I was recently vacationing in Mexico, an area I've never been to before, though I've been to other parts of Mexico many times. I like to relax while on vacation so I spent a lot of time on the beach. It was a family oriented resort and there were people there of every age and though there was no sign prohibiting nude sunbathing, there wasn't anything announcing/endorsing it either, so I wasn't expecting this experience at all. The first few days were pretty normal, then on about the sixth day, while walking along the beach, where a lot of women were sunbathing in bikinis, I walked past one and noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was topless. I was a bit surprised, so I looked back and sure enough, it was indeed a woman and she was wearing only the bottom of her bikini.
She had an average but attractive build, long hair, and an even all-over tan. Her eyes were closed so I knew she couldn't be bothered by the fact that I was looking at her (though I doubt she would have been anyway, or why would she be sunbathing topless on a crowded beach), so I took a longer look than I usually would have to let the experience sink in a bit. I had never seen a grown woman nude or even topless out in public before. I looked around and no one appeared to mind (or they just hadn't noticed).
Then I realized something interesting - not only was I not bothered or offended, I wasn't aroused either. What I felt was more like a refreshing relaxation. Though I grew up in a very conservative environment where public nudity was strongly frowned upon, I've learned to be much more accepting of non-sexual nudity. Still, my automatic response surprised me. It felt strange to be standing so close to an attractive, topless woman and not be feeling the emotions that most people would expect.
After a couple moments, I realized why I was feeling so relaxed and nonchalant about her partial nudity - I felt relaxed because she felt relaxed (in fact, I think she was almost asleep). She wasn't flashing to shock or offend someone, and she wasn't doing anything that could be considered provocative or arousing. She was simply sunbathing like she was used to sunbathing. She didn't expect anyone to mind, so no-one minded (or if anyone did, they didn't show it or say anything), because it was obvious that to her this was a completely normal, unremarkable, everyday experience. I walked on, having enjoyed the sight of her and feeling grateful for the realization and the calm pleasant feeling I'd been given. I saw two other women sunbathing topless that day as well, and several more later that week, which only reinforced the feeling (I already had the intellectual knowing) that nudity can be completely natural, non-sexual, and inoffensive.
This experience got me thinking about some things:
1) Why do we consider a woman's breasts a sexual thing? Who decided we would think of them that way? Their purpose isn't even directly reproductive. They are for feeding children. And why don't we make the same association with a man's breasts? They are, after all, exactly the same tissues and structures as a woman's breasts, just undeveloped. - I think we associate women's breasts with sexual feelings for no other reason than that we are taught to do so. Little boys don't get titilated when they see a little girl with her shirt off. In fact, all children seem to have a natural sense that being naked is just a fun, freeing, exhilarating experience. They don't learn shame or embarrassment until adults teach it to them! Sure they lack the hormones of more physically mature individuals, but they also have not yet been indoctrinated with society's programmed responses and expectations. Why only make this association with women and not men? Simple - because we've decided to. As Neo told agent Smith in the third Matrix film, "Because I choose to." That's really all there is to it.
Actually, people used to be bothered by topless men. In the early 20th century, it was considered highly offensive for a man to be seen without a shirt in public and both men and women wore (and were expected to wear) bathing suits that covered practically every inch of them. Then somewhere along the line, people stopped deciding to be offended by topless men and today a man can go topless almost anywhere without drawing the slightest bit of attention. Without arousing or offending anyone. Most people don't even give it a second thought, unless it's being done somewhere very unusual like a business meeting, and even there it might sometimes be tolerated, depending on the company and the situation. So why did we decide to stop being offended by topless men but not apply the same logic to women? In many parts of the world, they have! In many countries, except the US, it is common, even "normal," to see topless women (and completely nude people of both genders) sunbathing on the beach, at swimming pools, even in a city park!
2) Why do so many people consider nudity offensive? Many people attribute this to traditional "puritan" or "Christian" morals, but when I read the Bible (I am a Christian, by the way), I can find no mention of nudity being considered evil or sinful (King David is even said to have "danced before the Lord" - out in public, no less - au naturel).
