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No clothes, no shame

I can’t say if it’s an Asian thing or a generational thing, but there are these adults who tell kids who undress that they’re “shame shame”.

It infuriates me.

I was at the library with the kids a while back and there was a mom who was reading to her kid. From what I could gather while sitting across the room, it was about a kid who was learning to take a shower. While reading, she would pause and comment on the illustrations. So she got to this portion where the kid got undressed and she pointed at the photo to her child and said, “so shame shame right?”. Her 3-year-old responded with a giggle but after a stern look from his mom, became decidedly subdued and said, “the boy never wear clothes, so shame shame.”

Ok, first of all, where I come from, people get naked when they have a shower. There’s nothing shame shame about it.

And second of all, even though I haven’t actually read the book, I think that’s not really the point the author was trying to make.

The lady was reading loud enough for my kids to hear but since they didn’t really seem to hear it, I decided to leave it alone. Besides, I try not to comment on other parents’ teaching methods because I know how sensitive it is.

Then a couple of days ago, I was showering Kirsten when she turned to me and said, “See, I shame shame.” I was taken aback for a while so I asked her where she learnt it from and she said her teacher in school told her about it.

“Sweetie, listen to me, you’re not shame shame ok. You’re beautiful. If teacher ever tells you that you are shame shame again, you say “I’m beautiful” and then tell mommy when you get home.”

“But teacher said if I never wear clothes, I’m shame shame,” she said.

“That’s not true baby. Remember mommy told you that you’re not allowed to show your vagina to other people? It’s because it’s special and you’re supposed to keep it secret. But you’re not shame shame and if you have to bathe, it’s fine to not wear clothes ok.”

It was hard explaining this to a 2.5-year-old and I was mad at the teacher for making it worse.

Ok seriously, this whole shame shame thing has got to stop. I know why adults do it – to discourage kids from running around stark naked in public but there has got to be a better way to do it than shaming a child. They’re going to have to deal with feelings of inferiority and self-doubt and shame soon enough, they don’t need to feel ashamed about their bodies when they’re 2.

Besides, if there’s anything I’ve learnt from parenting toddlers, it’s that they’re compulsive little people. It’s like they can’t help themselves. If they want to get naked, THEY WILL GET NAKED. We try to contain it and scramble to make them put their clothes back on but they will do it until they’re old enough to control their impulses. And they’re not doing it to be bad or intentionally flashing their penises at you to make you uncomfortable. They’re just compulsive and all we need to do is give them a little time to learn that their private parts should be kept private.

But you know what really gets me? When teachers or adults in positions of power do it, the kids under their care will think that it’s ok to “shame shame” their peers. The kids who are waiting for their turn to shower will see the naked kids and think it’s funny to point and say “eee, shame shame”. And maybe even laugh.

I’m all for being fully clothed in public. I mean, I do it all the time. But there are situations in life which requires us to get naked and showering is one of them. My kids don’t need to feel ashamed when they undress to bathe. And so what if they do a naked streak around the house right after their shower? I doubt they’re going to be doing it when they’re 14, so if this is the way they need to express themselves right now, I’m ok with that.

So now every time I shower the kids, I make it a point to tell them that they’re beautiful the way the are.

Today, when Kirsten got into the shower, she said, “I’m not shame shame, right? I’m beautiful!”

Damn right you are, princess.

photo credit: Lynn Davis

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40 Comments

  • Reply San January 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Omgosh I so agree. The first time my mom heard my son use the word “penis” she almost flipped and laughed AT him till she saw my glare… I prefer penis over cuckoo or bird anytime man.

    Yeah, it is an Asian thing. But while I tolerate the older generation (cos old habits die hard), it’s kinda sad to see “our generation” do things like this!

    While I’m no confrontational person, you planning to speak to her teacher? :P
    San´s last post ..Indoor playground (plus the 2nd giveaway!)

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:05 am

      LOL I still have to stifle a laugh when I say penis. I can never win at the shouting penis game..

      I thought about speaking to the teacher but I didn’t want to be too confrontational about it yet. Everyday, I do ask Kirsten if “teacher told you shame shame today” and it seems to have stopped so I’ll probably just leave it for now.

  • Reply leslie January 12, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Thinking back, I’m glad I hardly say ‘shame shame’ whenever they run around naked (for fun) just before their baths, instead I’m more worried they will catch a cold and I’ll tell them ‘it’s windy out there, come back here!’ *phew….

    And yes, donno why but they love showing their ku-ku to each other and laugh away. I guess they will grow out of it? kids……..-_-….

