Nudity

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Skinny dipping in a river

Nudity (or nakedness) is when a person is not wearing clothing. Nudity can be understood is many ways in the biological and social sciences.

There is the biology of why humans are basically hairless, but other primates are not. Prehistoric human behavior was mostly about living without clothes for many thousands of years before clothing was invented. The first clothing that covered the entire body was needed to protect people from the weather, not only the cold of the north but the dust and sun of the desert. People who lived in tropical weather continued to be naked.

The social meaning of nudity is about personal behavior and group interaction. Humans wear clothes and decorations as nonverbal communication, showing both individuality and group membership. In the world today, there are widely different norms, or rules about nudity. Naturists believe social nudity as good for health and well-being. They think of nudity as the natural condition for humans, and that shame is unnatural.[1] Naturism is a normal part of everyday life in Scandinavia and Germany.[2] Traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people observe the greatest degree of modesty. They are never without proper clothes where anyone else can see, except for spouses or close relations of the same gender.

Terminology[change | change source]

With so many ways of thinking about nudity, there are also many words to use. In English, nude and naked are often synonyms for being unclothed. However, there are different meanings in different contexts. Nude comes from Norman French. Naked is from Anglo-Saxon. Being naked may mean not being fully dressed. Stark naked means to have no clothes at all. Being nude is less about the physical facts, more about the social meanings.[3] There are euphemisms for nudity that communicate these social meanings such as "birthday suit", "in the altogether" and "in the buff".[4] Partial nudity is usually not covering parts of the body thought of as sexual. This includes the buttocks and the female breasts.

There are terms for nudity or partial nudity that happens in places lacking the usual amount of privacy. Functional nudity is when a person is nude by necessary, such as communal bathing or changing clothes in a locker room. A similar idea is called contextual nudity, that nudity may be normal only in a particular time and place, such as during medical treatment.

The Nude is used to talk about unclothed people in works of art. In 1956 art historian Kenneth Clark wrote a book "The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form" in which he says the nude in art is beautiful, but being naked in real life is embarrassing.[5] In 1972 artist and art critic John Berger said almost the opposite, that the nude in art is voyeurism, but being naked in real life is to be ones true self.[6]

Why humans lost their fur[change | change source]

The loss of fur was one of a group of adaptations that are part of human evolution.[7] Modern humans evolved in Africa from hunter-gatherers in terrain different from where hominins had lived before. There were fewer trees and more exposure to the sun. Sweat drying on bare skin cooled the body better when hunting for food, so less hairy hominins survived. Because the brain produces a lot of heat, better cooling the body favored an increase in brain size. In adapting to running and carrying weapons, humans became fully upright. Another push towards being upright was that mothers had to carry their babies, who no longer had fur to cling to.[8] Being smarter and having their hands free, humans could also make better tools. Being upright also reduced sun exposure except for the top of the head, which remained covered with hair. Longer head hair also covered the shoulders. Skin became darker as protection from the sun.[9][10]

Humans with modern bodies first existed between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago.[11] They were large-brained, walked upright, had dark skin, and were naked. Modern human behaviors, such as making art, burying the dead and wearing clothes began at least 100,000 years later. These behaviors were the beginnings of human culture.

small statue of a nude woman
The Venus of Willendorf was made about 25,000 ago

One of the earliest works of art known is the Venus of Willendorf, a small statuette 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.

Prehistory of clothing[change | change source]

There are many unanswered questions about the prehistory of nudity and clothing, because little remains of the plant and animal products used for clothing many thousands of years ago. What has been found are the stone and bones tools and some of the things made with them. An example is the shells with holes made to string into a necklace. Making string and a tool to make a small hole are some of the same technology needed to make clothing.[12]

A necklace reconstructed from sea snail shells dated between 39,000 and 25,000 BCE.

