This College Student Took on the Dictionary’s Racially Insensitive Definition Of “Nude”... And Won!

How the #NudeAwakening movement helped redefine a natural state of being for the better.

image via (cc) flickr user nbhamla

Hear the words “nude” and “college student” and odds are the first thing that comes to mind *isn’t* a campaign for racial equality. That, however, is exactly what happened when Luis Torres, an incoming sophomore at Ithaca College, noticed something strange about the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry for the word “nude.” Until earlier this month, the definition reportedly read as follows:

  • having no clothes on
  • of or involving people who have no clothes on
  • having the color of a white person’s skin

Bothered by the obvious racial tone-deafness in the third definition, Torres took action. On July 14th–National Nude Day–he took to social change platform to launch “Nude Awakening,” a grassroots campaign to “[d]emand Merriam-Webster Dictionary change its racist definition of the word ‘nude.’” Speaking with Mic, Torres explains:

This is something small that most white people, myself included, take for granted. I started doing research around Band-Aids, which led to nude fashion, which led to me discovering the Merriam-Webster definition of nude. It blew my mind that an academic source was perpetuating this same racism.

Judging by the public’s reaction to Torres’ campaign, his wasn’t the only mind blown. Hundreds joined in the call for Merriam-Webster to revise their definition, plastering the dictionary’s website with comments calling for change.

Wrote one commenter:

“Hey @Merriam-Webster Dictionary, did you know you’re the only dictionary with a racist definition of the word “nude”? Remove the third definition from this word to get with the times. #NudeAwakening

Said another:

Yo! Change that definition please. According to you all, I have never been nude in my life........
Changes the directions on how to take a shower dont ya think?

Peppered throughout the comments, as well as throughout the endless stream of #nudeawakening tweets, and facebook posts, was a common refrain: “’Nude’ is a state of being--NOT a skin color.”

It’s a message Merriam-Webster heard loud and clear. Earlier this month, the dictionary site amended their online entry for the word “nude.” It now reads:

screen capture via

In response to the change, Torres updated his campaign page to announce the new definition, and thank all those who helped bring about this new, more inclusive entry. And while changing a single sub-definition of a single entry in a single dictionary may seem like a small victory, Torres is optimistic, explaining:

People are quick to overlook small things that can actually harm a community. We can become dismissive and defensive of very real issues because we don't see their importance. This is why if you don't understand why something is offensive but an entire community says it is, you need to listen.

That’s the naked truth.

[via mic, the washington post]

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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