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The Naked Body, a Complicated Thing

"Please take off your clothes from the waist up and lie down on this table." The nurse's voice was friendly, matter-of-factly. I looked around, searching for a curtain that might work as a changing room, a paper gown to cover up. Nothing. The nurse's eyes urged me on, so I got naked, then and there, the lady a mere arm's length away. It was one of those moments where I longed to be in California.

Culturally speaking the naked body is a complicated thing. Some muslim women must cover up (or feel the need to do so); Scandinavians on the other hand, when visiting beaches, pools, and lakes, expose themselves without inhibition; Austrians and Germans don't tend to be shy either. Hereabouts images of more or less naked women are used to advertise anything from cars to clothes to window sashes. A recent campaign by a beer brewer shows three women from the chest upward, no clothes, arms crossed to hide their breasts. The connection between the women and the beer is tenuous. The color of the ladies' hair reflects the colors of the beers they are holding, dark, blond, and an artificial looking red.

And in the U.S.? At L.A.'s beaches nude or topless sunbathing is prohibited; girls don tops, even if they are still wearing diapers underneath their bikini bottoms. Is this modesty? Is it prudishness? The answer depends on a person's perspective. When it comes to doctor's offices I have learned to appreciate the gowns and curtains. I see them as a sign of respect for our need for privacy.


Lorraine Seal said…
Funny you should mention it -- we were briefly in Vienna yesterday, where I saw for the first time the beer ad you mention. Tenuous connection is right.

As for modesty, I've noticed what you bring up, though I've not yet had the experience in the doctor's office. For instance, one evening before yoga class began, I noticed women changing for it in the small dressing room across the hall from the studio. They were unself-consciously taking off their street wear to put on their yoga clothes, seemingly without caring that I, as well as the men in the class, could see them as they did. I put it down as a less prudish attitude toward the body than in the US. I don't know if I will get there, but I appreciate it.

In fact, one of the things I like so much about the Austrians I've met is they seem assured and at ease with themselves as they are without a trace of arrogance. It's a lovely way of being.
Badger said…
Australians are pretty relaxed but even we have been surprised by the way Austrians sort of let it all hang out. Donauinsel seems to be the world capital for naked wrinklies.
Lorraine and Badger, thank you for your comments. I should do more research on the topic of nudity: why is it that other peoples are less relaxed about it? Is it religiosity? If not, what else? Why is it that women in Austria for the most part do not find sexist ads like the beer ad offensive?

In Vienna, Donauinsel, Gänsehäufel, Neue Donau, and other places offer beaches or sections that are dedicated for nude bathing. Bikini tops have generally been optional since the seventies or eighties. This is quite a contrast to Austrians' formality in other matters - the mingling of people of different education level, social standing, ethnic back ground or the question of addressing a person (see my earlier post Baby vs. ..., April 2010).

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