Thursday, February 25, 2010

Psychology and the Shock of Nudity

"What do you say to a naked lady?" It's an entertaining old video, but it's also a very good question for naturists to analyze. More specifically, how the answers are different between naturists and textiles. The first step to effectively educating textiles about naturism is to understand how they think about it.

With that in mind, a unique chain of events unfolded a few weeks ago.
  • My girlfriend came home in the morning and went to bed (naked).
  • Very rarely does it happen that she forgets to lock the door.
  • The weather turned bad during the day.
  • Carol (not her real name - I'm using standard names again), who is a typical sweet motherly type in her 40's, left work and decided to stay at our place to avoid the slippery drive to her rural home and back the next morning.
  • My girlfriend rolls out of bed and visits the restroom.
  • Carol does a quick knock at the door and then walks in.
  • My girlfriend says "hi honey!" thinking it's me, opens the door to walk out, and gives Carol a full frontal. She then says "oh hi!" and smiles on her way to the bedroom to put some clothes on.

The part that confuses me is that Carol felt really bad for catching my girlfriend in the nude. My girlfriend repeatedly said she didn't care at all about it, and we told Carol that we're naturists anyway so it's no big deal to us.

Carol is completely fine with us being naturists and all, and asked a whole bunch of questions about naturism. We told stories, and she thought it was neat and was happy for us but would never consider it herself. (The usual story...) Despite all this, she still felt extremely bad about catching my girlfriend naked! She kept saying she was sorry about it, even when she left the next morning.

This is how I believe the chain goes, when a textile (Alice) catches another textile (Bob) in the nude:
  • Alice sees a naked body, and is a bit surprised but realizes that naked bodies do exist and are generally harmless.
  • Bob is completely embarrassed: Body shame, bad luck of being naked at that moment, feeling vulnerable, whatever. Bob's life is changed forever, or so it seems.
  • Alice feels guilty for embarrassing Bob, conveys that she's very sorry. Both pretend that it never happened, and both feel bad about it in separate ways.

Naturists have a different attitude in the second step: You've seen me naked? Good! That means I don't have to get dressed next time you come over...if that's OK?

Since the middle step is different, the final step should never happen. Why should Alice feel bad about seeing Bob naked, if Bob didn't care at all about it? Alice is not guilty of embarrassing Bob.

Next time Carol is over (assuming we get bad weather again), I'd like to investigate this further. Why, to this day, does she still feel bad about it? What other forces are at work? Does she feel bad simply because she's supposed to based on other experiences with textiles? I thought I addressed that in our evening of chatting, but apparently not.

A similar thing can be said about meeting a hunter while freehiking, and the GoTopless protest. The hunter avoided looking in our direction and seemed shy, as-if our nudity is some sort of blinding light. Carol did too after the initial sight. A majority of people at Chicago avoided looking at us as well, but we weren't naked and most probably ignore all protest groups. (Others, in all fairness, seemed to think this was the only time in their lives that they would see a breast and cherished it for all it was worth.)

Getting textiles to not feel guilty about seeing nudity would be a good step for general acceptance. If we can better understand the problem, or what leads up to the problem, then we have a better chance of correcting it early.

Maybe we're wrong about how we notify others? The signs at Haulover warn "ATTENTION - BEYOND THIS POINT YOU MAY ENCOUNTER NUDE BATHERS" Perhaps the right approach is something like "There's friendly naked people beyond this sign, and we won't mind if you stop over and chat with us!"


Brain said...

I definitely agree with your suggestion regarding signage. The "ATTENTION..." sign comes across as a warning, implying that the thing on the other side is somehow bad. The simple rephrasing you suggest could make a tremendous difference in public perception of nudism.

Anonymous said...

The "shock" and embarrassment non-naturist show upon seeing a nude person I believe is based on two things:

1. Intention: the surprised person does not know the intentions of the nude person. This is especially true for nude males. For example, if someone ran into a naked man on a trail they might think he's a pervert out to attack them. But the naked man was only out on hike and had no intentions of harming anyone. Society has engrained into us that nudity is tied to sexuality, thus the naked person wants sex. An example of this are flashers who expose themselves for sexual gratification.

2. Society has engrained into us that nudity is a bad thing. Something to be avoided, or hidden. Being nude is embarrassment. We're taught to look away.

Rick said...

Interesting topic. I've never particularly like the term "caught nude" as it implies the nude person is doing something he/she shouldn't which with us, simply isn't the case. Still, a phrase like "unexpectedly discovered nude" is cumbersome. That's just my opinion.

I like the point on signage. A WARNING sign gives the message that there's something ahead that may be dangerous or that care should be taken.

I agree that a lot of non-nudists, due to social conditioning, associate nudity with sexual activity and have body issues such as shame and embarrassment due to that conditioning. We need to help them unlearn it.

I may need to change the sign on the door to my "man cave". It currently says,"This is a clothing optional room. Beyond this point you may encounter a naked person." Maybe is should read "... a friendly, nude person who is comfortable in his own skin" or something similar.

Anonymous said...

We live on a small secluded acreage so I am usually nude weather and circumstance permitting. I have been "caught in the nude" a few times. At first I was a little uncomfortable not so much for myself but for the visitor because I had put them in an awkward position. Now I just act more casually and it seems less awkward for everyone. Friends and neighbours know to phone first before coming over if the don't want to see me in the nude.

Hank said...

Always mention the World Naked Bike Ride when you're caught in the nude. Everybody under 80 knows about it. If it's on TV, it must be OK, right?

WNBR also proves nudists are not flashers.

John Purbrick said...

As I've heard the story, those "Beyond this point" signs were composed to avoid the word "Caution". It's hard to come up with something that would be totally neutral, not inviting people to be shocked (Shocked!) or offering voyeurs a thrill.

As for Carol, I'd just ask her to drop the subject. Say, "It seems like a big deal if nudity is a big deal for you. But for us, it's not." Maybe she'd get the idea that it might not need to be such a big deal for her, either.

This is a very difficult concept for conventionally-minded people to grasp, that naturists are neither exhibitionists nor shy. With so much emotion attached to nudity (as threat, as source of automatic embarrassment etc) it's very hard to overcome people's instincts. We just have to keep saying--"It's no big deal."

Where we can get away with it, I'm convinced public demonstrations do help, though it doesn't mean much if it seems like "Hey look at us, we're naked". It has to be a kind of anti-demonstration, as in "Hey don't look at us, we're not doing anything interesting."