When Do Kids Need a Fig Leaf?

September 27th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  7 Comments

JP takes swimming lessons once a week at a pool in our neighborhood. This is New York, so, of course, space is limited, the pool is something of a disgrace, and the locker rooms are worse. But we come so that he won’t drown, and to kill time on the weekend, and we crowd in with close to 100 other parents and their children, a sea of parental anxiety, childlike delight (and fear), and floaties.

At the end of class this weekend I made the strategic decision not to take JP back to the locker room to help him change his clothes, instead having him strip down poolside. Was this appropriate? Is he, at 5 years old, too old? When is too old for kids to go naked in public?

I don’t really know, but I know this: JP has yet to come to any awareness of the concept of nudity. He is at times clothed and other times unclothed. These states of dress mean something to him in a physical sense: warm, cold, whatever. But they do not yet have any social, sexual, or moral connotation. He remains, in this regard, a boy in the state of nature, which is a kind of nice place for him to be, I think.

Eventually, though, he does need to come to an understanding about how society views dressing. I would let it happen of its own accord, but I am not the only parent in the equation, and I don’t really know what his mother thinks (I’m guessing she’s on the side of modesty).

In the Book of Genesis, it is written that Adam and Eve are naked and that they “felt no shame.” This is, of course, before they eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, at which point “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

The awareness of nudity is the awareness of shame, and lust, and embarrassment, and adulthood, and our bodies, and many other things. JP will come to these in time. We all do. I am in no hurry to educate him in these subjects, either, although I will soon enough, I suppose, and in so doing, educate myself.


  1. Scottstev says:

    September 27th, 2011at 1:58 pm(#)

    Deadspin is all over this subject, albeit in their typically crude manner. The worst part, for me, was having to type “Deadspin children’s nudity” in Google to get the link, so now that search lives on forever.

  2. dadwagon says:

    September 27th, 2011at 2:00 pm(#)

    Scottstev: that was funnier than my post. Here at DadWagon we consider that SOMETHING WE DO NOT NAME. Thanks for posting it and ruining my day. –theodore.

  3. Scottstev says:

    September 27th, 2011at 2:18 pm(#)

    Theodore; I’d respectfully disagree with you there (unlike most of your stuff, where I violently and contemptuously disagree). I thought the pedo references in the Deadspin piece were cheap and crude. Whereas you mentioned Genesis. If in doubt, interview Paul Ford again. I have a feeling that an unfiltered Harper’s would have been a very interesting read.

  4. Kacey3 says:

    September 28th, 2011at 1:26 pm(#)

    I’ve been wondering the same thing. My four year old son obviously still has no consideration for his clothed state, or ours, for that matter

    Despite his freedom with nudity, I’ve wondered both when should we make sure that we are clothed in front of him and when he should be clothed in the company of others.

    We did have a bit of an awkward incident recently, though, that may have started his path of modesty. At a party with several adults and children, he had wet his pants without anyone realizing and when he went to the potty, he came out with pants and underpants in hand, wanting to get clean ones. He didn’t think anything about it until some of the other adults at the party pointed out that he was naked from the waist down. This obviously made him feel uncomfortable as he retreated back to the bathroom.

    We comforted him, but didn’t really talk to him about it because I’m not yet ready to stifle his world with our adult moral and shameful philosophies. But I know the day is coming where I’m going to have to tell him that he really is supposed to wear pants most of the time, and especially in public.

  5. dadwagon says:

    September 28th, 2011at 1:56 pm(#)

    that’s a bummer Kacey. If I could I would walk around most parties with no pants on.–theodore

  6. Robert Hagedorn says:

    September 28th, 2011at 6:35 pm(#)

    Saint Augustine couldn’t do it, but can anyone else explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After 6000+ years I think we’re all due an intelligent explanation. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs, please–just the facts that we know from the story. But first, do an Internet search: First Scandal.

  7. Adin says:

    October 1st, 2011at 3:33 pm(#)

    Definitely he should not be changed poolside. If you did you would be teaching him his person is less valuable that others.

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