Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Do They Need a Fig Leaf?

: The New York Times today has an exploration of childhood nudity, how it's so natural and spontaneous, and the hang-ups of the adults who struggle to deal with it.
For many parents, allowing a child to run around naked at home is perfectly natural, an expression of physical freedom that represents the essence of childhood, especially in the summer. But for others, unclad bodies are an affront to civility, a source of discomfort and a potentially dangerous attraction for pedophiles. These clashing sensibilities can create conflict, even when the nudity in question takes place at home.
With all the regulations and ordinances against public nudity in America, how long will it take for lawmakers to begin looking behind closed doors, such as in the case brewing against Jasmine Trail in North Carolina? The American distaste of any public display of flesh is irrational to the point of being paranoid, that the mere sight of a nude toddler is bound to attract perverts, pedophiles and child killers. The DA in the Jasmine Trail investigation is going after the nudist campground, not for any specific complaint or incident, but merely because the fact that there are nude people on the property must mean that something untoward is going on. Usually people are upset when they see actual nudity, but in this case someone is going after nudity that cannot be seen.
Aly Mandel, 41, a school psychologist and mother of five in Highland Park, N.J., said she, too, felt ire from extended family members for allowing her daughter Ava, now 6, to roam naked in and around the house when she was younger.

“My mother, it used to drive her crazy how naked Ava was,” Ms. Mandel said, explaining that the girl abhorred clothes. “My mother-in-law also, they both felt it crossed the line of what was appropriate. My mother-in-law would come in and automatically say, ‘Ava, put on your clothes. Put on your underwear.’ ”
There is no rational reason for ordering a toddler to put on clothes. People will always tell you that it's "indecent", or "inappropriate", but they cannot tell you why. It's transference of adult shame, built up over years of cultural mores and religious teachings. This is what nudism and naturism allows people to unlearn. In as little as 10 minutes a first-time social nudist will realize that all the modesty, all the hiding behind clothes, all the body issues, and all the discomfort of textiles on flesh suddenly begin to melt away. The sight of a nude person of any age is no longer shocking, it becomes normal.
Sometimes it’s the grandparents who are more permissive. Robert Kohlbrenner thought nothing of it last summer when his grandchildren, two boys, ages 4 and 10, and a girl, 6, asked if they could skinny-dip by the dock on a very hot day at his home on Oneida Lake in upstate New York.

“I think it’s fun for them,” said Dr. Kohlbrenner, 58, a psychologist in private practice, who found out later that his son did not approve. “If you can’t do it when you’re a kid, when can you do it, you know?”
How about all your life? Last weekend I saw a couple who appeared to be at least in their seventies, wearing nothing but floppy hats, socks and shoes. They were walking hand in hand by the pool, comfortable with their own nudity just like innocent toddlers. Forget ambition, forget the paper chase, or the pursuit of money - if you want true personal peace, just get naked and have some fun like those skinny-dipping children.
Around the age of 3 or 4, children begin to differentiate between what’s private and what’s public, experts say, and they usually begin to feel modesty soon after. But parents’ attitudes play the largest role in determining whether children are comfortable being naked at home, said Lawrence Balter, a psychologist at New York University and the editor of “Parenthood in America,” an encyclopedia.

“If someone has what appears to be an overly strong reaction to seeing young children running around naked, it tells us about their own hang-ups, their own inner conflicts,” Dr. Balter said.
Yes, thank you. Beware the person who overreacts to simple, non-sexual nudity. Anyone who can only see something sexual in nudism and naturism likely has psychological problems that are more than cultural. When Rep. Mark Foley attacked nudist camps for having children on the premises, he later turned out to have an attraction to teenage boys. When Rev. Ted Haggard attacked homosexuals from the pulpit, he later admitted to having gay sex with a male prostitute.
John Louie, 38, a vice president at the Mattel toy company, said that he is “definitely protective” of his daughter, but that modesty plays a larger role.

At a party at a friend’s home recently, Mr. Louie bristled when the hosts let their 4-year-old daughter splash naked in a children’s pool, and his wife allowed Rebecca to join in. “I don’t want to see her naked and, frankly, I don’t want to see other kids running around naked either.”
Well why not? What is it about the sight of naked children which causes people to bristle and turn away? I would think most people would smile, or laugh, at the sight of chidren at play, clothed or unclothed. Bottling up the natural instincts of children to shed their clothes only teaches them body shame, that there is something wrong and repulsive about their flesh. Adults should not be transferring their own guilt, false modesty and irrational fears to their children. We are all born with nude bodies, we all see ourselves when we change clothes or bathe, so why is it so shocking when we see someone's else's nude body?

We need to step back in time a little bit, when nude swimming at the YMCA was the norm, when kids skinny-dipping in a local pond were the inspiration for a Norman Rockwell illustration, and when schools required gang showers after physical education classes. There is nothing wrong with the sight of a human body that some good old-fashioned social nudity cannot cure.

UPDATE: Here is a good response to the NYT article from a naturist.
UPDATE 2: Whatever happened to naked summers?

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