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.
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.