Remember Kids: Nudity is Not a Crime (Except That It Often Is)

Zipolite

I’d been in Thailand for about a month, chilling out in the smouldering heat of Pai. Most days I spent lazing around in my hammock in nothing but shorts and a bathing suit top. Even with a fan pointed directly at me and the bare minimum of clothes, I would sweat profusely all day long. With town being a 20 minute walk away, I had little desire to leave my hut until night fell.

One day, I went for a walk to chat with a local tattoo artist about getting some ink. The sun was high in the sky, causing beads of sweat to drip down every part of my body as I walked. Naturally, I wore shorts and a bathing suit top. I didn’t give it a second thought; it’s smoking hot outside, and clothes are going to make me feel worse.

Upon arrival at the tattoo shop, I had a chat with one of the artists there. As I turned to leave, he stopped me. He then informed me – in an incredibly polite and understanding way – that dressing in only a bathing suit top was offensive in Thailand. I may be well-travelled, but I don’t just automatically know everything about a culture. I hadn’t a clue I was sporting offensive clothes. I thanked him profusely for letting me know, and started the walk home.

On my way, I stopped at a food stand to grab a quick eat, but as I turned to leave, a very rude French girl informed me that I should cover up because I was being offensive. It wasn’t so much what she said as how she said it. It took all my self-restraint not to tell her to mind her own fucking business.

So I carried on to my hut, and I never walked around in a bathing suit top again.

Pai Thailand

But something bothered me. It burned in the pit of my stomach. It made me straight up angry as hell.

I would respect the culture while there, but I didn’t respect this aspect of the culture. Why should I have to cover up when it’s boiling hot outside? Because some man might get turned on? Because the body is offensive? Because…? We all have bodies. We all have shoulders and elbows and knees and all the damn rest.

Look at any image of an ancient tribe; the people are naked. For why do we need clothes other than to keep us warm? So as not to offend others by simply possessing a body? Shall I turn myself into a cloud of mind without a body – would you respect me then?

I didn’t go into any temples while in Thailand or Laos. This was partially due to the fact that I have little interest in touristy things, but still, it would have been nice to check out a few. Mostly, though, it was because I just didn’t own the “proper” clothes to enter. No, I didn’t have long pants or a long skirt while living in the heat. All my shirts were tank tops, and fuck if I was putting a hoodie overtop while it was 30+ degrees.

In Laos, I would go almost daily to an awesome bar about 20 minutes from my guesthouse. I was walking home from the bar in a mini dress one night. Normally I’d take the long route because the short route cut through a temple, and I knew I was not dressed appropriately to go that way. But on this particular day, it was pouring buckets down from the sky. I took the shortcut through the temple, thinking all the while to myself, “I’m sorry, Buddha. Please understand.” But then I had a think about it. Would Buddha actually be angry at me for walking through this deserted temple at night in an effort to escape the rain faster? Doubtful. He’d probably invite me in for a cup of tea until the rain passed.

I recently read a Facebook post in which the guy was offended by images of a pride parade, which was complete with children, naked people, and everyone filled with smiles. What the hell offended him about this? (Gay) nudity in front of children. Even one commenter who was against his homophobic position still stated that nudity was wrong. Wrong. Just take a second, and let that one sink in. Nudity is WRONG.

Really? The French love their nude beaches – so I guess they must all be devious little fuckers. Those few tribes remaining in the Amazon must be pure evil, ‘cause pretty sure for the most part they’re naked too. And why wouldn’t they be? Clothes would just stick to their sweaty skin in the heat.

Quite honestly, although I don’t walk around naked, and am far from a nudist, I think clothing has two purposes: to keep us warm, and to protect us (for example, while walking through a thick forest, pants might be a good idea so as not to cut up your legs). But other than that? They don’t actually serve much purpose. So while I’m not going to start walking around naked, I’ll happily throw my clothes off at a nude beach, and when the sun is beating down hot as hell on me, I’m going to rock short shorts and a tiny top, because that makes sense to me.

And so, in conclusion, while I will respect the culture of a place I visit, knowing now what I didn’t know then, I can safely say I have no desire to return to any cultures in which a woman must cover up. It took a long time for me to be completely comfortable with my body, and fuck if I’m letting any backwards thinking change that. These are my knees, these are my thighs, this is my belly, these are my shoulders. They are merely the body parts I was born with (and so were you). How can they be offensive?

It’s a body. We all have one. Fucking get over it.

Vang Vieng

 

Danie

Danie is a lovable and insane digital nomad of sorts. If you ever wondered what's a nomad, you've come to the right place. She enjoys oversharing, telling every detail of her life, and chilling on the beach, among other things. Danie is rather odd, and she likes it that way. Be sure to subscribe to hear more of her ramblings, and find out when Danie finally gets to fulfill her biggest dream: cuddling a platypus.

16 Comments:

  1. The clothes that other people wear never bother me–I just don’t care. But certainly I try to be aware of perceptions in my surroundings. I knew it wasn’t appropriate to wear shorts when I visited the temples in Myanmar, so I made sure to pack my linen pants (seriously, slightly baggy linen clothes have been the best decision while traveling through some hot destinations).

    • I might try out some linen just for the sake of keeping me cooler in hot climates! I have absolutely zero issue with what others wear too – I just like to be able to wear what I want, and think I should be allowed to. But I’m still not going to be the asshole dressed in short shorts in a temple… alas, that just means I don’t go to those places!

  2. What a tightrope. The old “it is our culture” that has no logic and blames (usually female) people for doing something that in itself is not inherently “wrong” but is seen as such because it might affect other (usually male) people.