Humans migrated out of Africa during periods of warmer weather. During the last ice age, clothing was needed to survive in some of these places. Close-fitting clothes that hold in the heat of the body could not be made until people had the tools needed. The first sewing needles were found with the remains of cro-magnon people who lived about 40,000 years ago.[13]

Another way of dating the origin of clothing is based upon the genetic difference between human head lice and the lice that live in clothing. A study shows that the habitual wearing of clothing may have begun between 83,000 years ago and 170,000 years ago. This could mean that the use of clothing began before migration out of Africa, allowing humans to do so.[14]

Clothing has become the customary covering for humans, but not for everyone at all times. In prehistory, clothes were only worn most of the time when the weather was colder. Humans who remained in tropical places continued to be naked most of the time, and the hunter-gatherers of today do the same.[15][16]

Before clothing, people had ornamented their bodies with jewelry, scarification, tattoos, and body painting. Different ornaments and clothing showed both individuality and group membership. More and better clothing and ornaments were worn by people in higher positions in society. For many thousands of years, humans lived in tribes of about 150 individuals. They rarely met strangers. When populations grew, people began living in contact with larger groups. They met others that they did not know. The difference between private and public space began. Clothing and ornamentation worn in public space became important to show others who they were and their place in society. In private space, which included only others they knew, people did not to wear clothing when it was not needed. They bathed, slept, and worked together naked.

Ancient history[change | change source]

At the end of prehistory, between 7 and 9 thousand years ago, people began to settled in one place rather than being nomadic, forming the first civilizations.[17] As civilizations became larger, clothing became more important to show social position. A Roman citizen wore a toga in public, but was nude at the public baths. Not dressing properly might be socially uncomfortable, but not shameful.[18] The belief that everyone feels shame about nudity and sex is held only by members of the Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[19]

Early civilizations valued the naked body. Many made images of their deities as perfect humans without clothing. In Ancient Greek mythology, although male gods ruled, goddesses were the source of life. Gaia was mother of the titan Prometheus who created man out of mud, and the goddess Athena breathed life into his creation.[20] The creation story of the Abrahamic religions begins with nudity as innocence that becomes shame with knowledge of good and evil. In present Western cultures, with both the Greek and Abrahamic history, nudity is thought of as shameful by some but by others as natural, innocent and beautiful.[21]

In the earliest civilizations with warm climates, only people of high social position would be clothed at all times in public. The average person in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt owned a single piece of cloth that was wrapped or tied to cover the genitals. Both men and women would be bare-chested and barefooted. Herders, fisherman and others would be naked while working. Those of low social position and slaves might have no clothing. Children would be naked until about age 12.[22] It was not until the New Kingdom of Egypt that upper-class women wore dresses and ornamentation which covered their breasts. This later clothing is often shown in movies and television as representing ancient Egypt in all periods.[23]

Many think the ancient Greeks were often nude, but public nudity was reserved for religious events.[24] Most famous are the Ancient Olympics, at which the male athletes were nude.[25] It was not until the 5th Century BCE that Spartan women were also nude for sports.

In stories written in China as early as the fourth century BCE, nudity is an insult to human dignity. The belief was that "humanness" in Chinese society is earned by correct behavior.[26]

Colonialism and racism[change | change source]

Portrait of Poedooa, daughter of Orea, King of Ulaitea, Society Islands by John Webber (about 1785)

Colonialism and racism began when Christian and Muslim people more often had contact with Indigenous peoples of the tropics. In his diaries, Christopher Columbus writes that the people of Guanahaní in the Bahamas were entirely naked, and gentle. He also thought that they were less than fully human, and could be exploited.[27] This clash of cultures lead to the stereotype of the "naked savage".[28]

At first Islam had little influence beyond large towns. In other areas paganism continued. Traveling in Mali in the 1350s, Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta was shocked by the public nudity of female slaves and servants at the court of Sultans.[29]

European explorers in the 17th century viewed the lack of clothing they found in Africa and Oceania as showing a lower state of nature. Although they admired the nudity of Greek statues, Indigenous nakedness made them feel superior. Colonizers valued nudity in art but thought nakedness in daily life was evidence of racial inferiority.[30] Depictions of naked savages entered European popular culture in the 18th century in stories of tropical islands. Europeans focused on images of Pacific island woman with bare breasts.[31]

Non-western peoples during the period were naked only by Western standards, the genitals and sometimes the entire lower body of adults were covered most of the time. However, lacking the idea of shame, clothing might be removed in public for useful or symbolic purposes. Children and sometimes women until marriage might be naked as having "nothing to hide".[32] Indigenous peoples of North America also did not think of sexuality or nudity with shame. European colonizers became aware that Natives believed premarital and extramarital sex, homosexuality, and cross-dressing were normal. This furthered their efforts to convert Natives to Christianity. However, thinking of others as less than human could be used to justify conquest and removal.[33]