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:07 am

      I hope they grow out of it for sure! If they’re still doing it in Secondary School, I’d be more than a little concerned.

      But kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for so they will learn eventually.

  • Reply erin morey January 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    I live in the ULTRA conservative deep south…..I hear crap like “shame,shame” come out of parents’ mouths all the time…..I don’t think people see kids as people and by that they don’t see that the words they say totally effect.

    Right now my little boy is in the throes of his morning ritual….no clothes, wrapped in his “B”. No shame shame he is comfortable and happy. And I am happy with that.

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

      I think you’re right about adults not seeing the effect their words have on kids. And it’s definitely a conservative thing – Asian or not.

  • Reply andrea January 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Hey I hear ya! When ethan first did the shame shame thing, I told him shame is on the cross! Hahahaha then he repeated it to whoever who said ‘shame shame’ to him.. haven’t heard it since

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:10 am

      Hahahah NICE ONE!

  • Reply Elaine January 12, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Hmm… I’m not quite sure this “shame shame” thing is such a great evil. Even the bible (at least certain english versions of it) had this description about Adam and Eve after eating the apple “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.” It isn’t that there is something wrong with their bodies, which was good as God created it but that there is something wrong with showing it in public. Isn’t it? So while I don’t agree that being naked while bathing is “shame shame” (wonder how that mum in the library bathes her boy), I don’t have a serious objection to telling kids that its shameful to be naked outside the bathroom and their rooms. I don’t think it necessarily implies that there’s something wrong with the child’s body the way terms like “fat pig”, “monkey”, “bamboo pole” (all of which I have been subjected to at different points in my life by schoolmates and my own mum) do. I do have a small issue with the phrase linguistically though but if we adopt your approach of teaching Singlish as a separate language then that’s fine again!

    We can, of course, agree to disagree. :)

    • Reply Kelvin January 12, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      If you’re going to go in the line of biblical perspectives, let’s take a closer look at the Scripture then.

      Let’s be very clear about the sequence of events – the consciousness of nakedness came only after Adam and Eve fell into sin. They were ‘naked’ all along, from the time they were created, and certainly in a very ‘public’ way as you put it.

      Did God have an issue with that? No.

      What then caused them to be self-conscious? What caused them to feel like their bodies were shameful? Who was it exactly that caused Adam and Eve to feel shame?

      Certainly not God, who pointedly asked them “Who told you you were naked?” (Gen 3:11)

      Nope, it was only after the fall, like you said, when they ate the fruit, when their hearts and minds were darkened that they felt ashamed of their bodies. They felt condemnation, that they weren’t good enough, that they needed to cover themselves up – that very good body that God created, as you have said.

      So this is not a linguistic issue at all, let’s not cloud the matter here. The crux of it is whether we (as believers) ought to be ashamed of our bodies, and taking it further, should kids at this young age be taught that they should be, at a time where their values and worldviews are being set?

      Again, the issue here is not about letting the kids run naked on the streets till they’re 14. There are societal norms, decorum in adult behaviour and it is important to observe them by putting on clothes. But to use shamefulness as a reason for that is absolutely not biblical, nor logical for that matter.

      Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus clearly despises shame. Frankly, I’m inclined to do the same. And I love this post because this is a major sucker punch to this horrible way of thinking which expresses itself through the words we use.

      • Reply Denise January 13, 2012 at 12:50 am

        I have to say that there’s a stark difference between “be ashamed of your body” and “it’s shameful to walk around naked like the moon”.

        Of course, going by the way we now understand the english language the way the older generation (and many people in our generation) don’t, shame really means DISHONORABLE.DISGRACEFUL. or something along those extreme lines.

        going by what these people mean, on the other hand, it really means IMPROPER. it’s improper to walk about naked. it’s improper to show your penis to every person you meet. and it’s fair to let kids know, depending on how parents choose to, erm, parent, what is improper and inappropriate and at what age. if a parent chooses to teach a child that it’s proper to wear clothes in adult situations that may or may not be relevant to them in the next 20 years, so be it.

        so kelvin, it is a linguistics issue here. do you really think that when parents tell their kids, it’s shameful to show your penis, they are really saying, PUT THAT IMMORAL, DISGRACEFUL PIECE OF MEAT BACK WHERE IT BELONGS! HIDDEN! I personally don’t think so.

        because if we wanted to talk about nudity as shameful, we may have to link it back to Victorian values and social classes… but that’s longwinded and should only be left to sociologists…

        • Reply Kelvin January 13, 2012 at 4:36 am

          A shameful action is certainly improper or inappropriate, but inappropriate behaviour is not necessarily shameful.

