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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Natural Nudity Naturally

Recently on a discussion board that I'm a member of, the topic of Family Nudity came up.    The topic started by asking about showering and bathing with your child and at which age you "should" stop, ie: at what age is it inappropriate to be casually naked infront of your children.  I was shocked at many of the negative comments and the feelings expressed by parents who were uncomfortable with being undressed infront of their children even as young as 12 months of age.

Why is it in our western society that we insist on equating nudity with sexuality?  I have spent many many years dealing with this thought pattern with people in North America and Western Europe (mostly England and Malta where I use to live), and I still can't not fathom the reason why it is so difficult to separate the two. Nudity has nothing to do with sex or sexuality and vice versa- we can have sex while (almost, lol) fully clothed, and we can be naked while reading a book on how to repair a toaster.  So why the stigma?

Our house hold is a very clothing optional home.  Not because we are "nudists", but because clothing, or the lack thereof, doesn't reflect anything more than just being comfortable.  I don't cook a fry up without clothing on (learned that lesson a long time ago!), nor would I refinish and stain a table without my clothes on, but if I'm running around the house getting ready to go out, or getting out of the shower, or even just hot on a warm summer day, I'm not going to desperately search for an article of clothing to cover up my body with.  My kids are use to seeing me naked and spend a large portion of their own time naked if they feel like it (which for my almost 3 year old is just about every waking moment).  We bathe together as a family (we are lucky to have a large tub!), and many time shower together as a family too. It's natural to our children.

Yet when my son Logan tries to head off out to the back yard I have to tell him to put on some clothes first.  Partially this is because I know he isn't going to like the feeling of having sand in his bum after he gets out of the sand box.  But partially this is because I feel constrained by society to keep my children covered up in public.  Which really sucks.

People yell about paedophiles staring at bare children.  Really? My response is the same as when someone tells a breastfeeding woman to cover up in public so that "the perverts" aren't looking at her breasts: 
"Just because someone might have a foot fetish, does this mean I should spend all my time dressed in socks and boots?  If someone has fetish for legs, does that mean that I have to wear long pants all the time?  If someone has a fetish for long hair, does that mean I have to wear a Habib to hide my long hair from public scrutiny? 
We have created a society that lives in fear.  Fear that someone, somewhere might take offence, or be sexually stimulated by something WE have done.  Since when are everyone else's hangups my problem?  Why should the condemnation of certain people force me to live my life by their rules?

But I digress....(putting that soap box away for now)

Nudity is Natural, not Unnatural.  Yet it is feared by society as a whole.  The naked body has become cause  for shame.  Religion plays a huge roll in this... which I'm NOT going to get into right now, lol.

Last summer while we were living the Democratic Republic of the Congo a friend of mine who is the editor of Going Natural/Au Naturel Magazine asked me to write a short article on the topic of Nudity in the Congolese society and breastfeeding. (Going Natural / Au naturel, Vol. 24, No. 3).  I thought I'd share that article here for those who have not read my African Blog (www.daniarnold.wordpress.com).

We asked Dani Arnold-McKenny, our “African correspondent” to comment on nudity and breastfeeding where she is, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   She sent us the following report.

We’ve all seen the pictures in National Geographic of bygone eras, of tribal peoples going about their daily lives—women topfree in sarongs, men in loin cloths, naked children running everywhere. Due to extensive changes to the Congo in the past 50 to 100 years—war, genocide, cultural revolution, influx of people from other areas of Africa, and of course the introduction of Christianity—nudity is no longer a “social” thing, at least not in the busy city centres.
Where I am, in the southern tip of the Congo in Lubumbashi, a thriving city of 1.5 million or so, social nudity is clearly no longer part of everyday life. But while the average person on the street is fully clothed, and adopting the fashions of the West is becoming more prevalent, this isn’t an indication of being infected with the Western sickness of body taboos.
As a Canadian woman and staunch breastfeeding advocate, coming here has shown me what the norm should be. Women of the Congo do not hide in embarrassment when their babies need to be fed. They do not cover their bare breast with some ridiculous tent-like poncho thing or smother their baby with a blanket. There is no big scene. There are no nervous glances right and left to see if anyone is watching or, even worse, will tap them on the shoulder to tell them “You can’t do that here!”
No; if a baby needs to be fed, the mother simply pulls her top up or down and feeds, regardless of where she is or who is there to “see.” Women nurse their babies wherever they are, while doing whatever they are doing. Seeing a breast is as common as seeing a bare leg or foot!
Although older school-aged children are rarely seen in public less than fully clothed, there are toddling naked bums running everywhere! The African/Congolese tradition of using elimination communication with babies instead of diapers is still a strong part of the culture. Sadly, however, the Western model is having more and more influence: having your baby in diapers shows a certain affluence and “modern thinking” in the younger generation of parents.
Still, babies and toddlers with bare bums are so common that they’re not even noticed. No one points a finger and yells, “Cover that child! Don’t you know a pedophile might be looking at them?!”
Even in a decidedly Christian society, Congolese have not fallen into the trap of Western body taboos and uptight puritanical thinking. Public nudity here does not have anything to do with morality or sexuality. Nudity is natural and is just a part of life.
Clothing is worn for fashion and protection from the elements, not as a way to hide shame—something most North Americans could use a lesson in.

Returning to the idea of family nudity.  Like many other things in life, children learn through experiencing things in their daily life.  If a child is brought up is an atmosphere where their body parts are just their body parts, where they feel free and comfortable in their natural skin, then that child will grow up with a healthy respect for their own body and not hid in the shadows of condemnation and shame.  Children learn far more from unconscious observations than we give them credit for.  If they grow up seeing their parents hiding their body parts, then they will unconsciously assume  that there is a reason- that their parts are shameful or something to be embarrassed of.  Thus the infection of body taboos spreads to the next  generation.

We want our children to be relaxed and comfortable with breastfeeding, but how comfortable will they be if they are brought up to think that breasts are sexual and to be hidden from sight?  How much more comfortable with they be if they are brought up seeing breasts as a natural part of a female body, just like a foot or an ear.  Each body part has a purpose, whether is for walking on, hearing with, or feeding our children. We don't hide our ears.

Every family has to find it's own comfort zone.  My comfort zone may not be the same as yours or the next persons. Regardless, I think that open discussion about nudity should be part of every family's topic of conversation. Some times we have to step out of our comfort zone to create the opportunity to broaden our horizons.

It's just nudity- and it's only natural after all!!

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