My 3-year-old son is allergic to clothes. As soon as we walk into our house, he frantically peels them off, leaving them in a little pile at the door and running into the living room to play superheroes.
It’s a mostly tolerable situation in the grand scheme of “threenager” problems. A few months ago I had to endure a couple of tantrums on the subject of wearing clothes outside the house. But now he gets it, and is willing to put clothes on when we need to go out. So he’s primarily a nudist at home (and at his grandparents’ house: they’re cool and totally get toddler oddities).
I will say that it does get kind of annoying when we’ve just arrived home, he gets naked, and then we have to run an errand a half-hour later and I have to get him dressed again. And when it’s the fourth time in a day that I have to get him dressed, I am apt to truly lose my mind. But maybe all that means is that I need to start teaching him how to dress himself (not looking forward to this at all).
Most of the time, the whole thing is just endearing. My son’s got a mop of unruly, long, curly hair, and sometimes he’ll run around the house with nothing but a diaper and a sparkly cape. It’s quite a sight: He’s wild, flamboyant, and totally clueless as to how ridiculously cute he looks.
Part of the reason I tolerate the whole no-clothes thing is because I want to preserve the innocence I see as he prances around the house. His body is completely his own right now. He has no thoughts about whether he’s strong enough or attractive enough. He isn’t thinking about decency or any of the taboos attached to the nude body. He’s completely confident, at home in his skin, free.
Recently, his big brother complained to me about the whole nudist thing. I get it: My older son is 9, and has developed age-appropriate boundaries about things like this. He requested that his little brother wear clothes when his buddies come over for playdates. It wasn’t that he had any problem with the nudity when it was just family, but the idea of his friends seeing it was embarrassing.
I told my older son I would respect his request as best I could. I believe it’s normal and healthy for him to feel this way. But we also discussed the fact that the naked body isn’t something to be ashamed of. He dug that well enough; he just really didn’t want his friends to poke fun at the whole thing.
And I took a moment to tell my little guy that he probably would need to start wearing a bit of clothing when his big brother’s friends came over. He didn’t really get it, but it opened up some further discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of nudity, strangers, and privacy. He will be starting pre-K in the fall, and these are topics that are of paramount importance as he ventures out in the world outside of our home.
These sorts of issues can be slippery, and as a parent, it’s hard to know if you are handling them exactly right. I’m hoping that I am raising boys who will have open minds about subjects like nudity. I want them to be comfortable with their bodies. I want them to have body-positivity in general—not just about their own bodies, but the bodies of others, especially those with whom they may have intimate relationships with in the future.
But I also want them to have very clear boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of nudity and sexuality. I want them to be safe from sexual predators and be unashamed of reporting anything that feels even slightly off-color to me.
My toddler’s nudist phase will pass in no time, I’m sure, just as all childhood phases do. I will be happy not to have to deal with a million clothing changes a day. But I will miss his sweet little naked self prancing around unabashedly, without pretense. And I will carry the lessons he teaches me each day about feeling comfortable in one’s skin, and the natural beauty we all possess if only we would get rid of our hang-ups and see ourselves for the gorgeous people we really are.
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