I'm posting this in lieu of Inquisition Monday because I didn't get any questions- and I know a few of you were looking forward to this, so it might as well be Inquisition Monday. It's been written for over a month now and I hadn't posted it because I wanted to make sure all possible questions would be answered in this post- and then I realized that's not going to be possible. So I'll try to answer questions in the comments if I can.
When I mentioned I was thinking of doing a post on birth nudity, I found it a little amusing that people were interested in my thoughts on birth nudity when it's quite obvious I have nothing against it. Those are my thoughts. The end. If you continue to read this, you'll get to see some pictures not on the birth story post. Lucky you. Oh, and I won't have a lot of clothes on.
My understanding of Modesty
I outline this in my Modesty and Breastfeeding post. I've spent a lot of time studying LDS theology on modesty. In almost every talk or article about modesty, it mentions we are modest because we are in the image of God. Immodesty twists and contorts the image of God for carnal reasons. That is why dressing to arouse or stimulate is immodest.
Female and Male
"All human beings - male and female - are created in the image of God." All. Everyone. And when we go to the temple, everyone- female and male- are asked to live the same standards of modesty: legs to knees, front, back all covered. Yes, there are some differences in garment styles- particularly in sleeves- but I personally believe that if men's fashion took a turn towards cap sleeve shirts, then cap sleeve garments would become available for men. In the end: the same code of modesty is expected of everyone. Period.
Exceptions for garments and modesty
I think the most obvious modesty guidelines in the Church relate to the garment so I'm going to take some time to discuss that. Many people encourage their children to follow "garment-like" modesty standards even though they have not yet covenanted to wear the garment. I think it's safe to say that the garment is the standard by which modesty guidelines are formed for the members of the Church.
There are sometimes exceptions to the modesty rule as it pertains to garments. First, there are reasons the garment might be altered (perhaps you have only one leg) or temporarily shifted (perhaps you must eat through a tube directly to your stomach, or need to move your clothes to give yourself an insulin shot). I consider breastfeeding to be one of those exceptions. For my physical well-being (mastitis) and for Margaret's physical (immunities, vitamins, hydration, etc) and emotional well-being, I have to breastfeed regularly, and in doing so, I'm going to have to push my clothing to the side and I don't feel there is anything wrong with that.
Then there are exceptions to wearing garments at all: heavy exercise, bathing, sex, swimming, etc. Of course, these vary person to person. Perhaps you have very active sweat glands and you've decided not to wear your garment during light exercise. The wearing and care of the garment is between you and the Lord. I find that birth is one of those times when I feel Heavenly Father is ok with me not wearing my garment.
Back to differences between the female and male body
I believe that differences between women and men are far fewer than what our culture wants us to believe. We're all made of the same stuff- and even our brains are bathed in the same hormones, though the quantities of each will be different person to person. I have testosterone, McKay has estrogen. We really aren't that different. In fact, we're so similar, that despite the sizes of our genitals or breasts or the amount of hair on our faces, we are all in God's image.
I think it's wrong when our culture treats men and women's bodies as different in what's "decent". The Church does teach that the breast is not supposed to be a "sexual enticement." However, when we adopt different standards for dress between the sexes we perpetuate the exact opposite of what the gospel teaches, and give the impression that the breast is a sexual enticement. The ultimate danger of having separate expectations for the sexes is that it gives the impression that, despite that all people are given the same commandments and have the same aptitude to become like God, God will judge the sexes differently, or even that perhaps He favors or values one sex over the other. That is clearly wrong. I don't feel God looks at McKay's nipples in our pictures and thinks, "Meh, they're guy nipples, not a big deal," but sees mine and declares, "You must cover those immediately and let no one EVER see those! How indecent!" My nipples are just as God-like and in-His-image as McKay's, so any eternal principles related to modesty apply to both sets of nipples equally.
So when I posted those pictures of me and McKay I didn't think anything of it. Sure, my breasts are bigger than his, but his breasts are hairier than mine. We are both using our breasts in the exact same way in those pictures (they are just simply there), so why would his breasts get special treatment? Why is it ok for him to be topless in swim trunks, but not for my body to be equally as exposed?
Anything that makes us think it's not ok is culture-based, not based on any eternal gospel principle.
I was actually very surprised that people were upset about our birth photos. When I posted my pictures, I thought they were very tame: there were no "Here's Margaret coming out of my vagina!" pictures (though it's actually a shame we don't have any pictures like that because it would have been cool to get a picture of her in the caul). I deliberately left out the pictures I thought might be too much for some people's sensibilities; I think pubic hair freaks people out. But the ones I posted? Tame: you see chest, some butt. I thought to myself, "Surely even my most "modest" of readers wouldn't find these photos offensive." Apparently I misjudged the maturity of my readers.
How I Birth
I went into labor with Margaret at 10:30 in the evening. After about 10 minutes of trying to hide the fact I was having contractions, I stripped down to nothing and stayed like that for the next two days. For me, the idea of wearing anything- even a sports bra- was just so repulsive. To have anything on my body, clinging to me, holding me back, would have resulted in my own birth pysche being held back. Being naked was important for my brain to go to my birthing place unhindered. This is one of my reasons for choosing UC. I need to be as unhindered as possible. Distractions in the form of clothes or people or even music hindered me.
While in the moment, I am a private birther, afterward I really enjoy sharing my experiences. That's why I have a blog with things like Inquisition Mondays. I like to read about other people's life experiences, and I like the share mine. I don't think I could have shared Margaret's birth story without the pictures. A picture is worth 1000 words; the body positions and facial expressions tell a lot about how labor felt to me and how McKay and I stepped through the doorway of parenthood together. I can't possibly remember everything I felt those 44+ hours. Even writing the birth story a couple of days later, I lost some of the details and nuances, but the pictures keep a little bit of that in there.
But it's the Internet
You're right, I suppose someone with a birth fetish could find this arousing. I play the piano for the ward choir; for all I know, someone in the congregation has a hand fetish and I should wear gloves every time I play for the choir. But if I were to censor everything based off of the fact that someone might have a fetish, I'd have to wear a sheet covering the top of my head to my toes. And even then, I'm sure someone out there has a "sheet covering the top of your head to your toes" fetish. You really can't win. I have decided not to censor myself on the basis of "Someone might..." and feel fine in sharing my pictures because I know they aren't immodest. I can't live in paranoia.
More on God's image (sort of a conclusion)
Like I said above, I feel that modesty is about respecting the image of God. I don't believe that nude art, birth pictures, etc. disrespect God's image. Disrespect happens when that image is twisted for carnal purposes in things like pornography or when they are mocked. I believe that when we see God's image used respectfully, we are better able to recognize when it's not. None of my birth pictures would be considered porn or boudoir photos. Their purpose isn't sexual enticement. Unfortunately, in our culture, we only ever see naked or partially naked people when the goal is arousal, so to switch from "Being naked always means arousal" to "There are times when nudity can be useful and demonstrate how God has blessed us" can take a little bit of effort. I think the benefit of viewing art, birth, breastfeeding, etc., is that we can pinpoint, "That is how the image of God is beautiful and good" so that when we are confronted with the misuse of the body, we can say, "Hey, that doesn't feel the same as what I know is good."