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Our Nudity Is Different

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking...
Cole Porter, "Anything Goes"

Different cultures have different ideas about what parts of the body should or should not be shown, or even discussed. For some people on this Earth, even a woman's face or hair must not be exposed, while for others, you can be topless as long as you keep your shins covered (a girl has to have modesty, after all!). Then there's the characters in Fantasy / Sci-Fi settings who may be outright scandalized if they discover their orthoblaxer (whatever that means) is showing.

Basically, this trope is for those characters that have a notably different definition of "private parts" than most of the audience.

May Overlap with Fantastic Arousal. A subtrope of Fully-Clothed Nudity and Your Normal Is Our Taboo.

Please do not add real life examples unless historical or otherwise well-documented.

Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Otoyomegatari, seeing a grown woman's hair uncovered by a headdress is shocking and provocative.
  • Whenever Lucy gets naked in Fairy Tail and is embarrassed about it, she reacts by covering her breasts only. Even during the scene where she is naked in her male friend Natsu's company, she leaves her lower body completely exposed. Though it's probably also a visual censor trick since it's easier to conceal her lower body than upper body in most panels.
  • Mermaids in Centaur no Nayami go around topless unless they are expecting visitors from the mountains or need to wear ritual garments. Otherwise the only thing they wear is a g-string tied at the sides over their bottom half. The manga even makes use of the Theiss Titillation Theory, as a pair of boys are more enthralled by a bikini model's picture than topless girls right in front of them.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Gay Nineties in Archie Comics, Archie has this reaction to a swimsuit that bares Veronica's... shoulders.
    • Another set in the 1800's, has Betty and Veronica nearly arrested for wearing men's swimwear-a t-shirt and knee-length trunks combo.

    Fan Fiction 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction occasionally sexualize certain outfits (socks, wet manes, themed costumes like maid dresses, actual lingerie) even though the ponies are otherwise completely naked by default.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Great Race (set in 1908), Maggie DuBois daringly exposes her stocking to the newspaper editor, Mr. Goodbody.
  • The French film Les Visiteurs starts with a man and a noblewoman in a barn in Medieval France with the man (her secret lover) begging the woman to show him something before they part. She lifts up her long skirt a bit... to show him her ankles. The guy treats the sight as if she just flashed him. Strangely, he doesn't seem to notice that women do it all over the place in modern France when he ends up there. The American remake (with the two protagonists being played by the same actors) doesn't have this scene.
    • Counterintuitively, there was no particular nudity taboo in the Middle Ages. Conduct was another matter.
  • In Star Wars continuity, the Tusken Raiders of Tattooine have a taboo about showing any part of their unclothed bodies to anyone except their mates (and even then, it's done in private). If anyone else ever sees a Tusken Raider's face, he will make it his lifelong quest to kill that person, and not stop until he has succeeded or he himself is dead.

