Thursday, July 16, 2009

Playing Naked

There is quite a lot of interestng stuff in this NYT article, When Do They Need a Fig Leaf? concerning young children being comfortably naked and the wide spectrum of opinions held by their family members and friends.

I was one such child who, between the age of about 3 and 7, was always stripping off every thread of fabric from my body while outside. It wasn't such a big deal for me or my parents since we lived on a farm at the end of the road. We did have farm workers passing by, and the postman who was amused.
For many parents, allowing a child to run around naked at home is perfectly natural, an expression of physical freedom that represents the essence of childhood, especially in the summer. But for others, unclad bodies are an affront to civility, a source of discomfort and a potentially dangerous attraction for pedophiles. These clashing sensibilities can create conflict, even when the nudity in question takes place at home.

It is also interesting, aside from the generational differences of opinion mentioned in the article, how different people assign an arbitrary age limit for such behavior.
Aly Mandel, 41, a school psychologist and mother of five in Highland Park, N.J., said she, too, felt ire from extended family members for allowing her daughter Ava, now 6, to roam naked in and around the house when she was younger.

“My mother, it used to drive her crazy how naked Ava was,” Ms. Mandel said, explaining that the girl abhorred clothes. “My mother-in-law also, they both felt it crossed the line of what was appropriate. My mother-in-law would come in and automatically say, ‘Ava, put on your clothes. Put on your underwear.’ ”

Gloria Schwartz, Ms. Mandel’s mother-in-law, says she didn’t have a problem with the nudity when Ava and her twin sister, Emily, were very young. But “when they got to be 3 years old, it bothered me,” said Ms. Schwartz, 65, a real estate agent. “I would pull up to the house and the girls were running around naked. It felt inappropriate for them to be standing on the street in front of their house naked.”


Robert Kohlbrenner thought nothing of it last summer when his grandchildren, two boys, ages 4 and 10, and a girl, 6, asked if they could skinny-dip by the dock on a very hot day at his home on Oneida Lake in upstate New York.

“I think it’s fun for them,” said Dr. Kohlbrenner, 58, a psychologist in private practice, who found out later that his son did not approve. “If you can’t do it when you’re a kid, when can you do it, you know?”

Dr. Kohlbrenner’s son, Justin, 30, said he and his wife felt that their oldest son was too old to be naked. “He was getting a little too big to be doing it, you know, especially in front of his brother and sister,” he said.

Inevitably, there are some who think it's fine for a boy to be naked, but not a girl.
Phyllis Halper, a fourth-grade teacher on Long Island, will not permit her 3-year-old son, Gavin, to get completely undressed at home, not because she thinks it’s inappropriate, but because she is concerned that it might influence the behavior of her daughter, Jordyn, 5. “I expect her, especially as a girl, to be more modest,” Ms. Halper said.

When I was about 6 or 7, I went with my parents to dinner at the home of another couple who had a son my age. At one point in the evening we were playing in the bedroom and I instigated a "let's get naked" situation. We were both running around the room, enjoying the feeling of total liberation I suppose, when the boy's mother walked in on us. She started laughing and told my mother what was going on. Apparently, my mother was embarrassed, and she probably knew I was the ringleader. I got my bare bottom spanked.

The article has, at the time I'm writing this, 52 readers' comments, and this one sums up my feelings about the issue:
How silly. Its amazing how confused and conflicted Americans are about the human body. The only country in the world that could be concerned about naked 6 year olds. They're kids. Leave them alone. Otherwise they'll end up making a national stink about Janet Jacksons nipple just like their screwy parents did. I agree the kid who pees in the yard needs some clear instructions about when and where that's appropriate. But the rest of the instances described?....leave them alone. They'll figure it out when they want to.

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