Sexuality and gender[change | change source]

Gender differences in nudity are shown from the beginning of history. In the first civilizations, male gods and heroes were naked. Female deities and goddesses were nude or clothed, depending upon the religious meaning they represented. In Ancient Greek art and in life, the male nude was celebrated as in no other society. Male athletic nudity represented freedom, maleness, privilege, and physical virtues.[25] In the later Hellenistic period, nude women began appearing on vases in passive activities, such as bathing.[34] With the beginning of the Christian era, women's bodies became a threat to civilized behavior that must be covered. Male nudity was of lesser importance, and might be necessary for hard labor.[35]

Female nudity[change | change source]

With the assumption of female modesty, more of the female body is covered than the male.[36] However, it is only in modern times that nudity included the female breasts. Breasts were thought of first for feeding children, and were symbolic of loving kindness in many cultures. It was not until the 17th century in Europe that women always had to cover their breasts in public.[37]

Women breastfeeding in public is the norm in many countries and is protected as a legal right. In others it is forbidden. In Western cultures where public breastfeeding is unregulated or legal, mothers might not do so because other people may object.[38] Soon after his elevation, Pope Francis supported women's right to breastfeed in church.[39]

Male nudity[change | change source]

In Western countries, nudity was the norm in many male-only activities until the last decades of the 20th century. It was thought of as unmanly not to do so. This followed a long history of poor and working class men and boys taking off their clothes to go swimming in any river, pond, or lake. Women and girls either did not swim or were dressed because it was thought that they were more modest than men.[40] When they were first built in the 1890s, men and boys swam nude in indoor pools. Swimmers were also required to take fully nude showers with soap prior to enter the pool.[41][42] During women's weekly swim hours, one-piece suits were allowed and sometimes supplied by the facility to insure cleanliness; towels were also supplied. In the 1960s, women-only days were added.[43] Some of the first indoor pools were built by the YMCA, with male nudity required.[44][45]

At the same time, behavior in public beaches where women and men were together was very different. From 1860 to 1937 men in the US and UK wore bathing suits that covered the chest in places where women were present.[46]

Private versus public[change | change source]

Each culture, or way of life of a group of people is unique. However, there are things that are shared by all humans but in different ways. Anthropology studies different cultures side by side, showing both what they have in common and how they differ. These common things and their differences are the dimensions of culture. An example is the value placed on individuals or groups. Some cultures place a high value on individuality, while other cultures place a high value on community. This is the cultureal dimension of individualism and collectivism. Cultures are usual somewhere between the two ends of a dimensiom.[47]

In thinking about nudity, an important dimension of culture is private-public and the behavior that is normal in each.[48]

  • In some cultures private means being entirely alone, defining personal space. In other cultures, privacy includes family and selelcted others.
  • Semi-private includes people less well known, but familiar, defining social space.
  • Being in public includes everyone. The meaning of public space changed as cities grew.

People wear different amounts of clothing in private places than in public. Semi-private nudity may be necessary, such as when changing clothes or showering after work or exercise. Usual behavior when nude with others include respect for personal space and the separation of genders. In the 21st century, this everyday, non-sexual nudity has become uncomfortable. Changing ideas of gender and sexuality threaten the idea of separating the sexes. Digital photography threatens keeping any behavior private. At the same time, modern media contain more images of sexualized nudity. There are fewer ways to learn that nudity is not always sexual. There are fewer places to see ordinary people naked and learn what is normal.

Private nudity[change | change source]

People vary in their comfort with private nudity. A 2018 survey in the US found that 65% of millennials slept in the nude. Thirty-nine percent of baby boomers slept in the nude.[49] In a 2014 UK survey, 51% of and 31% of women felt comfortable nude. 26% of men and 17% of women walked about the house nude when no one else was home.[50]

Body image is the thoughts and feelings of a person has about their own body. In Western cultures, women often want to be thinner, men more muscular.[51] In non-western cultures, body image has a different meaning. In some societies people think of themselves as part of a group, not as individuals. Where getting enough food is a problem growing thinner is seen as unhealthy. Westernization of cultures has resulted in an increase in body dissatisfaction worldwide.[52]

Naturists have long claimed social nudity leads to a better body image. Naturism has not often been studied objectively, but psychologist Keon West of Goldsmiths, University of London found that social nudity reduced body anxiety and increased well-being.[53] People with a poor body image improved after a nude social activity.[54][55]

