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Why it's important to teach modesty without shaming

Nude is a normal part of life yet for most there is a massive stigma around nudity that can be linked to bodily shame.

Modesty should be taught without shaming.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles |

The idea of being nude in a social setting makes some people incredibly uncomfortable because so many have been socialized by their parents to think that being seen naked or seeing the naked bodies of others outside of strictly defined circumstances is bad or dirty.

Of course parents who teach their children that are well meaning but unknowingly they rear a child made to feel that there is not only something inherently bad or dirty about nudity but that there is something bad or dirty about their bodies or at least certain parts thereof.

Religion is greatly to blame for the prudish attitudes toward nudity in society. The influence of its anti-sex, anti-self, anti-fun doctrines with respect to the naked human body has turned something incredibly beautiful into something imminently grotesque in the minds of many in our culture.

[More from Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner: Modesty is a state of mind]

Religion's emphasis on sex as a mode of procreation over pleasure is a part of the explanation for its insistence that open nudity was sinful and the desire to be naked outside of the bath a moral flaw.

And then there’s the prudishness of the Victorian era and its rollover into 20th century social puritanism, where anxiety about nakedness cemented nudity as social taboo.

Most have recollections either from their own childhood or as a parent of a child whereupon a child being removed from a bathtub inexplicably escapes the parental grasp and flees, running gleefully through the house naked. Such behavior typically in our society is predictably and swiftly squelched by a killjoy mom or dad with a rebuke that such conduct is naughty or bad.

In such cases parents are better advised to ignore, rather than shame their children over nudity. Perpetuating the nudity taboo teaches a child more than the modest behavior intended. It also instructs children to self-objectify. Self-objectification is the tendency to view oneself as an object to be looked at and evaluated by others negatively.

Research has shown that self-objectification affects the subjective well-being of girls and at least in part explains why women are more prone to having negative body image issues that can result in things like poor self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. While self-objectification doesn't seem to affect boys to the same degree, it could be argued that it may be one explanation for why boys are prone to grow up into men who objectify women.

It’s as much a mistake to impose an adult understanding of social modesty norms on kids too young to grasp it as it is to inflict an adult understanding of sexuality on them. It is no more rational to have a discussion on proper modesty with a toddler than it is to have the "birds and the bees" discussion with them. They simply aren't intellectually mature enough to understand. Instead of teaching modesty, parents who scold a young child for running from the bath naked teach body shame.

Nudist families teach their children about society's expectations when it comes to modesty just like all families do. It is explained at a time when a child has reached an age where he or she has the maturity to understand principles like when and where nudity is appropriate and when it is not. Studies have shown that children reared in nudist families generally grow up to be healthier, happier and better adjusted adults.

A child need not be raised in a nudist family to experience similar healthy results. All that is required is raising them in an environment where nudity is treated as natural and normal rather than as something lewd and abnormal and where they are not taught to stigmatize certain body parts with labels like "private parts."

The good news is adults who were raised in an environment that perpetuated the culture of body shame, where the subject of modesty was communicated in superficial and distorted terms can escape it.

Ask any nudist or naturist that came to embrace clothes free living in adulthood and they will tell you that once they overcame the fear and socialized inhibitions about open nudity and tried it for the first time, they underwent an almost instantaneous change in perspective. The myths fostered by the culture of body shame were replaced with the knowledge that nude is normal and natural, not always sexual and certainly nothing shameful.

In our culture and society sex is taboo and since nudity is simplistically linked with sex it is taboo as well. Perhaps if the culture of body shame were removed many of the serious social problems in society like teen pregnancies, dysfunctional sexuality, the objectification of women and the rape culture could be meaningfully mitigated as well.


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