Nudity

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Truth, an oil painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, (1870) in the Orsay Museum in Paris

Nudity (or nakedness) is when a person is not wearing clothes. The word "nudity" can also be used when only part of a person's body is uncovered. It is used particularly if the person's genitals (or a woman's nipples) can be seen, even if other parts of the body are covered.

Nudity can also mean that a person is wearing less clothing that other people would expect. This type of nudity is related to culture. People of different cultures wear different amounts of clothing, and keep different parts of the body covered. For some people nudity is a lifestyle, belief system or a default state of being, which is called naturism or nudism.

The word "nude" is often used in art. A "nude figure" is a figure without clothes on. The nude figure might be a live person who is posing for an artist. A painting or sculpture that shows a nude figure is often just called a "nude".

What societies think about nudity[change | edit source]

Breastfeeding in Brazil

Influences on people's ideas about nudity[change | edit source]

There are several things that affect how people and societies feel about nudity:

  • The gender of the nude person
  • The age of the nude person
  • The body of the nude person
  • Where the nude person is
  • What the person is doing while they are nude
  • Whether the nude person is alone or with other people
  • The age and gender of the person who sees the nudity

Modesty[change | edit source]

In most cultures it is normal to keep parts of the body covered. The feeling that a person has about covering their body is called modesty. Modesty is different in different cultures. Often, people feel shame if their body is not covered to match their culture's idea of modesty. The amount of clothing needed to take away the feeling of shame is different for each culture. With some indigenous peoples like the Yanomami, a piece of string is enough to make that feeling go away.

In some cultures, people nearly always keep their bodies covered. In these cultures, nudity is only normal when a person is alone, for example, dressing or bathing. In other cultures, it is quite normal for people to be naked together, for example, when dressing or swimming. In still other cultures, particularly indigenous ones, people wear very few clothes, and complete nudity is normal.

Even with people from the same culture, different people can have different feelings about nudity. Some people in Western culture (for example the United States) do not mind if a family member sees them naked in the bath. Other people from the same culture would be uncomfortable if anyone saw them naked in the bath. Some women in a Western culture are happy to wear a bikini. Other women feel naked in a bikini and always wear a one-piece swimsuit.

Rules[change | edit source]

Women who swim "topless" in the US often use pasties to cover their nipples.

Many societies have rules or laws about nudity, and where they allow it. For example, in some societies, the law allows nudity on a beach, but does not allow nudity in a public street. The same sort of laws can also allow people to be partly naked in some places but not in others, for example, women might be allowed to have naked breasts on the beach, but not in a shopping centre. When a woman uncovers her breasts on the beach, this is called toplessness (because her swimsuit is "topless"). This is allowed in many parts of Europe and Australia. In many other countries, it is not allowed.

The rules about dress and nudity may be set by a government, or by a church or some other organisation. For example, in some Christian churches, a woman must cover her shoulders and a man must not have bare legs. Another example is in many schools, a man must wear a jacket over his shirt, and a woman must wear a dress that has sleeves. Another example is that some hotels that are near beaches will not serve customers who are dressed only in swimsuits.

Some countries have very strict laws about whether a person can be nude in public, and what parts of the body can be shown. In many countries, if a person breaks these laws, they can be charged with indecency (which means that they have acted in a rude way that upsets people). For example, if a man took his trousers off near a school, so that the children would see him, he would be charged with indecency. The reason why a person is nude, affects whether the law says that their nudity is indecent.

Functional nudity[change | edit source]

A man showering

"Functional nudity" is when a person is nude for a reason. Even where nudity is generally not allowed, functional nudity often is.

An example of this is when a person at the beach changes from a wet swimsuit to their dry clothes. Often the person who is changing can use a towel so that other people do not see their nudity, and do not become embarrassed or angry.

Another type of functional nudity happens when a woman is breastfeeding in public. A woman who would not usually show her breasts because of modesty, might be quite happy to show her breast while she is feeding her baby.

Sex segregation[change | edit source]

In some countries, "functional nudity" is usual for people of different genders in some places. An example is in a mixed-gender public sauna. In many cultures, "functional nudity" is usual in front of people of the same sex. Places where functional nudity happens, such as public toilets or changing rooms are usually separated by gender. There is one for men, and another one for women. In many cultures it is usual for people of the same sex to undress or take a shower in a public change room. In some cultures, such as Japan, open showers and open urinals in men's toilets are not allowed.