          Extrapolating this line of thought of shamefulness == inappropriateness, we should see many other instances of this particular phrase being used. Kids cut the line at the playground, shove other kids at the toy store, steal fries from a neighboring tray at McD’s – these are all forms of improper behavior, but I don’t see parents going “SHAME SHAME! Why you take uncle’s fries?” when it happens.

          This phrase is used exclusively when it comes to kids being naked. So while parents may not have thought of it along the lines of “PUT THAT IMMORAL, DISGRACEFUL PIECE OF MEAT BACK WHERE IT BELONGS! HIDDEN!, there certainly is an implied message that the naked body is something to be ashamed of – and there’s the bone I have to pick with this particular turn of phrase.

          • Elaine January 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm

            I didn’t mean any offense so I hope I didn’t offend anyone by not knowing when to keep my mouth shut. I just feel that because the term “shame shame” is used so often in the Singaporean parenting context, when used to refer to a naked child, at least to the minds of the speaker, it has already lost the original meaning. Sort of like “shame shame” is to “being naked” the way “mum mum” is to “to eat”. I don’t use either personally but just don’t have a strong reaction either when others do. This post sort of brings me back to the Asian parenting faux pas post, both of which were good reminders of what we should not perpetuate but I thought more because they were silly rather than they were such great evils. That’s all.

            My dad has recently started to hit inanimate objects when Sophia falls on them and my mind always goes back immediately to your post when he does that but I didn’t say anything since he is already kind enough to take care of Sophia while I work. I’m glad he hasn’t started on “shame shame”.

            Shall concede on the biblical discussion because if I respond I will probably just end up showing my ignorance.

          • Kelvin January 14, 2012 at 1:10 am

            Hi Elaine,

            I certainly didn’t take your comment as being the least bit offensive so rest assured all is cool on that. :)

            Also, I re-read my original comment and in retrospect it came across a lot stronger than I would have liked – I misunderstood where you were coming from when you referenced Adam and Eve and felt compelled to provide some scriptural basis behind the thought process that went into this post.

            As you can probably tell, this issue is something that means a lot to me on a personal level – it is rare that I make a foray into the comments here, but this has been one topic I’ve been asking Daphne to broach for years (for real!) on the blog. I feel very strongly about it but that doesn’t make me the authority on this matter and I really do see where you’re coming from as well.

            When all is said and done, I think this has been a fantastic platform for varying opinions. Keep them coming… Mothers for the win!

          • Denise January 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm

            shame used in an asian context (i can’t speak for otherwise), does not connote worthlessness in this case. social shame in our context is not extremist at all, as you are suggesting. implications are certainly a part of every day conversations, even without the conscious knowledge of the speaker. but shame used here is solely a social thing- embarrassing. indulgence is shameful, inappropriacy is shameful- but in an asian context, shame has nothing to do with internalizing worthlessness but all about face. so any implied messages i think you managed you get, i never did, not as a child told shame,shame and certainly not now.

            I think your analogy of “why did you take uncle’s fries” to compare with being naked, is ever so slightly off the mark here. Yes, parents don’t say it’s shameful to take someone’s fries, and they certainly don’t say it’s improper to take someone’s fries. idea of social decorum, societal ideals of what is dignified outward behaviour or appearance is not (and should not) be the first thing parents think when they think of when their child has stolen. to hazily quote from dictionary.com (sorry for the source, i should have picked oxford or cambridge dictionaries as more credible sources, but i was too lazy), to be improper is perhaps, to not behave in accordance with what is expected of manners and behavior, and more relevantly, to be inappropriate/unsuitable.

            parents can definitely say it’s improper to take their people’s fries, but parents really would be talking about things like integrity, the importance of respecting others and their belongings. that stealing is wrong in a moral sense. inappropriate behavior? maybe later, although the former issues i suspect would be no easy feat to discuss easily already.

            so having said that, i think your definition of shame is a very narrow one.

            beating your daughter up for accidentally showing her feet in public because her burqa was blown by the wind, inculcates the notion of bodily shame. social taboos about girls menstruation, tells them to be ashamed of their bodies.

            using the term “shame on you” to tell your kids that being naked in public is inappropriate, on the other hand, is trying to teach social decorum. at worst, it is a way of communicating the idea of “face” that is so common in asian societies.

