By Carina Calderón
As a child, I remember being told to cover my eyes at the sight of a nude body on the television or computer screen. I remember hearing my siblings yell “ew” if they happened to catch a glimpse, and feeling as though I would be punished or shamed if I stared at something so vile. Negative conceptions towards nudity begins during childhood. Encouraged by children the same age and parents who want to shelter their kids from nude bodies, society starts to see nudity or even partial nudity as unacceptable. From the start, people are programmed to uphold these perceptions, perceptions that lead to sexualization, which in turn leads to rigid dress codes and behavioural guidelines. Meanwhile, no one ever questions why people shy away from nudity as much as they do.
So where did these tendencies come from? Why does Western culture treat nudity as taboo? Many believe that the stigma stems from Puritanism. American democracy was based on the foundation of Puritanism, establishing our society on the grounds of intensely strict religious principles that still heavily influence our laws today. In accordance with Puritan beliefs, all nudity is seen as evil outside of the context of sex. This explains why we tend to cringe at the sight of a mother breastfeeding or why we get suddenly uncomfortable if we see a child, even more so a female, running naked at the beach. Simply put, bodies are sexualized at young ages, and they continue to remain that way.
In American culture, the most sexualized body part is the female breast. Although some places in our country are becoming more accepting of female anatomy, breasts are still largely looked down upon, as photos posted on social media of women showing their breasts are usually taken down. Furthermore, women are not allowed to go barechested to beaches unless they are “nude beaches.” If a woman were to walk the streets of a city barechested, she would surely be arrested for what is considered “indecent exposure.” But what is so indecent about the human body? In our modern age, why is natural still viewed as “indecent”?
One would surely face a culture shock when visiting Europe, a place in which billboards advertising soap consist of barechested women bathing and hot days involve nude children playing in fountains and covering beaches. A quick look into European culture paints westerners as “prude.” It seems that in our culture our nude bodies are but sexual objects, yet sex is viewed as “dirty.”
Incredibly ironic about our attitudes towards nudity is how quick society deems it shameful, yet actively engages in purchasing nude posters and art. Why is it that nudity is only culturally acceptable when it’s painted or photographed on a piece of paper? Most often, nude art is meant to explore ideas of humanity and contemplate the natural purpose of man. Even then, some people have trouble accepting bare figures because of their association with sex.
What people forget is that we are a part of society, and we too make these associations. Once someone is showing what we think is a little too much skin, we turn to our friends or family and whisper hurtful comments, shaming others for simply expressing themselves and exercising their freedoms. This is not to say that we should strip off our clothes right now and walk around or sit on park benches nude, but illuminate how damaging we have become to ourselves.
By cringing at the sight of a nude body, we are essentially cringing at ourselves, perpetuating an unhealthy attitude towards simple parts of our body. In essence, we were created faultless, and this means unclothed. Our bodies are the beautiful statues and sculptures that we pay to see in museums; they are the sketches that we produce on scraps of paper. Nudity is not a concept meant for laughs and hateful whispers, but an idea that we need to embrace to achieve full acceptance of ourselves and others.