    Literature 
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, Sethi consider showing ankles to be obscene but have no problem showing breasts. In fact, Sethi wedding dresses are almost more like wedding skirts from the description. Sethi who spend too long living away from home often have trouble readjusting their standards of modesty.
  • The cultures based on the Vorin religion in The Stormlight Archive consider a woman with her left hand bare to be provocative. Commoner women wear a glove to cover it while noblewomen wear dresses with left sleeves that cover the entire arm and hand and button shut.
  • At one point in the Belgariad the fanatic zealot Relg rants about how Ulgo women try to entice him by showing their calves and forearms. (Or at least he thinks so).
    • Relg's idea of modesty isn't different so much as it is extreme. Ulgos have the same standards of modesty as the rest of the setting, and are already quite modest by that standard (no doubt assisted in this by living in caves, which are probably quite cold). That's just not enough for Relg.
  • The classic SF story The Wheels of If by L. Sprague de Camp has a scene on an alternate Earth where belly buttons are considered obscene...but nothing else is, resulting in Barely-There Swimwear of an unusual sort.
  • Discworld:
    • In The Last Hero, we're told there is a religion in Ankh-Morpork which prohibits women from showing their ears, lest they inflame the passions of men.
    • In Unseen Academicals, the wizards are adamant they can't wear shorts that expose their knees, for fear of the effect this might have on women. The one woman who hears this has trouble keeping a straight face.
    • This prudishness seems to be entirely confined to the presence of women, however — in Night Watch, the Archchancellor is completely oblivious as to why another wizard thinks he's "inappropriately dressed" after hurriedly getting out of the bath — he's wearing his hat, after all, and that's what matters.
      • Although that's only around other (male) wizards - when an actual woman enters the scene, he hastily requisitions another hat to cover himself with.
    • In Making Money, the University's golem-expert is titillated by the prospect of relocating to a place where he'll actually be able to see women's ankles. Presumably it's lucky that he's already a ghost, else he'd have keeled over with heart failure upon actually entering the Pink Pussycat Club....
    • Trolls consider near-nudity to be the norm; it's when a troll woman starts putting clothes on that she's singled out as provocatively-dressed. Troll "robers" from the Strippers' Guild actually put on layer after layer of clothing during their acts.
  • In one of AP Herbert's More Misleading Cases in the Common Law, when a man is charged with indecency for entering the sea wearing the "wrong" sort of swimsuit, a judge goes into a bit of a rant about this, contrasting the 19th century definition of "indecency" used by the municipal council with a more liberal 1920s definition:
    Mr Justice Wool: Stuff and nonsense, constable! The male torso is not indecent. If it is hairy it may be unattractive: but so is the male foot. So is your face; but the Council cannot compel you to drape it. A lady's back is not indecent: it may be attractive, but so are a lady's eyes. The act says "indecency" not "allure". My father wore nothing but drawers. So did I.
  • Jack Vance:
    • In his short story "The Moon Moth", everybody keeps their faces covered at all times by stylized masks that show the wearer's current social standing. Not even spouses ever see each other's naked faces.
    • Similarly, in his Marune: Alastor 933 the act of eating is considered taboo among the upper class: people will eat in private, and couples having an intimate dinner will barely conceal all of that intensely private stuffing of food into a facial orifice behind small table-mounted screens.
  • This is also seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Masks (not to be confused with the episode). The heroes had to improvise with Halloween masks. The part where the rebel leader shows her face to Picard is played as a romantically charged moment.
  • Played for Deliberate Values Dissonance in The Poisonwood Bible. Kilanga women hide their legs under long skirts and think nothing of going topless. Missionary Nathan Price is shocked by their indecency; the Kilanga are similarly shocked by Mrs. Price wearing pants.
  • In Stephen King's The Stand, 108-year-old Abagail Freemantle remembers appearing on a talent show back in 1902. Before her, a woman performed a "racy French dance", showing her ankles.
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha:
    • Sayuri explains that geisha generally do not go out without their makeup on, so to leave just a little bit of bare skin unpainted at the hairline is a very suggestive thing indeed, hinting at what lies beneath. Additionally, necks are considered very attractive and a geisha will wear a kimono with a low collar in the back in the same way a Western woman would wear a short skirt.
    • Mameha teachers Sayuri that the same theory applies to wrists, when pulling the sleeve back slightly to pour tea.
  • In the Destroyermen series:
    • The Mi-anaaka deem toplessness for females acceptable. Actually, their sense of modesty is almost nonexistent, and the main indecency is going without a kilt after puberty.
    • After the Destroyermen reach New Britain, they see that it is the norm for those with "indentures" to have no clothing on, and is very rarely seen in a sexual light.
  • In Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, Getans gradually decorate their skin with scars and tattoos. Scarred skin can be freely displayed in public, but showing unmodified skin is considered titillating and/or scandalous. The Liethe clan leave their skin unmodified, both for sex appeal, and to disguise the fact that they make heavy use of cloning.
  • In the Darkness Series, the hot desert country of Zuwayza has no nudity taboo, its people usually going naked except for sandals and a wide-brimmed hat. Ambassadors of other countries there naturally find this a bit disquieting, though one from the kingdom of Algarve 'goes native' and sometimes turns up to meetings naked...and the Zuwayzi find this disquieting because all Algarvians are circumcised, not a custom they have ever used.
  • In The Curse Workers trilogy, dangerous magic that requires direct contact between the magic user's hand and the target's skin has lead to the custom of wearing gloves at all times. This custom has been in place for so long that bare hands are regarded as indecent and titillating even if their owner is not a magic user and baring one's hands in another person's presence is a show of supreme intimacy.
  • In Frederik Pohl's The Coming Of The Quantum Cats novel, which concerns the interaction of multiple alternate timelines, one such timeline involves the USA being dominated by extreme moral conservatives (due, it seems bizarrely, to the influence of the wealthy Arabs who dominate world affairs). In which even men are not allowed to wear topless bathing costumes- they must resort to the Old-Timey Bathing Suit, something which the main character only dares try to remove when no-one else is looking.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Qartheen women habitually wear gowns that leave one breast bare.
  • As Hildy Johnson, the protagonist of John Varley's Steel Beach points out, nudity may be entirely practical in Luna's sealed environments but since it's the default human condition it's considered boring, conservative and unfashionable. Most people wear some clothing as a means of personal expression and all professions have some uniform, item, badge, or hat denoting guild membership. Some people just like having pockets to carry things in.
  • In Animorphs, Ax (a blue, four-legged alien) comments that humans use clothing to cover the parts they consider "inappropriate" but they hide the wrong bits. According to Ax, there is nothing as ugly as a human nose.

