Usually when I see that a post already has 170 comments I don’t even start reading them, but the comments on this recent post of hers are worth your while (as well as people who commented on their own blogs and spawned their own comment threads, e.g., . Aunt B, Brooklynite and Steinn).
While the post is primarily about bringing a young son into the female locker-room to change, it is really about several topics, and commenters sensed it and responded accordingly. It is about nudity in the locker-room, at the pool, at the beach and in public, it is about shyness about our own bodies, and it is about societal attitudes towards the naked body. It was also a challenge to male bloggers to write about sex.
Attitude Towards Nudity
The commenters brought out in sharp relief two interesting phenomena – the differences in attitudes towards nudity in space and in time. First, in space, there are apparently differences between acceptance of nudity – public or locker-room – between East Coast and West Coast, as well as between both coasts and the middle of the country. Even greater is the difference between the States and the rest of the world (excluding the Middle East). For instance, Sister_luck wrote (and read the comments there as well):
There seems to be a big difference between Europe and the United States in how the naked body is perceived and how much of it is permitted to be shown. I couldn’t understand the fuss about Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction – you didn’t even get to see a nipple! Then there was the brouhaha in the livejournal community about banning default userpics showing breastfeeding. Generally speaking, in Germany and other parts of Europe, we tend to see more completely naked people on tv or in magazines and full-frontal male nudity is shown, too.
Part of this might have to do with the fact that we don’t automatically connect the nude body with sexuality and see it more as a ‘natural state’ of the human being. Even if the nudity is shown in a sexual context there is less censorship involved – it’s quite interesting to compare the age restrictions of movies – in Germany, violence is more often the reason for restricting the audience of a film and films that feature full frontal nudity here can be seen by a twelve-year-old or even by a six-year-old if there is no strong sexual content.
I’ve also noticed how for some Americans being in your underwear already equals being naked which I think goes a bit far! But there are also women who’d say that they feel naked without their make-up on.
I grew up in a pseudo-hippy family, so running around naked at home isn’t a big deal for me. Going to the nudist beach with my family was okay, but puberty made me slightly more ashamed (though I must say that swimming in the nude is much nicer than in a bathing suit) and I stopped going with them. Today, I’m still quite comfortable in my skin, but have started worrying about silly stuff like showing bodyhair etc.
That is certainly my experience. Growing up in Belgrade, I certainly saw a lot of nudity on TV, in magazines and elsewhere. Two large rivers pass through Belgrade and there is a large island on one of them. On one side of the island, the river was dammed to form a lake (in which the water is cleaner than in the river itself). The beach of that lake is a couple of miles long and is a favourite place for Belgraders to go on a hot summer day (on some days literally half of Belgrade – that is half of 2,000.000 people – showed up there!).
The nearest end of the beach, perhaps the first couple of hundreds of yards, is informally designated as “family” or “textile”. The last couple of hundred yards are a nudist beach (there is no fence in between – the actual length of this portion depends on the number of people on it on any given day). Everything in between is “top-optional” where perhaps half of the women (of all ages) wear the top and the other half do not. Some people swim, some people play sports, some hide in one of the restaurants to eat and drink, while some go into the woods and have sex. Big deal! Nobody ever cared.
Spending summers on the Adriatic sea every summer also made me aware that there are nudist beaches there everywhere! Skinny-dipping is fun! You should try it one day if you have not already. And nobody cares, nobody is “titillated” by all that naked flesh around them.
We had swimming classes in Kindergarten, boys and girls together, all naked. It was just the way the world was. And as for locker-rooms, both in school and in my karate practices, walking around nude was no big deal. It was almost like a primate colony, baboons walking around with hard-ons to assert social dominance, and others joking with them to put them back into the equality of the group – we were all on the same team.
Apart from differences in attitides across space, there were also a couple of comments on Dr.B’s thread indicating the differences across class lines – the upper classes being more comfortable with nudity, as long as the proles are not around to watch.
But, what was really interesting was an oft-repeated observation that the attitudes have changed over time – not in the expected direction towards more freedom, but the opposite, becoming more and more repressed and self-consciouss. I am wondering if that is a part and parcel of the society (in the States, at least) going through its conservative phase.
