Gymnophobia

DEFINITION

Derived from Greek words for naked, gymnos, and fear, phobos, gymnophobia is a fear or anxiety about either being seen naked or seeing others naked, whether entirely or in part, even in situations where it is culturally acceptable.In another sense, particularly relevant to visual culture, gymnophobia is irrational worry about viewing representation of a nude figure. As such it is a type of iconophobia.A sufferer ? termed a gymnophobe ? experiences undue anxiety whether or not s/he realizes a fear of nakedness is irrational. This phobia often arises from feeling that one's body fails to meet some aesthetic standard, such as might be formed by comparisons to idealized figures seen in popular or mass media. This perception of physical inadequacy may also stem from anxiety about sexuality in general, or from a feeling of vulnerability resulting partly from exposure of one's body, one's nakedness, because it leaves a person's body ? and personality ? unprotected, and others would still visualize that person naked.Cultures establish norms concerning modesty ? social expectations about covering / exposing the human body. Unfortunately gymnophobia might be among the components shaping such norms. When strictures regarding modesty become unreasonable, their typical expression is prudery and censorship. Several other pathologies are associated with or can be compared to gymnophobia. Consider all sorts of xenophobias for instance.(pr. JIM-nə-FOH-bee-əh)In the news: In April of 2006, Sydney McGee, an elementary art teacher at Wilma Fisher Elementary School (in the Dallas, TX, exurb of Frisco), led fifth graders (11 and 12 years old) through European and contemporary galleries of the Dallas Museum of Art. One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child?s parent complained, Ms McGee was suspended. Although the tour had been approved by the principal, and the 89 students were accompanied by four other teachers, at least twelve parents and a museum docent, Principal Nancy Lawson reprimanded Ms. McGee, saying: ?During a study trip that you planned for fifth graders, students were exposed to nude statues and other nude art representations.? Although school representatives have said that other concerns prompted Ms McGee's dismissal, the evidence betrays this school community's gymnophobia. See a NY Times article about this story. An important goal of education (as it is of art) is to challenge students to consider more advanced ideas. In doing so, viewers must see images that some might consider problematic. Approaching the examination of disturbing subjects, educators are wise to gauge community concerns, and to accomodate them in some ways. Nevertheless, it is generally appropriate to expect that maturing students can and should view many challenging works in a scholarly manner, and that their scholarly pursuits are not be impeded by gymnophobia.Also see beauty, cosmetic, costume, ethnocentrism, fashion, feminism, fig leaf, First Amendment rights, gaze, gender issues, iconoclast, iconomachy, iconophobia, iconophobiac, iconophobic, lookism, obscene, pornography, sensuality, sybaritic, transgressive art, and voyeurism.

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