There's much buzz about Hillary Swank's interview in November's Marie Claire, in which she tells Joanna Coles that she sleeps in the nude -- even with her boyfriend's 6-year-old son around.
Our society is a little over the top when it comes to equating nudity with sexuality. (It's OK to wear a bikini at the beach, but if my child sees me in my bra and undies at home I've scarred him for life? Come on). Granted, most of us don't have Hillary Swank's figure, and so the issue of sexuality isn't quite as blatant for most of us. But still, it's there -- even more so if the child isn't biologically yours, and still more so if the nude or semi-nude adult is the dad and the child is a girl (the interview doesn't mention whether Swank's boyfriend is nude in front of his son).
From the interview:
JC: What do you sleep in?
HS: I don't sleep in anything. Do you sleep in a nightgown?
JC: I sleep in pj's. I have two young sons, so I have to be conscious of that.
HS: Well, my boyfriend's son is 6 years old, and you wonder at what age you should stop walking around nude. Every morning he comes into the bedroom, and you're just nude. But he doesn't look twice; he doesn't think about it yet. I just toss and turn too much when I sleep, and if I'm in clothes, I get all twisted up.
I think she has a point: Little kids don't really think about nudity yet, at least not in terms of sexuality. And I totally understand what Swank means about getting all twisted up; I hate sleeping in pajamas, and I hate the way nightgowns ride up. And yet... even when my big kids (my stepchildren) were very young -- young enough to be running around naked themselves -- if they were at home with us I kept my nightclothes on.
Interestingly enough, when my two youngest kids were born, I didn't have any qualms about nursing them in front of our big kids -- that kind of micro-nudity felt perfectly natural. And I still don't worry about my 5-year-old girl or my 3-year-old boy barging in on me while I'm in the bathroom or changing -- something that happens at least once a day, it seems.
Back in June, there was a great Parenting Traps column by Jennifer Mattern in the Globe Sunday Magazine. In it, she wrote:
In this all-female household, there are no locks on bathroom or bedroom doors. The three of us wander around in various states of undress. I brush my teeth in the buff while my younger daughter, who is 5, sits behind me on the toilet, singing to my rear end. My elder daughter, 8, sticks her head into the shower to ask me about the various “yuck” factors of puberty, about the feminist and anthropological ramifications of shaving my legs, about the real low-down on babies finding their way into their mommies’ bellies. I tell my girls that what they are seeing when they see me is a real woman.
I think that countering the much-hyped image of Photoshopped female perfection and having your daughters understand what a woman's body really looks like is a good thing. That said, having a blended family lends a layer of complexity to the nudity question.
For all of the comments I've read at The Huffington Post (Sample: "Being nude is actually the most natural thing in the world. Kids only have a problem with it when they're TAUGHT to have a problem with it") and at Yahoo!'s Shine ("Naked in front of your own kids is one thing...but naked in front of your BOYFRIENDS 6 year old son is very creepy"), I'm still left wondering about two things:
1.) Would people still think it was creepy if her boyfriend's child was a girl?
2.) Would people still be outraged about it if she and her boyfriend were married?
Moms and Dads, what do you think? When do you cover up in front of your kids? And if you're in a blended family, where do you draw the line when it comes to nudity?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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