In the opening to her essay on being a “naked family,” Jess Spiring recounts a story about a time she left her daughters with a friend who, while babysitting, wanted to take a shower. The girls, Spiring writes, begged to join in. She is delighted and proud of them. Should she be?
Many parents—most, really—choose to cover up around their kids, but some, like Spiring, use nudity as a tool to let their kids know that there’s nothing uncomfortable about bodies. Spiring wanted her daughters to be comfortable with nudity, their bodies, and the bodies of others regardless of gender, age, or type, and they are, she writes.
The gender of her children is important here, to Spiring. Girls in particular stand to benefit from a positive self-image; one of the reasons Spiring wants her daughters to experience the spectrum of human anatomy is so that they never feel uncomfortable with themselves when they see “perfect bodies” in the media.
From Spiring’s piece:
They will be better able to see the body of whichever Kardashian is flavour of the month as utterly unrealistic, having witnessed, warts-and-all, the naked bodies of real-world women. My theory is already paying dividends. While some mums at school tell me their children have become self-conscious about their bodies, my two have no such hang-ups.
Indeed, they are so body confident, it borders on exhibitionist. After getting hot and bothered tearing about with a classmate on a recent playdate, Matilda thought nothing of peeling off her uniform and undies, much to the bemusement of her friend and his mother, who have coined the term ‘doing a Spiring’ to mean flashing the flesh.
And Spiring writes, her daughters are very open about inspecting the bodies of others, to the point that they’re more chill about bodies than very progressive Europeans on a nude beach:
We were all desperate for a swim, but had no swimwear. Mum, having lived there for 13 years after retiring with my father, has adopted the Swedes’ much more relaxed attitude and suggested a skinny dip.
Matilda was delighted to examine Grandma’s 68-year-old body at close quarters and my art-school-educated mother couldn’t have played it cooler.
Similarly, my 40-year-old sister, Jo, didn’t flinch one morning when she was showering at our house, where the bathroom doesn’t have a lock, and the girls barrelled in to join her. They were less fascinated by her body than her belly button ring.
That’s actually pretty great and a reminder that nudity isn’t inherently sexual, but is such a blasé attitude about nudity healthy at a young age? And is it even safe? While Spiring doesn’t address the issue of safety, she points out that the benefits of having her children exposed to the nudity of her immediate family as well as to those people she and her husband trust outweighs other factors. She simply wants her daughters growing up not hating their bodies.
It’s a noble goal. By the time a girl hits the age of 12, she’s seen more than 77,000 ads, a 2007 study commissioned by Dove reveals. The same study found that 77 percent of the 2000 young women (ages 10-14) surveyed didn’t see themselves as being able to measure up to the images on TV and reported feeling unhappy with their bodies. A 2008 study, also by Dove, found that seven in 10 young women don’t believe they measure up in looks, intelligence, and performance to their friends and families. This can lead to low self-esteem and negative perceptions of themselves which, Dove suggests, can lead to distorted views of weight and negative behaviors. But is a naked house a solution?
As someone who is both male and grew up in a house where my parents wouldn’t put on robes until they felt like it (my mother would watch TV in her underwear; my dad would prance around the house in bikini briefs bought on sale at K-Mart), I can’t say it did much for my self-esteem. While I’m happy to wander around naked (too happy, some might say), I’m also self-conscious about my flaws. Not because I’m uncomfortable with nudity, but because, like in my household, I’m always worried that not having clothes on opens me up to criticism—and it does, often, no matter how much practice you’ve had at it.
And, of course, there is the safety issue. Sure, nudity is great and examining the bodies of those you’re close to is (hopefully) not dangerous, what if a child feels too comfortable being nude with someone who isn’t safe, including both strangers and adults they know and trust but might have ulterior motives? Yes, helping kids feel open about their bodies is great; there’s also something to be said about keeping your body to yourself.
Perhaps Spiring is onto something and it’s our own prudishness and shame around bodies that is stopping all of us—and the people commenting on Spiring’s piece—from being just as naked and as confident. But “naked households” are not always created equal, and don’t necessarily lead to the same terrific things.
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