phaidra

A Discourse on Semi-Public Nudity

So I was at a public pool recently.

In the ladies' changeroom after my swim, I people-watched as I generally do - or more to the point in observing changeroom etiquette with some respectfulness, I people-listened.

Two contrasting families emerged, two women with female children of around the same age. One woman had two kids about the height of my hips (not so good with age-to-height ratios with kids, so it's your job to estimate) and another woman had a slightly older girl.

Mother #1 was attempting to keep her girls under the hairdryers while she changed. One of her girls, the younger one presumably from the height difference, kept playing with her towel and leaving herself uncovered. There were no men in the changeroom at all - not even small boys. Her mother scolded her repeatedly, requesting hotly that she keep her towel around her even if she was dry, it was called "modesty." She was also trying to keep the towel (one of only two she had with her) off the floor so she could use it later.

Mother #2 was changing in good humor with her girl. They were both naked, unashamed, minding their own business, dressing carefully. The girl stood on top of the bench so her towel wouldn't get wet. Things went very smoothly for them.

Such different people, such different parenting styles. Ever since entering a serious relationship, watching parenting styles has become a more serious hobby. If it looks like someone is doing something very right or very wrong, I try to sit up and take notice in case this information becomes useful later.

The thing is, I've seen this particular scene a hundred times in changerooms, and being one of the in-betweens - someone who tries to cover up somewhat but doesn't really make that big a deal of modesty - I am puzzled at the opposing attitudes and wonder which is better and which is worse. I lean towards the acceptibility of single-gender public nudity being better, and I always have.

Having drawn nudes in art school, I have had prolonged exposure to examining the human body. It made it a bit hard for me sometimes on account of the eating disorder, but it was worth looking. We had one lady who was about my size come in and pose for us. She had grace and poise and was, most definitely, beautiful. It was difficult to reconcile my observations of her with my observations of self, but that experience certainly had a positive effect on the battle.

I guess that makes me question the Western cultural lack of publicly acceptable nudity. Now, many of you will cry out at this point that I am wrong about this, that nudity is publicly acceptable in nearly all places at all times here and it's gross. But there's a fine line between sexual nudity and general public nudity, and though sexualized nudity is rampant, nudity as a means of allowing young people to grow in the understanding of normal human sizes, shapes, and appearance is scarce indeed. I have always thought that swimming changerooms were one of the places I found when I was young that I most learned to accept that human beings are a varied lot, and most of their beauty or ugliness came from the inside.

EDIT: I am only arguing for the public acceptance of same-gender nudity. I still think that general nudity is perhaps too hard to avoid sexualizing.

What do you think, is it more important to teach children modesty or self-acceptance? And can a person use a same-sex changeroom experience for both? I would especially be interested in anyone's point of view who has lived in or been to Europe, where the attitude to public nudity is much more relaxed.

  • Current Mood: satisfied thoughtful about the body
[I'm procrastinating, hence the reply.]

Modesty and acceptance of one's body are two completely different issues here. Even in a public changeroom, not everyone will be comfortable walking around naked, even if they are 100% happy with their body. I don't think you can say outright that either view is "better", it's really a matter of personal preference.
With that last line in there, I guess I have to reply, don't I?

I have some memories from beaches in Norway. They weren't nudist beaches, just beaches. Nevertheless, you'd see the occasional topless woman (usually these were middle-aged and up, I'm not sure what the trend is nowadays) Being a young chap with little experience, I didn't think it was all that strange. Oh, except for that one time... Two girls were sharing a bikini... One got the top and the other got the bottom. That was awkward...

BUT was it not weird because I hadn't grown old enough to be indoctrinated yet, or was it not weird because I was six years old and only vaguely knew where babies came from? I find it hard to imagine that teen boys would be able to be in such an environment and not remain mentally and spiritually pure.

I think that control freak modesty within a family (ie. example 1) is a bit much. How else are kids going to learn what bodies are like and not to be ashamed of themselves because of who they are? On the other hand, there is a very definite link between naked people and lustful thoughts, and I think that situations where there is going to be co-ed nudity outside the home could be problematic. Maybe if our culture had been raised in such a way for generations so that our brains had a different idea of what is wrong to look at, then it might be different. I think, however, that believing that some things should be forbidden. I simply think that the line might fall differently according to culture.