  • Reply Isadora January 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    How awful that your daughter’s teacher would presume to say something like that. I mean, when I was very young I would go to church and show everyone my panties. My grandmother made them and they had my name stitched into them with ruffles. I thought they were beautiful. My teachers and parents would just say that we don’t show that off in public, and while I didn’t fully understand, I wasn’t berated into thinking that I should be ashamed.

    I do the same thing with my kids. My 5 year old son lives in his underwear unless we are going somewhere or unless someone is coming to the house. I could care less that he prefers not to wear clothes, I just worry that he’s cold. And when he does decide it’d be funny to pull his pants down and wave his little booty around while giggling, we just tell him “Stop! I don’t want to see your booty!” and sort of laugh. He understands we don’t show our privates in public, but he’s still young enough to want to flash us sometimes, especially after the bath! I’m thankful he’s not ashamed.

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:13 am

      SO CUTE!! If I had my name stitched onto my panties, I’d be showing them off too! Kirsten has already instructed me to buy her Disney Princess panties, I have a feeling she’ll be showing them off to everyone when she gets it.

  • Reply Tina January 12, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Oh my goodness. There is no shame in being naked at home! I will agree that stripping down at the mall is a bad idea, but more because of the perverts out there (and the law too, I suppose) than because we should be ashamed of nakedness! And while I see the whole Adam & Eve reference, we should remember that they were only ashamed AFTER committing the original sin. It was not God’s intent for us to be ashamed of our bodies. I absolutely agree that a little shame about obnoxious behavior is something society has lost (eg: Hollywood!), but a makes baby is not something to be shamed. They have their adolescence to feel shame about everything. Let’s just let them be cute!

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:14 am

      Nicely said. :)

  • Reply Jaq January 13, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Absolutely agree with Kelvin view. Well said !

  • Reply Michelle January 13, 2012 at 12:37 am

    I live in the midwestern U.S. and it really is no different here. When I was a child, my grandmother didn’t care if we got naked to swim or run circles in the yard and eventually, we stopped doing it on our own as we got older and (inevitably) became hyper-aware and hyper-sensitive to our ever-changing bodies (as well, our differences to others). No harm, no foul. My grandmother, however, was an unusual woman with my warmth and free-thinking to offer us. Most people I have encountered through out my life (mainly in this area) are of the “shame, shame” variety. Even regarding small, innocent children.

    I lived in an international community in Hong Kong for two years and kids get naked all the time to play in the water, the rain or to urinate in a bush. This is in a major metropolitan area, mind you, and quite crowded. Never did I hear anyone punished for such behavior during my two years, although it likely happened at some point whilst I was out of ear-shot it did not seem to be the norm.

    Since moving back to the midwest U.S. and becoming a parent, I see this all the time. Even such little things like a kid sticks their hand in their pants to scratch their butt and the parent freaks out in “shame, shame” mode and reprimands the child in a shameful, embarrassed, shocked manner. My kid does that, too, sometimes and I just remind her that she can scratch an itch THROUGH her clothes. Or whatever.

    On a recent holiday to Mexico, while in Puerto Morelos, there were a group of small children playing on the beach and running around in the common area/boardwalk-ish area nearby. They were varying ages, both male and female and all in wildly varying levels of undress. Including some who were stark-naked. None of the kids noticed. They simply played and then became mesmerized by a musician playing in the commons. I was reminded of the sense of freedom and shame-free existence of my youth…before a bunch of grown-ups came and ruined it for me!! LOL. If only we could all relax a bit in our thinking, perhaps we could relax a little physically, too…

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:18 am

      Totally agree with you there. And oh ya the scratching! I’ve seen parents freak out when their kid scratches his penis. To them it’s like scratching his elbow or nose – if it’s itchy, they going to find a way to scratch it.

      It’s like we expect kids to develop special immunity to penis itches. So not going to happen.

  • Reply qiu xian January 13, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Wow, I feel you Daphne. Growing up in an Asian culture, especially for girls, being naked is a big Shame! Anyway its really all a matter of perspective with the parent. If that parent grew up listening to her parent teaching her that being naked is shame shame, likewise that’s how she will teach her kid, which she did lar.

    So really, it all boils down to how a parent can make a conscious decision to break this vicious cycle of teaching their own kid on nakedness and whatever nots. We have the power in our hands to do so responsibly.
    qiu xian´s last post ..I hope the pictures of food is good enough to entice you back

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:20 am

      I think change can start with us. At the very least, our kids will benefit from the lessons we’ve learnt and it’s the little steps that count.

