Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

I see nipples! Everywhere!


Not to insult the general idea or politics here. Not in the least! But there are significant cultural differences, specifically when it comes to religion, that make me believe that I could never have thrived the way I did if I stayed in the US.

1. Abstinence teachings do not exist. Actually, if you were to suppose someone teach abstinence in school, the answers would be “uhm. well. sure. as an alternative maybe. But kids still need to learn about condoms and body functions as well. You can’t leave that out!”. Does that mean we don’t have teen pregnancies over here? Heck no. We do. We have very similar problems! But, at least, none of those kids (especially girls) suffer from religious slut shaming. And even if that’s all that the lack of abstinence teachings accomplish, that’s still something.

2. Religion is something for your private life. Imagine someone on the street would walk up to you and tell you about their sexual kinks and ask you to try them too. That is the equivalent of people trying to impose religion on others here. It’s something that’s perfectly fine, but you keep it to yourself. You don’t encounter people with flyers or tracts or signs here. Nobody is friendly enough to accept them anyway – Germans deny being handed flyers they don’t care about on a regular basis. It wouldn’t make any sense.

3. Abortion clinic crowds. When Germans see pictures of demonstrations in front of abortion clinics, they react highly puzzled. “What’s that all about?” – “Don’t they… like… have jobs?” – “Is that their hobby or something?” It is very hard to make people understand why people in America do that. When they do understand, the reaction is usually something on the lines of calling it bad taste to harass people in a difficult life situation. I once heard of a catholic pastor demonstrating in front of an abortion doctor’s office. As far as I know, he came alone. That made it into the regional news. Just to give you an idea how exotic this is here – it even makes it into the news… Not that Germans don’t demonstrate. They love it. They do it all the time. Which is why you should plan your public transportation really well, because you are likely to catch a day where some flight personnel or some train personnel is off work for a demonstration (Hello German Railroads, we would love to have our trains on time JUST FOR ONCE!).

4. “So, do you plan on getting married soon?”. Germans find it very, very, very weird when people under 25 get married. 25-30 is still a bit unusual, but it doesn’t get you stares. If you were to marry at 18, people would stare at you in wonder and go “why….?”. Actually, getting married is pretty optional these days. Having a child out-of-wedlock gets you much less stares than a wedding before the age of 25.

5. Virginity before marriage? It’s not like people throw stones at you exactly, but that is very, very unusual here. You’d get some curious questions. People probably would understand your reasoning, but most cannot understand why it would be a big deal. And no, not everyone here sleeps around on orgies or has 15 lovers at a time or whatever negative you associate with it. It’#s just… not a big deal. You know? Nobody cares.

6. Sex and the public. Nudity is not something people get worked up over. Nursing in public happens all the time and without covers. You know why? Because people don’t care and don’t bother. Changing babies happens all the time. Because they don’t care, don’t bother. Topless women at the pool happen. People change (aka strip down completely naked) on pools and lakes. You know why? You should by now! I can’t even explain it really. They just… don’t… care…

All of these factors have been a major culture shock for me. At first, it was so hard. Seriously. So hard. Not to feel embarrassed when I sat next to a woman nursing without covers in public. Not to stare at people topless on the lake. Not to feel highly uncomfortable next to the girls in H&M who change in the middle of the shop (the lines for the fitting rooms are SO long!). It took me so long to be cool about it. And what took me even longer was realizing that nobody cared if I did these things.

I remember the first time I tried something on in the middle of H&M. Really, it’s very common here because you have to wait 20 minutes otherwise. I was in a hurry. I really wanted to try the dress. So my friend urged me: Just throw it on! Nobody cares! I let her convince me – nevertheless I prefered to do it in a far off corner. Of course, two girls were looking at the shirts there. One of them bumped into me when I was half undressed. She smiled and said sorry. And went her merry way. And I realized… nobody cares.

