My family and I (myself, wife, two young kids) just returned from a week vacation in Orlando. I could spend hours talking about how much fun we had visiting the Disney theme parks, but what I wanted to comment on here was some observations I made while visiting the water parks.
The weather was fantastic: 80+ and sunny all week long. The tickets we purchased allowed us two days at the normal parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot) and three days at the water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach). We found we actually enjoyed the two water parks more then the regular theme parks – less people, smaller parks, shorter lines, and most of all, we got to spend the day in swim suits playing in the water instead of fully clothes and sweaty in the larger, more crowded parks.
Anyway – and here’s my point – One of the fun things about visiting a place like Disney Land is the multitude of languages you hear being spoken all around. I served my mission in France and my wife speaks fluent Spanish. I heard plenty of those languages, some other European languages, and some I had no idea and couldn’t place.
I thoroughly enjoy watching people – I’ve made it a part time hobby. Since getting married and having kids I especially enjoy watching families and how family members interact with each other. It’s not often, however, that one gets the chance to see so many families from so many cultures gathered together in one small, enclosed location. It was down right fascinating!
I had two overall observations. (Well, okay, three. First, as Americans we are too over weight! But we all know that.) Second, and this is by no means a scientific conclusion, but it seemed to me that the Europeans I saw at the water parks we less concerned about bathing suits.
Americans clearly SHOP for bathing suits, while Europeans, it would seem, grab what ever is handy. The American men I saw mostly wore the wild colored, stylish, and more expensive suits that hung down almost to their knees. Many of the European men I saw were literally wearing what looked like underwear. Others wore Speedo type suits or just something very plain and ordinary.
American mothers almost unanimously wore suits that were cleverly designed to hide that fact that their bodies have born children, with frilly skirts which hung down and made their bottoms as hidden as if they were fully clothed. Like their men, their suits were highly colored, very fancy, and clearly had been selected with great care.
European mothers, on the other hand, mostly wore plain, ordinary, mono-colored one-piece suits which made zero attempt to hide the fact they no longer had teenage bodies.
American and European teenage girls were all the same: minimal bikinis designed for maximum exposure of flesh. But there was a difference – not in the style of the suits but in the attitudes of the girls wearing them. The American girls knew they had nice bodies and walked with an air of “I KNOW you are looking at me.” Navels were pierced, skin was tanned to perfection, and the walk was honed to draw attention. They were, with out a doubt, immodest.
Not all, but many of the European teenage girls wore suits that were equally revealing, but in their behavior, in their attitude, and in their walk, there was very little bravado or show. There were no belly button rings, very few were tan, and most were just simply at the water park enjoying the day, and it just so happened that the occasion called for a bathing suit. There was nothing immodest about it.
Ultra Conservative Families:
There were the expectations to the teenage girls in bikinis – most notable when the teenagers were either American and overweight, or Americans from an ultra-consertative and often insecure family. Such families were easy to spot because they clustered together and were plainly scared and nervous to be too far apart from each other. The children wore their insecurities on their faces and in there eyes, and the girls were so embarrassed to be seen in public wearing a bathing suit that they shrunk behind their parents while waiting in line and folded or wrapped their arms around themselves in an attempt to reveal even less flesh then their conservative suits already didn’t show. The ultimate was a little family of four I spotted on several occasions… they all wore Disney t-shirts over their suits and behaved exactly as I just described.
Third observation: Even much more interesting then the kind of suits people wore was the way in which family members interacted with each other. I first started to notice the stark difference between most American and European families as we were boarding a ride called The Family Raft.
While waiting in line I watched a cute little multi-generational family speaking what I’m pretty sure was Portuguese. Grandpa was in his sixties and wore cotton underwear which did nothing to reveal the fact that he was very, very male. Mom and Dad and son (about 12) wore suits like I described above – just something that got the job done. Their daughter (about 9 or 10) wore a small bikini which hung so loosely and showed so much that she might as well have been wearing nothing. She was a bouncy, bright eyed girl with no hint of shyness, and there was, at least in my eyes, nothing immodest about her suit. Many American mothers and fathers I know would faint dead away before letting their daughter be seen in something so revealing, but this family was clearly not thinking about or concerned about their bodies or their appearance – they were focused on being together and on having a fun time. I could tell by watching them, by the love that they all displayed for each other, and by the soft, kind, gentle manner they all interacted that this was a healthy family and that this little girl was not headed for an immoral life because of the suit she wore.
As this family all climbed into the rubber raft and got situated for the ride, they all wrapped arms around each other, intertwined their legs, and in a crowning moment of tenderness, the sister leaned over and kissed her older brother on the cheek just as they began the plunge down the slide.
Contrast this with the next time we rode the same ride. We were again in line behind a family, this time they were 100% American. Dad was immensely over weight and wore a t-shirt to hide it. Mom was skinny as a twig but still wore the fancy suit with a skirt to hide her hips and everything around them. They also had two kids about the same age as the first family, but the daughter was older. The entire time we were in line the two siblings argued and bickered about nothing end everything. The parents only paid attention to them when their fighting drew attention. As they climbed into the raft the sister shoved the brother away and complained loudly that he was hogging all the good space.
I would like to think that I had, by dumb luck, happened upon two extreme examples. But as I continued to watch and observe families throughout the rest of the two days, it was all to clear that the American families I saw simply did not display the same level of tenderness, openness, and love towards each other as the Europeans. Plenty of American families were civil towards each other and didn’t fight openly like the one described above, but it was rare indeed to ever see American siblings holding hands or walking with arms over each others shoulders, or American parents openly displaying affection towards their children, etc etc. On the flip side, such behavior was common place amongst the non-English speaking families I observed.
What’s going on here? What is it that causes us to be so uptight and to be so withdrawn with our affections? Is there a link between our apparent inhibitions with our emotions and our obvious inhibitions with our bodies?
I am of the opinion that there is ABSOLUTELY a link between our inhibitions with our emotions and our inhibitions with our bodies. I’m not saying that the two are forcible exclusive – of course its possible to be free and giving with one’s emotions and still restrictive and shy about one’s body… but I also think it’s difficult. I think the two are very, very closely intertwined.
The flip side is also true… I believe that as we learn to loose our bodily inhibitions that we also learn to let our emotions run more freely. When we stop being concerned with “What do I LOOK like” we are more open to focus on “What do the people around me FEEL like.” The focus is removed from the shallow belief that the BODY makes the person, and is instead focused on the fact that the HEART makes the person.
But more importantly, the focus is removed from “Me” and “What do people think of me” and is instead placed on others, and what can I do to love others and help them feel the love I have for them.
In short, focusing on clothing is focusing on the outward manifestation of what is inside. When we focus first on what is inside, proper clothing will follow — or, better yet, clothing simply won’t matter.
I’ll end on the bouncy, bright eyed Portuguese girl. Her parents were not thinking “Oh dear! My daughter’s suit is immodest!” And unlike so many of her insecure American counterparts, she was not thinking “Oh my goodness, people are seeing me in a bathing suit. I’m SOOO embarrassed!” Instead she was thinking about how much fun and enjoyment she was having with her family, and as the ride was beginning, she wanted her bother to know that she was thinking about him and his well being, and as a token of her own self-confidence and of her affection for him, she gave him a kiss on his cheek.
I hope my own kids can be so brave, so un-self-centered, and so loving towards each other. I wish we ALL could.