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
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.