Confessions of a Spiritual Rookie: How Comfortable are YOU Naked? This Emotional Life - PBS

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 Bristol Baughan

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Bristol Baughan is an award-winning, freelance film director, producer and consultant.

Confessions of a Spiritual Rookie: How Comfortable are YOU Naked?


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In the past year I have had two specific opportunities to test how comfortable I am naked in public. On a scale of “1-10”, “1” being my college roommates who did naked dances without reservation to torture my other college roommate, who ranks “10”, and thinks being naked is downright EW, I am about a “4.” I confess I have always secretly admired (and probably talked ill about) women who would style their hair in the gym locker room without a shirt on and never even consider that a sequencing problem. I have always had a feeling, equal parts awe and ew, with nudist beaches but never dared to partake in one until this year. 

A few close friends and I went camping on the northern coast of Germany last summer and awoke on our first morning to our elderly neighbors having their morning muesli completely in the nude! A walk out to beach revealed we had set up camp, under the cover of darkness, on a nude beach where men played volleyball in t-shirts and no pants?!

After our initial shock wore off and we witnessed sweet old couples holding hands and walking along the shore butt naked, our awkward giggle faces turned to quizzical puzzlement. What is the big deal anyway? Why aren't WE naked? My college roommates and those Germans are genuinely comfortable being nude in front of other people. They don’t seem to be insecure exhibitionists; just the opposite, they seem MORE comfortable. 

What is the source of naked-phobia and are those who have transcended it more evolved? I decided to take this quandary of nude evolution to my really smart friend, the “10” mentioned above, to type it out:

How does seeing someone naked in public make you feel? 

Dominique: “Seeing naked people elicits an immediate and visceral reaction in me- both emotional and physical. Emotionally, I’m filled with a cocktail of embarrassment, fear, and utter panic. Physically, I turn red, my head gets it’s very own heartbeat, and every fiber in me commands me to look away immediately.  Also, sometimes I laugh.  Like that kind of nervous, borderline hysterical, unhinged laughter that you sometimes hear after someone dies or the stock market crashes.  Bottom line, it’s not good.

As far back as I can remember the thought of nudity- especially of the public variety- has terrified the living crap out of me.  Seeing people naked in public is bad.  Being naked in public is simply unfathomable.  Now, living in the wonderfully (mostly) clothed bubble that I do, it isn’t often that I’m forced to take stock of how I feel about nudity and why.  But, I’m ready to bare all (in prose, you sickos) and give it a shot in the hopes that we shirts and skins can one day climb that mountain together (though some of us will certainly need more sunblock).”

Do you think here is a connection between being genuinely comfortable naked and our evolution?

Dominique: “In the beginning, we were all naked. Then some person (and whoever you are, you are a hero) made clothes and clothes were awesome.  They kept us warm and protected us from the elements, helped us quickly identify friend from foe like some ancient version of blood vs. crips, and allowed us one of the first major expressions of human creativity as our bodies are the ultimate blank and portable canvas. 

So while being naked is indeed our natural state, we have evolved (out of both environmental necessity and societal pressures) to wear clothing. I don’t think our comfort with nudity has anything to do with our evolution.”

Why do you think you feel this way about being naked?

Dominique: My parents, Catholic school, Seventeen, Vogue, Kate Moss, Calvin Klein, music, television, movies, puberty, middle school gym class, boys and Nancy Reagan.

So now what? Does it matter where do you lie on the naked comfort spectrum? Is it something you want do something about?

Dominique: “Being naked is to be completely vulnerable and being that vulnerable in front of people requires a lot of trust. I can admit that my burning hatred of nudity has many of its roots in fear and getting rid of those fears (whether through nudity or other means- and I am seriously pushing for the latter) would be a good thing.  I don’t think the act of getting naked would change me (though the stroke it induces might). The important part is just taking stock of why you feel the way you do about things.   If I don’t want to get naked because I genuinely feel more comfortable and free in clothes, then that’s fine.  But not getting naked because you’re afraid is a different beast.  So, for me I think in terms of the spectrum, I’m a “10” outside who hopes to be a “1” inside.

One morning, during my camp on nudey beach in Germany, my girlfriends and I challenged each other to go for a little swim sans suit and I felt like I had lost my mind. I was naked! In public! I could no longer suck my stomach in and feel like there was a difference in how I looked. I knew the cellulite on my bum and thighs was completely visible if one's face were a few inches away (which they weren't).  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and knew people were looking at me in a way that was more vulnerable that I have ever felt. But they weren't looking at me. They were playing volleyball in shirts with no pants on.

I suppose, after some reflection, I agree with Dominique that the act of getting naked means nothing. What we feel about doing so is where it gets interesting. I suppose if you believe that evolution has anything to do with transcending fear then I suppose getting naked in public could be one of a million ways of punching fear in the face.

What do you think? Please comment with your answers to the questions above or tell us about doing something you were afraid of.

Dominique Ferrari is an aspiring writer and history teacher who works in Television and lives in Venice, CA.