Friday, October 16, 2015

When Social Nudity was Healthy and Common.

I was shocked to find out that schools no longer have gym classes that require students take showers. In my generation it was the norm. Today, it is not uncommon for people to have never seen a naked human body outside of porn sites on the Internet.  I can't understand how, in a single generation we have gone from a general acceptance of our bodies, to a pathological disdain for anything natural and human. All this came about in the 1990s, when hysteria from "false memory syndrome" and "Satanic Abuse" were becoming popular in the main stream media.

This appeared in 1996 NYT:
The antipathy to taking showers after gym class puzzles some teachers and coaches. "These guys don't want to undress in front of each other," said John Wrenn, a teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in suburban Chicago, who can scarcely conceal his contempt for the new sensibilities. "I just don't get it. When I started in '74, nobody even thought about things like this. The whole thing is just hard for me to accept. ....Mandatory showers and teachers on shower patrol are virtually a thing of the past now, and rinsing off after gym is the student's option. In fact, some schools are considering removing showers because they are not used...  "Unless a student is drawing flies," said David Millstein, "it's none of the school's business."

It is perfectly understandable that adolescents would be sensitive about social nudity, and I don't want to enforce it against anyone's will. But it is good to reflect on the fact that adolescence in general is about the awkward transition to the adult world; to avoid anything uncomfortable is to avoid growth and necessary change.  As we go into a second generation of people whose only exposure to the human body is on Internet porn, the benefits of social nudity comes into sharper relief. In one study of social nudity published in Scientific American, subjects who focus on a person’s body made them more empathetic, and would rank that person as more experienced and more sensitive to emotion and pain.
Body Image Documentary
Famed psychologist, and former APA president, Abraham Maslow, believed “Nudism… is itself a kind of therapy.”

Drs. R.J. Lewis and  L.H. Janda surveyed 210 male and female undergraduate college students to determine what effect childhood exposure to parental nudity had on them as young adults. The results of the study suggested that "childhood experiences with exposure to nudity and sleeping in the parental bed are not adversely related to adult sexual functioning and adjustment. In fact, there is modest support that these childhood experiences are positively related to indices of adjustment". In their discussion, they conclude that "for boys, exposure to nudity in early childhood appears to be modestly related to greater comfort levels with regard to physical contact/affection". Arch Sex Behav. 1988 Aug;17(4):349-62.

Dr. Paul Okami confirms these findings in a 1998 paper "Childhood Exposure to Parental Nudity, Parent-Child Co-sleeping, and 'Primal Scenes'"  a 18 yr longitudinal study. Okami asks. "Why is it so widely believed in the United States and certain European nations that these practices are uniformly detrimental to the mental health of children? [….] Such notions, certainly where exposure to parental nudity is concerned, are perhaps better conceptualized as myths. Whereas any of these behaviors of course may be experienced in an abusive context-and may also occasion harm under certain circumstances for certain individuals-their appearance per se does not appear to constitute cause for alarm" (p.379).

Some degree of social nudity is a necessary part of developing a healthy self image, that people do not get from the comercial media outlets that actively discourage self acceptance. It pays to remember that while not universal, it was generally considered harmless, normal and hygienic behavior for most of the 20th century. Those who practiced it, in time, became desensitized to whatever differences they were born with, becoming comfortable in their own skins. Now plastic surgery and eating disorders are much more common. This is the price we pay for not finding a place for our natural selves in the modern world.

One blogger notes;
"I myself swam nude at the YMCA and school as a boy from age 5 to 17 (high school team). I regularly competed nude in front of female relatives, school parents, school friends, and swimmers. We all did this, so we were nude as a team. If I was shy or embarrassed about my body, I simply got over it by the time I was 6 or 7."

Nude Swimmers at YMCA
from Life Magazine, Oct 16, 1950, pg 106

But to illustrate how mundane and harmless nudity was, here is an image of a 1970 Dear Abbey article. Dear Abbey was an almost universal advice columnist who addresses a reader who was shocked to find nude swimming at a friend's family suburban lake house.

Dear Abby: 
  My Husband and I have made several lovely friends through his work. one such couple recently invited us to their lake home for a long weekend of barbecues and boating. Our children, both boys, ages 17 and 15 were also invited. Our friends have five children, three boys ages 19, 17, and 13 and two girls, 16 and 10.  
When we arrived at their home, the husband said their children were already swimming and our boys should go down and join them. They did so, while the men relaxed on the deck, and I helped our hostess prepare the evening meal.  
When supper war ready, I walked down to call the children, and was surprised to find all the boys swimming completely naked. the girls, however were in swimsuits. the eldest son, who is quite handsome and well-built, strode out of the water nude and politely introduced himself, shaking my hand and escorting me back to the house, while the younger children, my own naked sons included, ran along side us.  
All the boys remained nude for the dinner, casually lounging about the deck. No one seemed to notice. This became the general rule of the weekend, the boys coming to the breakfast table naked, and then swimming boating or sunning on the dock in the nude, and ending the day with a naked meal with the adults. At one point, I attempted to rein in my own sons, but my husband would have none of it, saying it would embarrass our hosts.  
This is not a rural setting. Two dozen homes ring this lake, and they are quite close to each other, offering no privacy. At one point the elder son had two friends over for a swim while the 17 year old had three or four. All swam nude, remaining so long after leaving the water, even when the elder girl had half a dozen friends over for a swim, in suits, of course.   
Abby, I was alarmed by this, but my husband insists it is completely normal behavior. Am I missing something? MN Mom

Dear MN Mom: 
Yes, you are missing something. It's called the American Way of Life. There is something quite natural about boys swimming naked at the swimming hole, or, as in your friends' case, at their own lake front home.  Boys do not require the same degree of modesty as girls, and are as you have observed, free to relax and enjoy the sun and the water as nature intended. Many schools and YMCAs utilize this as policy with boys in swim class and on swim teams. Rather than attempt to rein in your boys, you should be encouraging them to adapt to this more natural way of life.  Frankly, I am more surprised that the 19 year old had the good manners to introduce himself and escort you back to the house, than I am with the fact that he was entirely-and appropriately-nude.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely sexist anti-male double standard!