For those who argue that modesty is a result of eating the forbidden fruit and that we should return to the Edenic state, I'll remind them that it was God who gave them skins to wear...
So the issue here is about lustful thoughts? In that case co-ed nudity, for example in a sauna, might be problematic. I can't really draw from my own experience here, but maybe guys would have more of a problem with something like this. I don't know. The culture here in Finland is such that it's considered rude to stare at people when they're naked at sauna or bathing. You have to behave discreetly.

It's hard to explain, but for me a sauna is not a sexually charged place even when I'm naked there with someone of the same or opposite gender, but I've been raised to this culture and it's instinctual for me. I would think twice about going to sauna with a foreign guy, because I don't trust that they wouldn't look at me in a sexual way in that situation.
There's what I'm saying about different cultures drawing the line in different places. Maybe the line in Finland isn't so much a region of the body as a geographical location. Ie. You wouldn't feel comfortable walking around outside...

And as much as its popular to talk about equality between the sexes, men and women are not the same. On the other hand, I can't speak for Finnish men either. All I know is that in Norway, having a fairly lenient view in regards to nudity has not led to a healthy sexual environment. Pornography is a pretty big problem and in some ways Norway has become a morally depraved country =(
Ie. You wouldn't feel comfortable walking around outside...

You're correct in that. I've had nightmares where I'm naked outside in a place where you're not supposed to be naked. That would be awful.

I've been to Norway once on a holiday in my teen years, but my experience was different from yours. I just remember that it rained all the time. :p I don't know what you're referring to with "morally depraved country", but I'd say that Norway and Finland probably are pretty similar when it comes to sexuality.

But you'd rarely see topless women at a beach in Finland. I still vividly remember seeing this topless woman by the hotel pool when we were on holiday at Greece with my family (I was around 13 years old then), and I felt embarrassed for the lady. I was not used to seeing people dressed like that in a situation like that.
I wonder about that and suspect that things are probably different now than they were when I was little. Like I said, they were mostly middle-aged women and older so there probably aren't a lot of people who walk around topless at the beaches anymore. But I haven't been to a Norwegian beach in decades so its hard to say.

Have you been to Norway during Russetiden is the question. That's when most of the deviant behavior is released. Highschool seniors are given a month to run around and participate in sanctioned insanity. My own memories are mostly of me being frightened of big high school students who ran around spraying us with hot water but the amount of debauchery that goes on kind of shocked me when I learned about it. Not to say that we don't have any grad-night debauchery in Canada, mind you... Its hard for me to pinpoint what exactly the issue is, but I was pretty saddened during my latest visit.
I hadn't even heard about Russetiden before this. I had to look it up on Wikipedia. The one time that I was at Norway was during the Summer so I haven't seen Russetiden. Based on the photos that I saw of Russetiden it looks a bit like Finnish May Day celebrations, but in Finland the ones wearing the overalls are college students and not high schoolers. It's like a carnival, but it only lasts for the eve and day of May Day. People get drunk, and it's an important party especially for the college students.
I really hope that the "Have sex with 17 different people in 17 days from 1.May to 17 May" only happens rarely...

But even the milder acts are disturbing. Like replacing educational school movies with pornos or biting random strangers in the ankles... I know for a fact that my cousin stole a fifth grader's lunch...
The argument that nudity is linked to lustful thoughts isn't a very strong one. By that logic, life-drawing classes are dangerous and art books should be banned from libraries.
I think you mostly ignored my post and zeroed in on me saying that. I think that life drawing classes could be situations where the environment is acceptable. Like I said above, I don't have a problem with nudity in a correct setting, and a life drawing class is fairly protected. People who have problems with lust aren't going to stumble in by accident. Same thing with art books. Now of course there are going to be people who will seek them out for the wrong reasons, but I think there is a personal responsibility to control your own actions when you can. I think that imposing unavoidable nudity on other people just because YOU can handle it is wrong though.
Of course I zeroed in on you saying that, and I pointed out why I had a problem with it.

'I think that imposing unavoidable nudity...' UNAVOIDABLE being the key word here. If it's unavoidable, it doesn't really matter who can handle it. It's just there.

If someone is aware that they have a 'lust' problem, they should spend their time in the covered areas of the change rooms, change in toilet cubicles, or avoid the pool altogether, as many swimsuits don't hide much anyway. There is near-nudity on magazine covers and movie posters. People who have these problems with nudity you're suggesting simply aren't going to make it.