Family nudity[change | change source]

In research by Gordon and Schroeder many differences in parental nudity were found from family to family. According to them, "there is nothing (..) wrong with bathing with children or otherwise appearing naked in front of them". Bath time can be a chance for parents to teach children about their bodies and the bodies of others. They say that by ages five to six, children begin to become modest, and recommend being sensitive to their children's wishes.[56] Barbara Bonner recommends against nudity in the home if children are showing troublesome sexual behaviour.[57] In a 1995 Paul Okami found nothing negative in parental nudity.[58] Three years later, his team found that, if anything, seeing parents nude had some good effects, especially for boys.[59]

Semi-private nudity[change | change source]

Most of the places were people are nude with others are semi-private. Access is limited usually by gender (men or women only), by age (as in schools), or other factors. Most of the places for practicing naturism are semi-private, limited by membership or entry fee. There are both written rules and informal expectations that must be observed. When an entire society understands naturism, as in Germany, clothing-optional areas within public space become semi-private.

In places so isolated that there is little chance of being seen it has been understood to be safe for nudity. This includes "skinny dipping" in any body of water, and hiking in the wild. In the United States there is no federal (national) law against nudity in national parks. When locations become a problem new laws have been passed.

Childhood nudity[change | change source]

Saturday Evening Post, 1911

Until recently, it was thought children had no sexual feelings, and that the nudity of children was innocent.

Very young children want to be nude, not only at home but where others can see. They touch their own bodies, and look at the bodies of others. This is part of growing up, with normal behavior at each age.[60] Parents and caregivers need to understand these changes as normal to set boundaries on behavior without teaching shame. Signs of problems include children of very different age touching. Children need to be taught that it is never okay for an older person to touch some of their body parts.[61] A 2018 study of Danish childcare found disagreement between caregivers who wanted to continue allowing normal childhood nudity and administrators who have begun to worry about charges of sexual abuse being made.[62]

It is normal for children to be naked at home, including outdoors, when visitors are present. Parents who see nothing wrong with this may allow it, accepting that most children become more modest as they near puberty. In the United States other adults may not approve, creating problems. Problems include the nude child's playmates also removing their clothes, which the other parents might not want.[63]

In northern Europe, children play outdoors nude in public parks and fountains. Travel writer Rick Steves writes "When the sun's out, Scandinavian parks are packed. ...American visitors will notice a lot of nudity — topless women and naked kids."[64] In sub-Saharan Africa, it is normal for boys and girls in rural areas to play together nude until puberty.[65]

The naturist point of view is that children are "nudists at heart" and that naturism provides the healthiest environment for growing up.[66] Modern psychology agrees that children can benefit from an open environment where the bodies of others their own age of both sexes are not a mystery. However, there is less agreement regarding children and adults other than parents being nude together.[67]

Until the 1990s in the United States, public swimming pools such as at the YMCA allowed parents to bring young children into the changing rooms. The children could see adults and other childen of either sex nude. There was sometimes no specific age limit for the children, but in some places up to age 6.[68] Soon after, rules were changed allowing only same-sex use of changing rooms. At some places today, family changing rooms have been added.[69]

Male nudity in swim class[change | change source]

In the United States, male nudity was required when indoor pools were first added to schools in the early 20th century. Boys and girls had separate classes, so the boys swam nude while the girls wore suits.[70] Male nudity was nationwide due to standards by public health organizations. Cleanliness of the pool water was given as the reason. In the early years, fibers from suits clogging pool filters was also given as a reason.[41] Bathing suits were allowed only for public competitions.[42] Young boys might compete nude.[71] Clothed girls or women sometimes attended boys' team practices. Women sometimes substituted as coaches for boy's teams. Rarely, girls also swam nude in their own classes, which ended after opposition from parents.[72] Male nudity continued until mixed-gender classes were allowed, and ended in the US when gender equality became law with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In the 21st century, public male nude swimming is largely forgotten, or even denied having ever existed.[73]

Communal bathing[change | change source]

