Nudity or nakedness is the state of wearing no clothing. The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic. The amount of clothing worn depends on functional considerations (such as a need for warmth or protection from the elements) and social considerations. In some situations the minimum amount of clothing or no clothing at all may be socially acceptable, while in others much more clothing is expected.
Origin of clothing
Modern humans are the only survivors of several species of naked apes who may have worn clothes, according to DNA studies of clothing lice. This study suggests that clothing may have been worn as long as 650 thousand years ago.
Personal attitudes to nudity
People, as individuals and in groups, have varying attitudes towards their own nudity and the nudity of others. Some people are relaxed about appearing less than fully clothed in front of others, while others are uncomfortable or inhibited in that regard. Many people are uncomfortable or inhibited when others can see their sexual arousal. People are nude in a variety of situations, and whether they are prepared to disrobe in front of others depends on the social context in which the issue arises. For example, people need to bathe without clothing, some people also sleep in the nude, some prefer to sunbathe in the nude or at least topless. Many people are prepared to disrobe for a medical examination, while others are nude in other situations. Some people adopt nudism as a lifestyle.
Though the wearing of clothes is the social norm in most cultures, some cultures, groups and individuals are more relaxed about nudity, though attitudes often depend on context. On the other hand, some people feel uncomfortable in the presence of any nudity, and the presence of a nude person in a public place can give rise to controversy, irrespective of the attitude of the person who is nude. Many people have strong views on nudity, which to them can involve issues and standards of modesty, decency and morality. Some people have a psychological aversion to nudity, called gymnophobia. Many people regard nudity to be inherently sexual and erotic.
An individual's personal attitudes to modesty have an impact on their attitudes to their own nudity as well as that of others. Some people regard any display of bare skin as erotic or offensive, while others are more relaxed about nudity. The attitudes to nudity are strongly dependent on the context in which it takes place, so that what may be considered inappropriate in one context (e.g. on a public street) may be acceptable in another context (e.g. in the home). These are individual subjective standards. Even personal standards take into account exceptional situations, when standards are waived or qualified, as in the case of medical examinations.
Public facilities generally reflect generally accepted community standards of dress. The same applies to public toilets, changing rooms, etc., where some degree of disrobing must take place. In those situations, gender-specific facilities are usually provided so as to reduce embarrassment of users of these facilities to predictable levels. Some countries allow non-gender-specific open space changing rooms with individual cubicles or stalls, and in some cultures communal showering, non-segregated saunas and other bathing facilities are also accepted. In some cultures and for some individuals, nudity even in segregated areas may be considered inappropriate and embarrassing.
Nudity (sex-related or not) is also to be found in visual arts (see also art nude, nude photography, nudity in film), on the Internet and in performing arts. It is a factor in adult entertainment of various types.
Full nudity refers to complete nudity, while partial nudity refers to less than full nudity, with parts of the body covered in some manner. The term partial nudity is sometimes used to refer to exposure of skin beyond what the person using the expression considers to be within the limits of modesty. If the exposure is within the standards of modesty of a given culture and setting (e.g. wearing a bikini at a non-nude beach), terms such as nudity, partial or otherwise, are not normally used. If however, the degree of exposure exceeds the cultural norms of the setting, or if the activity or setting includes nudity as an understood part of its function, such as a nude beach, terminology relating to nudity and degrees thereof are typically used. Toplessness is regarded by most people as partial nudity.
Full frontal nudity describes a state of full nudity with the subject facing forward with the whole front of the body exposed, including intimate parts such as a man's penis or woman's vulva. Partial frontal nudity typically only refers to the exposure of the breasts. Non-frontal nudity describes nudity where the whole back side of the body, including the buttocks, is exposed, or a side-view from any other direction.
A society's attitude to public nudity varies depending on the culture, time, location and context of an activity. There are many exceptions and particular circumstances in which nudity is tolerated, accepted or even encouraged in public spaces. Such examples would include a nude beach, within some intentional communities (such as naturist resorts or clubs) and at special events.
