Thursday, September 2, 2010

In the nuddy

Yesterday Gruen Transfer discussed the marketing of shaving apparatuses in its usual insightful/light-hearted manner. All seemed to go along expected lines until regular panelist Rusself Howcroft mentioned that many 20-year-old men had never seen women with pubic hair, "except their mothers". Cue stunned giggling, clapping, and an awkward "what are you saying, Russell"? About an hour ago @GruenHQ tweeted "If you were stopped dead by the line about mothers and pubic hair, consider the fact that Russel's mum was actually in the studio audience."

Is it really that controversial to suggest someone might have seen their parents naked?  Honestly.

This is maybe the biggest culture gap I've noticed in my time in Australia: here, nudity almost invariably equals sex, so if nudity somehow involves children - as the naked ones or, as in this case, as the ones observing nudity - then we're in outright weirdo territory. In Finland, where saunas are a way of life, you just see naked people as a matter of course. Your parents, your siblings, your friends, your colleagues. Nudity is, or can be, social. The great equaliser, even.

You may remember the Bill Henson controversy a couple of years ago. The photographer's work was pulled from an exhibition and widely condemned for showing naked children. Even the Prime Minister saw it fit to declare the images "absolutely revolting" (had he actually seen them? I can't remember), but eventually the photos were "given a PG rating by the Australian Classification Board, suggesting viewing by children under the age of 16 is suitable with parental guidance." So that's how utterly disgusting they were. I haven't seen the offending pictures - some Henson work is available online, but everyone is at least slightly clothed, and I am not game to specifically google for naked teenagers - but given that didn't stop many people condemning them then, it shouldn't stop me now, telling Australia to relax, sunshine.

People are naked. That's the one thing we all have in common. Is it any wonder people develop body image issues if we get all jittery and creeped out by something that should be so utterly banal?


  1. I was listening to Hack on triple J the other night, and it made me think of this post. They were discussing women's insecurities about how they they looked 'down there' as they put it. (They also kept saying that women were insecure about how their vaginas looked, which seemed unlikely. Vulvas, maybe.) They were saying that as many women never really see other women naked in real life, the only images they have to go by are those from pornography, where the women are likely to be plucked/shaved/waxed/bleached and even surgically altered. And the fact that these images are also many men's first encounters with the naked female form doesn't help matters. (One well-intentioned man rang in to say that he always tried to reassure women that they were fine, but that he did think 'corrective' surgery had it's place. Urgh.) None of this is particularly startling, I know. But it did make me think that (as you suggest) perhaps if we did have a more relaxed, social attitude to nudity, rather than such a fetishistic one, then we wouldn't have to invest so much energy in worrying about these things.

  2. Oh, that noble man, spreading the 'love thy ladypart'-message as far as he can!

    You do wonder how to make sure our little wee ones grow up to have a healthy respect for their own bodies and those of others, when - well-intentioned though we are - we have no real idea of what we're doing and society at large isn't really helping...

  3. It's a tricky one. I just read an extract from one of those 'how parenting changed my life' books, where the parents had tried their best to be confident and unembarrassed about bodies, bodily functions, names etc. This worked well - so well, in fact, that their 3 year old daughter spent a year telling anyone who would listen that she was having "vagina issues."

  4. Vagina issues? That's hilarious! I wish I had the balls to use that at some point. "How are you? That's great! Me? Oh, well, I have vagina issues."

    By the way, have you noticed that since becoming pregnant and having a baby you've said the word "vagina" more often than ever before in your entire life?

    I remember reading about one family where the kids were starting to show a lot of interest in their groinal areas, and the parents were able to not get them to feel ashamed about themselves, but did advise them that some types of playing were best left to the bathroom or their own room because they were private. The kids would on occasion jump up, announce they were going to play privately for a while, run off and return to their 'public' games a little bit later.