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  • Nanci

Naked and Unashamed

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

Naked and Unashamed

I visited a village just outside Chennai to see if it was a good place to build a school for Dalit children. When we first drove up to the village, it looked nearly abandoned. A local woman leader excitedly grabbed me by the hand and started screaming for all the women and children to come out of their homes. Dozens and dozens of lovely, dirty, half dressed, screaming children piled all around me. The woman talked wildly about the future of her people—how all of the children needed an education and that there was no hope for their village without empowering the next generation. I wondered if I could hire her to write brochures for our office!

The fact that these children were home during the day, dirty, and not fully clothed spoke volumes to me about the poverty of this village. If they had the resources, these children would have been clean, dressed, and in school instead of home working to put food in their stomachs.

I asked if I could photograph the beautiful children to remember my experience and her village. The woman began to grab children and push them in front of my camera. Through my lens I noticed a quiet girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old. She was all but naked – her torn, very small underpants were her only covering. Her developing breasts lay exposed. Even so, the girl had tied a colorful scarf around her neck. Hiding none of her nakedness, she expressed her desire to be beautiful. I was fascinated.

I don’t know when it happens, but at some point most of us become ashamed of nakedness. Certainly not when we are toddlers. When my children were just learning to walk, they loved to run free without diapers, completely naked. The adoring photographs I took of them are so cute in the family photo album. My children now scream, horrified, when they see these—to think that I would dare show off a picture of their two-year-old selves completely naked! Psychologists tell us that this developed sense of shame of our naked body is normal and theologians tell us our shame has been around since the fall in the Garden of Eden.

I wondered whether this girl had any respect for her body to understand that she needed to be clothed. And yet she wanted that colorful scarf wrapped around her neck. Was she too poor to have any clothes or was she just so socially malnourished she didn’t understand she needed clothes? I wanted to protect her and yet give her freedom all at the same time.

It grieves me to think about all the girls in India who do not know they deserve dignity and respect. How tragic it is that millions of women worldwide have healthy and unhealthy shame all twisted up, entangling them.

How sad to think that for a number of reasons, this girl will never blush at her naked picture in a family photo album.

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