In general and across cultures, evidence of sexual arousal are commonly covered and those parts of the human body that can display arousal are also normally covered. Sex organs and often women's breasts are covered, even when other parts of the body may be freely uncovered. Yet the nudity taboo may have meanings deeper than the immediate possibility of sexual arousal, for example, in the cumulative weight of tradition and habit. Clothing also expresses and symbolizes authority, and more general norms and values besides those of a sexual nature.
While some European countries such as Germany are rather tolerant about public nudity, in many countries public nudity may meet social disapproval or even constitute a misdemeanor of indecent exposure. In 2012, the city council of San Francisco proposed a ban on public nudity in the inner city area. This was met by harsh resistance since the city is usually known for its liberal culture. Similarly, park rangers began filing tickets against nudists at San Onofre State Beach in 2010, also a place with long tradition of public nudity.
Some people take part in non-sexual public nude events. These may be in a naturist resort or club or at a nude beach. Outdoor nude recreation can take place in private or rural areas, though generally limited to warm weather.
Others practice casual public nudity. Topfree sunbathing is considered acceptable by many on the beaches of Finland, France, Spain, Italy and most of the rest of Europe (and even in some outdoor swimming pools); however, exposure of the genitals is restricted to nudist areas in most regions. In the United States, topfree sunbathing and wearing thongs are not common in many areas, but are limited to nude beaches in various locations. It is normally acceptable for men in the U.S. to be barechested or shirtless when engaged in outdoor recreational activities.
Where the social acceptability of nudity in certain places may be well understood, the legal position is often less clear cut. In England, for example, the law does not actually prohibit simple public nudity, but does forbid indecent exposure. In practice, this means that successful prosecution hangs on whether there is a demonstrable intention to shock others, rather than simply a desire to be nude in a public place. Specifically, using nudity to "harass, alarm or distress" others is an offence against the Public Order Act of 1986. Occasional attempts to prove this point by walking naked around the country therefore often result in periods of arrest, followed by release without charge, and inconsistencies in the approach between different police jurisdictions. Differences in the law between England and Scotland appear to make the position harder for naked ramblers once they reach Scotland.
Means of attracting attention
Nudity is at times used to draw attention to a cause, with the participants desiring to remain anonymous. Public nude events are at times staged as a forum for usually unrelated messages, such as clothing-optional bike rides. At times, the cause is merely a personal justification for taking part in a nude event, which are popular in their own right. Many nude calendars are produced each year featuring naked men or women. Some of these are produced to raise money for charities or other causes. Nudity, like sexuality, is also used to draw attention for a commercial purpose, such as for promotion or advertising.
||The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2011)|
Nudity in an entirely private context is more common but varies. It depends on whether a person is alone, and if not the nature of a relationship of those who jointly occupy the same private space. Besides the nature of a relationship, it will also depend on the level of inhibition that each person has, as well as the level of privacy to which that peron or couple can be assured - for example, some parts of the home may be seen from the outside or there may be a possibility of others walking in. The expectation of privacy may be confined to the home and sometimes the backyard. Inside the home, it may be restricted to the bedroom or just the bathroom. In the case of nudity in front of those who do not normally occupy the same private space, that will usually depend on whether the outsider is comfortable with the nudity and whether the nudity is reciprocated, as in the case of social nudism.
There are differences of opinion as to whether, and if so to what extent, parents should appear naked in front of their children. Gordon and Schroeder report that parental nudity varies considerably from family to family. They say that "there is nothing inherently wrong with bathing with children or otherwise appearing naked in front of them", noting that doing so may provide an opportunity for parents to provide important information. They note that by ages five to six, children begin to develop a sense of modesty, and recommend to parents who wish to be sensitive to their children's wishes that they limit such activities from that age onwards.
Bonner recommends against nudity in the home if children exhibit sexual play of a type that is considered problematic.
A U.S. study by Alfred Kinsey found that 75% of the participants stated that there was never nudity in the home when they were growing up, 5% of the participants said that there was "seldom" nudity in the home, 3% said "often", and 17% said that it was "usual". The study found that there was no significant difference between what was reported by men and by women with respect to frequency of nudity in the home.
In a 1995 review of the literature, Paul Okami concluded that there was no reliable evidence linking exposure to parental nudity to any negative effect. Three years later, his team finished an 18-year longitudinal study that showed that, if anything, such exposure was associated with slight beneficial effects, particularly for boys.