I have no idea if Europe has gone back any. I do not even know if it is happening in Serbia, after a decade of grief, economic woes, bombing and losing at least half a million of its best and brightest (the liberal, educated people who could pursue careers abroad) and replacing them with some of the poorest and least educated people who arrived as refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. I am assuming that general zeitgeist there is much more conservative now than it was when I left in 1991, but I do not know if such conservatism also brought back the ideas of puritan shame and the need to cover up again, or is that an element only of the American-brand conservatism.
So, is this a part of a see-saw of attitudes over time? If conservatism is now in shambles politically, does it immediately reflect itself in the societal norms, as in norms of public nudity? Lance Mannion thinks so:
An odd, and probably too self-revealing an aside: the bikini seems to have made a big comeback. I don’t remember seeing so many the past few vacations.
Then Lance points out another thing that changes over time – the age of people, i.e., the age-cohorts present at the beach:
My first thought was that a sizeable cohort of teenagers made the jump from little girls to young women over the winter and so there were just more bikini wearers everywhere I looked. This was unsettling, because I try very hard not to ogle anyone who is not old enough to serve in the United States Senate. Not because I’m so mature or such a gentleman. It’s just too embarrassing to be caught looking at a 16 year old even if she does have the body of a centerfold and is not dressing to disguise the fact.
But there were plenty of their mothers in bikinis to distract me. Now another odd fact. I am ambivalent about the idea of women in their 30s and 40s and up wearing bikinis, no matter how good they look in them. I can’t get over the idea that for older women wearing a bikini is as appropriate as wearing a pinafore and patent leather shoes.
I think that’s cultural conditioning on my part. Too many Beach Boys tunes in my youth plus the fact that one piece bathing suits were the fashion for the last twenty odd years and I learned to appreciate the middle aged female form in a tank suit.
Yup, it is cultural conditioning. One-pieces, in my European eyes are for swimming competitions only. Lance continues:
I’m against men wearing bikinis too. No man of any age, no matter in how good a shape he’s in, should wear a Speedo unless he’s on his high school, college, or Olympic swim team and actually competing at the moment.
I had to buy a non-Speedo when I first arrived in the USA. Back home, boxers were worn only by Gypsies (some kind of ethnic identification symbol?). But then, there’s not that many fat people there…. Again, obviously a cultural difference across space, but I am really interested in the changes over time (as well as between classes) as a possible indicator of ideological/political shifts in the society at large.
People have worn clothes for thousands of years now and shyness is a normal part of every pesrons emotinal make-up. But where does it come from? Certainly not from our naked ancestors, so it must be a culturally induced emotion. If it is a culturally induced emotion, then it is to be expected that it takes different forms and different intensities in different cultures, as well as that it changes over time as other social norm change over time.
One can think of it this way, perhaps: The form and intensity of shyness in any goven society is a result of that society’s social norms and, as such, is the best adapted form and intensity for life and survival in that society. In a society of prudes, it is advantageous to be prudish yourself, and in a society in which nudity is no big deal, it may be counter-adaptive to be too shy about one’s body.
So, in that perspective, whatever the social norm of shyness is at any given place and time is the best. But is it? Here’s Lance again:
Much has been written and said about how the Media’s constant exploitation of a certain standard of female beauty to sell stuff creates anxiety and self-loathing in young women in respect to their bodies. Presented with an impossible ideal, they learn to hate their own looks and long for an alternative self-image that of course they can’t achieve, leading to more anxiety and self-loathing, but which they spend inordinate amounts of time and money on trying to attain anyway.
But I think that there’s another, equally damaging effect.
The constant fetishization and eroticization of female beauty in magazines and on TV teaches many young women to eroticize and fetishize their own bodies.
I don’t think it’s too much to say that they fall in love with their own reflections.
I wouldn’t go as far as blaming the whole Girls Gone Wild phenomenon on a generation of narcissists falling in love with their own reflections. But I do think there are probably more women, young and middle-aged, who learned to admire themselves as objects of desire and who need to have eyes upon them to know they exist. They need the camera’s gaze, not simply the male gaze.
They need to see themselves reflected in order to see their own reflections.
