The Body Issue
The Problem with Nudity
When one googles the word nudity or naked what does one get? Most likely links to adult entertainment sites and whatnot; things we culturally drop in the sexual category, tasteless, dirty, shocking (!), a worldwide taboo that makes your cheeks flush with a shameful heat.
Nudity, in itself, is a big misunderstood word.
I am what you would call a cultural grasshopper. I do not find home in one place or culture, rather a mixture of several. One cultural aspect, however, has always remained with me.
In Europe, particularly Scandinavia, nudity as a whole has a completely different connotation than in Northern America. It is natural, in an utterly non-sexual aspect — a human body, skin upon flesh and bones, hair and nails, scars and moles. It is who we are underneath. And it is not shameful. It is not shocking. It is not dirty. It is not sexual. It is just a body.
Speaking of my culture whilst in the U.S I have always gotten the same response — “Oh my God, how can you be naked in the same room with a male relative? That’s disgusting!”— to which I, in turn, reply with a sigh and a silent roll of the eyes. Nudity in America is widely sexualized and a very deeply attached taboo. I don’t know if it is the strong impact of Christianity, but on the whole, I have been looked at as though something out-of-this-world and shameful. All because I have been in my, shall we say, natural state in the presence of another person, be it known or unknown, be it male or female.
But why, America? Why is my body shameful? Why is my body sexualized? Why is it not possible to be naked without some hidden agenda? What is so bad or sinful about it? I am so confused.
In my country, the closest you get to a relative or friend is that you go to sauna with them, which, might I add, is a pretty darn normal aspect of closeness. Sauna, if some of you don’t know, is a small wooden room with a rock-stove in it that is heated, and once you throw water on the rocks it fills the room with hot vapor. You shower beforehand and after (originally you have gone to swim in the lake or river since older wooden saunas have been built near water). It is good for your body and skin and heart. It’s a social occasion, a family occasion, and a form of relaxation that has been a big part of Finnish culture since day one.
I can go to sauna with my friends and relatives, be it male or female. Everyone’s body is his or her own, and none of us in that sauna are the least bit (sexually) interested in someone else’s body. Same goes for swimming halls and spas with public saunas, or going to a masseuse or a doctor or a physical therapist — skin is not a problem.
But the times I have spent in America, it has been considered indecent to wear less or no clothing around the house when there are individuals (even if they’re family) of the other sex in the same house. I had to remind myself continuously to put more clothes on when getting out of my fiancées room to another part of the house inhabited by her parents. And more than often, I felt that sort of shame I would never feel when at home.
I am not suggesting that we should all take our clothes off wherever we are. Even here in the more nudity-friendly part of the world, there are limits. Your body is your body, nudity is okay, but as long as it doesn’t make for an inconvenient or dangerous situation. Yes, you will get a fine if you take all your clothes off in the middle of a supermarket. We’re that normal. I’m just saying it isn’t as big of a deal. My mother was in the States this summer for a friend’s wedding and went to a masseuse as part of the bachelorette celebration day they were having. It was like the masseuse was genuinely frightened of seeing her topless, even though it is a part of the profession for the client to remove clothing from their upper body or lower body depending on what part is treated. It makes me chuckle — what’s the big deal? What is there to be frightened about?
I understand that in a culture in which religion and high sexual crime rates play a big part it is more than sensible not to encourage public (or private) nudity. And hell, it’s a hazard, you could freeze to death in our weather! I would just really, genuinely like to know why it is such a big deal. I think it is this shamefulness of nudity that makes the American culture one of the most body-negative cultures — if from the start you are told your body is bad and dirty and sexual, how the hell are you supposed to like it, or love it for that matter? (I am not a professional in culture studies, so feel free to correct me at any time; I’m just pointing out what I have seen).
I see a person’s body the way a child sees a person’s body — just a b-o-d-y. To demonstrate, when I take a bath with my little brother (three years old) and we play with his toys, my arms become racetracks and my legs highways, my tummy is a beach and the little hole of my belly button becomes a puddle his toys splash in since it catches some water in it while the rest of my tummy remains dry.
An innocent, natural, non-sexual way of perceiving a body — that is how I perceive a body.
I remember when I told an American friend of mine about modeling nude for an art project. They immediately understood it wrong; in a sexual aspect, asking me how on Earth I could do it and not think of what the men in the room will think when they see every part of me, isn’t it indecent, he asked me. I replied to him simply by saying; it’s nothing sexual, it is art. The people drawing me are interested in my muscles and bones and how they look in different positions, not the fact that I have my privates on display. But he was adamant — I was naked, hence it was indecent, hence I was inviting people to perceive me as a sexual object.