By Heather Schultz
When I was a little girl, I loved to be naked — and didn’t we all?
My mother likes to recount tales of little Heather quietly slipping away unnoticed only to emerge minutes later, completely nude but for a dusting of baby powder.
In college, I lived in an all-girls’ dorm and my room was adjacent to the bathroom. There were rarely any guys on our hall. I admit with a tinge of pride that on warmer days when I didn’t feel like dealing with my bathrobe, I sometimes took a quick peek both ways and streaked to the dormitory showers.
I have spent enough time in the women’s locker room at the gym to know that I am not alone. In that setting nearly everyone is comfortable naked, or at least willing to bare all briefly. I prefer how I look naked.
I didn’t think twice when, three years ago, I entered the Sholem Aquatic Center’s women’s locker room, stripped off my chlorine-soaked swimsuit and showered. I stripped my 3-year-old daughter, Annie, down to her “bare nothings” (as my mom would say), as well. No big deal.
A few weeks later my girlfriend Liza and I went to see “Sex and the City” and I found myself surprisingly uncomfortable with the nudity in the movie.
We were in a darkened room full of strangers, all women. Yet even though these were professional actors who are highly paid to bare everything, seeing their nude frames on the big screen felt like an invasion of their privacy.
Liza revealed that she is not at all comfortable being naked, even in the women’s locker room. She said that she would never take her swimsuit off at Sholem, and that if she did she would hide behind the curtained showers.
I thought back to the day I had seen Kim, with whom I sing in church choir, in the Sholem locker room. Annie and I were taking our usual shower after swimming, both in the buff. When I said goodbye to my friend from church, she averted her eyes. I suddenly felt a little guilty for feeling so free. Had I been inappropriate?
The very next day, keeping my own suit on while showering Annie naked, a little girl approached us. “She can’t be naked in here,” the 5-year-old informed me. “It’s the rule. She’s showing her privates.”
I thanked the little girl but ignored her chiding. Against the rules to be naked in a women’s locker room? Surely not. Of course, Annie is just a little girl. But what about the people who would see her nude? Am I putting my daughter in some sort of danger by letting her shower naked?
Recently I received a call from my brother Jeremy who was preparing to officiate his best friends’ wedding later that summer. Jeremy wanted me to proof-read his wedding speech. I reached for my copy of Mike Mason’s book, “The Mystery of Marriage.” As I flipped through the pages looking for additional insights to offer my brother, I came across this passage:
“It is not primarily because we get cold or wet that we must cover ourselves up. It was not forty below or blowing snow in Paradise! No, we dress because we sin, and even the finest clothing is like the striped suit of a jailbird, a sign and a reminder that man is an unholy fugitive, in hiding from God and from his own fellows. Whether it be in a nudist colony, at an orgy, in primitive society, or in the nursery, public nudity is only possible for those unconscious or aggressively heedless of their sinfulness. Only the godless and the immature go naked.”
Is my comfort in my own naked skin an indication that I am too comfortable with my flesh? Or is it something much more pure than that? Is it possible I have learned to separate my sexuality and my flesh, in a literal sense?
Modesty is a virtue I would like to instill in my daughter for her own protection. But I also want her to accept herself enough that she feels no shame whatsoever about how she is created and how she develops over time.
I do realize that accepting one’s naked body and displaying it are two different things. I do not go out of my way to show myself nude to others. Nor do I go to great lengths to hide my body in contexts that I deem appropriate.
For now, I will keep my swimsuit on in Sholem’s locker room, only because I have noticed that there are some mothers who cannot help but take their young sons through the ladies’ room.
I would prefer, however, to wrestle with matters related to the flesh on a spiritual level, and not become overwrought with questions regarding the shell that houses me. I’m thankful for my healthy body and for the strength of mind to recognize it as something not shameful but powerful and lovely.