All of these things are so far away from everything I knew growing up. I think the fact that this is like a different world, so far away from everything I knew, really helped me. I wasn’t given the choice anymore. In America, you have the choice and the support to be against nursing mothers in public. You have the choice to freak out when you see a nipple on TV – and you WILL find support. Here, the “support” you will find is people shaking their heads and saying “Do you really have nothing else to do but get into other people’s business? If you don’t like it, you know… you’re free to leave the restaurant, or change the channel.” Yup, I think that’s the major point. Snooping around in other people’s business, telling them what to do or not to do, pressuring them with your “One true way” is just out-of-place. Do as you please, as long as others have the choice to look away.

Back at home I would have been very angry about this. I would have started screaming “But what about MY freedom? What about my freedom of speech and my right to be protected of other people’s nipples?!” I understand that now. I understand that this is a different culture, where freedom isn’t defined via being protected of other people’s bodies being naked, where demonstrating in the form some people do in front of abortion clinics isn’t valued as freedom of speech but as harassment (fyi, it is permitted to do it – just nobody feels like it’s an appropriate way to express opinions). Where you can say what you want, but you shouldn’t shove it down people’s throats. Where, when you see something that upsets you (but gives others joy), you just, for once, look away. At the end of the day, this really is a relaxing attitude. Because when you see a nursing mother, it is so much more relaxing to simply look away if it bothers you.

I wouldn’t even say that it is “better” over here. No. That’s comparing apples to oranges. Its different. Different culture, different lifestyle, not better, not worse, just different. This is purely about personal preference in the above issues and the way it’s helped me get away from old beliefs. If I didn’t come from the background I do, I might not even notice, or I might not see it as positive that abstinence is not considered in schools here. I think the best way to see it is in form of phases in life. And right now, for me personally, it is best to be immersed in a world so completely different from the one I knew. Maybe that will change tomorrow, or in 2 years, or in 10. Until then, I will enjoy a different lifestyle, knowing that I, as a rich American-European girl, have the ability to choose a different one whenever I please. And that, suddenly, reminds me that there are much bigger problems in the world than nipples on TV.


23 thoughts on “I see nipples! Everywhere!

  1. In college I spent a year abroad in Copenhagen, lived with a family which had three girls ranging in age from 18 to 25. One of my first nights with this family we were treated to a slide show of their summer vacation on an island in the south of Denmark. Typical family holiday pictures until we saw the girls topless! I was a little shocked, being American. We just don’t DO that!

    That summer I joined them on their holiday trip and will never forget walking on the beach as a start naked man jogged past, everything flapping up and down in the breeze. It was hilarious.

    Americans are definitely prudish about sex and nudity. I live in Nashville and our “Musica” sculpture scandalized the locals because it features naked people; it was so controversial that the mayor at the time wouldn’t attend the unveiling. I found that so odd because you go to Rome and on every corner is a magnificent fountain or sculpture featuring naked people.

    • Ok, naked men jogging still freaks me out. I’ll admit that. Too much flapping going on. To me it’s like a car accident – stare – don’t stare – stare hahahaha
      I can imagine how freaky it feels to arrive in a NEW family and one of the first impressions you get is the topless pictures. Oh God I would have been so embarassed hehehe

  2. Do you think it’s because they already endured facism in the ’40s and no how dangerous it is? For whatever reason, it sounds heavenly. =)

    • Well, I would say WW 2 has something to do with it, but not because of the fear and danger but because of some of the ideologies.
      Hitler was a great fan of aethetic bodies, and Leni Riefenstahl’s film “Triumph des Willens” (Thriumph of the will) idealized physical fitness and showed lots of naked, fit bodies. The hitler youth (both for girls and boys) put extreme value of physical fitness and good looks. Nudity wasn’t so much a taboo as it was showing of your strength as a warrior.
      I think that certainly had a lasting influence of what is attractive and what is taboo on people who lived through the war. Maybe it’s also because the country was completely destroyed after the war. In a time where hardly anyone had a house, where people slept outside, in tents, crammed into small spaces, personal space and taboos tend to be lost very quickly. I think that’s important too. You shouldn’t forget that many cities were completely – completely – destroyed. I was told that the city I live in was bombed so severely that no more than four houses were standing after the attack. Mind you, the population in 1944 was 150k. These four houses actually still stand and have signs on them. It’s also something to remember when you visit Germany and think everything in the cities is so old. It actually isn’t. It’s been rebuilt after 1945 – and, funny enough, almost exclusively by women who worked with their bare hands and some buckets at first, because obviously something like private houses wasn’t rebuilt by the Americans and Brits – it wasn’t as important as rebuilding public spaces like hospitals and schools, of course. Maybe that’s a reason why things are a bit different around here as well.