The problem, of course, with falling in love with a body, your own or anyone else’s, that’s 15, 16, 17 years old is that you won’t have it to admire for long. A teenage body, even a 20 year old body, is an unfinished body in the process of finishing itself in a hurry.
Bones keep growing into your thirties, which means that no matter how hard they resist it, through dieting, excercise, and surgery, young women get bigger as they advance towards middle-age.
The result of this for a lot of them is that they get ugly in their own eyes.
I think this explains why so many of the professionally narcissistic—young actressess—have taken to starving themselves. They are trying to maintain the adolescent body shape they fell in love with in the mirror (the mirrors in their bedrooms and the mirrors in magazines and on TV), a body shape they only approximate through an excessive thinness that very few straight men respond to.
So, both Dr.B and Lance are noticing, and certainly not lamenting, that bodies change over time. Lance prefers a more mature form. Dr.B, on the other hand, feels comfortable in her own skin today, but still thinks that her younger self was hotter. An important point of Dr.B’s post is that aging bodies are not as hot as they used to be and that we need to learn to live with that.
Of course, some commenters immediatelly jumped in (on both blogs), pointing out that many young women are not happy with their bodies even when they are young, way before age takes an additional toll. Some may hate themselves for that reason, but many cope differently – by joining Goth, athletic, nerd or art cliques in their schools, for instance, and despising the pretty girls from there. Surrounded by like-minded people, they are now judged not by how hot they are but by how cool they are (or how good at something). While this limits the options, i.e., narrows the potential breeding pool, it is limited in a good way – those who show interest are those who are seeing beyond T&A, thus they deserve reciprocating. The shallow, body-focused guys selected themselves out. It almost makes dating game easier.
It worked for me. I was always extremely skinny as well as geeky (though riding horses, which outside the USA is not considered gay, as well as having a black belt in karate, added some athleticism to my image). Thus, I could never do what my loudmoth, muscular friends did – walk into a bar and find a girl for the night. But I never wanted a girl for the night. So, although I could not date a lot of girls, I dated the good ones – those who knew me well and saw something in me they liked. They were smart girls. The smartest of them all, in the end, got my ring.
And, some of those girls I dated were not ‘hot’ in a conventional sense. Yet, I loved their bodies because they were theirs, not because of some waste-hip ratio or cup-size. An ass attached to an interesting, intelligent woman is a hot ass.
If her opening gambit is “I bet you are a Libra”, the date is, for all purposes, over. It happened to me once. Two most boring hours of my life! In the beginning, being young and horny and hoping to get some of that smoking hot body, I smiled and nodded, but as the day wore on, a diatrabe on fine points of astrology (yes, that is all she talked about for two hours and there was no way I could, no matter how much I tried, to change the topic) gradually changed my perception of her body – thos tits and ass were not so hot any more because they were attached to a silly head. In the end I told her that I did not believe in any of that and that, I am really sorry, but I did not think there was any future in our relationship. She was pissed – she was very openly and aggressively pursuing me for six month prior to that and then she blew it on that one date I agreed to in the end….
So, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you are interested in the mind, the body looks hot. If you are interested in the body, who cares what she is thinking as long as she is keeping her mouth shut! I have posited several times (e.g., here), that the distinction between the two is, roughly, the distinction between – the conservative ideology based on the hierarchical moral order, and liberal ideology based on interactions between equal players (at least one post on this topic is forthcoming this week to clear all this up).
Thus, the angst by a woman about her body is a response to the conservative social norms. She is trying to be pretty in order to attract the conservative guys who are attracted to T&A, not understanding that, once she gets one of them, she is supposed to sit still, be quiet, look pretty for his friends to see, and raise her legs on command – in short, be abused.
And if she, then, bumps into a guy who wants to actually talk to her and is interested in her as a person, she is confused and weirded out. That is not the game she was trained to play. What’s wrong with him, after all? Can’t he pay attention to her cleavage and not ask her to exert herself with all that mental stuff and reveal her general confusion about the world, life and everything else? What did she work so hard on her body for if he is not paying attention and wants to probe her untrained mind instead? That must be initially flattering but ultimately scary!
A middle-aged man has only to pick up a hammer and start banging to fool himself into thinking he’s young, virile, and sexy. A middle-aged woman is still required to stand still and pose.
Yes, she is required to stand still and pose because voicing her opinion is a threat to his masculinity and her beauty is, after all, meant not for him but for his friends in order to raise him in the male social hierarchy. That is what psychiatrists call “placing on a pedestal”.
The top guy is the one who managed to snag the hottest girl. The top girl (and yes, they have hierarchies, too – have you been in high school lately?) is the one who manages to snag the top guy. So, if the “topness” in the hierarchy is defined by the standing in the hierarchy of your partner, who decides who is hot?
Well, the broader societal stereotypes – thin girls with big tits and muscular, rich guys (and the media and business realized that, are using that for profit, and are perpetuating it for future profit).
So, they each try to attain that ideal. Girls get diet pills although they are ineffective and harmful, and pay big money for boob-jobs (and nose-jobs and other stuff needed for absolute perfection). Guys lift weights and wear/drive obvious signs of wealth (Rolex/Ferrarri) even if they have to sell their grandmothers to get them. It’s all about rising in the hierarchy and has nothing to do with aesthetics.
The only way to succeed is to climb up the ladder and the only way to climb the ladder is if you push someone else down. This cruel competitiveness is the essence of conservative ideology, one on which they base everything, from economic ideas, to foreign policy, to environmental policy. Everyone is a competitor and a potential enemy. In order to survive, you have to throw the other guy down. Do it fast. Do it ferociously so others don’t dare challenge you in the future. Be a man if you want to be respected by other men!
It sounds quaint, but that is how they operate. That is why they are all fucked up about gender relationships and about sex. They would not know how to deal with a woman who has an opinion and speaks her mind and refuses to be put down. That is why gays scare them – people who are happy despite opting out of macho competition. Thus, they should be made miserable again.
And they get that way through upbringing, both by their parents and the broader community (read that link for more).
Is that also changing as the society as a whole is slowly loosening the medieval shackles of conservatism? Lance, again, thinks so:
I think that’s changing. As women become more active, not simply in their professional lives, but as they play more sports and exercise more and take on more formerly male-only tasks, like picking up hammers and wrenches, they are beginning to redefine female beauty as an active ideal too.
The female ideal of beauty will become like the male ideal a body in motion.
Dr B probably didn’t intend this response on my part, but I’m sorry, I can’t help myself, and I hope, if she reads this, she won’t mind. The most atttractive aspect of her nude self-portrait is that she describes herself always as a body in motion.
Do you agree? How’s the dating game in liberal areas these days?
Sex Blogging By Men
In response to Dr.Bs call for men to blog about sex more, PZ Myers wrote an excellent response (you will have to find the comment yourself, it is in the first 20-30 or so on Dr.B’s post). After all these years, I am still waiting for the day when I vehemently disagree with anything PZ writes.
But Figleaf goes further:
To be honest I’m not sure why more men don’t blog about sex. Or, more accurately, why more don’t blog non-pornographically about sex.
[click on the link for some steamy prose here]
I *love* writing about that!
But while those sorts of things are probably the most *fun* part of sexuality, it’s not always the most *important* part. Sometimes it’s just as important to talk about the obstacles to sexuality — our conflations of virginity and commodity; our false dichotomy of reproductive penis and imperial phallus which overlooks the cock as the only human organ evolved expressly to caress; and extensive catalogings of good vs. immoral sex acts while stinting again and again the taxonomies of consent, alienation, and commitment.
And while those are the fun parts and the important parts of sexuality it’s *also* important to talk about the *realities* of sexuality. The times — days, sometimes months, weeks, sometimes years — we spend grinding under deadline, under class schedules, under childrearing, under threat of war or poverty or illness or age, where sexuality is honored (if it’s remembered at all) in the breach rather than the commission.
So, for the reasons PZ stated, I do not and will not write erotica on my blog (not even start an anonymous one on another platform). But, many of those other aspects of sex – from science and medicine, to culture and politics – are covered by male bloggers. Off the top of my head – Chris Clarke and Hugo Schwyzer and many more men occasionally. Or Bill, from a completely different angle.
Or this post which, I think, is now finally finished.