What Do We Want Our Children To Learn About Nudity?

Nude woman with arms crossed
Nude woman with arms crossed

When Kim Kardashian shared a nude photo of herself on Instagram three weeks ago, the Internet "broke" yet again, flooding with harsh critics and fierce defenders. Though I personally think that what Kim Kardashian does should be as relevant to the world as what color my socks are today, the reoccurring controversy over her nude photographs is an important talking point in discussions of feminism.

The main question is this: How should we, as a society, respond to nudity?

Demi Lovato defended Kim K. by pointing out how nudity can be empowering. But Chloe Grace Moretz came out singing a different tune, telling Kim that she was sending the wrong message to young women. Pink made a similar statement directed at women in general, telling them to "resist the urge" to seek attention using their bodies, saying they will "feel something called pride and self respect" when they use their brains and their talent instead.

I sympathize with the responses from Pink and Chloe Grace Moretz. Young girls are highly influenced by the media and by celebrities. Of course we don't want our daughters thinking that they have to take their clothes off in order to be successful, strong and beautiful.

But do we also want them to think that nudity is something to be ashamed of?

Whenever I see controversies in the media over women's bodies, I always ask myself: When I have children, what will I teach them? And I, for one, want my children to know that nudity is not inherently sexual; our culture makes it sexual. Ever notice how little kids run around with no clothes on and don't care? They haven't yet developed the concept of body shame. That's something that we teach them.

The idea that people (particularly women) shouldn't be taking their clothes off in public is closely connected to our values of monogamy and chastity. A woman is supposed to be sexually available to nobody but her husband. Her naked body is supposed to be visible to nobody but him as well. Even if we've now accepted that sex between people who aren't married is not immoral, we still haven't let go of the idea that women who reveal their bodies to the world are promiscuous and morally corrupt. When someone painted a mural of Kim Kardashian's nude selfie in Australia, it took less than eight hours for someone to write the word "slut" over it.

I don't want my children to think that women who pose nude are sluts. I want my children to think of bodies as beautiful, not offensive. I want them to think that bodies are just bodies--and sex is only one of the hundreds of things we use them for.

So were Pink and Chloe Grace wrong to criticize Kim Kardashian? The answer to that question is complicated.

Even though my ideal world is one where nudity has no particular connotation--good or bad--I realize that we don't yet live in that world. We live in a world where an outfit showing "too much skin" implies that a woman wants to make herself sexually available. We live in a world where girls are sexualized at younger and younger ages for the benefit of a male audience.

I want my daughter to see nudity as neutral. But I don't want her to be taken advantage of by a world that still thinks nudity is sexual, and sees it as a reason to objectify and denigrate women.

How do I explain to a young child that the rest of the world isn't quite on board with postmodernism yet?

How do I say to her, "Nudity is no big deal, but be you need to be very careful about whom you're sending nude photographs to"?

How do I say to her, "Women should be able to show their nipples on social media, but you probably shouldn't do that because you might attract attention from creepy men online"?

How do I say to her, "I'll support you if you want to march on Go Topless Day, but if you end up on the front page of the Post it might hurt your job prospects"?

I believe we can change the world by living our day-to-day lives as if the world we want to see already exists. But as I wrote in my column on street harassment, the dangers of our world sometimes prevent you from literally living your dreams. "Practice what you preach" is only a reasonable command when it's directed at those who have the power and the privilege to do so.

Perhaps we need women like Kim Kardashian (and Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Chelsea Handler), who has physical protection and financial security, to spearhead the movement to make nudity more culturally acceptable. But until that option is available to women who don't have those luxuries, I'll be caught between two conflicts: the desire to protect my daughter, and the desire to improve the society she lives in.

Can I do both, or will I have to compromise one? That's a question that I don't know the answer to yet.