Letters from Home

When Nude Isn’t Naked

A Guest Post by Contributor Lisa Hill, American expatriate living in Switzerland.

I walk through the room, topless, anticipating… He waits for me there, ready.
doc's office - courtesy of brandi sims "house of sims" on Flickr
I climb onto the table and my doctor begins the examination.

Nudity. Nakedness. Not always the seductive, titillating state we Americans have infused it with.

Sometimes, it’s just being without clothes.

I have experienced this new clarity since moving to Switzerland and visiting the doctor here.

Pieces of Me

Back  home a doctor never sees the whole body of a patient. They sneak glimpses through peeled-back paper or under cottony gowns. One breast, one arm, a portion of rib revealed then covered again as if the light would somehow damage it. We are parts, not a whole. And those parts must not be associated with a body, with a person, lest we are overcome with….what? Lust? Embarrassment? Desire? Shame?

The first time the nurse here asked me to remove all clothing above my waist and the doctor would be in to see me, I peered around, searching for the johnny. The paper top. A robe. I inquired as to their whereabouts and was told to just undress. The doctor would be right in.

So I did with the dawning realization of something cloistered in my mind. Something I’ve always known but hadn’t stopped to consider. The doctor is a doctor. He needs to see these parts to examine and diagnose. There is no need for “Hide and Seek” in these circumstances. How had it become thus in the U.S.?

“Here is what I’ve come to see you about. Please. Look.”

Naked Practicalities

I also consider the huge savings in laundry and disposable gowns that this attitude affords. Lower cost of health care through nudity!

And I have become comfortable, to some extent, with the nakedness. At the beach on the lake, women will frequently doff their tops and stretch out in the sun. In public. With people around. And no one seems to be overwhelmed by this act. I haven’t seen anyone staring, or acting untoward.

The woman is topless because she is not wearing a top. And the world spins on.

I don’t speak for all American women or their attitudes. I know only my own impressions and motivations. For me, the narrow context in which we see the nude body back home has colored what is “appropriate” and what is “beautiful.” What is beautiful is the perfect. The perky. The American super-sized portion.

The Swiss woman doesn’t seem to be bound by the same indoctrination. The bodies lazing in the sun are perfect in their comfort, but not in the narrow view of beauty to which we are somehow held accountable. My imperfect self would be unremarkable among the other bare breasted bodies on the beach.

Not that I have overcome my ingrained modest tendencies. I endure strap lines in my tan not because my nakedness is significant to others, but because my naked body is still private territory (and somehow unworthy of display) in my American subconsciousness. Unless I have a doctor’s appointment.

Then, I walk through the room…

5 thoughts on “When Nude Isn’t Naked

  1. As you said, we are all the same but each is unique therefore special. Also in Switzerland the saunas are mixed, or co-ed, as the Americans sometimes say, so in you go, draped discreetly with a towel which you then take off, fold and sit on, perhaps next to a man or woman and sweat away. Not so bad if they are all strangers but in my case I was with a ski club and knew several of the other bodies, they were different people when unclothed. And just as nice. Most of the English speaking world is too hung up about nudity, more of it and there would be less curiosity.

  2. I went to the physical therapist while in Prague. She told me to take my clothes off down to my underclothes. I looked around for the partition, or waited for her to leave. There was a partition in the room but that was for her street clothes and purse. I had always thought it weird that you can’t take your clothes off in front of the doctor who will be momentarily seeing you naked (or parts of you naked), but when faced with that situation, it really threw me off.

    1. It IS odd. Like, why is it strange to SEE a person undress? Gosh, we are so WEIRD about our bodies in America, it is true. It is interesting to here about how they treat this overseas. I don’t remember it being all that different in England, but you know, they are British after all.

  3. This is so well stated. I can’t tell you how often on hot sticky days when my guys can whip off their shirts and I’m stuck in a sports bra I hate the modest mentality of America! Or when getting a mammogram and holding the stupid “covering” on the one side while trying to get into whatever insane position it is they need with the other. Why? Why? Why? We are such a sex obsessed nation.

  4. Lisa, I love this post, because I find it heinous that we are all so hung up about our bodies. REALLY? Guess what? We all basically have the same thing. It is so weird that we get all googly about boobs and penises. In American, our bodies are our sexuality now, which is SUCH as a small part of who we are as people.

    The disgusting part of that is what it does to YOUNG GIRLS… the clothes that they wear and how they become sexual objects in those clothes, even before they are in 2nd grade.

    If you want to see my head spin, get me started on THAT rant!

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