    Live-Action Television 
  • In the Cops episode of My Name Is Earl, a foreign Sikh neighbor denies spying on Joy in her trailer and says "Look at the way she dresses! I can see her elbows any time I want to!".
  • In the short-lived sci-fi series Something Is Out There, we find that Ta'ra's culture had a different definition of nudity than humans.
    Ta'ra: We've already seen each other's hands, what more is there?
  • Ferengi culture dictates that females shouldn't wear any clothing (or do much else, for that matter). Quark is constantly embarrassed that his mother won't follow this norm. A running gag in one episode was for Ferengi seeing Quark's mother dressed to avert their eyes the way a human would upon accidentally walking in on a naked person.
  • One regular feature of blooper and out-take shows comes from the American version of The Price Is Right, where an over-excited woman contestant called down from the audience to participate in the show whoops, hollers and dances her way down the aisle, bouncing so hard that her breasts bounce right out of her skimpy strapless top. And for a moment or two she does not even notice... when this aired in "blooper" shows in the USA, this segment was censored by the classic black band. Exported to Britain, it was uncensored and screened in all its dubious glory. When several months later a censored version was shown on a British show, possibly because that was lifted directly from an American edition, people rang and wrote to the TV station to ask why they were bothering to censor the clip after it had been screened uncensored for so long.
  • An episode of Quantum Leap had a WWII GI's Japanese bride hanging her laundry out to dry in the air, then stripping to the waist to continue the laundry, unaware of her mother-in-law's horror at the nudity.
  • Played for laughs in Topsy Turvy, when one of the cast objects to wearing a kimono that leaves his ankles exposed, feeling this is an inappropriate level of nudity.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Tooth and Claw" Queen Victoria refers to Rose (wearing overalls) as being "naked".
    • In the classic series, at least one character has a similar reaction to Ace in "Ghost Light". Despite the clothes not being particularly revealing by '80s standards (and those of the present, obviously).
    • Apparently, you don't wear clothes to church....but are expected to use holograms....which the clergy can see through anyway.
  • In the Boardwalk Empire episode "Two Boats and a Lifeguard" (set in 1921) a woman gets a fine for wearing a too short bathing suit. The law requires that the skirt can't be higher than seven inches above the knee.
  • An episode of The Benny Hill Show aired on broadcast TV in America had a silent sketch in the Australian outback. Women were shown showering and their breasts were clearly visible. Someone forgot to censor it for the easily shocked American audiences, apparently.
  • There's an episode of Lois and Clark where the main characters travel back in time to The Wild West, and a (female) saloon keeper is disgusted that Lois walks around "naked" (the exact word), despite being dressed in what by 1990s standards would be perfectly respectable attire for a professional woman. By 19th century standards, it wasn't (maybe due to the fact the skirt was too short).

