Is Clothing Immoral?
Prognosticating future generations’ righteous indignation over one of the greatest unrecognized barbarities of today.
It’s enlightening to look at old advertisements showing products we now know to be destructive, or depicting attitudes and stereotypes we now understand to be sexist, racist, or otherwise dehumanizing. They show us a world before our moral bearings were adjusted to their current orientations. These old artifacts cause you to try to see the world through eyes not yet accustomed to the light our political day.
Consider an old cigarette ad featuring a smiling doctor in white “recommending” some brand of tobacco. Or consider an advertisement for a huge gas guzzler, practically begging you to destroy the planet. Companies proudly used to sell watches containing glowing radioactive paint. And you can’t forget the endless parade of sexist advertising, blatantly selling goods by playing on stereotypes shocking to us now.
These examples’ greatest value is in teaching you the necessity of pre-retroactively identifying the wrongs of our own era. Look around you and imagine what artifacts of our present culture will be shocking to future generations. Turn on the TV and watch a few commercials. Listen to the language. Look at the imagery. What is wrong there? Perhaps nothing is wrong. But maybe there’s a hidden bombshell that won’t go off for decades, when the repugnance will suddenly be glaring, and our own ignorance will shock even young children.
With this thought experiment in mind, I ask you now to consider something you think about every day, and yet likely never question. I want you to ask yourself whether or not it is possible that something is morally wrong with your clothing. We laugh now at Victorian prudishness and giant hoop skirts, and most of us, even the very liberal and tolerant, privately shake our heads at at the ludicrousness of Islamic coverings. But what about your own coverings? Likely you have at various times noticed that something was silly about the way people dress, but have you ever seriously pondered the possibility that at some point several generations from now your attitudes towards clothing will be regarded as not just old-fashioned, but positively barbaric?
Why not? Clothing, after all, is a never ending evolution of styles and norms — these days, nothing in fashion seems to stay the same for very long. If you are young now, it’s a near-certainty that your grand-children will laugh at you. Probably you can even make good predictions about what they will laugh at. There’s nothing particularly controversial about this observation, although we tend not to dwell on it. Occasionally we may even choose an outfit or style considering the likelihood of their lasting fashionability, as I did when I selected the suit I got married in.
But I’m not talking about fashion. Nor am I referring to industrial manufacturing processes or labor policies or environmental impacts. Although these things do matter, they are condemned today, and, really, this are very old problems.
I’m talking about something deeper and more concerning. I’m talking about society's fundamental attitudes towards clothing. More precisely, I am, not talking about the clothing itself so much as our relationships with the bodies covered by clothing. I’m talking about the measures taken to keep people clothed, and the many negative side effects resulting from training and compelling people to cover their bodies.
I’m talking about an entire paradigm of moral barbarism, and its deleterious consequences, that hasn’t even been acknowledged by our society to be provided a widely-accepted name. Like misogyny and racism two hundred years ago, this is a moral cause laughed at by all but eccentrics. Yet it is too pressing to be ignored much longer. It will be discovered, and we will be judged.
The question I ask you to consider today is: Is clothing immoral?
Let us make a few assumptions: Let’s assume that whatever is oppressive is immoral. And let us assume that oppression includes anything that causes prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control, or mental pressure or distress.
Let us also take for granted that clothing is deemed necessary in our culture, and that there are some strict rules concerning it, and that some of these rules are backed by the threat of state-sanctioned violence (in the form of law enforcement).
Let us also recognize that humans, that is, Homo sapiens, are animals, and that all animals do not normally wear clothing. The natural external covering for all mammals is our skin, and the evidence is quite clear that our ancestors, including physiologically modern man has (and still does) lived nude for countless eons stretching back until the dawn of time.
Clothing is doubtlessly an important tool, having provided us a means of warmth and protection that allowed us to do everything from the settlement of the whole earth to landing on the moon.
Based on the definition of oppression above, depriving a person of clothing in circumstances that are cold or dangerous may certainly be deemed cruel or unjust and so on. That is, in some circumstances, the deprivation of clothing is certainly immoral. This is unlikely to be controversial. When people think of forced deprivation of clothing they think of Auschwitz. Case closed. Forced nudity is oppressive and immoral.
But why don’t we flip the question and consider forced covering or forced dressing or forced clothedness. The concept is so alien to most of us that we don’t even know a word for it. That should ring alarm bells, don’t you think? If there is a situation where compulsive force, indeed actual violent threats, are used to compel a person into undesired behavior, shouldn’t we at least have a name for this compulsion?
An evil with no name is an evil that goes unpunished.
Textilism is the name. Textilism is the stance that the body must be covered at all times by some piece of fabric while in public. It is the stance that clothing is to be regarded as mandatory and expected at all times except when nudity is necessary for medical, hygienic, or sexual reasons. Morally and legally speaking, it is the view that society has an obligation to specify when nudity is allowed, and to scorn or punish those who violate those parameters.
To use a Christian analogy, textilism is the belief that mankind still deserves to be punished for Eve’s transgression. A woman ate an apple once, and now police can throw her in jail for removing her top at the beach.
Textilism is the idea that small children, who know nothing of shame or prudishness, deserve to be punished for running around naked. This is the belief that you, as a parent, have an obligation to teach shame and humiliation to your child. Good parents make sure their offspring remain ignorant of the means of their birth, the equipment that made them, and the effects they have on the mother’s body.
Textilism is the amazing insistence that of all the seven billion people on the plant today, the only one’s whose bodies may be looked at are the tiny percent with zero body fat and no wrinkles, stretch marks, or cellulite.
Textilism is an idolatry of blue jeans and blouses. It is the last great unchallenged colonial oppression. The taboo all but the most brash will challenge, because they will rebel against anything except the one thing that brings them the most shame, their fear of the naked body.
Gymnophobia is not the fear of the gym. It is the fear, scorn, derision, mockery of the naked body. It is the belief that a person who violates textilist norms deserves to be punished, deserves to be hurt, deserves to be exploited or abused, verbally or physically.
Gymnophobia and textilism are what drives a mother to smack an innocent child for being naked. And they are what drives an otherwise justice-obsessed people to “smack” an innocent person simply for being who they are…. for simply existing… for possessing the genetic code for skin and hair and genitals.
How can this be anything other than oppression? How can this be anything but cruelty? How can it be anything but unjust treatment or control or mental pressure or distress?
So once again, I ask you, is clothing immoral?
Before you answer, think of those far off generations looking back on us with that perfect hindsight. How will they perceive our abuse of the naked body, that most fragile and vulnerable of persons?
Can the answer be anything but obvious?