Outdoor bathing at Jhiben Hot Spring, Taiwan 2012

Bathing is known for its benefits to health and well-being. Many societies also bathe for purification before or after other activities. Nude bathing in natural hot springs, steam rooms, and sweat lodges have existed since the Stone Age, and are found worldwide.[74] Public bathing is not always "open to the general public". There are fees, and rules that are understood before entry. Often there is separation by gender, but not always. In Japan,[75] Finland[76] and Germany,[77] mixed gender bathing or using a sauna nude is a social activity. The Japanese idea of hadaka no tsukiai, or spending time together naked, means classmates, teammates, fellow employees, families or neighbors spend time together naked for social bonding. Usually, this is while bathing at a bathhouse or onsen.[78][79] As the 21st century proceeds, fewer bathhouses in Japan are mixed gender.[80] South Korean bathhouses (Jjimjilbang) have always been gender-segregated, but nudity is required.[81] Although there may be local differences, in the United States, it is generally understood that nudity is not allowed in public saunas. This includes being wrapped only in a towel. Instead, the rules are only about what to wear, bathing suits or loose clothing.[82] This is true even though most US saunas are located in the single-sex areas.

Until recently in Western cultures, showering after sports with others of the same sex was expected or required. In the 21st century, students in the US and UK avoid showering with their classmates.[83][84] Locker rooms in American fitness clubs are installing private showers and changing rooms for millennials.[85][86]

Public nudity[change | change source]

In different counties and localities, public nudity is a matter of common understanding of proper behavior. More often, prohibitions regarding exposing the body are written into law. The basic prohibition is outlawing exposure of the genitals in public except where it is specifically allowed. The violation is often called indecent exposure or public indecency. Public exposure of breasts, or specifically the nipples, is often included in the legal definition. Most violations are considered minor, but may be serious crimes when there is intent to cause distress or harm to the person viewing the nudity. Serious crime is assumed when the target of the exposure is a child. Intent is difficult to establish, but is assumed when a single individual exposes their genitals suddenly to strangers in a public place. This is often called "flashing". Such exposure may be a sign of exhibitionism, a mental disorder marked by feelings of pleasure in exposing oneself.

Some counties permit nudity for recreation. People swim nude at "clothing optional" beaches. Often the beaches are public property owned by local or national government. It is not as common in the United States and Canada as in Europe. There are other types of nude recreation. There are some nude bicycle tours, and nude hiking. Nude hiking in the Alps is popular with German tourists. In 2009, Appenzell Innerrhoden, a small Swiss canton, voted to stop nude hiking, imposing a fine.[87]

A large group of nude people on the steps of the Sydney Opera House
People preparing for an photo by Spencer Tunick at the Sydney Opera House

Nudity in public may also be allowed depending upon the openness of a society to individual expression. Exceptions are limited to specific times, places, or other factors. Nudity that is part of artistic performance, political protest, or events such as Carnival may have their own rules.

The brief public exposure of parts of the body as a form of expression has a long history. Running through a public area naked is called "streaking". Streaking was popular in the 1970s, and has become a tradition at a few university events. Exposing the buttocks or "mooning" an enemy before battle was recorded in ancient Rome.[88]

Naturism[change | change source]

Naturists enjoying themselves

Naturism (or nudism) is a cultural and political movement which began at the end of the 19th century.[89] Followers of this movement think that nudity, both in public as well as in private, has many benefits. Some naturist activists seek opening public recreation areas to nudity. Others groups practice naturism within privately owned camping grounds or resorts. Private places might only allow certain people to enter. It is common to only let families join, which allows for a safe environment for children.[90]

The International Naturist Federation (INF) has members in forty countries.[91] The INF definition of naturism is "Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterised by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment." This definition has been basically the same since the INF began in 1974.[92]

Nudity as protest[change | change source]

Some people use nudity as a form of direct protest, or to attract attention to a cause not related to nudity.

In the United States, a direct protest has been women seeking the same right to be bare-chested as men. Advocates call this "topfreedom" rather than being topless. In a few local cases, this has succeeded in changing laws to allow topfree sunbathing as non-sexual, but have failed to gain full equality with men.[93]

When the city of San Francisco, California banned nudity after many years of allowing it, there were nude protesters.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had a protest for animal rights, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur." which was so effective in reducing the use of fur in fashion that it ended after 30 years, declaring victory. At first there were naked people protesting in front of clothing stores, but changed to ads by famous people.[94] The Femen group demonstrates topless to call attention to a number of feminist issues. The World Naked Bike Rides are done annually in many cities in the world to protest dependence on automobiles and fossil fuels.