    Music 
  • In "Weird Al" Yankovic's music video for "Amish Paradise", two Amish boys are reading a Playboy-esque magazine for the Amish. The centerfold features a woman revealing... her shin.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Back in the sixties, Mort Walker was told he wasn't allowed to show bellybuttons in Hi and Lois. He protested by featuring a box of navel oranges.
    • The same story is told about Beetle Bailey, also by Mort Walker.

    Theatre 
  • In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now God knows... Anything Goes.
  • The hooker-advertising-her-wares strip tease described by Nancy in Theatre/Oliver!:
    "Pretty little Sally goes walking down the alley, displays her pretty ankles for all of the men. They can see her garters, but not for free and gratis — an inch or two, and then she knows when to say when!"

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • Skinner is horrified when his mother goes on a date in an outfit that reveals her... figure.
    • There's also an episode set in the 1800s, where the buy-your-photo section of a log flume ride has to deal with a shot of a lady "flashing her private parts". It's her ankle, and the man running the shop claims he'll take care of it before shiftily stowing it in his pocket as if it were porn. This was a parody of the "Flash Mountain" craze.
    • Another episode has Marge's mother recount the time she was arrested for indecent exposure, having gone to the beach with her ankles visible.
  • In one episode of American Dad!, Stan sets up a deal with Ikea to refurnish all of Iraq so it looks like "your first apartment". This cues a Cutaway Gag of a citizen appreciating how his new home looks, before being appalled at his wife's blatant display of nudity and telling her to put some clothes on. She's fully clothed except for her eyes so she covers up her eyes and immediately trips over a table.
  • On The Muppet Show, Kermit is considered indecently naked when he loses his collar.
  • Played for laughs on Adventure Time, where the Naked Wizard put a cloud on his head and suddenly declared himself "Not naked!"
  • On My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic there is an entire fashion industry in Equestria despite the fact that the majority of the population spends most of their time naked. At one point, Spike (the token male member of the main cast) gets locked out of a dressing room while Applejack (ironically the consistently most dressed pony, with her hat) lampshades that: "We don't normally wear clothes."

