What’s “nude” mean to you?

Until recently, anyone searching the Merriam-Webster dictionary for the word would have come across the following.

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

To Luis Torres, the third definition wasn’t just wrong. It was racist: a “micro aggression” toward people of color.

So Torres, an incoming sophomore at Ithaca College, started an Internet campaign called Nude Awakening to shame Merriam-Webster and coax it into changing its entry.

“This is something small that most white people, myself included, take for granted,” he told Mic.com. “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.”

On July 14, a.k.a. National Nude Day, Torres urged people to “demand Merriam-Webster Dictionary change its racist definition of the word ‘nude.'”

More than 800 responded, flooding the dictionary’s entry with angry comments and attacking Merriam-Webster on Twitter.

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

Others tailored the message to fit their own personal fury.

“This is disgusting,” one woman wrote. “Nude is a state of being, not a skin tone.”

“Now, black models were a leap forward, but NUDE black models?! That must be, frankly, impossible,” wrote another woman. “It’s most certainly never happened. Defining ‘nude’ to specifically be the color of a white person’s skin is pure bigotry and is plain offensive. How can you define a shade as another’s individualized flesh tone when there’s not even a concrete definition of WHAT a white person’s coloring is?”

Merriam-Webster withered under the pressure. Some time this month, the dictionary quietly changed its entry for “nude” to something more palatable. Gone was the reference to “a white person’s skin,” replaced by the following:

Torres trumpeted the change as more than a mere linguistic victory, but also a psychological boost for people of color.

“People often do not realize the smaller acts of racism lead to internalized hate and racism within communities of color and within white communities,” he told Mic.com. “Looking up the definition of ‘nude’ and seeing that even academic sources perpetuate the idea that white skin is more relevant … or just simply important, is detrimental to the psyche of people of color. Language is how we all communicate, and when words are designed and defined to be exclusive, it can be hurtful and harmful.”

But not everyone was happy with the revision.

“This micro aggression fad is getting ridiculous,” one woman, who identified as Puerto Rican, wrote in the comments section of Huffington Post. “Grow up.”

“This will just make it really hard to order underwear on the internet,” wrote one white woman. “I’m not beige.”

“They got it changed because they’re race idealougues [sic] and can literally do nothing but yammer on constantly about everyone’s race,” wrote another commenter. “They take up social media to make changes that literally will do nothing to actually help people.”

But Torres insisted that it is better to fix micro aggressions than to ignore them, and that such small changes could lead to bigger societal shifts.

“People are quick to overlook small things that can actually harm a community,” he told Mic.com. “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. As a society we are quick to jump to conclusions without hearing each other out. You may see a small battle that you might not think is important, but no fire has ever been started without a spark.”