Monday, February 01, 2010

No Clothes for Me

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.

McKay's breasts: just there. My breasts: just there. In this moment are they different in function? No. Then why are my breasts the vilified ones? Any uproar about my naked breast here should to apply to McKay's, but a man in only swim trunks is hardly too immodest.

The reaction
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.

In this picture, the washcloths were less about modesty and more about being warm compresses for my back labor. When I see this picture I see how the two of us came into parenthood relying on each other. I fondly remember this picture as my "Angel in Gethsemane" picture.

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."

You can just feel the oxytocin in the room in this one. I love this one. Can you fit more happiness into a picture?


  1. It seems trite, but ditto.

    I am in complete agreement and find your pictures both joyful and in good taste.

    You already know I'm a convert and I really don't understand why people get so worked up about seeing our bodies DOING WHAT THEY ARE DESIGNED TO DO.

    I have breasts to feed my babies/toddlers/preschoolers. When I birth I'm naked because my senses are on overdrive and it actually hurts to wear anything.

    I didn't get birth photos of the baby girl's birth because it was just the Hubster and I and he was too distracted to think to shoot any. But I have plenty of photos from the big girl's birth since the midwife's assistant and the Hubster were taking pics.

    I do wish more people had a better understanding of the reality of our bodies and their divine purposes. How on earth can bringing our children into this world through birth be immodest???

  2. Hmm, interesting, from the point of view of an atheist just looking in.

    Whatever your bible or someone else's koran or whatever says about it - it's just normal and natural! Whatever you plan to do, don't most people feel the urge to strip off when they go into labour? I certainly did. It just felt like the right thing to do. There is nothing offensive about your pictures. They are lovely, in fact.

  3. Hmmm... well, for me, I believe that men are more liable to be tempted visually. Not that women can't be tempted to lust visually, but that isn't their main temptation. I do feel that women's breasts are designed by God to be sexually attractive, as well as to nourish our little ones. In your conclusion, you say that you feel modesty is about respecting the image of God. I do think that is part of it but I also think not stumbling our brothers is a very important responsibility as well. (FYI, I'm not offended by your birth pictures... you have a baby right there, there isn't anything sensual about them, they're just birth pictures!)

    I think we can view birth and breastfeeding in a personal, intimate way and see the beauty there without saying, this is appropriate everywhere. Sex is beautiful too, but that isn't appropriate for everywhere.

    Also, I'm feeling like I'm missing something in "the garment" section of your post because I'm not Mormon. Could you give me a resource or explanation for that please so I can better understand it?

  4. About breasts - I think you'd like what I wrote in the comments section here.

  5. I think this post is very well thought out. You brought up some interesting points that I had not thought of before, that of God not recognizing a difference between male and female bodies. While I agree with that, I disagree a bit at the same time. We do know that gender is an eternal and important thing. So...I believe there is a difference, but I don't disagree with the main point you are trying to make. I definitely agree with it all being a cultural perspective!!! (By the way, I love that you describe the second picture as your "Angel in Gethsemane" picture. Love that!

  6. Your point of view is so wonderful. I certainly agree that if a person, male or female, will be tempted by any body part it is his/hers to overcome. If it up to the woman to "protect" men from being tempted, we get a culture like the Taliban and mandated burkas.

    Using breasts as an example, we can look at cultures where it is normal for men and women to be topless. Men may find women's breasts attractive, but probably much in the same way men in our culture may find a woman's hair or lips attractive; beautiful but not indecent.

  7. No clothes for me either! I pretty much agree with you on every point. I look at my birth pictures and can't imagine how anyone could find them objectionable and sexually/morally indecent. And I don't think that when men see breast being used for their real function (nourishment of babies), that it is somehow tempting them to think bad thoughts. There's 100 times more sexually explicit material using breasts than there is images of breastfeeding in our culture. It's a drop in the bucket. Frankly, I think that men would have fewer problems if they saw MORE breast being used in a non-sexual manner.

  8. Great post!

    Olivia - I love your second paragraph "beautiful but not indecent". It's so true.

    My DH says I'd love the way people live in Avatar (I haven't seen it yet, being attached to 2 small children most of my life).

    Wouldn't it be great to feel as free being naked all the time as when you're in labour (I absolutely adored it both times!)

  9. Natalie- I'm personally not sure how much of the visual aspect is hardwired and how much is cultural. From day 1, boys and men are shown pictures of scantily clad women and told, "You're supposed to be turned on by this." After being told that many many times, I think it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I guess it could be a chicken or an egg. Do we see lots of sexually explicit images aimed at men because they are visual or are men visual because they have sexually explicit images shown to men all the time?

    And the garment is clothing that many LDS people wear under their regular clothes to remember promises made to God. It covers your front, back, some shoulder, and your legs to your knees. Styles vary- you can get some that go to your ankle for the wintertime.

  10. I guess I see it as being hardwired... I mean, before we had Barbies I think guys still did double takes when a shapely girl walked down the street. I think that is how they're made. That doesn't mean we have to wear paper bags over our heads, but as a married woman I appreciate modesty in other women because I know that even though my husband is doing his best to keep his thoughts pure, having an immodest woman walk across the room is like waving a bottle of Axe under my nose- totally distracting!

    And thank you for the explanation! I did not know that.

  11. Mallory,
    I guess I'm trying to figure out what "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose," means for my daily life other than "don't get a sex change." Does it mean that there are traits I shouldn't try to develop because I'm female? Or vice versa for McKay? I guess I see that everyone ought to strive to be Christlike and that the characteristics of Christ are important for everyone to emulate. Even when the Proclamation refers to roles of mothers and fathers, there is still the room for "individual adaptation" of those roles. I guess I interpret "essential" there to mean there are clear lines between the sexes, but I can't seem to find them other than chromosomes. I guess that's a post for some other time when I can actually work it out.