    Real Life 
  • Throughout the Victorian Era, the sight of a woman's ankle was considered outright scandalous. According to The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London, "naked" could be used by the Victorians to mean anything from "clad only in underclothes" to "not wearing an overcoat".
  • Professional Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested at Revere Beach, Massachusetts in 1907, for wearing an indecent bathing suit. It looked like this.
  • Kimono Fanservice mentions in passing a fetish for the nape of the neck. There was never a taboo against showing them, however.
  • The "CAP" Alert Christian movie review website frequently deprecates movies where females wear "form-revealing tops".
  • Countries where the wearing of burqas and other forms of head scarves are expected for women causes the sight of a woman's hair or certain parts of her face to be deemed indecent in public.
  • Conversely, in Tuareg culture men wrap a fold of their trademark indigo turban (Tagelmust) across their faces at all times, but women do not cover their faces at all. A man baring his face in public is seen as shameful, as the wearing of the veil is a rite of passage into manhood.
  • In some African cultures, thighs are considered indecent to show, yet breasts are A-OK, hence you'll see women wearing skirts long enough to cover their thighs and nothing on top. In fact, people of these cultures will find it hilarious when they are told of the Western fetishization of breasts, believing those who buy into this to be like babies.
  • The Mormons' idea of dressing modestly is that which will cover their temple garments, which are basically a white T-shirt and white shorts with special symbols embroidered on them. Showing any part of their temple garments in public (especially to a non-Mormon) is considered a taboo in the LDS Church. So any strapless or tank tops are automatically out, as well as anything too short to cover the bottom part.
    • It's also pretty common (although not universal, due to being cultural rather than religious) for the women to avoid exposing their stomachs or backs.
  • Ancient Minoan artwork depicts women walking around in outfits that cover their legs, but leave their breasts exposed.
  • Men of the Kapauku tribes of Papua New Guinea often wear nothing but penis-shafts, which will cover the penis (while often being comically oversized) but leave the testicles, buttocks and rest of the body exposed.
  • In some modern Southeast Asian countries, it is considered somewhat indecent for women to show their shoulders or neckline, but wearing extremely short shorts or skirts is perfectly fine. At the same time, men don't typically go topless as often as they do in the West. It is not uncommon to see t-shirts over swimsuits for both men and women.
  • This is essentially why nude or topless beaches are more common in Europe than the rest of the world (though opinions on nudity in other settings vary).
  • Until the early 20th century, it was considered indecent for women to have their hair loose, and for men to go outside without a jacket or other profession-appropriate cover for their shirt. It was even considered inappropriate for men to remove their jackets when indoors, expect for reasons like excessive heat.
    • As recently as the 1990s, one company in London was notorious for instantly firing any of its [male] employees caught in the main elevator without their jackets.
    • The Western attitude to showing female hair from about 1600-1850 was... odd. Mothers (or women who'd been married for long enough that they were expected to be mothers), widows, little girls (and very small boys, who wore the same clothes as girls) and old maids (that is, single women over about twenty-five) wore caps. So did servants and nearly all working class women (being caught outside without one was a pretty sure indicator of a prostitute). But ladies-those who were daughters or wives of the landowning class, that is-didn't wear them with evening wear, and single young ladies who were 'out'-that is, available and looking for marriage-didn't wear them at all (Jane Austen's adoption of them at the age of twenty-three can probably be read as her giving up on men at this point). Over the 19th century they dwindled to being only for widows and servants, and that to only a kind of token headband by World War One.
    • As for going outdoors, both sexes were expected to wear hats whenever they left the house until quite recently (the reason people stopped is thought to be the advent of cars). Men, however, were supposed to take them off when they entered a building- especially a church-to show respect, and by extension to briefly raise their hat as a respectful greeting (though this might have come from the fact that they would bow slightly at such moments until the early 19th century-bowing would make your hat fall off). Women, however, would usually have their hat tied on or pinned to their hair, so they would only remove it when at home. (Hats also went on over the aforementioned caps).
  • The English comedian Zoe Lyons has a stand-up routine about how she fell victim to this; her Dutch girlfriend, for whom nudity is no big deal, persuaded her with great difficulty to come to a nudist beach where they both stripped off and laid down to sunbathe. Lyons fell asleep, and woke up to find her now fully-dressed girlfriend about to go off and find food for them. Lyons stood up to go with her, but then over the sand dune came two old and fully-clothed Swiss friends of Lyons' girlfriend who greeted her affectionately, not batting an eyelid at the fact that Lyons wasn't wearing anything, because after all it was a nude beach and they were being relaxed and European about it. Politeness obliged Lyons to stand around completely naked making small talk for several minutes with three fully-clothed people, including two complete strangers, to her own crippling embarrassment. The others weren't embarrassed at all.
  • "This film contains ethnographic nudity" is a warning message seen at the beginning of many anthropology and cultural tourism documentaries focused on tribal communities, usually of the South Pacific, Central Africa, or the Amazon, meaning that the native people will be shown in their normal state of (un)dress without post-processing blur and that their nudity will be treated as a non-issue rather than as embarrassing or titillating.
  • In ancient (and even some modern) Asian cultures, a noblewoman's bare feet were considered almost as private as her genitals. Even now, in many parts of the world baring the soles of your feet is viewed as not just indecent, but insulting.

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