Is nudity a taboo subject?

September 10, 2012, 4:02 PM GMT+0

Nudity has been a topical issue of late in the press, with two photographs of Prince Harry causing controversy, alongside the repeated convictions of the naked rambler Stephen Gough.

We asked Labs participants whether they thought nudity was a taboo subject in the United Kingdom and the general perception of participants towards their own and other people’s nudity:

Nudity as a Taboo Subject:

  • Most Labs participants said that nudity was a taboo subject. Labs participants who argued this viewpoint gave a range of views, with some participants remarking that nudity was a subject that ashamed the vast majority of people in Britain.
  • Nonetheless, other participants stated most people tend to ignore the topic; due to its embarrassing nature and that the general public in the United Kingdom should hold more liberal views on the topic, like our European counterparts do.
  • In a similar manner, a small section of participants noted the conservative, austere, and restrained nature of British culture as a reason for nudity being a taboo subject. These participants’ general perception was that many people in the United Kingdom equate nudity with sex, another reason why it is generally frowned upon in British society today.
  • On the other hand, a minority of Labs participants said that nudity is becoming less of a taboo subject and more acceptable to the younger generations, through the exposure of the media, which has made people more tolerant of nudity as a whole.

Participants who were more comfortable with Nudity:

  • In contrast to the findings on the taboo nature of nudity, Labs participants tended to be far more comfortable with their own nudity than not comfortable in their naked skin. Participants in this group noted how nudity was liberating for the individual and that it can make people more positive about themselves.
  • Similarly, the vast majority of Labs participants said that they were comfortable with other people’s nudity, for instance in changing rooms, on the beach, or on TV, so long as it did not affect them directly.
  • It appears that on the one side of the coin, that although Labs participants’ perceived nudity as a taboo subject, on the other side of the coin they were more open about both their own nudity and the nudity of others.
  • On the whole, the majority of Labs participants also said that they had become more comfortable with their own and other people’s nudity as they had got older. Explanations ranged from becoming more tolerant, mature, and less judgmental of the behaviour of others.

Participants who were less comfortable with Nudity:

  • Participants in this group were not comfortable with their own nudity, as they saw their own bodies in a negative light. Moreover, participants in this group tended to be embarrassed of their body size or shape and this was why they felt uncomfortable with both their own nudity and other people’s nudity.
  • A minority of participants said that they were not comfortable with other people’s nudity, seeing it largely as a new phenomenon. These participants were primarily concerned with nudity undermining the moral fabric of society and also equated nudity with a decline in the moral standards of society.
  • Those participants who were less comfortable with nudity as they became older were in the minority, with more people saying that their attitudes had stayed the same and had not changed as they had become older.

Here's what our poll participants had to say...

Viewpoint 1- Nudity as a Taboo subject

“We seem to have a British stigma attached to us whereby things of this nature are frowned upon. I think it stems back from the Victorian era” Anon

“Mainstream UK media have for many years either exploited the nude human form or associated it with negative comments. This has led to people being ashamed and afraid of showing off their bodyJames, Poole

“We are more prude and self-conscious of our naked bodies than in, say, Europe. Even Primark has got rid of its communal changing rooms as they didn't suit the British marketAnon

“It’s a taboo, because the concept of nudity is followed only by a few people and the majority are not. So when, any practise for that matter, is segregated to any one small number of people, the others tend to make it a "taboo" Raj, Chadderton

“I think that compared with other European countries, the UK is a lot less comfortable with nudity and that British people are generally embarrassed by nudity. For instance seeing a family member naked, whereas an Italian friend has no problem using the bathroom while a family member is showering. This would be quite shocking in a British contextAnon

“It is not the norm to see people wondering around naked, like some other countries where there are more nudist beaches, nudist hotels and openly nudity is readily accepted” Anon

The British culture has since the Victorian era been somewhat restrained by manners and politeness. This may be why nudity is thought of as a taboo. Nudity and sex are not the same thing although they can be confused by some peopleAnon

“There is always a degree of hypocrisy around taboos - and there certainly is around nudity in the UK. Images of nudity are everywhere - even in public places. As a society, we remain very disturbed and unhealthy in our attitude to sex. It is likely that our attitude towards general nudity will remain twisted and contradictory, and therefore a taboo. Paradoxically, if nudity were more common, this might, eventually begin to reduce our pathological relationship to sex” Anon

“I think that people in the UK are private and conservative about themselves and do not like showing themselves off. In the younger generations, people are becoming more open about their sexuality and body but among the older generations (35+) they still believe that it is something that should be kept private” Ravi, London

Viewpoint 2 - Participants who were more comfortable with Nudity

“It’s the natural state. Why not be comfortable? There are no clothes to hinder you” Anon

“I am naked as often as I can be, in private and in public. I am happy with my imperfections and don't judge others on theirs” Anon

“I feel I have nothing to be ashamed of in my body. I'm happy with the way I look, and I think why should we be ashamed of our body when everyone has one? We should celebrate ourselves rather than feeling like we have to cover up and hide the way we look naturally. I think it's insecurity that causes people to be prudish about nakedness” Seren, Aberdeen

“Very liberating. It allows you and those around you to totally strip down to who you are. No statements, no brands, just the body and it's ownerRobin, Honor Oak

I'm comfortable because I don't have any hang ups about nudity, what is there to be embarrassed about being naked, this is how we are born. It's all about educating our minds to accept nakedness not to shun away from it Richard, Yorkshire

“As a naturist you are used to seeing people in all shapes and sizes, with disabilities and scars, as well as their personalities, which is the important bit” Heather S, Nottingham

“We are all alike in that we are either male or female. In truth some are more visually attractive than others. However, if we can accept that fact without thinking of specific sexual attraction there is much to commend nudity from a levelling position” Anon

Viewpoint 3 - Participants who were less comfortable with Nudity

“Firstly, I follow the concept of being clothed at all times, with exception of a few occasions. Secondly, I am conscious of my body and don’t feel comfortable exposing it. Finally, I feel, my privacy of body belongs to my partner and no one else needs to see it” Raj, Chadderton

“I would have been very comfortable many years ago but the body does not improve when you get into your 70's” Anon

“Purely on the basis that some bodies, mine included, are not a pleasant sight naked. My thoughts are not for myself but are looking from the perspective of an onlooker. Some bodies are more pleasant to view than others” Anon

I'm overweight and am embarrassed to show my bare body in front of most people. Happy to be nude in front of close friends who are also comfortable with their own nudityFiona, Glasgow

“I was brought up to believe in keeping yourself to yourself and as this was during the war years. My grandparents were in charge of my upbringing, they were Victorians who had of course been reared with those ideas. Now I am old, it definitely is better to cover up. I can honestly say I have never been happy to even wear a swimming costume in any time of my life” K, Belfast

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