  12. WOW! Well done Heather! I adore you even more every time I read one of your posts. Have I ever told you that I want to be just like you when I grow up? ;O) I wish I could put into words the thoughts and feelings I have about such passionate topics the way you do. You are truly an inspiration to so many women! Thanks for all the work you do to inform and enlighten other women to their natural beauty and potential. You are certainly a great threat to Satan's armies! Keep up the fantastic work!

  13. There's a huge difference between images designed to arouse and images that celebrate and respect the body. Last I checked, no one was telling us we can't look at Michaelangelo's David. Birth is a very sacred and artistic experience. If someone is aroused by that, that's on their shoulders. I am not responsible for other people's sins. That's a very standard Mormon doctrine.

  14. Amen. And that's not just any amen. That's a big stand-up-in-church-and-wave-your-arms-above-your-head-and-sing-amen-and-hallelujah!

    Seriously. One of the best posts I've read in a long time. And I love the birth pics you chose to show.

    My girls watched so many videos and looked at so many pics when we were preparing for Max's homebirth. To this day, my 6 year old's favorite pictures are the ones of Max crowning.

    And I totally agree with you on the pictures being worth a thousand words. When I was posting Max's birth story, I had a hard time finding pics that others would think "appropriate" that still conveyed the emotion that I felt.

  15. I just finished reading about 10 days worth of your posts (I was out of town) and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog!! Your insights ring true to me and I'm amazed at how well you articulate yourself. I'm so impressed with with the way you think and I really do appreciate you sharing your thoughts in your blog.
    I found your blog way back when you posted Margarets birth story because someone emailed it to me in a "I can't believe she posted this on the internet" attitude. I've never understood what the uproar was about. I've been a fan of your blog since that day.

  16. RE: Natalie

    Where exactly in scripture is it stated that it is our responsibility as women to not be a stumbling block to our brothers? In Heavenly Father's eyes were are only responsible for our OWN sins, not for anyone else's.

    This sort of thinking leads our daughters to think they are dirty and unworthy-that their brothers are better than they are. That their brother's matter more to God than they do.

    I was taught this untruth in my ward growing up and it cost me my testimony. It took a long time for me to realize that God doesn't see me as a stumbling block. He loves me.

    We might be held accountable for knowingly dressing enticingly, but if our intention was pure I don't think there is anything for us to be held accountable for.

  17. You're absolutely radiant in that last picture! How could anyone see these images as sexually enticing? Some people are not comfortable with nudity but that's because of how they are raised. My mom was ultra-modest so it took some unlearning on my part to be able to appreciate the human body without getting embarrassed (ironically, a BYU art course helped me with that!). It's okay for women to be protective of their bodies, and I do believe that we might send unintended messages with our bodies, so for that reason we should be mindful of how we dress (for our own safety--not for protecting men from sinning!).

    The other day I was with some moms from church and one said she wanted to share some nude pregnancy photos, if we were okay with it. We all said, "Of course!" Except for one mom who wasn't paying attention. The mom who hadn't paid attention was clearly surprised and uncomfortable with the nude photos and actually closed the computer folder with the images in it! I felt that was rather immature when she could have just looked away.

  18. Thank you for posting this! That last picture is so full of happy.

    I went through some similar dithering when deciding how much of my birth photos and videos to share with family and friends. I had an aversion to clothing in labor, too, and surprised even myself with how thoroughly I flung prudery out the window. The midwives took very detailed videos and photography of the crowning and birth that I think are just gorgeous. They seriously give me the goosebumps. But I wasn't sure everyone would share my appreciation.

    I ended up doing some really random censoring when posting them on our photo blog. I drew a bikini over my breasts in the birthing tub — it was kind of hilarious, actually — and iMovie let me put in these weird effects, like bright shining lights to cover up certain areas, making it seem like my lady parts were glowing with a holy radiance. It all kind of amused me. But I'd kind of have loved to have two versions up: one uncensored for those who are mature enough to handle it (because I LOVE watching birth videos and seeing birth pictures in all their realness), and one censored for, you know, my in-laws or whomever. But there is that internet thing, because even thought it was posted on a private blog, it got picked up immediately by a bunch of birth video sites and pasted all over.

    Anyway! Just wanted to say I support you in the choice you made. I think it's grand and not at all immodest, in the sense you're describing.

  19. I think it would very inconvient to wear garmets while giving birth. especially the pants! :-D

  20. I should preface by saying I have *not* read all the comments, so I'm sorry if I'm repeating anything here.

    I think it's offensive to men (and I'm speaking on behalf of my husband who feels the same way) to think of them as these carnal creatures who can't help but be tempted and need to be protected from it. My husband would look at those pictures and think they were great. No sexual overtures. Just an awesome moment.

    I don't feel Gd created my breasts to be beautiful. I think my husband finds them beautiful because he knows they would nourish his children. Biologically and scientifically speaking, men are attracted to features that denote an ability to have and raise healthy children.

    I think posting the photos is great. We need to bring life and birth and nature back into *normalcy* where it belongs.

  21. Kim- Romans 14:13, "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."

    If we're dressed modestly and attractively and our brother is just not trying, or having a rough day, and stumbles, that is his fault. But if we're being immodest, and through intent or through carelessness being unhelpful in our dress and he stumbles, surely, while we are not going to be held as guilty for his sin, we have sinned as well.

    I think men likewise have responsibilities not to stumble women. It isn't like God is "picking on" women and requiring them to go the extra mile because they're somehow inferior.

  22. love that last picture, especially. this is a well-expressed post and very interesting.


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