Children seeing nudity
Attitudes toward children seeing nude people vary substantially, depending on the child's culture, age and the context of the nudity (see also the section Home above).
Television and radio regulations in many countries require broadcasters to avoid transmitting images or language considered inappropriate for children from 5:30 am to 9 pm (the so-called "watershed"). In the United Kingdom, the Broadcasting Code states, "Nudity before the watershed must be justified by the context." In the U.S., the safe harbor rule forbids depictions of nudity between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm. Violators may be subject to civil legal action and sanctions if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines the broadcaster did not meet its standards of "decency". "Material is indecent if, in context, it depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."
Attitudes to nudity vary substantially throughout Europe. Male and female nudity in Scandinavia is not uncommon. The region has a very open attitude about nudity, although it strictly prohibits children's access to pornography.
Another issue has been the nudity of children in front of other children.
In continental Europe, students tend to shower communally after physical education classes, separated by gender. Fathers taking their young daughters or mothers taking their young sons into the gender-separated changing rooms is mostly viewed as non-controversial, although some public baths have introduced family changing rooms. Some private gymnasiums have instituted rules specifically banning family members of opposite genders taking their children into single-sex locker rooms.
In the U.S. and some of the English-speaking majority of Canada, students at public schools have historically been required to shower communally with classmates of the same sex after physical education classes. In the U.S., public objections and the threat of lawsuits have resulted in a number of school districts in recent years changing policy to make showers optional. Private boarding schools and military academies in the U.S. often have communal showers, since the focus there is on 24-hours-a-day education and rooming, rather than just acting as day schools. Students in these establishments need places to clean themselves daily. A court case in Colorado noted that students have a reduced expectation of personal privacy in regards to "communal undress" while showering after physical education classes. According to an interview with a middle school principal, most objections to showering at school that he had heard were actually from the students' parents rather than from the students.
Children and naturism
Children who are within a naturist home will usually also be naked, together with their family, and may see non-family members in the nude.
Depictions of child nudity
Depictions of child nudity or children with nude adults appear in works of art in various cultures and historical periods. These attitudes have changed over time and have become increasingly frowned upon particularly in recent years, especially in the case of photography. In recent years, there have been a few incidents in which snapshots taken by parents of their infant or toddler children bathing or otherwise naked were challenged as child pornography.
In May 2008, police in Sydney, Australia, raided an exhibition by the photographer Bill Henson featuring images of naked children on allegations of child pornography. Comparable artworks by Henson had been exhibited without incident since 1975, perhaps indicating that this sensitivity has heightened in recent years.
In June 2008, it was reported in The Age that police would have no basis to prosecute Henson over his photographs of naked teenagers, after they were declared "mild and justified" and given a PG rating by the Australian Classification Board, suggesting viewing by children under the age of 16 is suitable with parental guidance. Out of protest, the Art Monthly Australia magazine published an image of the 6-year-old Olympia Nelson taken by her mother, Polixeni Papapetrou. According to the then-11-year-old Olympia, she did not believe the photograph amounted to abuse and was upset with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's remark that he hated it. Olympia's father, art critic Professor Robert Nelson, defended it, saying: "It has nothing to do with pedophilia. The connection between artistic pictures and pedophilia cannot be made and there is no evidence for it."
Mainstream art generally reflects – with some exceptions – social standards of aesthetics and morality of a society at various periods of time. Beyond mainstream standards, artistic expression may be merely tolerated, or be considered as fringe. Since prehistoric time, humans, both male and female, have been depicted in all states of dress, including all states of undress. Nudity in all styles has been and continues to be found in art. Nudity is also a subject of many literary works and in film. All professionally-produced works of art use stylised compositions to depict the nude body. This also applies to cinema, where even nude scenes are staged and rehearsed.
The erotic aspect of nudity in the arts has been an important factor in its attraction, and has come to be associated with certain states and emotions, such as innocence, playfulness, vulnerability, etc. Pornography does not necessarily involve a naked person, but it involves sexualized scenes, and usually it does not claim to have any artistic merit.
