Thursday, November 7, 2013

No Pictures For This Post--Thank Me Later

Nudity has been on my mind this week.

Kent asked me a day or two ago if I had read his email response to my SIL, Jenni, when she posted on Facebook a question about the age at which a child should stop seeing his/her parent/s naked.  Then yesterday, my friend, Kelly, said she purposely walked to her teenage daughter's room in the nude after complaints about towel usage in their home.  (It would take too long to connect the dots of that story, but it had me laughing.)  Kelly has also used undressing as a means of getting her teenagers to go to bed when they stay up too late.  Brilliant!  Besides some good laughs, these comments got me thinking that I should write to tell the world about our family's nudity policy.

Family nudity is a topic that Kent researched several years ago, and found some surprising results.  (These results are probably surprising only because we are Americans.  Europeans don't seem to have the same body issues that we do.)  At the time, we were trying to decide if we should implement a privacy policy at home, because our children were growing out of the early elementary age.  I don't remember everything that Kent learned, but I'll summarize what I remember.

Basically, children who grow up seeing their parents or each other naked have a lot fewer body issues than those who are taught to be "private".  They know what a human body looks like, and they know the edited pictures they see in magazines and other media aren't realistic.  They are comfortable in their own skin.  Statistically, children from nude homes are older when they start having sex.  Boys who know what a nude woman looks like don't tend to be tempted by pornography, probably because their curiosity isn't piqued by it.  Thus, they don't see women as objects, which I would hope leads to healthier marriages for them.  One LDS father shared his story online, and it has stayed with me.  He had been thinking about his family's approach to nudity, and thought it would probably be healthy to be comfortable with it in his house.  So one day he began walking from the bathroom to his bedroom in the buff.  He said his teenagers were unsettled by this at first, but they soon became used to it and it was no big deal.  Not long thereafter, his daughter told him that she had been raped several months earlier.  This father was convinced that his decision to be open about his body helped his daughter be open about that experience, and he was able to help her work through it.  Overall, Kent's research showed no ill effects for children who grow up in an openly nude home.

After talking and praying about it, Kent and I decided to not change anything about nudity in our home.  When our children were babies, they showered with us.  When they could safely sit in a tub or take a shower on their own, they did so.  But we never told them they were too old to see us naked, and we never told them they had to stay wrapped in a towel or robe after a shower.  Our kids walk into the bathroom while we're showering on a regular basis.  If we want privacy, we lock the door.  They also dress in front of each other all the time.  We do have one daughter who is slightly bothered by nudity.  She'll look at my body and say it's gross to see me with no clothes on.  I just laugh and tell her she'll look like this one day, which makes her scowl.  As my older girls have reached puberty, they've been very open about the changes in their bodies.  One of them told me that as a little kid, she made up her mind to never have hair where adults do; but now that she does, it doesn't bother her.

This openness about our bodies has also led to healthy discussions about sex.  Basically, we answer our children's questions, no matter how young they are, but don't tell them more than they ask for.  They know no topic is off limits with us.  The same daughter who avoids seeing us naked has not expressed interest in talk about reproduction, but all her siblings were very curious starting around age six, and we've answered their questions.  I'm guessing she has picked up information from conversations in our home, but she just isn't interested in discussing that topic yet; and we don't push it.

Nudity in our home doesn't go beyond seeing each other in the bathroom or getting dressed.  I have at times had to self-talk myself into not being bothered by my children seeing me nude, because it's not how I grew up.  But overall, I'm used to it, and I can see that my children assume that nudity within a family is normal.

Since I am LDS, I'll briefly address the issue of modesty as well.  As I have studied prophets' words about modesty, and the dictionary definition of a modest personality, I've come to think about modesty as an issue of attitude and not a standard of skirt length.  I think Church leaders who define modesty by the length of sleeves or the scoop of a neckline probably mean well.  However, such teachings set people up to be judgmental of others, which is in opposition to the accepting love that leaders should be exemplifying.  I have no problem with dress codes for dances, or with BYU specifying clothing requirements as part of its honor code.  People who choose to attend those activities or a private university should abide by the codes in place.  However, modesty is not something we should use to measure or condemn others.  It is a personal choice.  A person can be nude or dressed and be immodest by the way s/he carries herself/himself and tries to attract others' attention.  It is a personal decision to decide if one's dress coincides with the way they understand the covenants they have made to be like Jesus Christ.

