Projet Nudité

Research on nudity and shame in different cultures

Projet Nudité has been a work in progress. Until 2007, its content was regularly adjusted and expanded to incorporate new data. The latest news could be found here. I invited you to participate in the process, for instance by leaving a message in the (now defunct) guestbook, or by contacting me by e-mail. You can still do this if you like at, though I'm not so much involved with the subject anymore since I have found my answer.

Kind regards,

Victor van Dijk

Nudity and shame: an anthropological answer

The question I asked Illuster (alumni magazine of Utrecht University): Why are many people ashamed to show their naked body in public? What are the cultural and social backgrounds?

The answer in Illuster 36, 09/04, by Dr. W.E.A. van Beek, university main professor of cultural anthropology at Utrecht University:

"First of all, let me remark that the feeling of shame in the world doesn't provide a universal image. At ninety-five percent of the people, shame is genitally oriented. However, there are, for example, naked women in the Amazon region who feel ashamed when they don't wear any bands around their arms or ankles. Shame emerges when there is a deviation from the clothing standard, which is applied differently in every culture.

Shame is not congenital, but the reason why people are ashamed does have a universal, biological background. At its base lies the genetically indiced man-female relationship. It has not been further filled in biologically, like is the case with birds (monogamy) or baboons (polygamy). It's up to the culture to 'do something about sex'. This leads to cultural rules for sexual bonding, so sexual behavior. This, in turn, explains the cultural focus on the genitals, so on covering the genitals, because some reflexes are just plainly visible. It seems a logical task for every culture, taken into account the importance of a stable parent bonding, which is indeed necessary to raise an early born child, to 'privatise' the genital."

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