Western culture[change | edit source]

Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Among people of Western culture around the world, there are several influences on the way societies feel about nudity. In European society, it is not usual for older children or adults to be completely nude in public. In most European societies, when people swim in public, they cover their genitals, and women also cover their breasts. In most European societies, change rooms and toilets are separated for men and women.

Countries in Southern Europe, where the Catholic Church is very important, as well as English-speaking countries which have been affected by Puritanism usually have a lower tolerance towards nudity in public. Countries in Central Europe, and Scandinavia care less about public nudity.

Naturism[change | edit source]

Naturism (or nudism) is a cultural and political movement. Followers of this movement think that nudity should get a higher value, both in the private as well as the public context. It is also a lifestyle based on personal, family and/or social nudity.[1][2]

Naturists reject current standards of modesty. These discourage people from being naked alone, in the family or at social occasions, they say. They want to create a social environment where people feel comfortable in the company of nude people, and do not fear being seen nude, either just by other nudists, or also by the general public.[1][2]

Scandal[change | edit source]

The singer Janet Jackson was the cause of a scandal during the Super Bowl in 2004. She was performing during the half-time break, when her robe moved. Her left breast could be seen for a few seconds. Today, this is known as the "Wardrobe Malfunction" or "Nipplegate" by the media, the latter being a comparison to the Watergate scandal.[3]

The Royal Academy of Arts runs some museums in London, and elsewhere. In 2008, they did an advertisement so that more people would visit their museums. In this advertisement, they showed a picture of a naked woman. This painting was done by Lucas Cranach the Elder in the 15th century. It is called Venus (shown below). The picture was printed on ads in the London Underground. It caused protests in London. Because of the protests, Transport for London refused to allow the ads to be used in the Underground.[4][5] On December 7, 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation put the Wikipedia article on Virgin Killer, on their blacklist. This meant that most Internet users in Great Britain could no longer access the article.[6] The foundation did this because they believed the original album cover could be child pornography. The cover is pictured on the Wikipedia article. It shows a naked ten year old girl in a sexual pose, with her breasts shown.

Africa[change | edit source]

A woman with traditional clothing in Southern Ethiopia, where toplessness among women is common

There are different traditions about nudity in Africa. Some of Africa south of the Sahara (called sub-Saharan Africa) is similar to how they were after colonialism. In certain Togolese tribal areas, it is common for big families to not wear any clothes at all for certain festivities. Others do not wear any clothes below the waist. This makes it possible for young men to see women and girls whom they may marry. stick-fighting tournaments are very popular places to do this.

Other people, like the Bantu do not like public nudity at all. A newspaper in Botswana once printed a photograph showing how a thief was punished. He was flogged on his bare buttocks. Many people did not like this. The problem was not the flogging, but the newspaper showing the picture.[7]

The Ugandan Kavirondo tribes are a mix of Bantu and Nilotic immigrants. Traditionally, they went mostly naked. Over time, the men began wearing clothing similar to men in western culture.

Muslim culture[change | edit source]

Among many Muslim people, a woman is thought to be not properly dressed unless her legs, arms and hair are completely covered. In some Arabic countries, women wear a garment called a Burqa. The burqa fully covers the woman and has only a slit for her eyes to see. If a woman does not wear this garment when she goes out but shows her face, hair and arms, she is thought to be naked. Not wearing the burqa brings shame on herself and family.

Nudity in art[change | edit source]

Woman bathing. Photograph from about 1900.

Levels of nudity[change | edit source]

There are different levels of nudity. Societies have different moral values for these levels. One such level in English is called full frontal nudity. This usually is a pose where the nude person faces the viewer. In this pose, there are no things covering parts of the body. Many societies see this as very bad. The image below called Truth shows this pose.

Most movies try not to show this type of nudity. This is often done by putting an object somewhere. This object will hide the pubic area of the naked actor or actress. This kind of nudity can also be seen in the picture Woman Bathing above.

Since the very early ages, nudity has been a subject of the arts. One of the earliest works of art known is the Venus of Willendorf. It is a statuette (a small statue) of a nude woman. The face of the woman is not visible. The belly of the woman as well as her breasts are exaggerated. It is not known what the statuette meant to the people who made it, or what importance it had. From the Renaissance onward, nude figures were shown in works of art more often. Michelangelo is one of the Renaissance artists known for doing this.

Nudity in photography[change | edit source]

Since the beginning of photography, people have taken photographs of nude people. Some people simply photographed nude people. Some of the photographs were made to sexually arouse people. These are generally called pornography. Some people also photographed nude people because they thought the human body was something beautiful to show. These photos are usually not sexual in nature, and are known as nude photography. The kind of photography that is in between is called erotic photography.

