Why are we so scared of bodies, of our own skin?
Perceptions of Bodies at Different Ages
A child has no fear or shame for its body. We laugh at their natural nakedness. And they are happily naked…until they are told something that makes them embarrassed – usually about their genitals or urinating. Suddenly, they fear being seen in certain states or places.
A young person goes to the beach and takes most of their clothes off to publicly bathe in the warmth of the sun. A boy goes topless without thinking, stripping to his one piece shorts. But woe betide he should wear only his boxer shorts or, worse still, his speedo undies. A girl covers her breasts and usually wears a two-piece swimming costume. Woe betide she should wear her underwear instead, even though it might cover more skin. Often skimpier is better for girls, whereas boys prefer long-legged ‘shorts’, rather like basketball uniforms. Go figure.
Adults are expected to wear ‘decent’ clothing in public, though individual views of ‘decent’ vary greatly by age, religion, sex, fashion and the weather. Yet, if we are about to have sex, mostly we want to rip our clothes off as quickly as we can.
But having sex in public open space is strongly discouraged and can even be illegal. We get embarrassed to see people passionately kissing, let alone actually having consensual sex. Yet sex is one of the greatest joys of life and it’s not dangerous!
I Like Bodies
I like bodies. I like them unclothed, though, even being a life drawer (meaning drawing people without clothes), it’s often a bit contextually embarrassing when seeing a real naked body. We aren’t sure where to look…because we are somehow ashamed or embarrassed by genitalia, bums or breasts.
But bodies are us! We come in all shapes and sizes. If we were more accustomed to seeing naked bodies – like Swedes are with mixed saunas (always naked) or Germans (very matter of fact, rational) – we might worry about them – and our own body – much less.
Life drawing models are themselves enigmatic about their bodies. Happily naked during a pose, they rapidly cover up till the next pose. Why? We’ve seen everything they have. They weren’t embarrassed then. Is it the asymmetrical nature of the class – we have clothes and they don’t?
Notably, when people do naked art gallery views, naked swimming, naked yoga, naked camping, the embarrassment about bodies disappears very rapidly. The body just ‘is’. I love drawings or photos of naked people. Yet, while we happily stare, admire and praise them in an ‘art’ gallery, seeing them being drawn, we seem to retreat to embarrassment.
From my limited experience, swimming naked is a much more sensual experience than normal swimming. Sunbathing and exercising naked are similar. When we walked naked from the Swedish sauna to cool off in the sea past some public people, it was initially embarrassing but, as our hosts weren’t embarrassed, why should we be…so we weren’t.
So What’s the Problem?
‘We’ are the problem. People. In general. People who react inappropriately – smirking, frowning, turning away. People who are themselves embarrassed. People who make fun of the unclothed, whether because the naked are perceived to be beautiful or ugly, young or old. And once it’s happened to you, you don’t want to repeat the experience. So you put clothes on.
What To Do?
First, we should try to treat bodies as ordinary, normal, regardless of their actual shape, age or sex. We all have one! A naked body is no different from a clothed one. No need to stare, to ridicule, or even to admire (though this is harder to ignore – such a beautiful sight)
Second, we should try to encourage nakedness in society. It breaks down barriers. Allow people to experiment with nakedness, become more comfortable with it. Evidence suggests people become more confident about their own body and enjoy the activity more when they are naked! Encourage naked exercise sessions, swimming, yoga, art gallery, theatre, whatever, at least in closed sessions.
Third, remove naked actions (eg streakers, stripping) from being legal offences. Take the shock element out of it and it will vanish!
How much better that we have too much nakedness, too much of our own bodies, and much less war, guns and violence. Make love, not war.