Social Phobia and Social Oppression

Laurie and Debbie say:

This anonymous article is by a very brave man (apparently a man) who has had a very hard time which he attributes to growing up with naturist parents.

As a family, we went on naturist holidays from the earliest age, sharing a beach with hundreds of people from across Europe in one of the huge naturist holiday camps in Bordeaux. The holidays were great. Cycling around the camp, aged eight, in the heat of the French summer, was my first taste of independence. And somehow, if everyone’s got their clothes off, it feels as if no one has. But at school it marked me out as being different.

And that difference has affected his whole life.

Anyone who knows our work understands that we are fans of the various naturist and nudist movements, and we appreciate for their support of us over the years. We emphatically do not believe that naturism is bad for children; in fact, we agree with the writer that “Children take to nudity like ducks to water.”

And, with a great deal of respect for this man’s pain, we would like to suggest that it isn’t naturism, per se that caused his troubles. His experience is akin to tens of thousands of others, the experience of any children who are different in some way that is not immediately perceptible to the naked eye, but nonetheless exposes them to ridicule and torment if their classmates find out. He could be writing about being Jewish, or being the child of anti-war activists.

He clearly describes the experience of internalized self-hatred: “At school, aged about 11, if I ever became the centre of attention I became so self-conscious that my vision would blur and my brain would start to shut down. As I got older I found myself unable to relax in groups. ” He attributes this to the physicality of nakedness: “the natural state is not always to be whole and happy. Shame and insecurity are just as much a part of the human experience. Clothes are seen, symbolically, to hide it. I believe the effect of being forced to keep everything on show caused me to create walls and layers to hide behind and within. ”

Again, we see it a little differently. In the article, he talks about his awareness that the pictures on his wall at home were different than the ones in other people’s homes.

Laurie, who has raised children, says that it makes sense to think about the effect on your children when you make statements about yourself in your public space. Obviously, this has limits: an observant Catholic in a Protestant town is not going to take her rosary off the wall. She might, however, consider putting the most graphic picture of the crucifixion in more private space. Or not. But if she doesn’t, by our lights it behooves her to discuss the consequences with her children, and pay attention to how it is affecting them.

Shame and insecurity are, unfortunately, part of our lives in this world. Schools could certainly do a better job of discouraging bullying … but mostly they don’t. Parents have to live with the fact that their choices affect their children’s experience. You can ask your children if your public space contains anything that may make things hard for them (assuming they haven’t volunteered that information) and they can tell you what their boundaries are. You can’t protect your children but you can prepare them and help them deal with the consequences of their and your choices.

Thanks to Oursin for the link.

Body Impolitic

7 thoughts on “Social Phobia and Social Oppression

  1. When I first read this I thought of Josh Kornbluth’s memoir Red Diaper Baby, about growing up in New York with not only nudity in the home but extremely dedicated Marxist Leninist parents. His reaction was to get to kindergarten and try to organize his fellow oppressed kids. This didn’t work and he had to readjust his timeline for a longer-term objective–which his parents supported.

    My point is, that while nudity in the home or at resorts, etc., is a distracting issue. I think it’s the parents not attending to the child’s needs that’s the real issue here. Naturism is just a distraction from the real situation that this young person was sent out into the world feeling inadequate and the gap between the ideal of “natural” and the way he felt when confronting hostile classmates was not validated or supported by his parents. He has internalized this attitude by pushing away the idea of therapy and trying to just “get on with it.” Be natural, but ignore your feelings.

    Some of it may be due to the writer’s sensitive temperament, but any system of belief can be oppressive when forced on the unwilling, and it reads as though this person as a child was in a pressure cooker between insensitive parents living out their own rebellion, and a school environment where he had no refuge or protection.

    I think this drama could play out with any other belief system substituted for naturism.

  2. It seems to me that there is a fine line between using another’s experience to illustrate one’s position and reinterpreting their experience to make them fit one’s position. I’m not sure whether this post steps over that line or not, but it’s parlously close to it, on whichever side.

    The place that particularly troubles me is the response to his claim that the natural state is not always to be whole and happy. Shame and insecurity are just as much a part of the human experience. To call this internalized self-hatred seems to me to go well beyond what he is actually saying in his article, and justified only by the already-decided-upon position that all insecurity and shame about one’s body is (as it were by definition) a mark of self-hatred conditioned by society and then internalized: I’m not so sure that this is entirely the case. That even the most beautiful men and women, constantly told how beautiful they are by those around them, often feel shame and insecurity about their bodies seems to me to imply that there is a tendency towards it deeply ingrained in the structure of the human personality. Why this should be so is another question, and one to which I have no immediate answer to suggest…..

  3. I am not so sure I agree that humans are hard-wired for self-hatred. Personally I think it’s conditioned by exterior forces for means of crowd control. My take on the article-writer’s upbringing was that his parents never instilled in him a sense of adequacy. I do believe that one very valuable thing parents can foster in a child–a sense of being fundamentally functional as a person. That may not sound very dramatic, but I have seen so many people who grew up with a sense of being essentially inadequate. It looked to me as if the article writer was so unhappy and unable to function not so much because of naturism, except insofar as that was the official family “thing.” Rather, I would argue that the deeper family dysfunction he experienced would be due to an underlying sense of not being valued or listened to by anyone. Example: he feels that his family is out of step with the outside world. He is pressured to conform to family norms and also pressured to fit in at school. There is nowhere he can express thoughts disloyal to his family and no one who will acknowledge or understand his confusion. He seems to have undergone a lot of ridicule during his earlier attempts to defend his family’s unusual lifestyle, and he doesn’t seem to have had anyone to turn to there. So he buried his feeling inside and suffered a lot of disconnect from himself and those around him. The fact that these stressful symptoms occurred around puberty may be relevant.

