Myths of the Naked Body

In the West, particularly in the United States, society has been convinced over time to accept several myths about naked bodies as truths. The acceptance of these myths as truth has lead to a myriad of issues, but those issues are another discussion. Most of these myths are derived from well meaning members of the Christian church over the last couple of centuries. Like the well meaning Pharisees of Jesus’ time who used man made rules to try to keep from breaking the commandments, many Christian use these myths the same way — as truths to try to keep themselves and others from sinning. Some of these myths are loosely based on scripture others are just based on speculation.

Myth One

Naked Bodies are Not Natural. This one is largely based on tradition. They reason and argue that clothing and covering the body is the way it has always been. Many go so far as to believe that clothing is what separates us from the animals and is the beginning of a “civilized” society. After all, you never hear of anyone in “civilized” society growing up naked. It only happens with “those savages,” “those naked savages.” Yet, after man was created, naked by the way, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 NAS95). “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25 NAS95). God never changed his mind.

“If people were meant to be nude, they would have been born this way.” — Oscar Wilde

But that has not stopped the Church from pushing the second myth.

Myth Two

Naked Bodies were/are Commanded to be Hidden by God. Many people look at the passage in Genesis where God provides skins to Adam and Eve as proof that God wants clothed humans. In reality, Adam and Eve started it, not God. They are the ones who created clothing for themselves. They are the ones who invented clothing. “They sewed fig leaves together and they made themselves loin coverings”(Genesis 3:7 NAS95).

They sewed leaves together, who does that? In our current age hunters and snipers come to mind first. Why did they cover themselves? Were they hiding from other people? Who, since only they existed? From each other? From the animals? Maybe from the serpent? Or from God? Up until this point they had walked naked with God in the Garden. Now, Adam and Eve have made camouflage and are actively hiding from God. But, why? Why did they decide that they needed to hide from God? Again, these questions need more exploration, but now is not the time.

As the story progresses God asks the question, “Who told you that you were naked?” Reading between the lines we can expand the question, “Naked? I never said anything about you being naked. Who told you that you were naked?” In the book Uncovering the Image, Bob Horrocks points out that this question God did not, even as Adam and Eve had covered themselves, see their nakedness as a problem.

Yet, God does provide our first parents with skins of animals, surely that means we are to cover ourselves at all times. Paul Bowman postulates:

“It is reasonable to believe that if God had actually condemned nakedness he would have told Adam that, because he had sinned, he was no longer free to be naked and unashamed of his body, After all, God did decree several consequences of the sin they committed.” (Nakedness and the Bible)

Bowman goes on to point out that immediately following God giving them skins, he banishes them from Eden, and sets a guard so they cannot return. Why garments of animals skins outside the garden? We must look at one of the consequences of their sin:

“cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”” (Genesis 3:17–19 ESV)

It appears to me that this wasn’t and act to cover their sinful flesh but another of God’s acts of love toward his beloved creation, partial protection from the environment that was cursed because of them. There is also the belief in many circles that the animal skins were a foreshadowing of the shedding of Christs blood for our sins. Bowman also rightfully points out, If God had given Adam and Eve clothes intended to conceal their bodies — new and improved clothes at that — it would have been a ratification of their efforts to conceal their sin! It is unthinkable that God would ever reward sin, or even reward any efforts made to conceal the results of sinful behavior.”

Myth Three

Naked Bodies are Aways Sexual. Really? We are born naked, not sexual and Job says we return naked, not sexual. Bathing is typically done naked and is normally not sexual. Physical exams and surgery are at least partially if not totally naked, and definitely not sexual. Additionally, throughout the history of the world there have been many naked societies. If naked bodies were always sexual those societies would not have been able to exist because of twenty-four-hour-a-day sexual activities. Our western culture has driven and continues to drive the sexualization of the naked body. “Actually, the loin cloth on an otherwise naked body does call direct attention to the covered area, and it would therefore very likely create titillation by its removal in a sexual situation. On the other hand, observations of daily Life among naked tribes indicate the sight of genitalia in Nude society is not in itself erotic”, Aileen Goodson. “Complete nudity in itself is not erotic. It becomes so only when preceded by or contrasted to a state of dress. In this limited context then, all clothes become somewhat immoral, if we define immorality as inciting sexual interest. Habitual nakedness may indeed be capable of elevating man to a higher mental plane…” Dr. Marylnn J. Horn, “The Second Skin: An Interdisciplinary Study of Clothing”. Dr. Horn goes on to say, “It is the undressing, not the being nude, that is sexually arousing, because it leads the viewer to the association of a sexually intimate experience.”

