At no time in my life have I ever been a thirteen-year-old girl, and unless there's more to that whole reincarnation deal than I ever imagined, I never will be. I don't find this particularly troubling: adolescent girls are a major cause of parental hair loss. And I don't relish the thought of facing The Eternal Question, 2010s Version: "This guy wants me to send him nudes. Should I?"

The short answer, of course, is "No, you should not." And it's difficult to explain the logic behind it, which is less "Save it for someone you love" and more "You hardly know this guy; what's to stop him from posting that stuff on the Web?" When she finds out that he did, she will be devastated. "I never knew he was like that," she will wail. Guys who ask for photos up front, I suggest, are almost always "like that"; but how would you know this at thirteen?

Except for the technology, this is nothing new: "You show me yours, I'll show you mine" has been around as long as anyone's had either, though the tendency to act on the impulse seems to diminish greatly from grade-school age to puberty, at which time we discover that, quelle surprise, different kids have different responses. I was very much the prude through about age 12, which complicated my dealings with my ostensible peers, most of whom were two or three years older. (Keep in mind that I'd started college before sixteen.) So one afternoon after school, I wandered over to a friend's house: he was 14 or so, but we shared the same interest in plastic models of cars and planes and such. Said his mom: "I think he's taking a shower right now, but you can go up to his room." Which I did. About two minutes later, he emerged, opened the door just enough to detect the presence of someone, and backed away. He returned, wrapped in a towel. And then it dawned on him: he was going to have to lose the towel to get dressed.

"I won't look," I promised.

"Aw, it's nothing," he said, and dropped the towel. I admit to being mesmerized; in the usual T-shirt-and-jeans "uniform," we looked very much alike, but this breach of the dress code was something I'd never seen before. Still, even at twelve I was wise enough to know the unspoken protocol: "Let us never speak of this again."

By eighteen I'd gotten into the habit of occasionally not bothering to get dressed; however, I'd never before had an audience for it. One of the things you learn on your second day in the Army, though, is that you have no privacy whatsoever, and a shower full of men has the capacity to alter one's perspectives radically.

By twenty-two, I'd come home, and after an extended period of loafing, I found myself working swing shift. Late at night, everyone else was already asleep; one such night, for no reason I can remember, I doffed my clothes, poured a bowl of Raisin Bran, and sat at the dining-room table reading the evening paper. I had no idea I was being watched.

Next morning, younger sister, all of thirteen, buttonholed me. "I saw you."

I yawned. "Saw me what?"

"At the table. In the raw."

Oh, my. Not good. I switched to Profusely Apologetic Mode.

"Oh, I don't care," she said. "It's nothing."

This perplexed me somewhat, but it gave me an idea, and the next time we had the house to ourselves, I made a point of letting her see me nude.

And it turned out that she really didn't care. It wasn't until later, after I'd moved out on my own, that I discovered that all else being equal, she also preferred to go without clothing, and in fact she was more blatant about it than I was: I was generally reluctant to open the door while unclothed, an incident with the Jehovah's Witnesses notwithstanding, but she had no problem greeting friends in her birthday suit. After many years, I evolved a sort of house rule, wherein I would don a bathrobe when coming to the door, unless the caller is someone who has previously indicated that it didn't matter to her if I didn't. I adhere to that rule to this day.

For that thirteen-year-old girl, anyway, things were perfectly un-traumatic. However, this particular scenario is not one that occurs with any frequency, and besides, back in the Seventies, there weren't any incriminating cameras, except for the less-than-ubiquitous Polaroids, and there definitely weren't any selfie sticks.

Still, I am persuaded that if everyone treated the occasional nude as No Big Deal, there wouldn't be all this adolescent angst. It's never going to happen, though: too many people have too great an emotional investment in the unholy and, to me, unreasonable connection between nudity and sex. You can't sever the connection entirely, of course: card-carrying nudists of the AANR type have worked diligently for many years to make nude recreation a family-friendly sort of thing, and at best they have been only partially successful. Nor am I going to pick a fight with the "save it for someone you love" types, since some good friends are among them. Besides, I was fully dressed when I wrote this, mostly because it's the dead of winter and it's snowing and my desire to forego clothing was overridden by my desire to avoid sending $300 to the gas company next month.

The Vent

  23 February 2015

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 Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill