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10 Surprising Attitudes Toward Nudity

Mike Devlin


We all come into the world naked, but in the years that follow, our ideas on the subject change thanks to our parents, religion, and society. From naturists who strut around totally bare to women clad in burqas, we all have our views on how the human body should be displayed.

10Public Nudity

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Photo credit: Holly Van Voast

The laws regarding public nudity vary wildly across the world, and in America, they even vary from state to state. In New York City, for example, women are allowed to go topless. Some, such as performance artist Holly Van Voast, do so deliberately to provoke a reaction.

In the United Kingdom, nudity is allowed on certain beaches but not in public. Stephen Gough, known as “The Naked Rambler,” has frequently challenged these laws by hiking nude in public throughout England and Scotland. He’s spent years in prison for his troubles.

Even the most liberal places, however, only let you display yourself naked in public if you do so in a non-sexual manner. For instance, Canada prohibits “indecent acts,” a vague term that is open to interpretation. The only act directly described as “indecent” under this statute is exposing oneself to a minor.


9The Dutch Nude Entrance Exam

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Photo credit: Craig Avonite

The Netherlands is famous for its liberal attitudes toward drugs and prostitution, and millions of people flock to the capital city Amsterdam every year for a taste of the good life. But those who wish to reside there long-term face an entrance examination.

When issuing residence visas, 138 Dutch embassies around the world show applicants a 105-minute film that would be rated R if it were ever shown on the silver screen. The film includes such scenes as gay men kissing and topless women on a beach. If you take offense to such activities, you are not permitted to take up residence in the Netherlands.

The system has met with considerable flak for excluding people with certain views. Some say the film is designed to offend Muslims, disqualifying them for visas. However, in countries like Iran, where images of nudity are explicitly illegal, censored versions of the film are available.

Of course, there is more to the test than watching naked women frolic on the beach without flinching. After the film, various unrelated questions are asked regarding Dutch history and geography.

8Alcohol

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Photo credit: G-Spirit

Alcohol has an uncanny ability to make you want to ditch your clothes, but for those who have the yen to bring the relationship even closer, a German company called G-Spirits has the answer.

G-Spirits, founded by a pair of bartenders, contends that the pleasure of alcohol lies not merely in the flavor but in the experience of drinking. To that end, they released a trio of spirits—rum, whiskey, and vodka—each poured over the naked breasts of a different beautiful woman, including Alexa Varga, Hungary’s 2012 Playmate of the Year.

G-Spirit’s website makes no bones about its product, claiming, “For us, there is nothing more than the erotism of a beautiful woman. To create the perfect taste, we let every single drop of our spirits run over the breasts of a special type of woman, a type we recognize in this liquor.”

The spirits are sent out in bottles emblazoned with the picture of the model in question and a certificate of authenticity. The stuff doesn’t come cheap, costing between $153 and $179 depending on the liquor. For those who recoil at the idea of drinking something off bare skin, the website claims that a “hygienic filling process” packages the product.



7Sexting Teens

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In the United States, strict laws against child porn ban most depictions of nude minors. This means that, in the majority of American states, adults can legally have sex with 16- or 17-year-olds but become sex offenders if they photograph the minor naked.

This apparent contradiction existed for a long time, but the increased use of cell phones and cameras among teens reveals a further level of bizarreness. The federal definition of child pornography even extends to photos that minors take themselves. If, for example, a 16-year-old girl sends a nude photo of herself to her 16-year-old boyfriend, he may be found guilty of possessing child porn—even though their sexual relationship is otherwise perfectly legal. In fact, the girl herself may be prosecuted just for taking her own photo.

In practice, teens caught sexting usually receive, if anything, minor punishments such as probation and community service. In some cases, however, prosecutors pursue full child porn charges. There has resultantly been a push to make the exchange of sexual images between teens a lesser offense.

6Underage Nudity In Movies

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Photo credit: DreamWorks Pictures

Given the penalties leveled at mere boys for the possession of naked photos, you would think the film industry would do everything in its power to avoid even the hint of child nudity. But it is quite legal for kids to appear naked in movies. It is a strange paradox indeed, akin to the difference between illegal prostitution and legal hard-core pornography.

The examples are numerous, from changing babies to far more scandalous incidents. In 1999’s American Beauty, which won that year’s Best Picture Oscar, 16-year-old actress Thora Birch appeared topless. The scene was approved by her parents and the California Child Labor Board. Both were on set during the shoot.

