If you haven’t checked out Matthew Paul Turner‘s blog this week, you should, and not just because he shares my name. He’s been doing a great series on Christian sex ethics. I mean, he’s really tearing it up. His series reminded me of a topic I’d been planning to write about, and this seemed like a good time…
When my wife and I went to Arkansas recently, we visited the bath houses in the town of Hot Springs. Everything in that town is centered on the water.
But back when people thought spring water could really cure diseases? Wow, that was the town’s heyday. We visited one of the bathhouses that was preserved as a museum, and were struck by how much public nudity was involved at these places. Places actually advertised nude sunbathing among their attractions. It was a whole nude-a-rama. It seemed distinctly European, right there in the middle of the Bible belt! It’s not like that today. I think that’s funny that though there’s so much less “modesty” today, here’s an example of us taking a step back towards “modesty.”
In fact, while I imagine the average European spends half of his day letting it all hang out, in all his smarmy, hairy, gold necklacey glory, Americans can’t seem to decide what we think is “modest.”
Today, it’s pretty rare to find a “gang” shower at a gym, the way they were when I was a kid. Most places have stalls now. Not that I’m complaining about missing out on sweaty showers with a bunch of naked guys. No sir. At Boy Scout camp, they used to have them (not anymore), but most kids, having never been in one, didn’t know how to act. So we wore our swimsuits like a bunch of chumps. Then there was always one kid who’d wear his swimsuit the whole 10 days. Yikes.
I’m young enough to have grown up in the era of the tankini, but there was no taboo about ‘mixed bathing’ when I was a kid. But then again, we were Methodists, so there you go. But some of you might remember when swimming at the YMCA was nude, though not mixed. Weird. I think the reason was “streamlining.” Though it seems like even the ridiculous “Speedo” would make everything more streamlined than just being naked.
Feb 1, 2004: the date our nation lost it’s innocence, the day everyone was scarred for life…by the appearance of a breast on TV. Yes, it was a stupid stunt to begin with, and no one wanted to see that. But it didn’t scar us more than it set back the discussion of what is “modesty.” We can’t even decide if breastfeeding in public is appropriate. Which says to me, we equate body parts with sex [read: shame,] even when the context is non-sexual.
I’ve read more than one story of men or women arrested when a neighbor saw them naked while the offenders were in their own home. And while I don’t want to see my naked neighbors, it is their home, so that’s a tough one. Apparently, we really don’t like the human body. But we’re also having to enforce tighter dress codes at school to coerce our daughters to cover more than 51% of their bodies; while boys don’t even like to wear pants, except around their ankles.
Then, there’s tribal people who are almost completely naked. And by our wardrobe-malfunction mentality, with everything they have flip-flopping around, they must be having orgies all the time…but they aren’t. Just gets me wondering if it’s not the bodies we’re obsessed with, but the clothing and the ‘tease’ we create with revealing clothing. Either that, or it’s just too dang hot for sex in the jungle, even if everyone is just wearing gourds and coconuts.
And while American kids are vehemently shielded from all forms of nudity, they’ll still see naked adults, pretty much by the time they’re six years old. The adults are just in magazines. And that’s kids’ only context for nudity.
It’s a weird relationship we’ve got with our bodies. We’ve got movies with more nudity than ever, kids dressing like skanks, and other cultures acting like clothes are no big deal. Meanwhile, porn sales are sky high (which illustrates that we do indeed like nudity, just not our nudity,) as we become a culture of “never-nudes.” Maybe we should start wearing cut-off jeans under our clothes so we never have to be naked, since we can’t really decide if there is such a thing as appropriate, non-sexual nudity. Nudity is either: A) gross; B) funny; C) offensive; or D) sexual, and therefore “all of the above.”
I’m certainly not advocating we start going around naked like a bunch of tribals, or women whipping ’em out whenever and wherever baby wants them. Because as totally awesome as that sounds on paper, reality would be a big disappointment.
“My eyes! The goggles do nothing!”
It would be weird to us, but I don’t think it would be sexual.
Here’s the questions:
Does nudity always = sex, or have we just made it that way?
Does the Bible prescribe what is modesty for all cultures? Is American modesty the most godly?
Do we sexualize bodies with our clothing more than if we were just plain naked?
Are Europeans gross, and should they cover up when Americans visit?
Considering most of you didn’t like the thought of heaven being a nudist colony, this should be interesting.