My Thoughts on Cultural Nudity

19 Sep, 2012

So a couple of days ago I posted a series of photos of a White woman who chose to remove her shirt for a bit of friendly interaction with a couple of African women. I chose not to provide any commentary as I hoped to create space for some dialog and then later share my own opinion. Here are some results of them post and then my own thoughts

Results

Over 4000 people have viewed the post. (That is huge for my site!)

I posted a link to the post on the Christianity section on the Reddit website. 80% voted positively on the article. Around 3500 of the 4000 viewers came from that Reddit link.

The majority of the other 500 viewers came from my (and others’) Facebook links.

I took heat from a Catholic man for using the first image of the topless (yet covered) woman in a miter hat. To be honest I didn’t know it was Catholic hat, but that should have been a good assumption. My reason for using the image was that Facebook would ban my personal account if I post an image with a naked breast in it. I’ve already been warned once for posting a photo of a Breast Cancer Survivor with a single breast mastectomy. Though I like the artistic image I do see how it could offend my Catholic family and I am sorry for the unintended slight.

I took heat from another friend who felt I used a sexually suggestive picture just to get page views. Though I will admit to writing headlines to attract viewers (it is a part of journalism), I didn’t intend to titillate with this picture (and I’m not sure that I find it that suggestive…). 88% of the viewers to this story, those from Reddit, didn’t see any images before clicking to my blog, only the Facebook links had the photo. Even though I tried to share why I had used this photo for the Facebook posts she chose to unfriend me anyways.

Four other people un-friended me on Facebook yesterday – one explained why, the other three had nothing to say. I’ve also received four new friends, who told me they are thankful for what I had posted.

There was some good dialog about the subject matter and I’m glad I posted it.

There were also some pretty significant assumptions made about my post, even though I hadn’t weighed in with my own personal opinions (other than responding to some reader’s comments). I found it funny that people looked at the series with their own lenses and then put words in my mouth, assuming they knew what I was attempting to say.

My Opinions

I simply love this set of photos as I think it shares a great story! I viewed them about six months ago though I do not remember who first sent me the original link.

I don’t have any background on the photos. The origin page (which I listed at the bottom of my post) gives no history or explanations.

I made no comments about Christianity or America in my introduction, as I do not know that it is represented in these photos. Apparently some readers jumped to that conclusion, but it wasn’t because I suggested it.

I don’t know if the blonde woman is American, Canadian, European, or South African.

I don’t know if the woman has any kind of religious background at all.

While viewing this story I cannot make value judgments on one religion over another, or one cultural over another, as I don’t know what the backgrounds are for these three beautiful women.

My questions at the end of the photos were not a challenge to anyone’s religion, background or personal morals, but they did require engagement, which I did intend.

I am not making a statement, by posting this series on my blog, that I am in favor of public nudity and think all women should walk around topless! No, I don’t want to go around like Adam and Eve did in the garden walking around in the nude, though I do love that they could do so without shame.

One of the most striking things about these photos is that the interaction seems pretty spontaneous! This story wouldn’t be a story if the blonde didn’t start the series in a shirt!

To me there is nothing promiscuous, dirty, or sexual about these photos – even though there is touching in them!

My Thoughts on Nudity

I think our western culture has highly over-sexualized our physical bodies and it creates an oppressive pressure, especially for our sisters.

I do think religions, and not just Christianity, push a law-based, legalistic approach to our human bodies that is fear-based and oppressive.

I love the exclusivity between lovers and their bodies. Those stories warm my heart.

I will always be an advocate for freedom and always be a fighter against shame. I think grace is the key on both fronts.

One of my brothers suggested that he didn’t feel safe spending much time looking at this series and I respect his boundaries and his desire to respect his sisters. At the same time, I wouldn’t hesitate to post a series like this again. No, freedom does not need to be flaunted in front of those who haven’t experienced it yet. Yet we are also encouraged (in the Scripture) that Christ has set us free and that we should stand strong against being burdened by the heavy bondage of slavery to legalistic rules. This is a tightrope to walk, but I will always fall to the side of grace and freedom instead of law and bondage. That is just me. As far as protecting my brothers, I did put a warning in the blog title and labeled it this way on Reddit.

My Experiences with Nudity

I have been groped, touched, and fondled by people in another culture. I entered a village when I was 18 and the kids under 12 hadn’t seen a white person in their lifetime. The kids never left my side for the couple of days we were there. They surrounded me, pulled the hair on my legs and arms, climbed up so they could touch my head, and stared at me when I bathed at the community water pump, naked except for my swim trunks. I wish there were photos that captured this interaction as it was remarkable to me.

I’ve had to deal with my own western thoughts about nudity when I have been in other countries. I designed a grid in my head to deal with “cultural nudity.” I swear I saw more naked breasts on one particular mission trip than I ever thought I’d see in a lifetime. But since I had concocted a safe, National Geographic inspired view of native nudity I thought I was safe. Breast feeding, even when there was a group of six women together all with their shirts off, was okay. Bathing kids in the river was okay. Being a part of a medical team that was circumcising 8-10 year old Muslim boys was okay. Where my grid failed me was when the woman at the well saw me approaching to draw some water for our team. Had she continued bathing I think I would have been fine. Because she (probably out of her concern for her Western brother) put her t-shirt back on, and then continued to bathe, it freaked me out! What had been a ‘native woman bathing at the well’ now looked like ‘wet t-shirt contest in Asia!’ I high-tailed it back to our hut and found my team co-leader to explain to her that my grid had some gaping holes. In my case the nudity was much safer than the wet, clingy t-shirt.

