With the rise of civilizations, clothing became part of non-verbal communications, indicating a person's social status and individuality, thus the lack of clothing could be a sign of low status. However, through much of history until the late modern period, people might be unclothed by necessity or convenience when engaged in labor and athletics; or when bathing or swimming. Such functional nudity occurred in groups that were usually but not always segregated by sex.
In ancient religions, deities were often depicted as perfect naked humans. Indigenous peoples in tropical climates used clothing for decorative or ceremonial purposes but were often nude, having neither the need to protect the body from the elements nor any concept of sexual shame. The association between nudity and shame is unique to followers of Abrahamic religions. The spread of Western concepts of modest dress was part of colonialism.
Social norms regarding nudity vary widely, reflecting cultural ambiguity towards the body and sexuality, and differing conceptions of what constitutes public versus private spaces. Norms relating to nudity are different for men than they are for women. In many societies, both ancient and contemporary, children might be naked until the beginning of puberty. Individuals may intentionally violate norms relating to nudity; those without power may use nudity as a form of protest, and those with power may impose nakedness on others as a form of punishment.
While the majority of societies require clothing in most situations, others recognize non-sexual nudity as being appropriate for some recreational, social or celebratory activities, and appreciate nudity in the arts as representing positive values. Societies such as Japan and Finland maintain traditions of communal nudity based upon the use of baths and saunas that provided alternatives to sexualization. Some societies and groups continue to disapprove of nudity not only in public but also in private based upon religious beliefs. Norms are codified to varying degrees by laws defining proper dress and indecent exposure.
Further synonyms and euphemisms for nudity abound, including "birthday suit", "in the altogether" and "in the buff". Partial nudity may be defined as not covering the genitals or other parts of the body deemed sexual, such as the buttocks or female breasts.
Two human evolutionary processes are significant regarding nudity; first the biological evolution of early hominids from being covered in fur to being effectively hairless, followed by the cultural evolution of adornments and clothing. In the past there have been several theories regarding why humans lost their fur, but the need to dissipate body heat remains the most widely accepted evolutionary explanation. Less hair, and an increase in eccrine sweating, made it easier for early humans to cool their bodies when they moved from living in shady forest to open savanna. The ability to dissipate excess body heat was one of the things that made possible the dramatic enlargement of the brain, the most temperature-sensitive human organ.
The use of clothing is one of the changes that mark the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of civilization, between 7 and 9 thousand years ago. Much of what is known about the early history of clothing is from depictions of the higher classes, there being few surviving artifacts. Everyday behaviors are rarely represented in historical records. Clothing and adornment became part of the symbolic communication that marked a person's membership in their society, thus nakedness meant being at the bottom of the social scale, lacking in dignity and status. In each culture, ornamentation represented the wearer's place in society; position of authority, economic class, gender role, and marital status. From the beginning of civilization, there was ambiguity regarding everyday nakedness and the nudity in depictions of deities and heroes indicating positive meanings of the unclothed body. The social humiliation of nakedness was not associated with sin or shame regarding sexuality, which was unique to Judeo-Christian societies.
The Age of Western Colonialism was marked by more frequent encounters between Christian and Muslim cultures and Indigenous peoples of the tropics, leading to the stereotypes of the "naked savage". In his diaries, Christopher Columbus writes that the natives of Guanahani were entirely naked, both men and women, and gentle. This also meant that they were seen as less than fully human, and exploitable. Initially Islam exerted little influence beyond large towns, outside of which pagan norms continued. In travels in Mali in the 1350s, Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta was shocked by the casual relationships between men and women even at the court of Sultans, and the public nudity of female slaves and servants.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas similarly had no associations of sexuality or nudity with shame or sin. European colonizers became aware of other practices, including premarital and extramarital sex, homosexuality, and cross-dressing, that motivated their efforts to convert Natives to Christianity. However, characterization of others as savage may have been to justify conquest and displacement. The Aztec city Tenochtitlán reached a population of eighty thousand before the arrival of the Spanish in 1520. Built on an island in Lake Texcoco, it was dependent upon hydraulic engineering for agriculture which also supplied bathing facilities with both steam baths (temazcales) and tubs. The conquistadors viewed indigenous bathing practices, which included both men and women entering temazcales naked, in terms of paganism and sexual immorality and sought to eradicate them. In the Yucatan, Mayan men and women bathed in rivers with little concern for modesty. Yet in spite of the number of hot springs in the region, there is no mention of their use for bathing by indigenous peoples.
