It surprised me when a mom from the UK recently vowed to never let her daughter see her “floppy” middle-aged body naked again. Americans are usually the ones hung up on nudity — especially as it relates to children. We fight about naked baby bottoms on Instagram, about when siblings should stop showering together, and about what kids should be exposed to and when. I let my sons see me naked, and I don’t think there’s anything weird about it.
I don’t go out of my way to get naked in front of my kids, but I don’t hide my body either. When my kids and I pile home from a day at the beach, we hop into the shower together. For now, my 5- and 8-year-old boys don’t mind. The day they say they don’t want to shower with each other or with me anymore I’ll respect their wishes. But for now there’s nothing perverted or gross about being nude around my kids.
I’ll be honest — I can’t remember ever seeing my dad naked. I respect that not every family feels comfortable with parental nudity and that men might be more sensitive about their daughters seeing them naked. But I grew up casually changing clothes around my mom. Even to this day, we don’t bat an eye if we share a dressing room at a department store. I learned from an early age what a woman’s body looks like after she’s had kids, and I learned to appreciate every stretch mark. I learned that even athletic women like mom had cellulite. I didn’t associate nudity with sex, it was just a normal part of life.
Seeing my mom naked didn’t inoculate me against hang-ups about my body. I still hate my post-breastfeeding boobs. At 2, my older son asked me why they look like cut hotdogs. He said the moles on my body looked like raisins. Kids can be cruel, but they don’t need to see you naked to destroy your self-esteem. It’s our job as adults to accept that kids are going to say hurtful things without intending to hurt us. It’s my job to work through my insecurities and remember that the airbrushed ideal of a perfect body is just an image. Real bodies are strong, floppy, warm, saggy and weird. Real bodies have the capacity to love and comfort and protect, and that’s what makes them… well, you’ve heard the song.
So I won’t hide my body. We were running late the other morning and I streaked across the house to grab a bra. My older son, evidently noticing my weakly bouncing boobs, said “ew.” I stopped in my tracks and told him not to be rude about other people’s bodies. As I put my bra on — more hurriedly than usual, I’ll admit — I told him that my boobs fed him and his little brother, that women’s bodies look different than men’s bodies, and that there’s nothing gross about either.
I doubt he heard much of it, because he’s already training his brain to interpret my words as a dull trumpet sound, but I’m glad I had the chance to tell him. My occasional nudity isn’t a magic bullet that will turn my sons into respectful men with a healthy perspective on naked bodies, but it’s an age-appropriate start and one that I refuse to feel ashamed of.