Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Topless Lady In The River -- Or, More Lessons From My Dad

When my two sisters and I were teens, our mom and dad took us to Yosemite National Park for a family vacation.  We stayed in these cute little "tents" -- made of canvas with wood floors.  It was summertime and it was hot, so we were all thankful for the presence of a nearby river.  It was there that my father, whose wisdom I have spoken of before, taught me something very important, which I hope I am managing to pass onto my own kids.

One very warm afternoon during this lovely vacation, my father, my sisters, and I strolled down to the river to swim.  Upon our arrival, we encountered a beautiful, young French couple frolicking in the water.  Not sexually frolicking, mind you, just splashing around.  And the lady half of the French couple was wearing the bottom part of her bikini, but the top part was missing.  My sisters and I had never seen such a thing, and we were a bit taken aback. My dad, never one to miss a teachable moment, saw our discomfort and spoke quietly to us about what we were witnessing.  Having been in the army, he spent some time in France, so he knew something about French culture.  He told us that French women did not consider swimming topless to be immodest.  He also explained that, culturally, European women were generally more casual and comfortable about a certain amount of bodily exposure than American women.  He encouraged us to just take this young couple in stride, and it was apparent to me that he was able to do so.  He did not appear uncomfortable.  He was neither gawking nor obviously trying to avert his gaze.  He was behaving just as he would behave if she were completely covered in shorts and a t-shirt.

Over the years, hearing many discussions among friends concerning the topic of modesty and appropriate female dress, I have reflected on this incident.  A couple of things stand out to me.  Firstly, you cannot make everyone in the world dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable.  It is impossible, and even if it were possible, it would not be the thing to do.  It would actually be inappropriately controlling and perhaps even abusive.  So, it is really best to learn how to control your own reactions to things, to learn to view someone as a whole person (body, mind, spirit), no matter how that person is dressed -- or undressed.  Second, you should not feel guilty for being attracted to a person physically.  This is a natural thing.  The thing that matters is what you do with that attraction.  And you can teach yourself to react to people, whatever they are wearing, in a way that is kind, warm-hearted, and dignified.  A little bit of a sense of humor about yourself, and others, can go a long way here. 

I hope I am passing these lessons from my dad onto my kids.  It does make me happy when I see my 20-year-old son, when interacting with a beautiful young woman in a darling outfit, looking her in the eye, talking and joking with her in a relaxed fashion.  He hopes to be a military officer someday, and that job will take him all over the country and the world, where there are many different people dressed in many different ways.  So, he had better develop the skills he needs to treat all these people with the respect they deserve.  And if he ever encounters a lovely topless lady in a river, I hope he is able to treat her in the same dignified fashion that his grandfather did.

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