Nudity in different times[change | edit source]

Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden

Old Testament and Judaism[change | edit source]

The creation story in the Old Testament of the Bible mentions nudity as a sign of innocence. Only after Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge do they become aware of their nudity, and start to feel ashamed. Theologians see this feeling of shame as a consequence of the fall from grace. Because of this, they are later chased away from the Garden of Eden. The Bible does not make a distinction between shame as a consequence of not obeying a rule, and the shame resulting from nudity.

The Old Testament often sees nudity as a consequence of being poor or of being a social outcast. It is not seen as a result of breaking rules, and accepted. Later Orthodox Judaism sees nakedness as a bad thing.

Ancient Greece[change | edit source]

In Ancient Greece, especially Ancient Athens, people did not see a problem with nude men. Nude women were seen as bad, though, and women were forbidden from being nude in public. The Cynics taught that it was bad to have worldly goods. Feelings like shame were also seen as bad. There was nothing wrong with being naked.

The Gymnasion shows by its name alone that public nudity was not common in Ancient Greece. The name comes form gynós, which means naked. The gymnasion was used for sports. In Ancient Greece most sports were done totally naked. In most places in Ancient Greece, women were forbidden from doing sports, or from attending sports events.

The only place were women were allowed to do sports was Sparta. There, they also did sports, like the men, but separated from these. They were also naked while doing sports.

Another place where nakedness was tolerated was in the arts.

Ancient Rome, Celts, German tribes[change | edit source]

In Ancient Rome, nudity was nothing special or unusual. It was seen more as a sign of not needing much. People did not attach sexual feelings to it. When the Romans had conquered Ancient Greece, they did not think it was necessary to discuss or forbid that the Olympic Games were done in the nude. Cato the Elder mentions that usually the virtuous Roman worked nude during the summer months.

The Celtic and Germanic tribes bathed nude in rivers and lakes together and that sometimes children grew up nude. Romans also tell us that some of them fought the Romans in the nude.

Two sadhu near Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

Jainism and Hinduism[change | edit source]

Both Jainism and Hinduism have special monks. In Jainism these are called Digambars (or Digambarras), in Hinduism they are called Sadhus. Both lead an ascetic lifestyle, and are well-respected in their community. Part of this lifestyle is that they wear little or no clothes.

Nudity and sexuality[change | edit source]

Many cultures that expect some level of modesty associate nudity with sexuality. These cultures usually know striptease in some form. When the difference between the sexes is shown in the main stream media of these cultures this is often seen as sexually related. In Latin cultures the common definition of modesty does not generally allow genital nudity, but the definition of what is lewd has changed and women's breasts are now commonly exposed or depicted without scandal.

Nudity in front of a sexual partner is widely accepted, but there may be restrictions — for example, only at the time and place of sex, or with subdued lighting, during bathing with the partner or afterwards, covered by a sheet or blanket, or while sleeping.

Public nudity[change | edit source]

Nudity in sports[change | edit source]

In Ancient Greece it was seen as normal that the athletes taking part in sporting events, like the Olympic Games were nude, for most events. At that time, women were not allowed to take part or in the games or watch them. Nudity with women was frowned upon.

Common activities in the nude[change | edit source]

At least since the early 20th century there is a movement of people wanting to do some things together, while they were nude. Sometimes it was just seen functionally, like a common bath in a pond or lake. Some people do other activities together (in the nude), where being naked is usually not required. For instance, some people prefer nude sunbathing when otherwise a Swimsuit could be worn. There are some nude bicycle tours. This movement is generally known as naturism or nudism. In 2009, Appenzell Innerrhoden, a small Swiss canton, voted to stop nude hiking. German tourists have been walking nude through the Alps wearing only boots, socks, and a back pack. The canton will fine nude hikers 200 Swiss francs.[8]

Nudity and health[change | edit source]

The Naturism movement of the 20th century claims that being nude is healthy. Starting in 1853, reformer Arnold Rikli said that Sun- and airbathing is a good thing, and that it can only give its full potential when done in the nude. Many of these views have been proved wrong today. Not smoking or drinking alcohol is good for health, regardless of whether clothing is worn or not. People suffering from being exposed too little to the sun will also be so if they are clothed. Wearing wet clothes can lead to cystitis (an infection of the urinary bladder).

Some doctors recommend sleeping in comfortable clothes, or sleeping naked. At some points in time, fashion dictates very tight-fitting clothes. These can be bad for health.

Nudity as a form of protest[change | edit source]

Some people use the nudity as a form of protest, like a movement in the United States that wants equal treatment of bare-chested men, and women. This movement fights for the right of women to be topless. Often this is done with topless demonstrations.

