Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The "Naked" Truth

In my position at the Waterfront Festival last month - sitting outside the baby feeding tent for two days! - I was able to indulge in one of my favourite past-times - people watching. Add to that lots of time to ponder and I started to observe how attitudes to bare skin change dramatically when beach-side.

From toddlers to elders, there was the life cycle of the human body laid bare to see.

Children ran around clad only in bathers, oblivious to concerns about body image (or skin cancer risks).

Pre-teens and early adolescents strutted self-consciously, tugging bits of clothing up or down constantly, while those a few years more confident paraded their impossibly youthful bodies in impossibly revealing swim wear. (Gee, thanks for that! I looked like that too, you know - thirty years ago, when I walked the same sands)

The pre-motherhood women generally walked even more confidently, with short shorts slung low and  short tops slung short! Tattoos were in abundance, on trim taught skin.

The mothers tended more in two directions - covered and uncovered. The younger the children, the more focused they were on them and hovered with sunscreen, hats and pram shades. Their own clothes were either too-tight revealed on bodies that had gone up several sizes or were baggy and unshaped to hide the bulges.

Add a few more years and the mothers of teenagers and adults had re-gained figures old or new and generally covered up against the sun damage they had already received decades before.

The grandmothers were covered up or boldly bare - this seemed the next generation confident enough to strut in swimsuits in such a public theatre. The older they were, the less they seemed to care about wobbly bits or saggy bits.

The elderly had reverted to the cover of the toddlers, with hats and sunscreen and shade protecting tender skin. Some sported evidence of cancerous growths removed from faces and hands creased and spotted from decades of sun exposure. If only the teens actually saw their futures in these elders, they would run for cover!

So, if you asked the question: which of these is the typical, what would you answer? At which stage on our journey from cradle to the grave is our skin and body shape "normal"? The answer is never, yet the media would firmly have us believe it hovers somewhere after puberty and before pregnancy. A scant ten - twenty years out of 100? it hardly seems fair. Yet when I look at the bodies around me at beach or swimming pool, I see the simple progression as we change in body shape, as our skin becomes less taut and the environment etches its marks upon us. So by the end of life, we have a body so different from that we started with, yet entirely as it should be after decades of living.

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