Adam and Eve donned fig leaves after they sinned, not because nudity suddenly went from being innocent to being sexual (remember it was just the two of them and God in the garden at the time, and they were a married couple anyway, so it wouldn't have mattered if it WERE sexual), but because they were ashamed of themselves for having sinned. God later made them clothes from animal skins, not to keep them from looking at each other (they were married, after all), but because they were ashamed to be without coverings.
The apostle Paul advised women not to wear long hair and fancy jewelry and makeup - not because any of those things is inherently bad, but because that's how prostitutes dressed in that part of the world at that time, and he thought it important that his friends be perceived as different and special rather than "oh, just another one of THOSE people," which I think makes since. When understood in context, Paul's advice does NOT mean, "be modest and don't try to look nice." Rather it means, "For the sake of your reputation, don't dress like a hooker!" I think most of us can agree on that piece of advice.
Try as I might, I could not find one instance of "Thou shalt not be seen naked" or anything that remotely resembled it. So if this idea of nudity being bad didn't come from Scripture, where did it come from. One can point to any number of things that happened throughout history to create this perception, but the bottom line is that it came from peoples minds (and only certain people, not everyone - seen any National Geographic photos of Aboriginal tribes lately?) We just decided that we were going to be offended by nudity and made it a part of certain traditions, though it wasn't originally part of those traditions to begin with!
So if our ancestors just decided that nudity was inherently sexual and that people should be offended by it (and for reasons that probably wouldn't even make sense today), why don't WE "just decide" that nudity is natural, not necessarily sexual, and totally normal and non-offensive?
We've been thinking this way a long time, but does it really make sense NOW?:
A newly married couple was preparing dinner together, a roast, and the man watched his new bride rub the roast with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper on it, then cut an inch off the right side of the roast and an inch off the left side, put it into a pan and put the pan in the oven. The man thought this was a bit strange, so he asked, "Honey, why did you just cut an inch off each side of the roast?" His wife replied, "That's just how you make a roast. That's how my mother showed me to do it and I don't see any reason to change it." The man still didn't understand, but he thought, "If this is the strangest thing she does, I guess I can get used to it." He counted his blessings and let the matter drop.
A few weeks later, they were invited to her mother's house for dinner. She said, "I'm having a roast, I hope you like them." "Definitely," the man said. He thought, "Oh good, maybe now I'll find out where this business started."
When they arrived at his mother-in-law's house, the man went straight into the kitchen and asked if he could watch her prepare the meal. "Of course," she said, so he sat and watched her rub the roast with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, cut an inch off the right side and an inch off the left side, put the roast in a pan and put it in the oven. He asked his mother-in-law, "Why did you cut an inch off each side of the roast?" She replied, "That's just how you make a roast."
The poor man was getting more and more baffled, but he enjoyed his dinner and they returned home.
A couple months passed, then they were invited to her grandmother's house for dinner. The man, determined as ever, called ahead and said, "Would you mind a special request for dinner? I'd really like to have a roast." She agreed and a few days later, they went to grandma's.
He asked if he could watch her prepare the meal and she said, "sure."
So he sat down and watched her rub olive oil on the roast, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, put it into a pan and put it in the oven.
He said, "Didn't you forget something?"
She said, "No, I don't think so. Why do you ask?"
He said, "You didn't cut an inch off each side of the roast before putting it in the pan."
She laughed and said, "Oh, that! I stopped doing that years ago."
"I got a bigger pan."
So why not take a good long sincere look at what we've been taught to think and if it makes sense, keep it - and if it doesn't, say, "That no longer applies to my life" and toss it out the nearest window and enjoy the feeling of freedom and rightness that comes from (to paraphrase another biblical passage) casting off everything [ideas / beliefs] that might hinder us in "running the race."
By the way, I was so inspired by the confident and peaceful demonstration given me by these women who dared to be comfortable with their own bodies that, a couple days later I found a secluded area of beach and decided to go skinny dipping, which was another wonderful and profoundly freeing experience!
There are a few things that are absolute, but how many of the things we are used to thinking of as absolute are really just someone's silly idea that got passed down for so many generations that we now think it's significant?
-- Scot G. (scot2063 (at) hotmail (dot) com)