Myth Four

Naked Bodies are Obscene or “Gross I don’t want to see that.” If humans are created in the image of God then this statement are a spit in the face of our creator. “How is it possible for the human body, which was created in the image of God, to be offensive to anybody? Satan would love to see God’s greatest creation be considered offensive”, (unfortunately, I have misplaced the reference for this quote). Our society is currently in a body image crisis. We see it in the way we treat our bodies from eating disorders to body modifications. Liz Egger laments, “As a naturist myself I find it astonishing that a religion can worship a particular deity yet regard its most miraculous creation – the human body – as obscene and wicked and so shameful that it should be hidden from view.” David Hatton rightly opines, “When people teach that the human body is dirty or obscene, it creates fertile ground for pornography. This is why porn addiction is so strong in our society, even among Christians. Our culture is inundated with a sexualized view of the body. I’m sorry to say that the church has been a key player in spreading that idea.” We need throw off the obscene view of our naked bodies and return to a healthy view of the naked human our form. We were created in the image of God, with penises, scrotums and a broader shoulders or with vulvas, vaginas wider hips and larger breasts. Beautifully made in our differences and similarities.

Myth Five

Naked Bodies Harm Children. Let’s be clear upfront. We are discussing NONSEXUAL nakedness. We have already pointed out that not all Nakedness is sexual.

There are not enough studies on the effects of exposing children to nonsexual nudity. Most of the child development experts, e.g. Dr. Spock, Dr. Brothers, and Dr. Dodson to name a few, have laid out the arguments against exposure to nakedness without any studies to back them up let alone justify their conjecture and opinions. Dennis C. Craig and Dr. William Sparks engaged in a five year study to explore how exposure to nudity affects children. Here are their own conclusions:

“The experts seem to agree that a child should not be overstimulated sexually. Since we consider that wise, we raise a few questions: Is it more detrimental to emotional growth to spend “all ones waking hours” attempting to see the hidden bodies of others than to be raised in a physically open family situation where nudity is taken for granted? Is it not possible that the child who casually learns about other people’s bodies has more time to spend on studies and other pursuits?”

“The experts warn about the terrible guilts and frustrations which will develop in a child exposed to nudity… We found normal childhood problems of adjustment, but we also found a group of adults seemingly satisfied with themselves, and very willing to raise their children as they were raised, with nakedness as part of their every day lives.”

“We were told that when children saw their parents nude , they would be overstimulated… But when we spoke to the adults who grew up in a nudist environment, we were told that it was more stimulating for them to goto a regular beach, where everyone wore suits, however small, than to play volleyball or sun at a nudist park where everyone wore nothing…”

“Without previous studies on which to base their conclusions, the experts told us that children, especially during the years from nine to thirteen, should not be allowed to see their parents nude because it would be harmful to them. It seems clear to us, now, after five years of study that this unfounded bias and conjecture has been very misleading. But, more than that, it has caused real harm to more than one generation of American children.”

“We live in a time when the human anatomy is examined, extolled, studied, and lectured about, and at the very same moment is also exploited, ridiculed, and excluded from social acceptance. We insult ourselves by calling our bodies obscene, pornographic, lewd, base, dirty, immoral, or evil, and in so doing deny the basic truth of our own existence. Our anatomy is us— and it is none of those terrible things.”

“There are some families who have learned what Margaret Mead and others were trying to tell us about the need for understanding our natures and not hating our physiology. These singular adults have created in their children individuals more resistant to the negativism of our modern society. They seem at ease with the rigors of living together in a society dependent, sours is, on our ability to relate to one another with love and understanding.”

“What we learned was that the viewing of the unclothed human body , far from being destructive to the psyche, seems to be either benign and totally harmless or to actually provide positive benefits to the individual involved.”

—Dennis Craig Smith and Dr. William Sparks, Growing Up Without Shame.

There are a few, very few, other studies out there that have taken on this issue and similarly concluded that nakedness harming children is in fact a myth and that exposure to real human bodies in a nonsexual setting can potentially be beneficial.

“The existence in so many places of the tendency toward nudity is not a testimony to the fallenness of man. It is rather a testimony of the original condition of man … The inner desire to be naked and unashamed is a longing to get back to our original perfection.” — Philo Thelos

2 Responses to “Myths of the Naked Body”

  1. Great work, and sound thinking. Thank you for putting this together.

  2. […] following is a repost from a friend named Randy. Used with […]

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