One example that nudity was used as a form of protest, even in the Middle Ages is the story of Lady Godiva. She is said to have ridden through Coventry totally naked, only covered by her long hair. She did this to protest against the high taxes.

Nude girl distributing flyers at Love Parade

Nudity for commercial reasons[change | edit source]

Nudity is often used to draw the attention of customers to a given product. That way, nude people or people with very little clothing are often shown on covers of magazines, even if the content of the magazine has nothing to do with nudity. Naked people, sometimes in connection with body painting are used to distribute fliers at events.

This uses erotic stimuli, especially to people of the opposite sex. On the other hand, nudity seems to work all by itself in such contexts. Nudity in public places is rare, and people generally do not expect it. The more it is used however, the less it will act on people. At some point it will have become normal.

Nudity and children[change | edit source]

Two children bathing in a small metal bathtub

Most children do not develop a feeling of shame until they are about five years old. For this reason there have been discussions. These discussions try to answer two basic questions:

  • Should children see naked adults?
  • Should children see each other naked?

Different people have different opinions on the subject.

Nude children[change | edit source]

Works of art, such as paintings, statues, or photographs have shown nude children, or nude children with nude adults. In recent years, showing nude children has become more and more problematic,[9] especially with photographs. In a few cases, photographs taken by parents showing their toddler or small child naked have been seen as child pornography by courts.[10] In May 2008, police in Sydney, Australia, raided an exhibition by the photographer Bill Henson. This exhibition showed images of naked children. The raid was done on allegations of child pornography.[11][12] Incidents such as this one sent a strong message to the community.

Children seeing their parents nude[change | edit source]

People cannot agree if parents should appear naked in front of their children. Gordon and Schroeder[13] say that there is a wide variation on parental nudity from family to family. According to them, "there is nothing (..) wrong with bathing with children or otherwise appearing naked in front of them". In their opinion, doing so may provide an opportunity for parents to give important information. They note that by ages five to six, children begin to develop a sense of modesty, and recommend to parents who wish to be sensitive to their children's wishes that they limit such activities from that age onwards.

Bonner[14] recommends against nudity in the home where children are showing sexual behaviour considered problematic.

A study by Alfred Kinsey found that 75% of the participants stated that there was never nudity in the home when they were growing up, 5% of them said that there was "seldom" nudity in the home, 3% said "often", and 17% said that it was "usual". The study found that there was no significant difference between what was reported by men and by women with respect to frequency of nudity in the home.[15]

In a 1995 review of the literature, Paul Okami concluded that there was no reliable evidence linking exposure to parental nudity to any negative effect.[16] Three years later, his team finished an 18-year longitudinal study that showed that, if anything, such exposure was associated with slight beneficial effects, particularly for boys.[17]

Children seeing other people nude[change | edit source]

Different cultures have different opinions on whether children should see people other than their parents, and other children naked. In general the opinions are also different, depending on how old the child is, and what context the nudity is placed in.

Many countries have made laws that should protect children from seeing sex scenes by accident. That way, such scenes may usually not be shown during the day. British TV must not show such scenes between 5.30am and 9pm. This is called "watershed". The Broadcasting Code requires that "Nudity before the watershed must be justified by the context."[18] [19]

Children showering together[change | edit source]

Sometimes the nudity of children in front of other children has been an issue. In Europe, it is common that all students take a shower together after sports classes.[20] Usually showering is segregated by sex.

In the United States and some of English-speaking Canada, students at tax funded schools have historically been required to shower with classmates of the same sex after physical education classes. In the United States, public objections and the threat of lawsuits have resulted in a number of school districts in recent years changing policy to make showers optional.[21] A court case in the State of Colorado noted that students have a reduced expectation of personal privacy in regards to "communal undress" while showering after physical education classes.[22]. According to an interview with a middle school principal, most objections to school showers that he had heard were actually from the student's parents rather than from the student.[23]

Nudity as a punishment[change | edit source]

Prisoner abuse, including forced nudity and humiliation, at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq, was widely condemned.

Most people feel uneasy or ashamed when they are nude (outside a social context where this is acceptable). This fact has been used both as a means of torture and as a punishment. That way, during witch-hunts, the alleged witches were stripped to discover what was called the witches' mark. It was believed that the devil left this mark as part of the pact the witch had with him. When the mark was found, this was then used as evidence in the trials.[24]

Nakedness can also be part of a punishment or a public humiliation. Torture manuals sometimes make a difference, as men and women react differently when they are disrobed.