  4. I was raised in an alternative type of household. But my parents were very upfront about being different. When I’d talk to them about kids teasing me, they’d refer to the kids as sheep, and tell me to keep thinking for myself. They’d also tell me how to appear to fit in if I really felt the need. By grade 4 or 5, I was so over that, and much stronger for it.

    I don’t think it’s living alternatively that’s the issue, as much as, like Lynne says, not having open discussions about the potential ramifications of the situtation. I have no intention of living differently than I do for the sake of my children’s social interactions, but I’m very open about my life with my kids and their friends.

    On beautiful women feeling shame and insecurity about their bodies: I don’t look like a model, but I don’t recall ever feel shame or insecurity about my body – even as a teenager. I credit my dad’s love for my mom (also not a model) for my own healthy body-image. So, those feelings aren’t entirely universal even though they’re certainly very common.

  5. Correction to above: When I wrote “the most beautiful men and women” I was writing relative to cultural expectations, etc. rather than referencing an absolute beauty standard.

    To Lynne: It is not impossible for a personality trait to have both inherent (“nature”) and conditioned (“nurture”) aspects. In fact, it is necessary; what is heritable and inherent is a set of potentialites; whether and how they are expressed is conditioned by upbringing. Contrariwise, no amount of social, cultural, etc., conditioning is able to bring out a potentiality that isn’t in some sense already present in the person’s inherent and inherited repertoire of potentialities.

    I’d add, though, that when I said that “shame and insecurity” was inherent in the human makeup, I wasn’t speaking specifically about body-shame and body-insecurity, though my example (though chosen as relevant to the present topic) would tend to make it seem I was.

    I think this also to a large extent answers Sage: Your upbringing did not tend to bring out any potential for “shame and insecurity” about (at least) your body. Good for your father! Good for you!

  6. Hi, all,

    This is such a great conversation we’re going to move it to the front page, by blogging the conversation and our response to it, probably tomorrow or Thursday.

    Thanks so much!

  7. Why nobody’s going to like me? Do I intimidate men or what?

    My data important to understanding this story is my age: 19, am a man, I’m not mannerisms, nor gay, I’m heterosexual.

    Well I think it all started at school me and my cousin we liked Power Rangers and my cousin always chose the Pink Power Ranger (female), then this means that we identify with a woman? A child of 7 years, you think that is something important to discuss?, On the other side of me honestly if I like to represent the yellow Power Ranger and I do not know why, for more cool powers I do not know, but all this does not mean that we already have sexual orientation, age considered. Then a colleague from school heard, saw this in the selection of “Heroes,” I realized I did this, instead of choosing a male model. My cousin did not care.

    So I think from there began to tell a gay, and this was at school and I reported this …

    Then from there the story begins

    I’m afraid to go out into the street, that people who treated me badly, I see my former colleagues from the bus, I’m always looking around to looking in the cars, I know it’s silly but I do, I can not go jogging to a site is like a mountain that I know is a good place to exercise but I am concerned that many buses go there Would you pass?

    The people that I have not done anything wrong I do not care.

    Buses scare me because there is a lot of people, my psychologist told him my problem, trotting in that “good place” he’s there, it’s an obstacle, I embarrassed because he knows my problem.

    I no longer want to live in this city because I see the same people
    contradiction is something I like to live in a big city, but where are they, who finished with my masculinity at the time.

    Know why, because at that time I doubted myself whether my behavior, my movements or mannerisms were feminine, I knew not, so …

    The fact is that when I was in college I was never shy, I never defended claims, the words gay, gay told me that every day (over three years) and that a man can be seen as feminine (tame), it does not say bad words, most of all liabilities, (for reasons I say that word?), then almost all of my forty companions began to tell gay every day 1st 2nd and third year of college for men only, I stand to go to the bathroom by the fact that I say this is “men’s bathroom,” not playing football, although he never liked me, all my classmates were playing, I think it is a very masculine sport, and I see me playing with them, as happened with bath and the curse, never used, I think are very important for life.

    At that time I yelled from the bus even gay. I just wanted to get to my house and refugees. Came about to mourn.

    I became shy without realizing, in fourth grade I changed my school, luckily that history was not repeated until leaving school.

    This led me there was not spontaneous 11, 12 and 13 (at school) 19 years now and I think every day getting rid of it and I do not know cause or social phobia

    Be good in a place where these people live.

    Men intimidate me as a result, women have no problem, I am very spontaneous with them.

    And I am angry with myself because I never did anything to help me, recently I told this to my parents.

    Additional Information
    I do not know if they know what hurts worse, I’m yawning excessively lately, I have to open your mouth for a long sigh as if achieving a deep breath that gives me pleasure, but then I feel I have to re-breathe the air for my chest, I hope I understand. Be anxiety or something …

    To summarize, I am concerned that they see me on the street. And what once was a former colleague and I noticed I’m sure he probably said that I was gay or something like a stranger to me and a friend for him or …? made me look bad.
    And I’ve never had a girlfriend, please no misunderstandings.

    When I was in third year of puñetes I believe it took me so long and fell about gay. Help me understand everything.

    When I changed the 4th college course and I told my new colleagues gay, or anything like that, I think it freed me, everything normal, but he was shy. That did about three friends and I underestimate them because they are ugly and shy, I have no male friends, is a quarrelsome man, daring, malhablado it intimidates me.


    I’m in college and I took with my fellow men, they have told me gay, but very rarely and I do not know why, because I do not say bad words, I am not “done the male” or quarrelsome, for I am quiet, shy because they never showed anger, because they never answered (I think this is just ignored them and that is wrong), yet I have good character and gives a feminine appearance, I do not really know.

    Please advise me, we are all psychologists.

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