Nudity as punishment[change | change source]

One of the photographs of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad: a naked prisoner being forced to crawl and bark like a dog on a leash held by a female US soldier.

In any culture where being naked is shameful, being deprived of clothing can be used as punishment or torture. An example happened during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the United States and its allies. Members of the United States Army Reserve tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Photographs were circulated that showed prisoners nude and in degrading positions.[95][96]

Cultural differences[change | change source]

Cultural differences are based upon learned responses that operate below the level of awareness. Emotions about being nude or seeing others nude are one set of responses. People from another culture think only in terms of their own culture, and find it difficult to understand any other way of thinking.[97] This occurs not only for distant cultures, but also those with much in common. Americans define privacy in terms of visual space. Private, or personal space means not being seen by others. Americans think anyone nude where they can be seen has "no reasonable expectation of privacy". Americans think being seen nude through a window of their own home is "public indecency" subject to legal action. For Europeans, privacy is defined by a personal sense of dignity that each individual carries with them. Europeans can keep this dignity and the privacy that goes with it while nude on a crowded beach.[98]

Between Western and non-Western cultures, differences are greater. Many members of Western societies think that all humans feel shame when naked, or should. The unashamed behavior of children and indigenous peoples shows that shame is learned. Living in a climate perfectly suited to humans means growing up with few clothes or none, learning they have nothing to be ashamed of. Adults in these societies dress, but are nude when it make sense to them.[15] Colonialism continues in other ways. Religious people seek to change other cultures to live according Western beliefs. Other western travelers visit tropical counties to see people living in what they think of as simple ways of the past.[99]

In counties that follow Islamic law, modesty (Hijab) is demanded. There are five schools of Islamic law. In the least strict women in public must cover their bodies except hands and face. Clothing must also be loose and solid, showing nothing of the body. The belief is that men cannot control sexual thoughts when seeing any part of a woman's body. Rules of modesty include men, but they need only cover themselves from navel to knees. Not doing so may be thought badly of, but it is not a crime. In some Arabic countries, women wear the Niqāb, which also covers the face, leaving only a slit for the eyes. Worn mostly in Afghanistan, the burqa adds a screen over the slit, hiding the eyes. Being fully covered is based on a belief that women cannot show themselves in public at all.[100] Muslim women who are against these rules may be imprisoned.[101] Western countries may not allow Islamic dress in public places where everyone needs to show their faces.[102] There is also fear that clothes that cover completely may be worn by men and used to hide guns. Some Christians have rules of dress close to Islam, but dresses need only reach below the knees.[103]

Africa[change | change source]

The cultures and peoples of Africa are divided between north and south by the Sahara desert. Humanity originated in the tropical parts of Southern Africa.

North Africa is mainly desert, hot and dry. The indigenous clothing is light, loose fabric covering the entire body, protecting it from sun and blowing sand, but allowing for cooling breezes. This style of dress has not changed for thousands of years.[16] Most of the peoples in the region are Muslim. The style of dress also matches the Islamic rules of modesty.

Sub-Saharan Africa is more varied in climate. Present day clothing is highly influenced by colonialism, both Christian and Islamic. Islamic counties in the south, Somalia, Djibouti, Comoros and Mauritania observe the rules of modesty.

Dressing Africans in European clothes to cover their nakedness was part of converting them to Christianity.[104] In Christian countries today, European dress is normal in cities. Indigenous styles have been adapted for Western modesty, especially for women.

In rural areas, some tribes continue to be nude according to tradition. Some tribes are returning to pre-colonial dress for some events. 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.[105] 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.

Asia[change | change source]

In much of Asia, traditional clothing covers as much of the body as European.[104] However, the emotion felt in being improperly dressed is social embarrassment, not shame about sex.

The mixed gender bathing culture of Japan is not thought of as public nudity, but private in the context of a communal culture. In world surveys of how likely people are to be nude on a beach, Japan is lowest at 4%. During the Meiji era (1868–1912) there had been attempts to eliminate Japan's normal states of undress due to leader's concerned with Japan's international reputation. Although often ignored, the law against public undress had the effect of sexualizing the body where it had not been erotic.[106]

A contemporary Digambara ("Skyclad") Jain monk

In India, certain members of the Hindu and Jain religions practice near or complete nudity as part of the rejection of worldly possessions.

