When did body parts become offensive?

Of course, this post came to mind after hearing about the Statue of David controversy in Florida, but I have a more personal example.

I live in a small, three-bedroom house with one tiny bathroom to share with my husband and daughter. We always leave the bathroom door open so if someone’s showering, the toilet is available, etc. It’s no big deal to us because we’re family.

Last weekend I was unaware that the neighbor girl was over at our house because I was in the shower – with the door open. I didn’t hear her come in. I get out of the shower, dry off, and walk completely naked to our bedroom across the hall (like I always do), but when I get in the hall, I see the neighbor girl. I run to the bedroom and slam the door. I was so pissed at my husband for not letting me know that someone else was in the house that I yelled at him – so much so that I scared my daughter and the neighbor girl away. Turns out my husband was sitting on the couch with no pants on – just a t-shirt and boxers – and didn’t want to get up. The neighbor girl sometimes lets herself in so I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later. My family is hardly ever fully dressed when we’re hanging out at home.

But why was this such a big deal to me – why did I have to yell? Considering my history of eating disorders, I’m not exactly comfortable with my body, but still, the neighbor girl is only five – what does she care about the shape of my body? 

Of course, in the back of my mind, I thought if a child other than my own sees me naked, could it be misconstrued as something sexual? It’s a scary thought and I certainly don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

If this were to happen again, I would try to be calmer. It’s probably not as big of a deal as I made it.

But really, who told us to cover up? Why can’t kids see the Statue of David? Why are body parts offensive?

Does this have to do with religion? Is this a Puritan thing?

What do you think and how would you have responded to my neighbor girl situation?


  1. brightmoon says

    I’ve had that happen as I sleep nude ! I’d just close the door. My late mother was a serious Victorian-type prude and I deliberately didn’t want to act like that . Why I chose to not be like that happened when I was a small child. A few people died in a fire because they’d refused to come outside either in their pajamas or naked . I decided right then and there that that was a stupid reason to lose your life when a fireman or a helper would give you a blanket to cover up. I realized that my mother would have done the same stupid thing and my reaction was , Oh HELL No!

  2. flex says

    There is a hell of a lot to unpack there… The questions are good and worth a discussion.

    First, I don’t think your reaction was surprising or excessive. You started a shower with an expectation of who was in the house and when you came out of the shower you found people you didn’t expect. Without trying to blame anyone, I think it would have been appropriate for your husband to inform you that the neighbor was in the house. It also may have been appropriate for your husband to put on some pants, even if the boxers were not revealing. By the age of five I think the neighbor would understand if you husband said, “excuse me for a moment, I’m in my underwear.” By that age most children will have already learned that exposing their underwear to general view is not appropriate, so the child would understand. Nothing sexual about it.

    Second, without bringing religion into it, it’s natural to have a fear of being nude in front of other people’s children in our society. It’s not that the child cares, but it would be an unusual event and would likely be talked about to their other friends and possibly even to other adults. Adults who may not know you well, who have heard stories of sexual predators, etc. Consider these two scenarios from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t know you. 1) You acted as you did, frightened and angry and closing the situation as quickly as possible. 2) You didn’t make any attempt to quickly cover up, and stood talking to your husband while unclothed. In the first case, anyone hearing about the incident from your visitor would immediately understand your embarrassment. In the second case, the impression they get about you could range from confident woman to sexual predator. You may be calmer the next time this happens, but you are probably well advised to conform to social expectations as quickly as possible.

    Just to be clear, the above are my opinions, and I accept that other people will have other opinions. I have, on occasion, walked in on someone naked who didn’t think anything of it. I felt embarrassed by doing so, but did my best to maintain my sangfroid. I find it easier to maintain my composure when someone walks in on me, but there is still an awkwardness which is easily alleviated by donning some clothing.

    But that just leads to a bigger question, one which you asked. Why are body parts offensive? Why does US society in particular appear to find them more offensive than other cultures? Actually, I’m not certain “offensive” is the correct term. I think body parts which are sexually related are seen as enticing, compelling, and to many people seeing these body parts leads to promiscuity, irrational behavior, and uncontrollable urges. Much of our advertising tells us so. This idea that sexual promiscuity is caused by exposure to body parts does intersect with religion, but also with our idea of respectability. Sexually promiscuous people are viewed as less respectable, and respectability is a goal of many, many people. Does religion contribute to this, yes. But I think having the respect of others is, in fact, a more powerful (and primal) urge than religion. People are religious because they want to appear respectable, they want the respect of others.

  3. says

    Religion is a technique for social/political control. The object of control is control – it does not have to make sense. Just do what you’re told.

  4. maggie says

    Locking the front door so they neighbor’s child can’t come in would be a good start. While you might not consider nudity to be a big deal, the parents of the other child may not hold the same view.

