously, I couldn’t “clock out” and clock her (jk) because she was ignorant. So instead, I simply changed my method: I allow a customer to tell me what they’re looking for and the ask of their colour preferences by introducing the basic colours as “black, white and beige.” 95% of the time, the customer will copy the wording I’ve used. While it’s a small step, it’s a step nonetheless. Sometimes, customers will even correct themselves and I’m glad because it gives me hope that they’ll use the correct wording all together.
I’m not saying you can’t use the word “nude” at all, it’s perfectly fine if it follows the word “my.” This personalizes the colour, instead of creating the groups “non-nude” and “nude.” When buying lipstick, I always keep in mind that my nude shade is unlike anyone else’s. But that’s the great thing about lipstick: they are so many shades. At work, I’ve even been told that a “nude” item isn’t the exact replica of anyone’s skin colour “so this shouldn’t be such a big deal.” So if it isn’t an exact copy of everyone’s skin colour then it isn’t “nude.”
In short, “nude” and “beige” are not the same colour. What’s the difference? The word “nude” is relative, while the word beige is specific. The beige bras at my work do not match my skin colour and I find it incredibly insensitive when customers use the word “nude” in conversation. It’s very much like Crayola Crayons’ old, discontinued, crayon colour called “skin tone:” I don’t want my child or anyone else’s to reach for the colour “skin tone,” when drawing a picture of their family, and find that it isn’t their skin tone at all. Skin is an incredibly unique and beautiful organ, and it shouldn’t be belittled by generalizing words like “nude.”