The visual arts were at times the only means available to the general public to view a nude body. Today, the opportunities available for the viewing of the nude body are very wide, and these include magazines, television, films, and the Internet.
Personal privacy issues
Unlike arts in general, which traditionally relied on composed works and professional artists, the invention of photography and then the video camera has opened the art of capturing images of people and of scenes at a relatively low cost to the true amateur. Furthermore, a person could now capture images in both public and private situations. A feature of most of these private photographs and videos is that they are not intended for viewing outside of a very limited range of people, and seldom if ever by the general public.
Vernacular photography, which included nude photography and which previously has been produced for personal enjoyment, is increasingly being more widely disseminated by the medium of the Internet, at times without the knowledge and consent of the subject of the photograph, and to their subsequent embarrassment. Also, the use of secret photography to capture images of an unsuspecting person (undressed or not, and whether for personal use, or intended for posting on the Internet) creates additional personal privacy issues.
Full body scanner
A full-body scanner is a device that creates an image of a person's nude body through their clothing to look for hidden objects without physically removing their clothes or making physical contact. They are increasingly being deployed at airports and train stations in many countries.
One technology used under the name "full-body scanner" is the millimeter wave scanner, the active form of which reflects extremely high frequency radio waves off the body to make an image on which one can see some types of objects hidden under the clothes. Passive millimeter wave screening devices rely on only the raw energy that is naturally emitted from the human body or objects concealed on the body; passive devices do not transmit millimeter waves. Another technology in use is the backscatter X-ray.
Functional nudity for a short time, such as when changing clothes on a beach, is sometimes acceptable, while staying nude on the beach generally is not. On nude beaches it is acceptable to be nude.
Breastfeeding in public is forbidden in some jurisdictions, not legislated for in others, and a legal right in public and the workplace in yet others. Where it is a legal right, some mothers may be reluctant to breastfeed, and some people may object to the practice.
Toplessness and "topfreedom"
In some cultures, toplessness is regarded as partial nudity, and the exposure of breasts or nipples may be regarded as indecent exposure However, in many western societies and in appropriate settings, such as while suntanning, toplessness is not, of itself, normally regarded as indecent. In the United States, however, exposure of female nipples is a criminal offense in many states and not usually allowed in public (see Public indecency), while in the United Kingdom, nudity may not be used to "harass, alarm or distress" according to the Public Order Act of 1986. Different standards apply to art, with one example being the dome of the US Capitol featuring a fresco depicting goddesses with their breasts exposed.
Prosecutions of cases has given raise to a movement advocating "topfreedom", promoting equal rights for women to have no clothing above the waist, on the same basis that would apply to men in the same circumstances. The term "topfree" rather than "topless" is advocated to avoid the latter term's perceived sexual connotations.
Naturism (or nudism) is a cultural and political movement practising, advocating and defending private and public nudity. It is also a lifestyle based on personal, family and/or social preference.
Naturists reject contemporary standards of modesty which discourage personal, family and social nudity, and seek to create a social environment where people feel comfortable in the company of nude people, and being seen nude, either just by other naturists, or also by the general public.
The trend in some European countries (for instance Germany, Finland and the Netherlands) is to allow both genders to bathe together naked. Many German spas allow mixed nude bathing. For example the Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden has designated times when mixed nude bathing is permitted. There may be some older German bathhouses, such as Bad Burg, which remain segregated by gender, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Most German (not to mention French, Spanish and Greek) beaches and swimming pools offer FKK (clothing-optional) areas. In general, continental Europeans have a more relaxed attitude about nudity than is seen in the British-influenced world. Some have attributed this difference to the influence of Queen Victoria's husband Albert, who was raised in a very restricting religious sect (see Victorian morality).
The sauna, originating from Finland, is attended nude in its source country as well as in most Scandinavian and in the German-speaking countries of Europe. This is true even when a swimsuit must be worn in the swimming pool area of the same complex. Saunas are very common in modern Finland, where there is one sauna for every three people and became very popular in the remainder of Europe in recent decades. Gender segregation is more the exception than the rule in modern European sauna facilities.