Europe[change | change source]

European history[change | change source]

For a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, proper behavior in Europe was defined by the Catholic Church. The church disapproved of sexual behavior outside of marriage, but was more tolerant of nudity than other Abrahamic religions. Sexual segregation was expected, but not required. Everyone other than the upper classes lived in close quarters and had more tolerance for functional nudity, sleeping and bathing without privacy.[107] Until the Carolingian era Christians were baptized naked to show that they emerged without sin. Small groups of Christians held worship services in the nude, reclaiming the innocence of man before the fall.[108]

The nude had been a subject of European art since the ancient Greeks, which continued in the Roman era. With the rise of Christianity, nudity almost disappeared from art during the Middle Ages except for Biblical stories such as Adam and Eve. Symbolic nudity in the fine arts increased in the Renaissance with paintings and sculpture based upon classical mythology and Biblical scenes. The rediscovery of ancient Greek culture had increased the conflicting views of nudity as good or bad.

It was leaders of the Protestant Reformation that thought nudity itself was sinful as a temptation for sexual behavior. Renaissance nude art was destroyed, or genitals were covered.

Modern Europe[change | change source]

In Europe women may, in some places, sunbathe with bare breasts.

The cultural division between northern and southern Europe can be traced to the sauna. Various methods of cleaning the body by wet or dry heat (causing sweating) are found worldwide. In Finland, almost everyone has access to a sauna.[109] Sharing a sauna with others of all sexes and ages widens the definition of private nudity. Communal bathing breaks the connection between nudity and sexual activity, which is assumed by other cultures. Instead, modesty is in behavior, such as not staring, rather than in clothing.[76]

In the United Kingdom, nudity may be allowed if there is no sexual display intended to cause alarm to the viewer, or create a public disturbance.[110]

Southern Europe views nudity differently than the north. Catholic attitudes did not eliminating classical Greek and Roman history. Mediterranean beaches were the first to adopt the bikini, and soon the topless fashion.[111] Bathing suits for men are also minimal. Nude beaches also followed, but with a different attitude than the north. Sexuality is less suppressed, part of the enjoyment of being naked. Clothing optional recreation is less widespread than in Northern Europe.

In modern European art, the nude became a symbol that could be used to express all parts of the human condition.[112] The images of nude women that had been created for hundreds of years by male artists are seen by many feminists as degrading to women.[6]

North America[change | change source]

Nudity in Canada[change | change source]

Officially public nudity is disorderly conduct without a "lawful excuse". However, there is another law that a charge of nudity can only be made with the approval of the attorney general. The result is nudity by itself is rarely charged, only when there is another violation involved. There is also the context; nudity at a festival for example is not the same as in ordinary conditions. A women's right to be top-free has been established in Ontario and British Columbia.[113]

Nudity in Mexico[change | change source]

There is one clothing-optional beach in Mexico, Playa Zipolite in Oaxaca.[114]

Nudity in the United States[change | change source]

America has the greatest disapproval of nudity among Western cultures, and resistance to seeing it as non-sexual.[115] German immigrants brought naturism to the US in the 1930s, but it was limited to "nudist camps" and not widely accepted. Finnish immigrants brought the sauna and mixed nudity to some rural areas, but this became gender segregated.

Nudity was more acceptable during the "counter-culture" of the 1960s-70s.[116] Public nudity became part of music events such as the Woodstock Festival and political events such as Vietnam War protests. There were many unofficially clothing-optional places to swim, but few legal as in Europe. In the more conservative 21st century, many swimming places are again banning nudity.

Oceania[change | change source]

Including Australia, New Zealand and all of the Pacific islands, Oceania has both European colonial culture and numerous indigenous peoples. As with other tropical climates, clothing was minimal and removed for both work and play. Colonialism changed this, but not always as expected. The Pacific islands were colonized later than Africa and South America, and the people and cultures more romanticized.

For centuries, clothing indigenous people was part of conversion to Christianity. Rarely, traditional clothing is allowed, as on Yap island where the Catholic Church includes in some celebrations women dancing in costumes that do not cover their breasts.[117]

South America[change | change source]

The Awá people of the Amazon rainforest were isolated until recently, first contact being at the beginning of the 21st century. Although now wearing Western clothing at some times, men hunting in the jungle are naked except for a decoration of bird feathers tied to the end of their penises.[118]

See also[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

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