I grew up in a traditional Asian household where attitudes towards our bodies were ones of modesty and propriety. To top it off, I was a conservative Christian…and a pastor’s kid. Needless to say, I rarely left the house revealing anything between my chin and knees.
When I had a family of my own and both my boys were done nursing, I simply did what I had grown up doing all my life:
I concealed my body.
I shooed my sons out when they walked in on me showering, locked the door when I changed, and generally covered myself up so there was no evidence of my female anatomy. Because that is what good Christian moms do to teach their sons about modesty and purity, right?
Then it slowly dawned on me that my puritanical views about nudity and modesty actually serve to oversexualize women’s bodies instead of normalize them.
Keeping my body hidden actually perpetuates the idea that nudity is inherently sexual and shameful. Instead of seeing my body as something astonishing and honorable, I hide away certain parts for fear of the sexual arousal it might cause someone else.
America is a place where an exposed side boob of a breastfeeding mom is deemed inappropriate. But the East Asian culture I live in thinks nothing of mothers nursing their babies uncovered in the middle of a busy train station.
In America, a plunging neckline or a bared midriff are seen as invitations to ogle. But in many indigenous cultures where nakedness is the norm, people can freely go about their business without the constant need to take cold showers.
Why is this?
Perhaps this ridiculous sexual reductionism in American culture is due partly to overexposure to sexualized and exploitative images.
But I think it’s also partly due to not enough exposure to normal, everyday nudity.
Nudity that reveals normal bodies, not just airbrushed ones.
Nudity that is seen doing normal things, not just performing sexual acts.
Nudity that humanizes instead of objectifies.
In order to compete with the steady diet of oversexualized images that will be fed to my sons throughout their lives, maybe what I need to do is provide them with more opportunities to practice noticing the whole person instead of just the body.
Instead of telling my sons to look away, maybe I needed to teach them,
Look a few inches higher, into her eyes.
Look closer, at her story.
Look deeper, at her heart.
Armed with this newfound conviction that more healthy exposure to nudity was good for my boys, I now had to decide what to do. After years of averting my boys’ eyes from pictures of mermaids and nude artwork, I knew something drastic had to be done so they would not end up becoming cat-calling, porn-addicted sexual aggressors. And after decades of covering myself up, I knew I needed something a little more contrived to help me get over my own prudish tendencies.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
That’s how I came up with the ingenious idea of having Naked Church.
Just our family.
In our underwear.
(This is as risque as it gets for me. I am, after all, an Asian Christian whose dad is a pastor.)
It was an experiment of sorts. To see what would happen when my boys were exposed to a woman’s bare body in a nonsexual way. To normalize the female form and teach honor and dignity. To associate the body with the person.
We announced the idea to our boys and they were surprisingly game, my youngest even making a “Naked Church” sign. Thankfully, without any pictures.
We all stripped down to our underwear and giggled at each other. The boys were used to running around in the nude at home, but they were not used to seeing me in all my fleshy glory. I wasn’t used to it either, and self-consciously covered myself up with a sofa cushion.
Then I remembered the whole point of this experiment: To have them see the reality of a normal woman’s body.
So I laid the cushion aside and tried to resist the temptation to suck in my generous gut.
As my husband strummed away on the guitar in his boxer briefs, I noticed one of my sons sneaking a peek at my teal panties, wondering if he would see anything interesting.
In the middle of our last song, both boys came over to me and started drumming on my breasts like they were a set of bongos, keeping time to the beat.
Didn’t they know I was trying to teach them about respecting women’s bodies instead of using them simply for their own amusement or pleasure?!
All in all, I thought it turned out to be a successful experiment.
It helped me get past some of my own awkwardness and self-consciousness, becoming more comfortable with revealing my body.
It also revealed how my boys’ unfamiliarity with female nudity actually seemed to lead to more fascination and objectification. Naked Church was a first step in remedying this by normalizing our bodies in a nonsexual context.
An unexpected opportunity also presented itself when they began pounding on my chest. What started out as playful innocence became a teachable moment for them to learn about consent and boundaries. I firmly told them to stop and removed their hands when they didn’t.
Hopefully, with continued healthy exposure and more training, they will gain the understanding that another person’s body is not something to be crudely used or exploited for their own desires, but a sacred dwelling of a person who deserves dignity and respect.
Since the Naked Church Experiment, I’ve started to purposely keep the door open when I undress. I try not to freak out or cover up when the boys see me in the shower. I talk more candidly about our bodies and sexuality.
It’s a good start. But there’s still a long way to go.
Family Strip Poker Night!