  • Reply Madeline January 13, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Damn right you are girl! :))

    But ppl with our thinking is fighting a tough battle. We’re like salmons swimming agst current. It’s hard esp since we can control all that our kids see and hear. But of course, that doesn’t mean we shdnt fight the mindset!
    Madeline´s last post ..Celebrating Baby N’s 1st Birthday at His New Home!

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:21 am

      Definitely true!

  • Reply Jasz January 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Much as I want to reinforce that it’s ok to be naked at times like showering, the old folks at home are often saying “shame shame”, even my sis-in-law who’s single says that too. All I can do is to tell my boy not to let others touch his penis and clothe him as soon as he finishes his shower to avoid the “shame shame” nagging at home.

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:25 am

      I’ve realized that I don’t have control over what other folks say to the kids so the next best thing we can do is to explain to them the best way we know how so that when they come across a “shame shame” comment, they won’t be too affected by it.

  • Reply DancingMommy January 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I think it creates the growing complexes young people get their about their bodies. Senseless, baseless parenting is a cop out for parents who are too lazy to explain to their children why being naked in certain situation is not ideal.

    And tell Kirsten if you have not already, Aunt DM thinks she is very beautiful too. :)

    • Reply Daphne January 14, 2012 at 1:26 am

      Awww thanks!!

  • Reply Mr Q January 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I am reading this whole thread with great interest, because incidentally, I have been reading a lot about shame and bodies lately. Great blog entry.

    Denise, you seem to suggest that shaming a child (for whatever reasons) is a reasonable way to get children to adhere to societal norms and expectations. That is, if I didn’t get you wrongly. I am not sure if this is the case, since shame impinges greatly on the child’s emotional well-being.

  • Reply Adora January 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Oh I totally totally agree with this. Been wanting to write something about this too! At least you can understand why some folks say it. I really can’t. We go to outdoor wet areas and there are folks pulling off their kids’ swim diapers in public and saying “you see, you so shame shame, never wear pants”. Why, why, why? If their aim is to teach the kids not to show their naked bodies in public, perhaps they could just explain the reason?

    My 3.5 year old walked out of the shower parading with a hooded towel on her head and a relative commented “eek! so shame shame!”. She couldn’t understand why. To her it was just normal to get dressed in her bedroom.

    I now am very firm if anyone tells my daughter ‘shame shame’. I say ‘There’s nothing shameful about being naked, please don’t say that to my daughter’.

    Great post, Daphne! Am totally with you on this one!

  • Reply Linette January 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I can’t imagine the teacher saying “shame shame” to a child! Talk about early childhood practices, hmph! At home, we practise a very open concept – the door’s not locked when all of us shower (yes, including hubs and I) – and the girls are free to enter and just chat with us when we are showering (and my eldest girl is 10). They are taught to be proud of their bodies from young, to refer to their private parts in the proper biological terms and not make such a big deal if they see naked adults showering. So that they can get past this silly social perspective of nakedness – and not get too hung up on it when they reach adolescency. But of course, we do teach them that their private parts are private, so while it is all fine exhibiting to all at home, please don’t to it in front of strangers outside :)

  • Reply Arjee January 17, 2012 at 6:10 am

    It’s better to be more cautious about anything. We can’t read the minds of people, especially those who has interest in children. There are people who we called “Pedophile”. So we must protect our children all the time. It’s not about the “shame” thing, but only for safety and security.
    Arjee´s last post ..Happy New Year To All Of You And Hope You Like The Aquarium Fish Photos Here …

  • Reply zazafee March 11, 2012 at 4:29 am

    liked it because it is weldesigned!!

  • Reply Yew Ya March 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    just came across this entry, and i couldn’t agree more. It is sad that children are taught ‘shame’ and it has become so ‘natural’ amongst some asians that it no longer seems an issue (when actually it is).

    Just out of curiosity, when such things happen, do you take it up with the teacher? Or it’ll suffice that you teach the children at home? thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Daphne March 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm

      I haven’t had the need to address this with the teachers since it hasn’t happened again since. I guess if it continues to happen I would probably have a word with the teachers

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  • Reply Susan February 2, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    I grew up in France. Nudity wasn’t a big deal. When I was 3. Mom took me to the beach stripped me naked. And let me play. My mom was a nudist and I grew up as a nudist. I never wore a swimsuit untill I was 16 when we moved back to the USA. I don’t know why people in the US are so up tight with nudity. Today, my husband and I have a 6 year old daughter. And we live in a nudist resort in central Florida. And I am a stay at home mom homeschool my daughter. My husband and I and our daughter like to vacation at nudest resort and beach locations. I see no reason why not let my daughter go nude 24/7.

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