The United States and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003. After they had done this, members of the United States Army Reserve abused prisoners. Photographs were circulated that showed that prisoners had to pose naked, were sometimes bound by ropes, and intimidated that way.[25][26]

References[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 See 2002-2003 World Naturist Handbook, pub International Naturist Federation INF-FNI, Sint Hubertusstraat, B-2600 Berchem(Antwerpen) ISBN 9055838330 The Agde definition. The INF is made up of representative of the Naturist Organisations in 32 countries, with 7 more having correspondent status. The current edition is * Naturisme, The INF World Handbook (2006) [1] ISBN 90-5062-080-9
  2. 2.0 2.1 http://www.inf-fni.org/index_e.htm%7C INF web page
  3. Jackson 'Nipplegate' illustrates the danger of chilling free speech - CNN
  4. "Nude Venus too risqué for London Underground". The Independent. 15 February 2008. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/nude-venus-too-risqu-for-london-underground-782559.html.
  5. ""Venus" By Lucas Cranach the Elder Is Too Overtly Sexy For Transport for London". ArtDaily.org. February 15,2008. http://www.artdaily.com/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=23266.
  6. "Wikipedia article blocked in UK over child photo". Associated Press. December 7, 2008. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iLhtaFheXFcickVqO0crbKo1IiawD94U23N87.
  7. "BOTSWANA: Public flogging causes outrage". 4 July 2005. http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=55239.
  8. Rosenbaum, Harry (April 28 2009). "Swiss voters decide on fine to end nude hikers" (in English). The Age. pp. 8.
  9. Higonnet, Anne (1998). Pictures of Innocence - The History and Crissi of Ideal Childhood. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28048-7.
  10. Kincaid, James R.. "Is this child pornography?". http://archive.salon.com/mwt/feature/2000/01/31/kincaid/index.html. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
  11. Paul Bibby (Mai 23, 2008). "Henson exhibition shut down". theage.com.au. http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/henson-exhibition-shut-down/2008/05/22/1211183043937.html. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
  12. See also Jock Sturges and Julia Somerville.
  13. Betty N. Gordon and Carolyn S. Schroeder (1995). Sexuality: A Developmental Approach to Problems. Springer. pp. 16. ISBN 0306450402.
  14. Barbara L. Bonner (1999). "When does sexual play suggest a problem?". In Howard Dubowitz and Diane Depanfilis. Handbook for Child Protection Practice. Sage Publications. pp. 211. ISBN 0761913718.
  15. John Bancroft (2003). Sexual Development in Childhood. Indiana University Press. pp. 146–147. ISBN 0253342430.
  16. Okami. P. (1995) ." Childhood exposure to parental nudity‚ parent-child co-sleeping‚ and 'primal scenes': A review of clinical opinion and empirical evidence," Journal of Sex Research, 32: 51-64.
  17. Okami, P., Olmstead, R., Abramson, P. & Pendleton, L. (1998). "Early childhood exposure to parental nudity and scenes of parental sexuality ('primal scenes'): An 18-year longitudinal study of outcome," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27(4), 361-384.
  18. "The Ofcom Broadcasting Code". Ofcom (Office of Communications, UK). 2005-07-25. http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/codes/bcode/protectingu18/. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
  19. "House of Commons Hansard debate transcription (part 31)". UK Parliament Publications & Records. 1996-07-01. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199596/cmhansrd/vo960701/debtext/60701-31.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
  20. Chaudhry, Rashid (1988). "Ahmadi Muslim Boy Expelled for Not Bathing Nude". http://www.alislam.org/library/links/nudity2.html. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
  21. ACLU of Washington. "ACLU-WA's Work for Student Rights". http://www.aclu-wa.org/detail.cfm?id=180. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
  22. "TRINIDAD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 v. CARLOS R. LOPEZ". http://lw.bna.com/lw/19980721/97sc124.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
  23. "Interview with John Pleacher 2/16/87". http://www.unlv.edu/projects/ohpsp/p/133pleacher.html. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
  24. "Devil's Mark". http://home.att.net/~wiccanhistorian/histories/devilsmark.html.
  25. Hersh, Seymour Myron (2007-06-25). "The general's report: how Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.". The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/06/25/070625fa_fact_hersh?printable=true. Retrieved 2007-06-17. "Taguba said that he saw "a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.""
  26. Annals of National Security: Torture at Abu Ghraib: The New Yorker

Other websites[change | edit source]

English Wiktionary
The English Wiktionary has dictionary definitions (meanings of a word) for: nudity, nude, and naked