As I was walking through a neighborhood, I saw a mother watching her child play on the grass. As soon as she noticed me, she looked uncomfortable and told me that she was sorry. At first I was confused, but then I understood why she had apologized. She apologized for allowing her toddler to be seen naked in public. I imagine she was used to being harshly judged by other parents, as well as being frequently told to cover up her young child.
In the United States, there is something not often noticed in society that needs to change: the sexualization of young children. It is seen as improper for children to be seen without clothes on. Why? There isn’t a comprehendible answer as to why American society views children as potential sexual objects.
In ancient history, clothing was generally determined by the weather. In colder climates, everyone would wear more clothing of thicker material. In warmer climates, people would wear very little clothing. This is still mostly true today. There are clothing options typical for every climate and occasion. At the beach, it is considered “normal” in America to wear a swimsuit that covers up every “private part” or sexual region. The area where Americans seem to shift away from the rest of the world is in what young wear to the beach.
In the United States, starting at birth, people are taught to clothe their children “modestly.” Where does the idea of modesty stem from? Modestly is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention.” According to this definition, the only people who would need to dress in a modest fashion are those who attract sexual attention. So the deeper question is, why are children in the United States attracting sexual attention?
Children are not sexual beings. The concept of a child is that it is a person who has not begun sexual maturity. Children should be in an environment where they are learning about the world in a natural way. The sexualization of children doesn’t exist in most places outside of the United States. Even in what are considered to be some of the most “conservative” places in the world children are not held to the dressing standards of adults. According to Islamic teachings, men and women are only told to adhere to standards of dress at the age of puberty. Islam says that no person should dress to receive sexual attention in public. Therefore, because children are not sexualized, they do not follow the same dressing practices as women and girls past puberty.
For people above the age of puberty, there is understandable logic in the connection between modesty and nudity. Before that age however, there is no reason why it should be socially or morally unacceptable to be naked. The different opinion on child nudity in the United States versus the rest of the world most likely stems from the way nudity is perceived. The key difference is when naked men and women are viewed sexually. Throughout the world it is seem as a norm to only view human anatomy as sexual in sexual situations, but not in other times. In the United States, the human body is always seen as sexual. When the human form is sexualized in every situation, why would children be left out of it?
Throughout history, nudity in children was considered normal. Child nudity is one of the most natural things in the world. In paintings before a certain era, it would be more unusual to see a child dressed than clothed. This is the logical and reasonable mindset.
The reason for the sexualization of children in America is that context is not considered in relation to nudity. In other societies where women and men are only seen sexually in sexual situations, naked children are not sexualized because they are not in those sexual situations. If sexualization is not situation based, even children can be viewed as sexual beings.
The stigmas around naked children need to change in the United States. Parents need to trust that others will not view their children sexually when they are changing at the beach. Parents need to stop apologizing for assuming that their child’s state of dress has the right to make others uncomfortable. Once people in the United States realize the flaw in their logic when it comes to sexualization, the perception of children can shift into a normal state of mind.