Body Shame and Women
God intends His children to be open, honest, and free of masks, coverings, and other things that keep us hidden from ourselves, each other, and Him.  Such was the description of Adam and Eve when they were in a loving dependent relationship with Him.  They were naked and unashamed.

From the very beginning of life females in our society are taught more unhealthy and conflicting messages about their bodies than males.  They are consistently taught that how others respond to them is dependent on how they look, their self-worth is largely dependent on how they look, and they are also consistently taught (far more than males) that their body is bad or sexual and must be covered.  Females are far more influenced by cultural standards of body shame and the idea of body perfection, this difference is apparent in that over 90% of patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are teen and adult women (1).  Clearly females bear the heaviest load of body shame, poor body image, guilt – church – and legally induced modesty, plus the fear of sexual harassment or assault. 

Yes, males must deal with many of these issues as well, but the conditioning and therefore the pressure on them is far less.  Even as infants and toddlers, little girl’s chests are often covered, while little boys can at least swim and run around topless.  It’s even this way when the sexes are separated.  For many years in scouts, YMCA’s, and public schools males where required to swim nude (in sex segregated swimming) while at the same time most females where required to swim in suits, also in sex segregated swimming.  Even today, showers in locker rooms are often open group type showers for males, while in the same building showers for females are often closed, private, individual, stall showers.

Let’s not even get started on all the media messages females get bombarded with, many times more than males, that their bodies are not perfect.  The impact of perfect looking bodies on TV, in the movies, and magazines is staggering.  And those perfect looks are deceiving, former Playboy model and born again Christian, Susie Krabacher says’s: “Even the women in the magazines can't compete with themselves in perfect pose and perfect lighting and perfect touch-ups” (2) this includes air brushing and digital enhancements.   The commercial media creates a standard of human perfection that is impossible for ANYONE (even models) to attain.  It then sells us the idea that we can obtain that perfection by simply buying this or that product, what we actually obtain the most through this process is more shame.

Then there’s religion, many Christian teachers stress female modesty in dress as a way to prevent males from getting sexually “turned on” or worse by the female body.  While I do not believe that a lady truly living in Christ would want to dress “erotically” (except perhaps for her husband) Jesus says that evil thoughts come from the heart, not from what is outside (Mark 7:20-23), and certainly not from His own creation which he proclaimed to be very good!  The female body is NOT what causes the male’s sexual interest to go astray from God’s desire.  Sin and how males are conditioned by the world to think of the human body is what causes that!  Males need to break free from the world’s conditioning too!

Now let me be clear, I'm not trying to say that people aren't sexually attracted to the human body. Of course we are, we are created and designed to be attracted to the opposite sex, including their body!  What I'm saying is that our attraction toward nudity and the human body is perverted and made more difficult for us to respond to in a Godly way by promoting excessive modesty and making sex the only allowable context for nudity.

The apostle Paul taught about female modesty (1st Timothy 2:9,10) but when he spoke of what to wear he directly addressed behavior, not clothing.  A female can be very “modestly” dressed and behave indecently; she can also be completely nude and behave very decently.  Regarding things like religious teaching on modest dress Col 2:22-23 says, "They are only manmade commands and teachings.  They seem to be wise, but they are only part of a manmade religion.  They make people pretend not to be proud and make them punish their bodies, but they do not really control the evil desires of the sinful self."  The ONLY way to control the sinful desires is by being controlled by the Holy Spirit, resting and abiding in Jesus.  Man made rules and self-effort only make our struggle with sin worse.

Body shame leads to self-devaluation, depression, feelings of helplessness, and dysfunction.  One study asking subjects to try on bathing suits, caused women – not men – to experience body shame.  Further, in a math test after trying on swimsuits in this study, women – not men – performed poorly. (3) This supports the idea that body shame leads to impaired functioning in other areas of life.  This deep conditioning of body shame is why females can benefit far more from non-sexual, social, nudity then males.  It is also why they are often far more reluctant to try it than males! 

The result of shame is distance and hiding from relationships (including with God).  Shame robs us of our ability to be intimate with others.  “We are designed for intimacy; to know and be known by God and others is meant to be the core of our existence.  It is out of such intimate knowledge that true love is born.  True love brings an authentic, transparent self to others. But shame robs us of that ability.

  • Shame drives us into hiding so that we can neither be known nor truly loved.
  • Shame prevents us from knowing and loving others.
  • Shame is a thief that steals intimacy.
Shame is lived out of darkness.  Its cave is the secret, barricaded and sealed recesses of our heart and mind.  Its food is the lies and half-truths of the accuser himself-the one whose total reason for existence is to destroy or at the very least, incapacitate God’s dearest creation. (John 10:10)” (4)

God never meant for His beloved children to live this way.  The Bible clearly states that when Adam and Eve were living in a dependent, trusting, loving, relationship with God, each other, and themselves, that they where “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25).  “The shame they felt (after their sin) should not be attached to the nakedness of the body.  Adam and Eve had always been nude.  For the first time, however, they had reason to feel vulnerable and exposed.  They had defied their maker and experienced guilt.  Self-image and body-image plunged as a direct consequence”. (5)

This of course is talking about more than the body; it is how we are meant to live spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  When we try to separate the body from our mind and spirit we cannot function as God intended, we where created and meant to be whole and live in a trusting, dependent relationship in Him.  When we are living in a trusting, loving, dependent, grace relationship in God we can be spiritually, emotionally, physically, joyously, and freely naked with Him, ourselves, and others.  This is how we can live in Jesus Christ; this is how Satan wants to stop us from living.  How do you want to live?

Those women who can break through the conditioning of body shame and be physically nude in a safe, non-sexual environment discover a delightful surprise.  Seeing real, non-enhanced, bodies is therapeutic, healing, and purifying for both men and women.  For women however, who have been so deeply conditioned to feel body shame, being seen naked by others is equally necessary and important.  To be able to be seen and be accepted nude by others, with no sexual overtones or expectations, can be tremendously therapeutic, healing, purifying, and cleansing for women.  To be able to be physically naked and accepted without fear by others, can also open up the door for women to be more spiritually and emotionally naked with herself, God, and others.

I encourage you to study more on how harmful and damaging shame is.  At the same time I also encourage you learn more deeply of who God is, how deeply He loves you, that He created you “very good” (Gen 1:31 - 1 Tim. 4:4), great (Psalm 92:4,5), wonderful (Psalm 139:14), crowned you with glory and honor (Psalm 8:4,5), made you His temple (1st Cor. 3:16,17 - 1st Cor. 6:19,20 - 2nd Cor. 6:16), and how wonderful your identity in Him is.  When we can learn how damaging shame is, how much God loves us, who we are in Him and when we depend on and trust Him, we can be naked and unashamed with God, ourselves, and others, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Since body shame is the most basic and elementary shame, comfort with physical, body nakedness is a good stepping-stone to and indicator of comfort with spiritual and emotional nakedness.

Nate Dekan

Founder -
Excutive Director - Natura Family Naturist Resort

(1) Source: American Psychiatric Association, 1994
(2) Source: Susie Krabacher
(3) Source: Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn & Twenge, 1998
(4) Source: Shame Thief of Intimacy, Marie Powers – Gospel Light, 1998
(5) Source: Skin Deep, Mary Ann Mayo – Vine Books, 1992

Copyright © 2002
May be freely copied and distributed unaltered.