10 Jun The bare facts: the nature of nudity in the home
A daughter’s probing questions cause Karen Baumgart to ponder the nature of nudity in the home.
It began with an all-too-tactile query from our two-year-old daughter: “What’s that?” she chirped merrily, making a grab for that part of my husband as he emerged from the shower. Hastily fashioning a terry-towelling shield to protect his manhood, he shot me a look of alarm.
Our daughter, Orli, soon moved on to the more interesting pursuit of painting the bathroom tiles with sunscreen. But, just like that, the seed of doubt was sown. Was I too liberal in my attitude towards nudity? Or – as was certainly more likely – was my beloved husband, quite simply, a bit of a prude?
It’s not that I revel in my own naked form. I’d certainly never dash outside topless to grab a bra from the clothesline. But if I happen to be getting dressed when the phone rings, a nudie run to the lounge room doesn’t really worry me. My husband, dear man that he is, will run after me, pulling the curtains closed to protect my virtue. But really, if someone wants to peer at an ordinary naked body through a window from across the road, surely I’m not the one with the problem. Why is it, then, that my husband thinks I need protection from the peeping Toms of suburbia? Given that he does, indeed, revel in my naked form, his stance on nudity is most likely a half-hearted throwback to the chivalrous notions of yesteryear, rather than a genuine wish to maintain respectability.
If you ask me, respectability is highly overrated. There is such a simple, thrilling sense of rebellion to be found in blurring the edges of modest behaviour. You have only to see a child running, naked and laughing, in the opposite direction of her bath towel, to see this in action. And naked bodies are, inherently, a little bit amusing. Even at the age of one, Orli was fascinated by a replica of the statue of David. Marching solemnly up to his imposing figure, she loudly announced that he was “nudie”, amid peals of laughter from her sister. Why do children find nudity so funny, so hilariously entertaining? Perhaps it’s because everyone around us wears clothes almost all of the time.
My friend Kate’s three-year-old daughter is an enchanting free spirit who has a way with accessories. Often, while catching up over a cuppa, we will be interrupted by Emily’s stagy entrances wearing only a hat or somebody’s high heels. And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Some things, such as wearing nothing but pink shoes and pigtails, can only be enjoyed for a small portion of one’s life.
Irrespective of our girls’ penchant for candy-coloured footwear, it was becoming clear that we needed to establish what type of household we wanted them to grow up in with respect to matters of the flesh. My husband grew up in a home in which people showered on their own. I grew up in a home in which getting dressed was likely to be accompanied by a chat with the other people in the room. And, while our experiences may have been worlds apart, the differences have never really been an issue. They might have been the source of much amusement on both sides certainly, but never a problem needing resolution. And yet, while I might dissolve into laughter at the sight of my husband fending off a toddler with a bath towel, I can understand why he might begin to feel odd about having the occasional shower with our seven-year-old daughter, Arielle. It can’t be much fun to be scrutinised as the only male specimen in a household steeped in X chromosomes. Add to this the fact that his most prized possession now sits precisely at Arielle’s eye level, and I can appreciate his concern.
The funny thing is that both of our girls seem completely unfazed by the matter. Somehow, despite our fractured attempts to model a blend of openness and discretion, they’ve turned out to have a healthy measure of each. Somewhat surprisingly, our eldest daughter has developed an intuitive sense of the contexts in which nudity is fine (post-shower dancing, for example) and those in which it’s not (dinner party with the new neighbours). And somewhere in the fuzzy area between those parameters, she and her little sister are working out what suits them as individuals.
All of which just goes to show that sometimes, despite a rather alarming lack of clear direction from their parents, children can navigate through life perfectly well.
And they might choose to look closely at the more interesting bits along the way.
Illustrations by Louise Grant