I’m just going to get straight to the point there: I let my kids play naked. Outside.
In fact, I don’t just let them do it — I encourage it. I think it’s really good for them. When spring finally hits, and the days start warming up to the point where it’s equally comfortable with or without clothes, I always give them the choice. “Do you want to wear a shirt and pants around the house today, or are you happy being naked?”
Invariably, the answer is a joyous “naked!”
I am always careful to ask the question in neutral tones, so that I’m not leading the decision either way, and I work very hard to ensure that being naked is not thought of in “naughty” terms (I avoid the term “rudey-nudey” for this reason).
I’m also not a huge fan of wearing clothes myself, which I think is equally important for my kids to see. Lucky for us, we live on a large property and the neighbors are a long way away. I want my children to see a variety of bodies, but particularly older female bodies, and to be familiar and comfortable with pubic hair and saggy breasts and bellies. Especially in an era when young people have access to a plethora of airbrushed pornography on the internet, I feel it is essential to normalize different body types. I also think it’s important for children to see their own bodies as something to be proud of — as opposed to ashamed of.
I often compliment my kids on the parts of their bodies that people do not normally compliment; I tell them how much I love their tummies, or how strong their legs look, and I never talk disparagingly about my own body in front of them. “Fat” is not a mean word in our house, and I only ever use the word in a non-judgmental way, as a neutral descriptor. I’m doing my best to raise kids who see the good things about their bodies — not the bad, as I was unfortunately taught to do.
My partner is a trans man, and he feels the same. In our house, it’s not a strange thing for a man to have breasts (pre-top surgery) or chest scars (post-surgery). We talk about men who have labias and women who have penises all the time. The kids see my partner naked as an everyday part of life, and that’s not a big deal for them. Our kids aren’t surprised by nakedness or trans bodies, nor are they even particularly interested. In our house, all bodies are normalized, and it is my hope that this will carry on into my children’s adulthood — that they will become people who are accepting of all bodies and the genders that might come with them.
As well as being pro-nudity, I of course also explain that there are times when clothing is not optional, for example in public spaces or when we have particular visitors. I tell my kids that we sometimes need to wear clothes for safety: to stop our skin getting sunburned, or to stop penises getting caught in seatbelts (ouch). I also explain that some people don’t like seeing other people naked, and that we need to respect that, and also that often adults feel funny about other adults seeing them with no clothes on. The latter is usually my explanation for why I’ve suddenly run inside and thrown a dress on when the pest controller has turned up unexpectedly.
I know some people will be reading this with great alarm, worrying about the safety of my kids and the messages I am teaching them. Western society so often draws false parallels between nudity and sexualization, and I find this frustrating and also problematic. I am incredibly safety conscious with my kids and from when they were tiny we have talked in age-appropriate terms about body autonomy, and the parts of their bodies that are ok and not ok for other people to touch. We have plenty of discussions about consent. These can happen through tickle fights, where I stop immediately every time my child asks me to, or in navigating physical play, where I might need to tell my child to stop bouncing on my belly or hanging from my neck because it doesn’t feel good for me.
My four-year-old continually crosses my boundaries, because like all other four-year-olds, my child loves to climb all over me and has no sense of personal space. So I find myself reiterating “my body, my choices” on repeat some days. My approach is not a radical one. Child therapists and psychologists speak widely these days about the importance of teaching children from the very beginning to use the anatomically correct words for their genitals, in order to empower them to say no to, or speak out about, sexual assault. The same goes for consent: If we don’t teach our kids this stuff, then we endanger them.
I want my kids to be aware of safety without living in constant terror that their bodies are somehow to blame for inappropriate behavior on the part of adults. This ties in with my feminist beliefs, which uphold the fact that survivors of sexual assault are never to blame — and that the clothes or lack of clothes on someone’s body are also not to blame. In fact, I believe that giving my children the time and space to be naked in a safe and appropriate environment actually helps keep them safe. I can’t know or control the thoughts of people who might be watching my children when we’re out in public. But I can influence how my children view themselves. And if the only dialogue in our house is to “cover up your body in order to keep safe,” it’s only going to teach my children shame and guilt and fear.
However, if I teach my children that their bodies are fine just the way they are, that it’s their choice who touches them and how, that they should always talk to me if something happens to them that doesn’t feel good, and that it is always their right to say “no,” then it’s my hope that I can raise strong, confident children who will be as safe as possible in the outside world. Because bodies are not the problem — dangerous adults are.
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