From the 17th century, European explorers viewed the lack of clothing they encountered in Africa and Oceania as representative of a primitive state of nature, justifying their own superiority, even as they continued to admire the nudity of Greek statues. A distinction was made by colonizers between idealized nudity in art and the nakedness of Indigenous people, which was uncivilized and indicative of racial inferiority.
Norms related to nudity are associated with norms regarding personal freedom, human sexuality, and gender roles, which vary widely among contemporary societies. Situations where private or public nudity is accepted vary. Some people practice social nudity within the confines of semi-private facilities such as naturist resorts, while other seek more open acceptance of nudity in everyday life and in public spaces designated as clothing-optional.
The social context defines the cultural meaning of nudity that may range from the sacred to the profane. There are activities where freedom of movement is promoted by full or partial nudity. The nudity of the ancient Olympics was part of a religious practice. Athletic activities are also appreciated for the beauty of bodies in motion (as in dance), but in the post-modern media athletic bodies are often taken out of context to become purely sexual, perhaps pornographic.
The sexual nature of nudity is defined by the gaze of others. Studies of naturism find that its practitioners adopt behaviors and norms that suppress the sexual responses while practicing social nudity. Such norms include refraining from staring, touching, or otherwise calling attention to the body while naked. However, some naturists do not maintain this non-sexual atmosphere, as when nudist resorts host sexually-oriented events.
With the independence of Ghana from English rule in 1957, the first Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah and his political party began a program that sought to eliminate undesirable practices including female genital mutilation, human trafficking, prostitution, and nudity. Nudity was practiced by the Frafra, Dagarti, Kokomba, Builsa, Kassena and Lobi peoples in the Northern and Upper Regions of the country. Although the stated opposition to nudity was its association with harmful practices, its prevalence as a tradition was seen as detrimental to Ghana's reputation in the world and economic development, nakedness being associated with primitive backwardness. However anti-nudity efforts also promoted the equal status of women. Some traditional practices remain, the Sefwi people of Ghana performing a ritual, "Be Me Truo" that includes dancing, singing and drama by nude women to avert disaster and promote fertility.
In Asian countries, rather than being immoral or shameful, nakedness is perceived as a breach of etiquette and loss of "face". In contemporary China, while maintaining the traditions of modest dress in everyday life, the use of nudity in magazine advertising indicates the effect of globalization. In much of Asia, traditional dress covers the entire body, similar to Western dress. In stories written in China as early as the fourth century BCE, nudity is presented as an affront to human dignity, reflecting the belief that "humanness" in Chinese society is not innate, but is earned by correct behavior. However, nakedness could also be used by an individual to express contempt for others in their presence. In other stories, the nudity of women, emanating the power of yin, could nullify the yang of aggressive forces.
Prior to the European colonization of New Zealand, Māori people went naked or nearly naked in casual settings as the climate allowed, although they did wear clothing to keep out the weather and denote social status. Men frequently wore nothing but a belt with a piece of string attached holding their foreskin shut over their glans penis. There was no shame or modesty attached to women's breasts, and therefore no garments devoted to concealing them; however, women did cover their pubic area in the presence of men, as exposing it was a cultural expression of anger and contempt. Pre-pubescent children wore no clothes at all. European colonists cited nudity as a sign of Māori racial inferiority, calling them "naked savages". 041b061a72