    It was once our culture to burn witches, hunt bears, fight dogs and castrate gays, and woe betide a woman entering a church with her head uncovered. Now we complain at Muslim women covering their heads. It seems mostly about “I don’t like what you are saying or doing and I am in a position of power so I will prevent you from doing it”

    As far as I know nobody has died directly from exposed nipple or caused a fatality from a man seeing her knee.

  3. I must say I don’t really agree. I’m from Western Europe and I just came back from Iceland where I showered naked with lots of other women, so I have no problem with nudity at all. But I do think that we, travellers, have to respect cultures that do seem to have a problem with it. Yes, it’s hot, yes, it might be annoying, but it is up to us to adapt to them when we are a guest in their country, it’s not up to them to adapt to their visitors! You have a very western point of view about nudity, nothing wrong with that, but not the whole world feels the same way…

    • Hey Els! I think you misunderstood me a bit, but I do have a roundabout way of getting to my point at times! I believe that I should be able to wear whatever I want, but that being said, I’m also not the asshole who’s going to disrespect other cultures. Like I said in the article, the moment I realised I was being rude by walking around in a bathing suit top, I never did so again. Did I like this? Hell no. Would I respect it anyways while in this country which was not mine? Of course. So I totally agree with you that it’s our job to adapt to the culture, not theirs to adapt to us as visitors. But knowing what I do now – that I have no desire to adapt to that particular aspect of a culture, because I strongly disagree with it – I simply won’t go to those places. And, if by chance I end up somewhere I must cover up, I’ll respect that.

      • Even at USA you can’t walk in your way naked. My motto: when at Rome, you act like the romans. And you always can live with de yanomamis at the Amazon Forrest.

  4. I think you need a little more awareness about cultural differences, even if this is not entirely the issue here.

    Walking around in your bikini top (or guys for walking around in their bathing suit) would be frowned upon in many Western cities, and in many you could even get a fine for that. I mean, try doing that in downtown wherever, see if you don’t get at the very least a bunch of disapproving glances.
    Bathing clothes are for the beach or a swimming pool, not for walking around shops and such. It’s simply a question of civility in most countries.

    In the case of temples, similar restrictions apply in temples of all countries and faiths, because they’re much more than “touristy things” as you call them.

    • My point is more that I personally am not okay with these things, and think I should be able to wear whatever I please – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be rude and go against a culture’s norms. This is why I don’t really want to go back to Thailand or Laos; there I followed their rules (once I knew!) but I certainly didn’t like it. As for disapproving glances in Western cities, well, I can deal with those, and have. Plus, hello, crop tops and such are oftentimes barely bigger than a bikini, and totally acceptable in Western cultures.

  5. It’s shocking how ignorant and estranged you are. You have to be British (or Aussie or Kiwi for that matter). You are in a country that’s not yours and still you have the arrogance to think you are right. I saw a lot of poor idiots like you in Asia, and always wondered how the locals managed to be so polite with Britbags like you.

    • Hi Frank, I’m sorry you feel this way. As I said in my article, I made an honest mistake once, and never, ever did it again. I followed the culture while there, but I will not go back to a culture in which I have to sacrifice my own beliefs. I’m sorry if you misunderstood me.

  6. btw, you look like an inbreed, as most britbags. so please, for the sake of the world, get covered you ignorant and stupid person

    • Also Frank, I’m Canadian. Not British. And your email address alone is racist as all hell, so please don’t spew at me. Like I said in my previous comment, I made a mistake, and decided that countries with rules that I don’t believe in are not countries that I should visit, as I will always follow the norms of the culture I’m in as that is what is right and polite.

  7. Just reading your really interesting travel blog Danie and read this piece and the comments that followed.

    Unfortunately people like Frank make these stereotypical comments that group people from certain countries all together. I see the point he is trying to make (I’m a Kiwi) but not everyone act like idiots Frank, so pull your head in and focus on the individuals behaving badily, not where their from as we don’t all act like that.

    I do agree with you that commen sense should prevail when it comes to wearing clothes but getting locals in some countries to share your view is a total uphill battle; this is due in large part to their customary beliefs and religion, but also due to the way they have been brought up i.e. nudity is unacceptable.

    It is a real shame, because as you quite rightly point out, there is nothing wrong with nudity as that is how we all came into this world, and being naked.outdoors is one of the best feelings in the world in my opinion; especially swimming naked in the ocean or in rivers!

    Adults often make a big song and dance about children seeing naked people on a nude beach, when in actual fact, it’s them with the problem, not the kids. Kids are more interested in beach related activities like swimming, making sand castles etc and if not pointed out, probably wouldn’t even be concerned or even notice naked people.

    Its only a big deal if adults make it a big deal. Once you’ve neen naked for 10mins and so is everyone around you, you forget about it, its quite natural and liberating and it doesn’t cost a cent, but prudes will be prudes and they just don’t know what they are missing out on.

    I wouldn’t call myself a nudist per say, but my wife and I do go to nude beaches and we have always found the people there to be far more accepting and totally non judgemental; nobody cares about your size, shape, skin colour or ethnicity.

    Give it a go sometime if you haven’t tried it; you’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose!

    • Absolutely adore your comments – could not agree more! While I’m also not really a nudist, I love going to nude beaches and such where I can just be free, and be around people who are totally comfortable in their own skin. I understand that some cultures just have this ingrained in them – that the human body is something to hide. It’s sad, but I just think I won’t be visiting those countries again, as I find it important to respect the rules of a culture you’re visiting, but I just don’t respect that aspect thus they are not the place for me. Off to explore more places that will let me be me! Keen being real! 🙂

  8. As much as I dislike the touristy souvenir ‘elephant pants’, they did serve a purpose (cheap sh!t that let tourists be more modest in temples and palaces)… Kind of a distraction from the hypocritical nature that is Thailand, though (taking mock offense at OHMYGODYOUHAVEKNEES while drivers regard lanes and speed limits as suggestions other people should follow…

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