Naked Time: When Is Nudity No Longer Appropriate?


Summer means one thing for my kids: being naked. A single degree above room temperature and the clothes start coming off: first the socks and shoes, of course, but then the shirts, bottoms and, inevitably, the underpants - as they run off in search of water. My girls know nobody can resist their tiny white tushies - at least here in China, where showing some skin isn't an issue and where laowai (foreign) babies have rock-star cachet.

I knew the silly season had begun when, just last night, I had to drag the girls and their laundry home from the playground, my youngest leaving a trail of pee in her wake. (The Chinese don't bat an eye at that, either; here diapers are the exception, not the rule.) They drew such an adoring crowd, I could have sold tickets.

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Still, there are some folks out there who think I'm the one who should be paying.

Shame on any parent, they say, who allows a child to invite too much attention to himself. You never know who could be watching, enjoying or - gasp! - taking photos.

Grandparents, especially, can get very prickly when they see their grandchildren roaming free. Some consider nudity inappropriate for anyone over the age of three. I read as much last year in a New York Times article that quoted elders who'd scolded their children for overexposing the little ones. And, since then, I've watched many a grandparent shadow a toddler with a towel and an appeal to "please… put some pants on!"

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Who else feels bothered around children not bothered with clothes? Non-Europeans (North Americans are more prudish). Fathers of girls (men can be more protective of daughters than sons). Childless adults and homosexuals (what if a sideways glance is misinterpreted?).

Even I admit to having felt mild shock after a group swim last year, when I walked inside to find several naked children - some as old as seven - lounging spread eagle on the sofa watching a movie. Ditto after discovering our nanny had posted nude photos of our children on her Facebook page.

On the other hand, it would never occur to me that bringing them down after a bath to say goodnight to our dinner guests could be controversial.

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At what age should something as innocent as a naked child start making us feel guilty? When they're old enough to name their private parts? When they start school? Puberty? Most health clubs bar children seven and over from change rooms of the opposite sex. Is that too early an age to care? Or too late?

If ever there was a time to avoid rules, avoid shame, avoid underwear it would be youth - especially in summer. Who doesn't remember when skinny-dipping in the turtle pool or tattooing their friend's bum with a marker were done without question?

Perhaps not all of us. But it's not too late for our children.

(Photo: Jupiterimages)

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