In 2019 schreef Doris dit essay voor de TU Delft. Ze onderzocht hoe de Nederlandse cultuur van invloed is op onze kleding en of een duurzamer alternatief, namelijk geen kleding, een optie is.
Foto Remko de Waal
OUR VERY OWN BIRTHDAY SUIT
My wardrobe is stacked with clothing, actually, I’ve got two of them. I just really enjoy fashion, fabrics and colors. Some pieces are very valuable to me, but most of them, not at all. Before this essay I knew near to nothing about the impact of clothing. Or, at least, knew it, but was not aware. So, when I started thinking about it, I wondered why we actually wore clothing, hide our private parts at all times, starting right after birth. Why are we, humans, the only species doing this? And how come we got so estranged from seeing our own naked bodies?
The Clothing Burden
There is no denying that clothing is a perfect protection against the cold and the sun or tough work environments. Pockets are extremely useful and, on some occasions (a train seat for example), a layer of cloth serves hygienic purposes perfectly. All good and well, clothing has some serious downsides.
First of all, the clothing industry impacts the environment disastrously. Research has shown it is the fourth largest polluter in the world.1 Not weird, because the pace of consumption in the clothing industry is mad. We own five times more clothes than our grandparents had. Social inequality arises when we do not follow the latest trends. It is a source of insecurity and an inability to accept and love one’s own body. Worst of all a source of judgement when we decide to stick to our traditions, religion, capability and income.
It creates inequalities in the world by being the main provider of inhumane working conditions.
The fashion industry is the epitome of a take-make-waste economy, not to mention the CO2 emissions, water usage and planetary destruction.
Besides this, clothing affects health. Nowadays a lot of fabric is toxic and infects us as humans. A Greenpeace study2 went over eleven frequently used chemicals and found that they contain carcinogens and hormone disrupters. But even if we would wear naturally fabricated clothing, opposing that we try to prevent it all, it is still a breeding ground for infections and disease. In the study ‘A Naked Ape Would Have Fewer Parasites’3 they discuss ticks with the Lyme disease, sea lice, corsets, belts, ties, bra’s snug pants that raise testicle temperature, lowering sperm count and thereby fertility.
This can’t be good.
Animals miss out on this, good for them, and since they do not put that much pressure on the planet, good for us. Animals never ‘lost’ their fur, for the ones that have any, since most animals (like a lion for example) never really radically changed hunting behavior. Where the humans did because they had to move and run longer distances when temperatures on earth changed.4 Their ‘fur’ is washed and ‘died’ naturally. It adapts itself the seasons by air pockets, waxy substances, or changes color and thickness5. And not in the least, one type of cloth is sufficient, it’s never boring and still identifiable (cats).
The Solution for Humans
It would be so much better if we would just get rid of it all. Be naked, just as naked as animals are, all day, all night. Technologically that is possible, we know how to heat places and our ‘fur’ might even grow back, there would be no difference in appearance, social groups, and less environmental impact. The effects of living without have been thoroughly examined by multiple institutes.6 Dennis Craig Smith and William Sparks found that children exposed to nudity from a young age became either unfazed by the human body later in life and sometimes, psychologically stronger because of it. According to Dr. Norman Doidge, “Going shoeless is now recognized as an anti-Alzheimer’s, brain-boosting activity because the sole sensation entices your brain into growing extra, efficient neuron connections.” It is said that exposure from the sun increases the body’s vitamin D cells, which are responsible for the immune system, so can handle viruses better. Some genetic treats (like hair growth and calluses) are now suppressed by clothing and can still grow back and we would even be better adapted for a naked lifestyle.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of all the goodness of our very own birthday suit.
There is just one, tiny hitch. We’ve grown estranged from seeing our naked bodies over the last centuries. Peculiar, since all animals just do not seem to care and we don’t seem to care about ‘naked’ animals. Unless, we are used to dress them and see them without, it strikes us as naked. Same as people with a beard, once used to it one is bare without. After a while we are used to that again and it is all fine.
Nudity itself is namely not the problem, it is the way of looking at it.
Where humans, as a society, are really different from animals is the ability to imagine, value and believe in non-physical things. We believe in and value morality, taboos, spirituality, status and religion. And this is why we perceive unclothed at the moment as weird.
According to Ian Gilligan from the University of Sydney clothing started to become relevant in the western world around one million years ago. They entered the picture when our physical heat control system changed, and we got the capability of running and sweating for an efficient hunt. Covering protected us from the cold. Clothing then became a communication tool when differences in material and color or decoration depicted social hierarchy.
Nowadays this communication is way more complex. This is where the estrangement found its core. Over the past decades it has been linked to religion, social groups, level of education, income, work, personality and identification.7
Each introducing different connotations and influences, contributing to our vision of nudity today. A major contribution is religion. Christianity caused nudity to be related to sex. It was believed that sex was only meant to reproduce and not for pleasure. Seeing someone naked was reserved to the partner to reproduce solely. Sex for pleasure did exist of course, but hidden in the dark worlds of porn, indecency and fetishes. Since the majority of Western Europe was Christian this affected the fashion industry, morality and even legislation. Sex and nudity, and all that had to do with it, menstruation, masturbation and adoration, became a taboo, which made it even more exciting.
As a chain reaction people react on this phenomenon. Movements are set up to endorse a naturistic approach to sports and community living and bring down community living.8 Pornography made the perception of ‘nudity is sex ‘even bigger. Children’s books (most of them) avoid the subject altogether. Political parties cleverly make use of controversial images to provoke. Nudist are depicted as perverts and fined. Advertisements portray it as pure and natural. Feminism, #metoo and #askingforit emphasizes the sexuality related to it and provides an opening for judgement. Art, photography and film try to break the taboo by showing the beauty of bodies and then privacy issues and censorship put a spanner in the works yet again.
Insecurity and judgment from others, is the main problem. We need to start loving ourselves. Once we are used to being naked, if the link will sexuality will disappear, just like the nakedness of someone without a beard.
In a safe world, a loving world, self and others, a world without judgement and, if it is not too much to ask, a comfortable temperature, I think most people would spend their time in their most simple attire and feel perfectly warm.
3 M. Pagel & W. Bodmer (2003), ‘A Naked Ape Would Have Fewer Parasites’
7 C. Manning, Dr. ‘VIRTUES OF NAKEDNESS Physical & Psychological Health’ from ‘CLOTHED WITH THE SUN’
8 Freikörperkultur in East-Germany