Friday, September 2, 2016
Nudity and Prudishness
“I think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores,” the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote after visiting the United States in the 1830s. Was he right? Do present-day Americans still exhibit, in their attitudes and behavior, traces of those austere English Protestants who started arriving in the country in the early 17th century?
It seems we do. Consider a series of experiments conducted by researchers led by the psychologist Eric Luis Uhlmann and published last year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In one study, they investigated whether the work habits of today’s Americans reflected the so-called Protestant work ethic. Martin Luther and John Calvin argued that work was a calling from God. They also believed in predestination and viewed success as a sign of salvation. This led to belief in success as a path to salvation: hard work and good deeds would bring rewards, in life and after.
In the study, American and Canadian college students were asked to solve word puzzles involving anagrams. But first, some were subtly exposed to (or “primed” with) salvation-related words like “heaven” and “redeem,” while others were exposed to neutral words. The researchers found that the Americans - but not the Canadians - solved more anagrams with salvation on the mind. They worked harder.
Professor Uhlmann and his colleagues also conducted an experiment to see if Americans shared the prudishness of the Puritans. They found that American students judged promiscuous women more harshly than British students did.
In a third experiment, the researchers asked Asian-Americans to rate their support for a school principal who had canceled a prom because of sexually charged dancing and also to rate their support for a school that had banned revealing clothing. But first, the researchers primed the participants with thoughts of either their Asian or their American heritage, as well as with thoughts of work or another topic. They found that the participants showed increased approval of the prudish school officials when primed with thoughts of work - if they had also been primed with their American heritage, but not when primed with their Asian heritage. These results suggest a tight Puritanical intermingling of work, sex and morality in the American mind.
In none of these studies did the results hinge on the participants’ religious affiliation or level of religious feeling. Whatever these Americans explicitly believed (or didn’t believe) about God, something like Puritan values seemed to be guiding their moral judgments.
Protestant attitudes about work may also influence how Americans treat their co-workers. Calvin argued that socializing while on the job was a distraction from the assignment God gave you. The psychologist Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks has found that Protestants - but not Catholics - become less sensitive to others’ emotions when reminded of work, possibly indicating a tendency to judge fraternizing as unproductive and unprofessional. He and collaborators have also found that Americans have a culturally specific tendency to view family photos and other personal items as unprofessional presences in the office.
Not all of the legacy of Puritanism suggests moral uprightness. Studies since the ’70s have also found that Americans who score high on a Protestant Ethic Scale (emphasizing self-reliance and self-discipline) or similar metric show marked prejudice against racial minorities and the poor; hostility toward social welfare efforts; and, among obese women, self-denigration.
Why the persistence of Puritanism in American life? “New England exercised a disproportionate influence on American ideals,” the historian John Coffey says, “thanks to a powerful intellectual tradition disseminated through its universities, its dynamic print culture and the writings of its famous clergy.” He also notes the power of Evangelicalism as a carrier of Puritan values and America’s resistance, compared with other largely Protestant nations, to secularization.
It’s hard to say for sure that any given element of the American psyche results from our Puritan founders. “The direct lines are few,” stresses David D. Hall, a professor of New England church history, “mostly because of industrialization and immigration” and other factors that have led to immense social change.
But were Tocqueville to land on our shores today, with a bit of squinting he would probably see some of the same evidence of our Puritan destiny as he did nearly two centuries ago.
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Are You Shy When Naked?
5 revealing ways to relax with your own nudity
Okay, more specifically, what does you being naked mean to you? Whoops; let's consider context. I'm guessing that the thought of you being naked alone in the bathtub has a different feel than the thought of you walking down a busy, crowded street totally bare...frankly, I'm hoping.
I'm not suggesting (as some people have) that all nudity in all contexts is 'healthy'. As with many over-applied ideas, it doesn't always stand up to scrutiny (so to speak...ahem).
But our bodies are, needless to say, an important part of who we are. It's not that we have to shove nudity in people's faces (unless we're lap dancers) to show how wonderfully un-uptight we are. However, life becomes a little easier and more enjoyable when we can relax about nakedness when it does happen.
For some people, though, appearing naked at any time feels like a problem.
People can become chronically embarrassed and shy about being seen naked, even by their lovers or spouses. I say 'become' because, of course, once upon a time you were completely unaware of even the idea of nudity. No newly born babes are shy when naked.
So what makes some people relaxed with their bodies whilst others run blushing to the nearest light switch?
Where does body shyness come from?
Okay, other than Biblical references to Adam and Eve's sudden self-consciousness at their nudity (and subsequent fall from grace), why might you have become shy about nudity? As I said, you weren't born that way. You must have learned to be shy without clothes.
Well, firstly, some awareness around our own nudity is a good thing. We of course need to be aware that nudity isn't always called for.
Causes for shyness around nakedness include:
Exclusively viewing nudity in the context of sex and being embarrassed about that.
Having grown up in a household or culture in which nudity was shameful and discouraged.
Having lack of confidence in the appearance of your own body.
Having had your body ridiculed or having been ridiculed for being naked in the past.
Feeling that your body falls pitifully short of air-brushed media bodies and therefore should never be displayed.
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If you want to become more comfortable with being unclothed, follow these tips:
1. Vividly recall not being shy when naked
I have a clear recollection of stripping off and running naked in the park on a hot summer's day (and no, that wasn't last summer!). I must have been two or three years old, but I can still recall the sheer freedom of the experience. I didn't think in terms of 'nakedness' or even about how I might appear.
I'm not suggesting that's a totally good thing in an adult (if we want to avoid arrest), but sometimes it helps us to think about times of wonderful spontaneity to feel a little more relaxed now. If you can remember a time in which you were naked and felt fine about that, then close your eyes and take five minutes to vividly recall those feelings of freedom.
2. Remember what is genuinely sexy
Some of us have a clear recollection of playing and running naked or swimming on a hot summer's day. And we can still recall the sheer freedom of the experience. We didn't think in terms of 'nakedness' or even about how I might appear.
3. A little at a time gets you there
One woman who had never appeared naked in front of her husband wanted to be able to relax more in her own skin. I suggested she appear naked for a second (whilst she walked to switch off the light), then two seconds the next week. After a few weeks, she could walk around for minutes at a time and sometimes even forgot entirely that she was naked. A big jump can feel daunting, but many little hops can get you there.
4. Spend more time naked
This sounds obvious, but the more time you spend naked, the more natural it starts to feel. When you're on your own (and the temperature is well above freezing), do stuff in the nude. Taking an hour to do the housework naked means that you become accustomed to being as nature intended and of course it starts to feel natural very quickly. If you can feel relaxed and natural on your own, it's going to feel easier to be naked in front of another person.
5. Use self-hypnosis to relax with your nudity
When you strongly imagine being a certain way, you are more likely to actually be that way in the future. For example, people who imagine feeling nervous before an event are making it more likely that they will feel those nerves when the situation occurs for real. This is a kind of natural but unhelpful self-hypnosis.
Take time to close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. Imagine disrobing (in front of whomever you'd like) and notice how it feels to be relaxed and comfortable about that. And always remember: You came into this world naked before you'd learned a lot of false ideas about comparing yourself to others. Going naked sometimes and forgetting to even think about it is, in a way, a road to finding a wonderful and real sense of innocence.