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Breaking Nude: Student Changes Dictionary Definition to Be More Inclusive

Written by Sabina Leybold

Luis Torres '18 shows off his Ithaca pride. Photo by Sabina Leybold '17

“Having the color of a white person’s skin” used to be one definition of “nude” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. That definition is more inclusive now, thanks to Luis Torres ’18, who started a DoSomething.org campaign to urge Merriam-Webster to revise its definition to one that doesn’t establish white as the norm.

It now reads: “(1): having a color (as pale beige or tan) that matches the wearer’s skin tones…(2): giving the appearance of nudity.”

“The new definition is a lot better,” Torres said. “It would’ve been ideal to not include ‘beige or tan’ but it’s still a huge improvement!”

The Campaign

The idea to redefine “nude” came to Torres when he realized that beige Band-Aids could alienate people of color. “I don’t think that the concept of nude has always been on my radar,” he said. “As a white person it isn’t something you really consider.”

After Torres began researching the use of “nude” in marketing, he found Merriam-Webster’s definition. “I was just blown away by the fact that an academic source could have such bias,” he said. “We all expect, at this point, the smaller hidden examples of racism. It’s the blatant ones that are more shocking—and this is one of them.”

Torres launched his “Nude Awakening” campaign to raise awareness about the issue and pressure Merriam-Webster to revise its definition. His campaign is a great example of how young people can use social media to create real change. Over 800 people took to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr on July 14, National Nude Day, to demand a new definition.

“We used DoSomething’s social media pages to spread the word, and everyone else just found out by word of mouth,” Torres said, “There wasn’t really any press support until after we were successful, which is very much a reflection of how the media only promotes big stories that easily catch attention.”

A Taste for Activism

For Torres, this campaign isn’t an isolated incident. With a double major in documentary studies & production and sociology, he intends to continue tackling social justice issues.

“I am definitely into activism as a career option, and in the meantime I do plan to be heavily active in the activist community,” Torres said. “I would love to create more campaign ideas too, some tackling race topics and others that are completely different.”

Torres also encourages those in the Ithaca College community to use their voices to demand equality and create positive change. “I think it is really important for students to realize that there are so many activists on our campus alone who do not get any attention for the things they are fighting for,” he said. “Don’t just read articles about social change—go and experience it firsthand. I promise, it’s worth it!”



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