I love breasts. I’ve been fortunate to observe many, and I’ve never met a pair I haven’t liked. Yet it is my wife’s pair that I am the most familiar with and grateful for. These are the pair that are sensual to me. Yet they are not just mine, they are first of all hers, and an artful representation of her womanhood. Yet they are not just ours – they have nursed all of our children.

I’ve seen breasts that have been enhanced, breasts that have been reduced, and breasts that have been removed. I’ve taken photos of moms who are breast feeding, and women who are recovering from operations from breasts that were trying to kill them. They are just physical appendages, and yet they are so much more than that.

In Conclusion

I don’t apologize for posting a series of photos of women who are spontaneously observing their differences and their similarities. It isn’t sexual to me, it doesn’t look like it was sexual to them; it is a great moment of connection and sharing. The vulnerability makes it even more beautiful. I see no shame.

Had I been there? Had it been my wife? I would have laughed with joy, even as I did when I saw these images, raised my own camera to capture the moment, and having seen the results talked with her about her feelings of making them public or keeping them a treasured, private memory. Her decision would also be mine.

Pinging is currently not allowed6 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    Chad, I'm a bit hesitant to be vulnerable here because I anticipate you will say, "Well, you are just projecting your own issues…" Regardless, I will plunge head on as I continue my critique.
    I think this post makes people feel stupid for commenting (at least it did me…or at least made me want to give an extensive defense of my response, which I'm sure no one would be interested in reading). Or maybe the only stupid-feeling people are the ones who disagree with your point of view, which you can hardly claim was a mystery to anyone who has been reading your blog. At least, your thoughts and opinions presented in this post were of no surprise to me.
    In my opinion, the way that you present the responses (I'm sure you believe you are being objective), does not create a safe environment for open discussion, especially when the issues being discussed are sensitive in nature.
    I'm confident this was not your intent.

    • Chad Estes says:

      First off, I really do value your input and your vulnerability! You have a unique perspective to all of this that I can't even begin to put myself in the shoes of, although both you and your story have moved me.

      When I read your response my honest first thought was, "Now I have another thing I want to talk with her about next time we get together!"

      No, I don't think I am objective with these posts or with this topic. I don't have an axe to grind, but I have been called a "spoon" because I like to stir things up.

      I am sorry that the way my posts came across belittled your opinion. I truly do want to hear and understand your perspective as I want to weigh it carefully.

      I love friends who stick with me through processes like this, when I am far less than perfect. I am honored that you posted in both of these articles, and even more honored that you have shared your journey with me. I look forward to our next conversation!

      Chad

  2. wordhaver says:

    Chad the "spoon." May you always be used to stir and serve. I found your response thoughtful and sensitive. Well said. Good piece. But then I'm biased – when you spend two nights at my hospital bedside and countless hours with me in a chemo infusion room, I get a more intimate vantage point than most. Seeing your heart makes it easy to hear your words, however "spoony" they may be. :)

  3. Sa Say says:

    Stephanie, for those of us who don't see through your eyes, can you explain how these posts (particularly this one) does not create a safe environment for open discussion? I'm kind of bitchy and I probably have offended some of Chad's friends in my comments, but I have felt that HIS comments and responses have been ever-loving, open and kind. Like Chad, I also value other opinions and would honestly be hurt to think that my un-objectivity might actually keep someone from feeling safe to share their honest thoughts. I'm not trying to push for your vulnerability, but rather for some perspective. Thank you, if you can share that with us! And blessings if you can't!

    • Stephanie says:

      You are asking me to be super-critical here. Sorry Chad!
      This is probably going to make me sound petty, and I think these are subtleties, but they put me on the defensive. It was just THIS post, not any others.
      In this post, Chad said things like:
      "people jumped to conclusions"
      "there were pretty significant assumptions made"
      "people looked at the series with their own lenses and then put words in my mouth, assuming they knew what I was attempting to say."
      These statements bugged me for a number of reasons.
      First, although Chad may not have expressed his opinions about the pictures in the original post, it isn't a mystery what his opinions would be.
      Second, I think his title that went along with the pictures "Are Our Breast Issues Mostly Cultural?" is loaded, ambiguous, and not objective, thus provoking certain assumptions.
      Third, People don't just read his post and make their comment. In general, they read everyone else's comments and respond to the post and previous comments as a whole.
      Sure, we all view things through our own experience and make assumptions and jump to conclusions, but it seemed like a set-up in this case. "I'm going to present something completely objectively (but not really), then point out how everyone jumps to conclusions afterwards. See how biased you all are!"
      I don't think this was intended. And I'm not the type to get easily offended, but I wanted to be honest and tell Chad how this post made me feel.

  4. Tommy Hall says:

    I think the point is… If you know Chad, you know his heart. I am a "never nude" (Arrested Development) and I do have a hard time with nudity, but it is my insecurities… I am thankful that you are willing to open this up Chad. I like to see if my views on things are holy or just from some religious nut who wants to make everyone else as closed off as they are.
    This challenged me. Made me gring. Made me hope if I do ever go nude that it is warm outside.
    Thank you… You have made me uncomfortable and I needed that.

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