I know most people implement teachings about privacy when their children are preschoolers, and I'm sure most of those kids grow up just fine.  My hope is that our approach will help our children avoid pitfalls that come to others, or at least help them to be confident individuals.  What are your thoughts?

Update: December 13, 2013
Since posting this topic a month ago, I've received only a couple comments on the blog, and a few more in person.  Those of you who know our family know we are good at creating awkwardness, and it looks like I hit that nail on the head with this post!  Since the original post, I've paid more attention to what nudity looks like in our household (not literally--you know what I mean!), and thought maybe this update would put a few of you at ease.

While our attitude about nudity is captured in the description above, the actual practice is probably different than you are imagining.  We don't walk around naked for the fun of it.  When I wrote that my adolescents are open about the changes in their bodies, that means those changes might become dinner conversations, but they don't go around showing off developing body parts.  My two oldest daughters get ready and are off to the high school each morning before their siblings or father even wake up.  The younger ones all prefer to shower alone, usually behind a locked bathroom door, as do the rest of us.  Our attitude about nudity comes into practice only in that if someone leaves the bathroom door unlocked and someone else walks in and catches them in the act of drying off, neither one freaks out.  Weekends are pretty much the only time anyone might see someone else naked, and that's always in the context of someone getting dressed or of the bathroom being filled with people: someone showering, others styling hair, etc.  Our master bath has a shower with glass walls, and our children have no qualms about talking to us while either parent is in the shower.  The walls tend to be steamed up, but if anyone sees anything, neither side makes a big deal about it.
On those occasions that someone outside of the immediate family is in the house (friend,  house guest, etc.), all family members are aware and are careful to wrap a towel or robe around their bodies while moving from the bathroom to a bedroom, and to knock before entering bedrooms.

I have noticed, too, with the one daughter who was more private that the rest of us, that since she started wearing a training bra, she is more open and will run in her underwear to the laundry room to retrieve clean clothes, just like the rest of us.

I apologize for any redundancy.  I've just found in face-to-face conversations that this explanation seems to help, so I wanted any blogollers (blog followers) to also have better understanding.  If you're ever an overnight guest in our home, I think you'll be just as comfortable here as anywhere else.  It's always an open invitation; but not overly open--you know what I mean!


Min said...

This is an interesting perspective. I am not comfortable with nudity and never have been. Even when I am home alone I close bathroom doors and have clothing on at all times. I also do not walk around in underwear as I am not comfortable with that either. My opinion is that respecting our body means keeping it covered.

I also believe that teaching children respect for our bodies means teaching them we should not be seeing other people nude. I would not be okay with my children seeing someone outside of the family nude, so why would it be okay to see someone within the family nude? That doesn't make sense to me.

I also keep in mind the experience of someone I know who was molested as a child, and introduced to pornography at an early age. Seeing even family members "appropriately" nude made them very uncomfortable and they struggled with the connections it held for them. (The abuse was unknown to the family, so I wonder if the family would have changed their habits with the knowledge of the events.)

Sometimes I do wonder if I would have felt any differently about this topic if I had had a sister near my age, as sisters seem to share a lot of personal space.

I find your viewpoint intriguing, but I disagree with it.

Min said...

And thank you for no pictures on this post.

Mary said...

Thanks for your opinion, Min. I'm glad to have friends who don't mind disagreeing with me in friendly and thoughtful ways. I know our family is probably in the minority with this approach, and I think each family needs to figure out what they are comfortable with and what they hope to teach their children through nudity or privacy.

mindy said...

We are quite similar in our approach to both nudity and discussing sexuality. So of course I think it is a good approach. :o)