Nudity in front of a sexual partner is widely accepted, but not in all cases. For example, some partners insist on nudity only at the time and place of sex, or with subdued lighting; during bathing with the partner or afterward; covered by a sheet or blanket, or while sleeping.
Attitudes in Western cultures are not all the same as explained above, and likewise attitudes in non-Western cultures are many and variant. In almost all cultures, acceptability of nudity depends on the situation.
Cultural and/or religious traditions usually dictate what is proper and what is not socially acceptable. Many non-Western cultures allow women to breastfeed in public, while some have very strict laws about showing any bare skin.
The curse of nakedness
In Africa, woman have used stripping naked on purpose as a curse, both historically, and in modern times. The idea is that women give life and they can take it away. The curse initiates an extreme form of ostracism, which anthropologist Terisa Turner has likened to "social execution". The curse extends to foreign men as well, and is believed to cause impotence, madness or other similar harm. The threat has been used successfully in mass protests against the petroleum industry in Nigeria, by Leymah Gbowee during the Second Liberian Civil War, and against President Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast.
Clothing and nudity
Different traditions exist among, for example, sub-Saharan Africans, partly persisting in the post-colonial era. Whereas it is the norm among some ethnic and family groups including some Burkinabese and Nilo-Saharan (e.g. Nuba and Surma people) in daily life or on particular occasions not to wear any clothes or without any covering below the waist – for example, at highly-attended stick-fighting tournaments well-exposed young men use the occasion to catch the eye of a prospective bride.
In modern Liberia, soldiers under General "Butt Naked" Joshua Blahyi fought naked in order to terrorize their opponents. Nude except for lace-up leather shoes and a gun, the general led his fierce Butt Naked Battalion into battle on behalf of the warlord Roosevelt Johnson, who hired the unclothed warriors for their fearlessness and fighting skills.
In Brazil, the Yawalapiti, an indigenous Xingu tribe in the Amazon Basin, practice a funeral ritual known as Quarup, to celebrate life, death and rebirth, and also involves the presentation of all young girls who have begun menstruating since the last Quarup and whose time has come to choose a partner.
In Japan, public baths are very common. Bathing nude with family members or friends of the same (or sometimes opposite) gender in public bath houses, saunas, or natural hot springs (Onsen) is popular. In Korea, public baths (Jjimjilbang) are also widespread and communal nude bathing is normal, although nudity is not permitted in unisex areas. In the south Asian region, public nudity is totally restricted.
Nudity is considered shamelessness in the conservative society of India. Some of the conservative people with extreme religious views also consider bathing in nudity as an insult to the water goddess. Hence, nudity in the view of orthodox society is considered a sin.
It is not clear when humans started wearing clothes. Anthropologists postulate the adaptation of animal skins and vegetation into coverings to protect the wearer from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates; alternatively, covering may have been invented first for other purposes, such as magic, decoration, cult, or prestige, and later found to be practical as well. For men and women, public nudity was at least permissible in ancient Sparta, and customary at festivals.
In some hunter-gatherer cultures in warm climates, near-complete nudity has been, until the introduction of Western culture, or still is, standard practice for both men and women. In some African and Melanesian cultures, men going completely naked except for a string tied about the waist are considered properly dressed for hunting and other traditional group activities. In a number of tribes in the South Pacific island of New Guinea, the men use hard gourdlike pods as penis sheaths. Yet a man without this "covering" could be considered to be in an embarrassing state of nakedness. Among the Chumash peopled of southern California, men were usually naked, and women were often topless. Native Americans of the Amazon Basin usually went nude or nearly nude; in many native tribes, the only clothing worn was some device worn by men to clamp the foreskin shut. However, other similar cultures have had different standards. For example, other native North Americans avoided total nudity, and the Native Americans of the mountains and west of South America, such as the Quechuas, kept quite covered.
In 1498, at Trinity Island, Trinidad, Christopher Columbus found the women entirely naked, whereas the men wore a light girdle called guayaco. At the same epoch, on the Para Coast of Brazil, the girls were distinguished from the married women by their absolute nudity. The same absence of costume was observed among the Chaymas of Cumaná, Venezuela, and Du Chaillu noticed the same among the Achiras in Gabon.