  5. says

    Following onto #3: there’s such a wide variety of attitudes toward bodies and exposed body-parts, and those attitudes result from so many interrelating factors, that there’s not really that much use in arguing or generalizing about them. The attitude in your family seems healthy and sensible — it just needs to include reminders that other people don’t share the same attitude, and it helps to be considerate of their feelings.

    Some people — through no fault of their own, and for reasons others can’t necessarily know — get really uncomfortable seeing someone else in just undies or less. So, yeah, closing doors and warning people when guests are in your house is kinda necessary.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    there’s not really that much use in arguing or generalizing about them

    There’s one exception to this rule: if the exposed body part is a penis, and the people complaining about them are women, then in progressive circles they can be safely generalised as transphobes.

  7. says

    @5 sonofrojblake

    This post was not about trans people but you had to come in and shit on us anyway.

    Something’s wrong with you.

    Also, fuck you. I knew there was something hinky about you, never should have unbanned you on my own blog.

  8. lanir says

    I think the feeling Ashes spoke about in the post does originate from a religious view but it’s become a part of the wider culture. We don’t learn it from churches anymore, they’ve already done their damage. It ties into religious views about sex but if you look at it, it’s definitely coming from the surrounding culture. Women get it worse than men. For example if you look at swimsuits for women, breast feeding, and purity culture you can see what ties them all together. Nudity is wrong. For reasons that are hard to define because there aren’t any real reasons. Our culture treats a female breast like something only an infant has the mental fortitude to see without it having some negative impact.
    I’m not a psychologist but I’d suspect the reason we have such strong reactions to it is entirely because of how early we are when someone gets to us and makes us wear pants. I’ve met people who are relatively deprogrammed when it comes to nudity but they’re pretty rare.

  9. John Morales says

    A rather mild accidental mishap, I think.

    No harm done, blushes all around. So, no biggie.

    As for the cover-up, well, cultural norms.

    (Hopefully, all straightened-up with the neighbours)

  10. SailorStar says

    I agree with Lanir.
    I recently had a disturbing conversation with an atheist about exercise class. The other person was very unhappy that zumba (think: aerobics with Latin music and incorporating Latin dance moves like the merengue and salsa and cumbia) was “sexual” and the women were performing sexually, and as proof, offered up that men don’t typically take zumba classes.
    The point of exercise classes is to strengthen and tone the arms, legs, hips, back by moving them. There are many types of exercise classes to appeal to many different types of people–classic aerobics, step aerobics, barre stretching, ballet, jazz, kickboxing, bootcamp, weightlifting, zumba, etc. etc. Setting exercise to music makes it more fun to do. The idea that if a woman moves her body, it must be to sexually entice someone (and therefore, one must disapprove of women) seems to be part of the country’s Puritan past. And if men don’t all like one form of exercise, obviously therefore it must be inferior.

  11. Jazzlet says

    SailorStar @#9
    It sounds like that atheist could do with some basic reading around bodily autonomy. Besides what would be the problem with women being sexual? Throw in some basic feminism reding too! I’m not surprised you were disturbed.

  12. SailorStar says

    @Jazzlet; I agree. The most disappointing and disturbing thing to me was the assertion that if a woman is dancing, she must be trying to be seduce some poor hapless man. As if, what other reason beside seduction could a woman possibly want to go to an exercise class (never mind that it’s one that attracts more women than men). One of the accusations was that women MOVE THEIR HIPS in zumba. Well? It’s part of a full-range-of-motion stretch, the same as in step aerobics, kick boxing, swimming, barre work, etc. etc.
    In other words, the individual holding the ideas might not actively identify as Christian, but they certainly hold ideas from the more Puritan and fundagelical ends of the belief pool. Remember the ideal Victorian woman: torso tightly corseted so she can’t take a full breath, sleeves cut so narrow that she can’t raise her arms, legs trapped in swathes of tight-fitting binding, and high heels to cripple her.

      • sonofrojblake says

        It most definitely was written like it. If you come to it predisposed to see hostility, then you can conceivably bend it that way, but no sarcasm was expressed or implied. Why you would be predisposed to read hostility I don’t know, as I’ve been pretty consistently anti-TERF over the course of years replying here.

  13. enkidu says

    Nearly every culture we know about, has customs around covering genitalia to a greater or lesser degree, so I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on puritan churches.
    The possible extreme of minimalism, is (or rather was, thanks colonialism) Papua New Guinea where most men wore only a penis sheath, kept in place by a string around the waist, and women a rather minuscule apron.

  14. sonofrojblake says

    @lanir: the problem with being deprogrammed about nudity is that hardly anyone else is.

    That was my point in #5 – your common or garden TERF can’t see a penis without assuming its “intent” is sexual, even (only?) in settings where it’s obviously not, e.g. toilets and changing rooms.

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