The naked truth

Bookshops in the US have apparently censored images of Andrej Pejic bare chested, because although he is a man, “customers might think he is a woman”. And apparently the sight of female breasts is offensive and horrifying to their clientele. Sadly, they are probably right that leaving the image uncensored will cause screams of horror. Yet I would make a fairly large bet that there are magazines with blood, dead people, or other images of gore and violence, that are happily displayed front and centre in those same bookshops.

I find this deeply puzzling. There is a lot of screaming about the sexualisation of children, but much less about their exposure to violence and gore. My 8 year old’s teacher recommended that she watch the news and read newspapers to extend her reading and current event knowledge – but we won’t let her watch the news. It is far too distressing, and she does not yet have the skills to process it, or understand that the bad stuff gets reported and sensationalised because it sells, and that there are good things happening every day that just aren’t “worth” reporting.

I have often felt out on a limb because our children watch very little television – and what they do watch is carefully selected. At 8 and 4 they have never watched commercial tv, and we switch the radio off when the news comes on. I felt somewhat vindicated when I read a recent article in Melbourne’s Child in which an academic described research that shows that children who watch the news often wind up more anxious right into adulthood, and that they become hypersensitized to the possibility of bad things happening to themselves, and the people around them.

The Age today has a headline on its website about a grandmother being beheaded. In Spain. It had a different headline yesterday, no less horrifying, about the same story. We hear all about traumatic things happening all over the world, with no perspective. Headlines screaming about people dying in horrific ways tend not to specify that it was a long way away. And you know what? I don’t think it’s only kids who become anxious as a result.

We are bombarded with violent, horrifying images and stories every day. And each one that happens is rehashed repeatedly, before it is allowed to fade from the headlines (until the 1 month, 6 month, and 1 year anniversaries, and so on ad nauseam). But breasts – oh my goodness, please protect us from those! (To say nothing of bottoms.)

My 8 year old gets very grumpy on hot days, when she sees boys going about shirtless, because she feels it is massively unfair that they can, and she can’t. And I can’t explain to her why it’s fair – because it is manifestly not. It’s a weird, artificial construct. It’s ok to show blood, gore and guns, but save us from skin – that stuff’s dangerous.

If I were to put an image of a breast on this post, I would probably get into trouble for not having an adult-content warning on my blog.  And yet naked people are something all of us will encounter in our lives (we hope!). Nakedness is as natural, and harmless, as a newborn baby. Violence, on the other hand, is something we hope not to encounter, and that I think we’d all prefer to protect our children from. So why do we allow images of that everywhere, and wildly censor the human body?

I just don’t get it.

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5 thoughts on “The naked truth

  1. Hear! Hear!
    Our kids watch no tv (or any other screen entertainment) until the age of nine, when they get very measured doses. And we have calm and content children who can play together for hours and hours…
    (Breastfed a toddler in public for years – interesting reactions to *that*.)

    1. Joe

      (Breastfed a toddler in public for years – interesting reactions to *that*.)

      Gawds yes. Obviously that’s not what breasts are for. How dare you.

  2. Joe

    I just don’t get it.

    Me either.

    Oh, and at our house we don’t have a television at all.

    I have no idea why our society chooses to saturate itself with a programming of massively unrealistic sense of risk and danger. And we start young. Most of the movies almost all the kids at kindergarten have seen are rated “PG”. Not “C”. Not even “G”. They’re filled not only with danger from start to finish, but a large number of the Disney movies in particular contain the worst form of all … massive personal betrayal by a carer or mentor or close friend. (I have a similar gripe about the traditional fairy tales that influence Disney in the first place. I suspect certain editorial elements and assumptions of such tales have been lost through generations of telling… they were conceived within a different cultural framework.)

    I’m pretty sure the subconscious doesn’t distinguish between the information content in our own “reality” vs that in a “movie” or the “news”. Sure, you know it’s not yourself in the picture (dissociation) and there’s no kinematic or aromatic components in the experience (diluted reality) and yes most of us can consciously sift the real from the fantasy (association by emotional state)… but by golly there’s still a lot of false information being absorbed in the name of “entertainment”. I find it especially unsettling that so much action/violence entertainment tries to pass itself of as even plausible in the real world ’cause , you know, it’s more tense and dramatic that way.

    Imagine for a moment if you read, every day, how people in your own street were being beheaded, raped, held hostage, starved, involved in gunfights and violent martial arts battles. No visual cues, no auditory immersion, no manipulation of your fight/flight physiology with sound and light and timing “tricks”… just reading. The reading of itself is not experiencing the events personally, but the influence on your emotional state would be huge.

    Modern “news” is often about trying to bring remotely removed realities into your personal framework, and engaging basic emotional responses that keep you fascinated (in the physiological sense of fascinated). As for the movie and tv industries… just how is your subconscious framework supposed to deal more easily with full sensory immersion and deliberate manipulation?

    I firmly believe the only mitigation against this fake danger data is the quantity of real world experience that it stacks up against. As an adult, most of us have decades of experiences of safe reality against which new false danger fragments can be weighed. As a child, not so. As an adult, our emotional formulation of the general state and safety in the world is relatively well established. Annnnnd… guess when – and how – that establishment took place?

    What happens when an entire generation has their childhood sense of safety unreasonably diluted? We become our own worst enemy, feeling the need for personal protection against phantoms and the need to hide from the world and be suspicious of each other.

    Old world real wolves in real forests had nothing on the sense of unsafety we teach these days. I had someone bawl me out the other month for leaving my sleeping child in a locked car in a video-surveillance underground carpark for ten minutes. Personally I am absolutely certain my daughter was safer there than if I woke her up to come with me into Bunnings, and materially better off getting the nap she needed. (Caveats about a particular child’s ability to cope if she woke up “alone” in that situation… this one would be fine.)

    Give me breasts, and naked manly chests, any day over these kinds of irrational fear.

    (But preferably not in the context of trying to sell me something irrelevant. A whole ‘nother rant.)

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