Nudity (full or partial) can be part of a corporal punishment or as an imposed humiliation, especially when administered in public. In fact, torture manuals have distinguished between the male and female psychological aversion to self-exposure versus being disrobed.
In 2003, Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad gained international notoriety for accounts of torture and abuses by members of the United States Army Reserve during the post-invasion period. Photographic images were circulated that exposed the posing of prisoners naked, sometimes bound, and being intimidated and otherwise humiliated, resulting in widespread condemnation of the abuse.
A religious sect known as Naga sadhu (monk) can be seen nude. These sadhus usually remain naked or some wear a loin-cloth around their waist and ashes smeared over their body. They usually remain in their Akhara (group, also means a wrestling arena) or deep forest and come out in public only during the Kumbha Mela festival. They have a very long history and are warrior monks, who usually also carry a talwar (sword), trishul (trident), bhala (javelin) or such weapons, and in mediaeval times have fought many wars to protect Hindu temples and shrines.
Similarly, the Aghori, followers of mystic tantric rituals and who usually stay in isolated place or cremation grounds, can be found naked. But they do not appear in public nor do the general public go to meet them. Sightings of Aghori in public places is very rare.
In Jainism, there is a major sect of Digambar Jain, whose monks remain naked. The people of this sect keep their god naked. Though the Shwetambar is the another major sect of this religion who have opposite views to the Digambars. The Shwetambar monks always cover their whole body and keep their god in clothes.
In Judaism, a person who enters a ritual bath (a mikveh) does so without clothing. This includes jewelry and even bandages.
In the early Christian Church, nudity was considered acceptable in some contexts such as working outdoors. For example, the Gospel of John (21:7 King James Version) describes Simon Peter being naked ("for he was naked") while fishing from a boat, but then dresses in order to meet Christ.
The first recorded liturgy of baptism, written down by St. Hippolytus of Rome in his 'Apostolic Tradition', required the removal of all clothing for both men and women, including all foreign objects such as jewellery and hair fastenings. This practice is reflected in early Christian art depicting baptism.
When artistic endeavors revived following the Renaissance, the Catholic Church was a major sponsor of art bearing a religious theme, many of which included subjects in various states of dress and including full nudity. Painters sponsored by the Church included Raphael, Caravaggio and Michelangelo, but there were many others. Many of these paintings and statues were and continue to be displayed in churches, some of which were painted as murals, the most famous of which are at the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.
In Islam, the area of the body not meant to be exposed in public is called the awrah, and while referred to in the Qur'an, is addressed in more detail in hadith. In the Sunni tradition, the male awrah is from the navel to knees. Other denominations have differing interpretations. For women, there are different classifications of awrah. In public, many Muslim women wear the hijab and long dresses which covers most of their head and body, with only specific body parts such as hands and face allowed to show. But in front of direct family (parents, children, siblings), the awrah is relaxed further, allowing them to uncover, except between the chest and the thighs. Sharia law in some Islamic countries requires women to observe purdah, covering their entire bodies, including the face (see niqab and burqa), However, the degrees of covering vary according to local custom and/or interpretation of Sharia law.
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- Rouche, Michel, "Private life conquers state and society," in A History of Private Life vol I, Paul Veyne, editor, Harvard University Press 1987 ISBN 0-674-39974-9
- Storey, Mark Social Nudity, Sexual Attraction, and Respect Nude & Natural magazine, 24.3 Spring 2005.
- Storey, Mark Children, Social Nudity and Academic Research Nude & Natural magazine, 23.4 Summer 2004.
- Dennis Craig Smith, The Naked Child: The Long-Range Effects of Family and Social Nudity Palo Alto: R & E Research Associates (1981) ISBN 978-0-86548-056-8
- Dennis Craig Smith, Growing Up Without Shame, Elysium Growth Press, book, 1986
- Smith, Dennis Craig, Naked Fear, Ultraviolet Press, 2010
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- Quotations related to Nudity at Wikiquote
- 20th century nude in the "History of Art"
- Nudity in Ancient to Modern Cultures by Aileen Goodson (This chapter excerpt is from Aileen Goodson's Therapy, Nudity & Joy)