Emilia, as I’ve noted here before, is a nudist. She is an enthusiastic and committed nudist, the sort of nudist who exhorts others to join her in her worship of nature. Don’t you like taking your clothes off? she’ll ask as she discards her underpants. Don’t you like being naked?
Being naked is very nice, I always say. But so is being clothed. I don’t add that the further one’s boobs sag in the absence of a bra, the more appealing is the state of clothedness. She has plenty of time to learn that for herself.
I like naked better, she invariably replies. I like being naked LOTS better.
I like that Emilia likes being naked. Her comfort in her own skin – and the joy that she experiences when she feels the play of wind or grass or sunlight or dirt upon that skin – is a reminder that our bodies are miracles of both function and form and that their function and form are sometimes best appreciated in their natural state. This is something that I have trouble remembering in my relationship with my own body, as I bind it and cover it and fret over it. I watch Emilia, sometimes, as she frolics, naked, with utter abandon, and envy her obliviousness to the cultural baggage that grown-ups – most grown-ups – grown-ups like me – attach to bodies. (Thank you, New York Times, for – ahem – laying bare this baggage as it pertains to children. Good to know that such venerable purveyors of news as yourselves are worried about the dangers that attend to bare preschooler skin.)
It’s this obliviousness, this innocence, that cements my resolve to do as little as possible to discourage her love of her own private state of nature. She’s my perfect little noble savage, a creature unencumbered by (better, perhaps, to say, a creature who does not feel, does not notice the encumbrance of) the chains of social propriety, the chains that will, inevitably (that do, now), bind her to a social world in which the rules dictate that one must always keeps one’s bottom covered. Her joy in her experience of freedom is a joy to me, and because it is a freedom that is in so many respects so short-lived, I want her to enjoy it while she can. There is time enough for her feel the constraints of modesty and shame; this is her time for knowing the joys of shamelessness.
This is not to say, of course, that I encourage or even allow such abandon outside of her own private state of nature: this state of nature is, for her, just that – private. She knows that she must wear clothes to preschool and to the supermarket and in the front yard; she knows, already, that social life is clothed life, that the kinds of freedoms that we enjoy in private do not always extend to the public, that the rules are different, are more restrictive, out there. She knows already that there’s no such thing as absolute freedom, that freedom inside and freedom outside are two very different things, and that just because one wants to be free, to act freely, in every sphere, does not mean that one is free. She understands that although her natural condition is freedom, she is still restricted by chains, whether those be the chains imposed by Mommy and Daddy, or the chains imposed by the world outside. She understands (mostly) that those chains are necessary, even good.
But she does not understand, yet, that the weight of those chains can, and probably will, restrict her joy in such things as the kiss of sun on bare skin and the gentle lash of wind on one’s bottom and the tickle of dirt in one’s navel. She does not – yet? – know that her body, the body that is the vehicle of such unfettered pleasure, may – will? – become something strange and embarrassing and shameful. She has not yet learned that clothing is, for adults, something more than just a uniform to be worn in daily social life, more than just decoration applied to the purpose of parading about the public sphere – that it is also (mostly?) a protective barrier that shields us from our own and others’ anxieties about our natural state. She has not yet learned that we grown-ups hide our bodies because there is so much about our bodies that cause us fear. She has not yet learned to be be afraid or ashamed or anxious about her body. And I would love to forestall this lesson for her, would love to find some way to guarantee that she never learn it, but I doubt that I can, and so I simply try to delay it as long as possible.
And I do this by whispering, whenever she asks, whenever I can: yes, yes, my love, naked is wonderful, your body is wonderful, you are wonderful.
Do your children run free in their state of nature? Or do they – or you – prefer their bottoms covered? I wouldn’t condemn anyone who prefers to not let their children run naked. My husband is not as comfortable as I with the persistent nudity, nor are some other well-loved adults in Emilia’s life. So although I would bristle at anyone who chastised Emilia – or me – for her love of her natural state, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone to feel or act differently with their own children.
That said, naked is better. Emilia says so.