More controversially, Brooke Shields was just 12 years old when she appeared nude as a child prostitute in the 1978 movie Pretty Baby. The film received some criticism and was banned or censored in certain areas, including the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan. Brooke later revealed that she hadn’t even had her first period when Pretty Baby was shot.

5Television

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Photo credit: NBC

In many countries, the rules about nudity on television are completely lax, but in America, a certain puritan streak remains on the small screen. The level of acceptability seems to run in waves. The 1990s saw significant skin in network programming like NYPD Blue. But then the halftime show at the 2004 Super Bowl featured Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson’s breast, and the ensuing “Nipplegate” scandal led the FCC to again tighten its hold over the airwaves.

Many question the absurdity of avoiding nudity while readily broadcasting even the most abhorrent violence. American shows like The Walking Dead depict zombies tearing human beings apart and even children being killed, but women chastely cover their breasts after sex scenes.

NBC’s Hannibal, featuring fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter, provides the perfect example of this contradiction. In an episode called “Coquilles,” two people are flayed alive, their flesh strung out like angel wings, exposing the bloody tissue beneath. They are also naked, their bare bottoms exposed. The network had no problem with the gore, but the producers learned that they’d have to conceal the butts for the scene to air. Their solution? Cover them with more blood.



4Nude Mona Lisa

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Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is quite possibly the most famous piece of art in the world (and for those who travel to the Louvre just to see it, it’s probably the most disappointing). Da Vinci’s contemporary, Agostino Vespucci, indicated that the subject of the painting was Lisa del Giocondo, a member of Florence’s wealthy Gherardini family.

Although Lisa’s painting in the Louvre depicts her as quite modestly dressed, a handful of nude versions exist. Perhaps the most notable is “Monna Vanna” by Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (nicknamed “Salai,” a take on the devil). Salai was Leonardo’s assistant from a young age, and though he was known for his thieving ways, the old master took the boy under his wing as a student. Their relationship is said to have also extended into the bedroom.

While not as technically accomplished as da Vinci’s version, “Monna Vanna” depicts the same model. This has led some historians to speculate that da Vinci produced more than one version of the Mona Lisa, including a nude form. The other versions were lost to history in the nearly 500 years since his death.

3Gymnophobia

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Photo credit: FOX

People can be reluctant to appear naked, but most of us do so when we must at the doctor’s office or in the locker room. Others, however, have a very literal fear of nudity.

Gymnophobia—from the Greek gymnos (“naked”) and phobos (“fear”)—has two distinct types. Some fear seeing others naked, and some fear seeing themselves naked. Like any phobia, there is no set cause, but many factors may play into it. Someone may have had a traumatic childhood experience, such as being bullied or even molested. Body dysmorphic disorders such as anorexia can also prove responsible.

There is, though, a humorous element to the condition, as seen on TV’s Arrested Development. “Never-nude” Tobias Funke wrestles with a malady that forces him to wear denim cut-offs all the time, even while showering.

2Streaking

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Photo credit: Ian Bradshaw

The tradition of streaking might seem to have been born in the drug-fueled free-love era of the ’60s and ’70s (the term “streaking” didn’t enter the popular lexicon until 1973), but it has a surprisingly old pedigree.

The pastime dates back to at least 1799, when a man accepted a bet to run naked through the English countryside. Some years later, one George William Crump was caught running nude on the campus of Washington College in Virginia. This black mark on his past would not haunt Crump—he went on to a successful career in Congress.

In 1974, the popularity of streaking exploded, with mass runs at universities across America. On April 20 of that year, a young man named Michael O’Brien ran out on the field during a rugby game in England. A shot of this historical moment would become Life Magazine’s ”Picture of the Year,” showing a police officer trying to cover O’Brien’s impropriety with his helmet.

Sadly, the laws have changed in the last 40 years, and attempting to streak in some locales may get you arrested and charged as a sex offender.

1 Kyrgyzstan’s Nude Marijuana Harvest

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In the Chu Valley of Kyrgyzstan grow some of the world’s most verdant crops of wild cannabis. From these, a most bizarre drug is harvested. Called “plastilin,” the concentrated marijuana hash is gathered in a strange traditional way and has been for generations.

A horseman and his mount are freshly washed. The rider, stripped naked, rides the horse through fields of marijuana for hours, both man and beast working up a sweat. Resin from the plants becomes plastered to their skin. It is then carefully scraped away, molded, and allowed to dry.

The result is a spectacularly potent drug that can be easily hidden and later enjoyed. A couple tiny balls of the substance wrapped in an regular cigarette is enough to leave a user quite happily buzzed.

Mike Devlin is an aspiring novelist.