OPEN DOOR POLICY Part 1: How To Deal With Your Naked House Upbringing by Nicolette Yarborough
Part 1: How To Deal With Your Naked House Upbringing
I am a typical American kid on almost all counts. I was born here, rode the bus here, picked up all my slang, pop lyrics and fashion queues here, but behind the door of my childhood home I experienced a lifestyle that might alarm the average American family. I should say first that I was raised in San Francisco, because that means something I guess.
Also, My mother is Dutch and the only one in her family living in the states. She speaks perfect English and passes for fully American, except for a slight exaggeration in certain consonants and the 'u' sound. Most of the time I can't hear it at all. As much as she is a bonafide citizen, she boasts an openness and progressive philosophy a typical San Franciscan could only aspire to realize.
Also, I went to a Chinese immersion school from the ages of 5-14, the conservative traditions and educational style of which seriously confused the hippie child in me. So when I say I grew up in a "naked house", temper your discomfort with the understanding that I already lived far, far left of center.
A naked house is not:
1. Necessarily a place where nudists live.
2. A place where upon entering you will immediately be expected to remove your clothing.
(......in fact, my parents refuse to heat the place so I always have to wear double socks
when I visit)
3. A place where you will be guaranteed to see someone naked.
What I do mean is that for the years of my life when it mattered (approx. 10-18,) I felt as though my personal space and privacy were limited and often invaded by people who took no issue with leaving the doors and windows open while dressing. I could be showering or getting dressed for school and at my most emotionally vulnerable when anyone might walk in without knocking, completely unphased by my impropriety. Locking doors was seriously frowned upon. My friends from childhood, too, were not safe from this lack of boundaries. A few have reported sightings of any of my family members naked or in underpants on the way to/from the shower. Many recall slightly inappropriate outfits and a generally European attitude about bodies and sex. All of these things in contrast to their already liberal San Franciscan households. My mom's childhood friend visited us once (with her husband and two kids I might add) and did the breakfast dishes in a sexy sheer teddy while my brother and I sat at the kitchen table unable to wipe the dumbfounded expressions from our faces. When confronted with questions my mother smiled and sighed, "That's just Ingeborg..."
At the beach in Holland, an important landmark for this brand of exhibitionism, I always wore a bathing suit. In the U.S., everyone wear suits. I'm not the weird one. I preferred to cover myself in a towel while changing, which in Europe is kind of like covering up a pimple with a really, really pale concealer. Everybody knows and you're just making it worse. My inclination towards modesty prompted disparaging remarks from my mother such as,
"When did you become such a puritanical American?" and
"Who taught you to be so conservative?"
Well I'll tell you. You can't raise a child in California, send them to Chinese school for nine years and expect them to come out a caution-to-the-wind, "free the nipple" kind of gal. At least not right away. In fact, I'd say for a time I was very uncomfortable with my body in the way that most American teenagers are, almost as a rebellion to my mother's influence. No amount of homeschooling would have made me into that Dutch kid who runs blissfully through the dike in the altogether. It took four years of art school and six more years of living with my best friends to feel like I shed that prudery. I still shower with the door closed though.
I love my mom. I love how she doesn't pardon my insecurities. I love that she speaks frankly on all matters, even when she's grasping at straws. It took me a long time to realize that her disapproval for my body issues came from a place of honest concern for my development as a girl. Where she comes from people don't raise daughters to cower in shame at their developing breasts or cover themselves up from the people who bathed and dressed them for years. I know this, I lived it, and still it feels foreign to me.
On New Year's Day I followed her to a party at which several women decided to go skinny dipping in the (freezing, northern) Pacific Ocean. One even wanted to be photographed like a mermaid on the rocks by the shore. We all stood and watched as she posed, smiling and laughing and completely content with the fact that it was not a sanctioned nude beach. This is what my mom wanted for me. To her, a body is just a body and she isn't the least bit sentimental about it.