Regardless, I don't really know who you're pinpointing. Most people have lustful thoughts every day. Most of these people aren't sex offenders, if that's what you were getting at.
I believe the key word was "imposed," actually. And "unavoidable" refers to the person who is just minding their business when suddenly SURPRISE NUDITY! Like you mention, if people have a problem, they should spend their time in safe environments (change cubicles, etc.) and avoid places like nude beaches, life drawing classes, or nude art books. But its the bombardment of sex and nudity in everyday life that I have a problem with. You mention magazine covers and movie posters and it goes a lot further than that. I think these are unwelcome attacks on people and for those who do struggle, it makes it very hard to thrive. You can point to nudity present in everyday life in other cultures that is presented in a good way, but this is not what I'm talking about. If you're going to see some form of nudity while you're walking outside somewhere, chances are, its purpose is to be sexually titillating. Unlike healthy change-room or family nudity, these images do not promote a healthy view of the body, just the opposite. It makes the body into an object, and sex into a public spectacle.
Nudity in Finnish sauna culture
We talked about this some time ago, if you remember. I also found an old post from 2006 where I was trying to make a point that nudity in public bathhouses doesn't necessarily make people perverted.

Finns have a very natural way of dealing with nudity, which mostly stems from our sauna culture. Families bathe and go to sauna together naked at home (most Finns have access to a sauna at home). The kids may start to bathe and go to sauna only with the members of their family who are of the same gender when their puberty starts, but that depends solely on the family. For example in my family we still go to mixed-sauna and it's totally natural for us. And there's nothing sexual about it.

I go swimming often and the policy concerning nudity in public swimming pools is that you have to wear a swimming suit to the pool, but not in the bathing area and saunas. The changing rooms, baths and saunas are separated by gender. People are naked in the showers and saunas. It's actually forbidden to wear a bathing suit to the sauna. In the changing room most people are pretty relaxed about nudity, teenage girls sometimes being the exception. I remember changing clothes with the aid of a towel around myself in my teen years. Most kids haven't yet come to terms with their body at that time.

Some people also go to mixed gender saunas, but that's a personal decision. It's more common among young people. I've gone to mixed saunas with friends. For Finnish people sauna has nothing to do with sex, so it's not weird to go to sauna with your friends. Some people are of course more prudish than others. I've gone to sauna with friends of the same gender who have wanted to wear bathing suits or a towel to sauna (those weren't public saunas). And that's fine as well. The point of the sauna is to feel comfortable and to relax.

At their Summer cottages most Finns also swim naked besides bathing and sauna-ing naked. You might get a glimpse of your cottage neighbor naked when they go swimming, but it's polite to avert your eyes at that time. And you can just wear a towel from the sauna to the edge of the water, if you're feeling shy. Swimming naked feels much better than swimming with a bathing suit. :p

But outside of these occasions (and locker rooms) the only times that you're going to see a Finn naked would probably be, if you were having sex with them. (Or if it's some pervert flashing you on the street, but doesn't every country have those?)

(I had to cut this comment in two pars. I guess that I got inspired. xp)
Re: Nudity in Finnish sauna culture
Anyway, I had to check from my dictionary what "modesty" exactly means since I couldn't quite understand what it has to do with public nudity in this context. Why would you need to cover your body in a changing room where there were only people of the same gender? Are you supposed to feel ashamed of your body? Would nudity imply that you're flaunting something?

I just don't understand the thought process here. Would nudity in a changing room imply that a person would be somehow immodest in the outside world? Or is there supposed to be some kind of connection between this and sexuality?

From my personal experience people's attitudes towards nudity don't correlate with how revealing clothing they wear or how much promiscuous sex they have. I might have a very relaxed attitude towards nudity when I'm bathing and sauna-ing, but I'm not comfortable wearing revealing clothes for example. I don't feel comfortable wearing a mini-skirt and a top. I don't wear shirts that show much cleavage and I rarely wear shirts that would show my shoulder. I'm comfortable with my body and think that it's beautiful, but I'm not comfortable wearing clothes that make me feel like a sex object.

And that friend of the same gender who would wear a swimming suit to a sauna that I mentioned earlier, she would love to flaunt her body in revealing clothes to get attention from boys. Cars would slow down and honk when we were walking somewhere, but that only happened when I was walking with her. :p So there really is no obvious correlation between nudity in changing rooms for example and general modesty.

I think that it's positive that children would grow in an environment where nudity is natural while in changing rooms or bathhouses. Seeing the variety found in human bodies in their natural form helps you to accept your own body for how it is. That might save you from developing some complexes about your body. We need something to combat the negative images coming from the media about sickeningly thin people being beautiful. Being comfortable in your own body is something that everybody needs to learn on their own, but I think that the Finnish sauna culture helps in that. You're also more self-confident when you're not ashamed of your own body and that's always good.
Re: Nudity in Finnish sauna culture
While reading other people's comments I noticed that some people referred to "private change rooms". I don't think that we have those in Finland. At least none come to mind. It's either the general change room, or the bathroom, if you're feeling body shy. I've seen private change rooms in other countries so I know what they are.
I honestly have no idea what to say about this. My mother never discussed change room etiquette with me (other than to not stare or be silly). It was always assumed I'd be bare-ass naked, and I didn't have a problem with it. It wasn't until I was ten or eleven that I personally had an issue with being naked in a change room, but I didn't learn it from my mother. She and I shared a shower at the lake.

I know naked, pregnant women in the changeroom used to scare the bejeezus out of me. I never said anything about it to anybody, but I was completely mind-blown by how bizarre they looked.

Today my thoughts are that you should be comfortable. I'm most-comfortable being naked as little as possible, but that's mostly because change rooms are gross, and the less exposure, the better.
In my opinion, in example #1 that mother is setting her children up for poor body images, and example #2 is far better off. Having seen my own fair share of bathroom change-room etiquette I think that having a towel around you while naked is perfectly ok. But to scream and rant at your child when they are changing and the towel drops is a little excessive. I think that if you are looking at this from a modesty stand point, young girls should be allowed to change in the open with their mothers. I used to shower with my mother when I was very young. I think it was a positive experience. I didn't freak out when I hit puberty and my body started to change. I knew that was normal. I think that explaining to young children that they shouldn't parade around naked is also good. Having your young daughter (or son) run around the change room naked = bad. Having them naked while changing from swim suit into clothing = perfectly acceptable. Explaining to your child that if they are uncomfortable with others seeing them naked they can use the private change rooms or bathrooms is a good idea. (Where I grew up there were small stalls with curtains for privacy as well as a general change area). Let kids decide for themselves how comfortable they are. Children aren't stupid. But they will adopt like sponges anything you teach them through words or actions.
"I think that explaining to young children that they shouldn't parade around naked is also good." Ahahahaha. You just made me flash back to when I was nine or some ridiculous age like that and still running around the house in just my panties, and my mom gave me heck for it. "Don't you know you shouldn't run around naked?" And it was ONLY THEN when I was "old enough to know better" that she explained to me that guess what, naked isn't just bottom, but also top! Up till then I had no idea that breasts were "private parts"! (I probably also didn't know the word "breasts" yet, and she probably didn't tell me.) Oh education :D
It's pretty funny how age-specific feelings about nudity can be. I can remember going to summer camp and being totally fine with changing in cabin when I was eight, up until somewhere around preteen, at which point everyone became scared of nudity and tried to rig up towels, change in their sleeping bags, or change in the bathroom. I guess it's the whole bodies-maturing thing that wigs everyone out at that point.

I don't make a big fuss about nudity nowadays. I just warn everyone, "Don't look, I'm naked over here" and trust that people are going to be polite and avert their eyes. Of course, I would never change or be even semi-naked in a co-ed situation.
Depending on the situation, I don't even bother with the warning. Oh karate. :P

I've also changed in co-ed situations, though I do try and go behind a tree or a wall or something. Depending on who I'm with, it's way less of a big deal than a lot of people think, and in a situation where it does come down to that, it's because NOT changing in the co-ed situation would really just be a pain in the arse. Mind you, that's not complete nudity - that's change shirt then change pants then continue on my merry way.
Me being me I was focusing on the parenting behavior here and it amuses me when parents make things more difficult then they need to be. It really doesn't matter if a young girl is naked in a change room, that mother was just making things hard on herself by insisting on enforcing a concept that they little girl obviously hadn't grasped yet.