I spent a portion of my youth in the DC area. We moved there when I was about nine, my father a military officer, was stationed there. So…D.C. here I come.
I liked living in the DC area. It was interesting. But upon our moving their a fascinating phenomenon occured. No sooner had we moved there, than EVERY long last relative we’d ever had decided that visit the Capitol was their civic duty. So, we had guests. EVERY WEEKEND. I got to the point that I could navigate the tourist attractions of the DC area backwards. To this day, I’ve met few people with as much trivial knowledge of the DC area as I have. But I digress.
One of my favorite stops on our weekly tour was the National Art Gallery. I liked it. A place of beauty among bleak rock monuments. I had my favorite painting, my favorite eras, and movements. I also had places that didn’t speak to my 9 yr old sensibilities.
One particular weekend, my parents/siblings weren’t feeling it, and we were wanting to call it an early day. Our cousins still had lots to see and agreed to guide themselves around town to the final 2 or 3 places they’d yet to see. Amongst them, The National Gallery of Art. So, I eagerly volunteered/asked if I could stay with cousins to finish the trip. With no objections from any adult, I was allowed to stay.
So, there I was, walking around my favorite museum, where I’d been 1000 times before, but now… with a new set of parents. It was weird. It was awful. We hadn’t been in the building more than 3 minutes when my guardians saw a picture on the wall, that they deemed inappropriate for my young eyes (oh no, not nudity!), so they protectively guided me to look the other way. In the next gallery, a similar occurrence. Then in the next, and in the next.
It got to a point where my loving guardians just walked along side of me guiding my head and eyes to the floor. The National Gallery of Art has a beautiful floor… but that isn’t why people go there. This annoyed me at the time. I wanted to see the sculptures and paintings. I wanted to see the art. I didn’t say anything as at 9, I didn’t really feel like I had a chance of talking the hand off the back of my head. So I walked… looking at my shoes.
Its been well over 20 years since this encounter. And to this day, it still sort of bugs me. There were (at least at the time) no photographs on the walls of the National Gallery. I was being protected from paintings, of people, many of them angelic representations, and none of them sexual. I’m a pretty smart person, but to this day I can’t understand the reasoning here, or even if there was “reasoning” or more just “reaction”.
I’m not trying to jump in with #freethenipple, and I’m not advocating nudity galore, as I actually understand the need for a certain degree of personal decorum in the way we present ourselves. But, why is this country afraid of boobs? Why are breastfeeding mothers accosted for indecency? Why would you even imply to a 9yr old, that there is something shameful or indecent with a human body.
I see the pendulum swinging in line with what I’m talking about, and I can’t say I agree 100% with the world on how/why they are saying what they are saying. But if I had to choose between a culture where free expression, self-love, human form, and our bodies were uncovered and we had to retrain our brains into that reality. I think it would be greatly superior to the one where I have to explain to my daughters that there is absolutely nothing wrong with their bodies, and people are just stupid.
I don’t feel I’m making a strong point today. Maybe I’m distracted. But in the news we have women being arrested for wearing a “burkini” (a burka/wetsuit that allows Muslim women to go to the beach), while others are marching on the streets toppless about their rights to be nude. All of it reminds me of a 9yr old who was made to look at the floor, because the fear of a 400yr old oil painting depicting naked people. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why we care at all. If a woman wants to be nude at the beach, and another woman in a burkini, it seems to me the only people whose comfort level matter in that scenario are the two women.
The world isn’t there to make you comfortable. Being uncomfortable is a part of life. Seeing things we don’t like helps shape us, it widens our world view, it lets us see the whole of the world, not just our slice. Why do we care what women wear? Why do we care if they breast feed? Why do we shield the human body from view? And why do we care when people choose to cover their own? Its a terrifying state of affairs. It really is.