  3. no=know

  4. Good description of the world as I know it here in Belgium, except that we seem a bit more reserved about nudity (being nude ourself) than what you describe, but we are a more reserved people here in Flanders. Seeing nudity is likewise. I still don’t get why seeing a nipple would be a problem (like Janet Jacksons ‘nipplegate’) especially in a dance that is meant to be sexy anyway.

    I don’t think I could stand America actually if I read your description…

  5. Ha!
    That’ why I, as a german, enjoy reading about Christian Fundamentalists in the US.
    It’s like SciFi! Weird, slightly scary planet, where the inhabitants think that theirs is the one and only way to do things.
    (I just figured now: Steampunk, maybe? Yes. Victorian morals & technology. That’s how the US looks to me, at least sometimes)

    • You know, someone I know said something similar about my stories: “It sounds like some weird futuristic utopia where civilisation has been destroyed and people turned extremely religious.” Many people like hearing about it but I found that a lot of them also find it hard to believe that it’s actually true. This is weird to me because I can’t really understand why it wouldn’t be this way. hah.

  6. America is for sure more conservative about public nudity, but I think you are a bit predjudiced and think all of America is like how you were raised in a fundy house and the only people you saw were also the same. It is a big country, with many diverse people’s and thoughts. Remember that Germany is the size of Minnesota, not the whole USA. We for sure have many more liberties here also. Not perfect, far from it, so don’t think I am saying that. You need to take your new found knowledge and freedom and come back and explore the real US. You haven’t really been here since you left our fathers home.

    • No and I’m also not from California or the big university cities (where my family figured all of the things I mentioned are “normal” hehe) so you are completely right, I did grow up in an area where all of the things I mentioned were extremely controversial issues! I did not mean to stuff everyone into one big box. I have been considering to take a round trip (I really want to see NY, Cali and – don’t ask me why – Phoenix and Arizona – and maybe Nevada, while I’m in that corner anyway). If I could chose ONE place to live for the rest of my life, It’d be either Tokyo or Las Vegas. I’m obsessed with LV for some reason. So I completely agree with you, I haven’t seen enough. So hopefully I will be able to afford a round trip and maybe find a place where I want to spend another part of my life there. I’m not opposed towards moving back if the circumstances were right. I also think that, with the distance I now have, I would have a completely different view on everything. The only place I really don’t want to return to is my home state – which is beautiful but the thought of being there again stifles me.

      • In the most liberal cities in America, you still can’t be a topless women, even when breastfeeding, in public. LOL

        If anything, in all of the South, at least, things have gotten more prudish since you left. Lawmakers in red states are working hard to completely outlaw abortion and birth control, and America’s love affair with guns and ammo is ablaze like never before in our country’s history. Women are prosecuted for murder in some Southern states if they miscarry and are found to have any illegal chemicals in their blood at the time- whether or not there is any medical connection between the miscarriage and the mother’s actions.

        Our prison systems are blowing up since they have been privatized. If you are a young man of color, it is not much better than in the days after Reconstruction, when black men could be arrested and put in a chain gang and sent out to work for free in a white man’s fields. Only now, it is a government corporation that uses prison labor to turn a profit. A 14 year old boy at the beach in Miami has just been charged with a felony because a cop didn’t like the way the boy looked at him!

        In many cities and states, public education is being dismantled- specifically Louisiana and Chicago. Texas is not far behind. Religious lawmakers just voted to cut billions from the food stamp program at a time when ever-increasing numbers of Americans are living in poverty. 25% of households earn below $25k a year.

        Our government spies on our phone calls and our internet usage. I am sure they are tracking you, as international communications are on the hot list.

        Thanks to the religious right, my fellow citizens and myself are losing freedoms every day. Thanks to the pro-wealthy policies of the GOP over the last 20 years, the wealth of our country is increasingly isolated in the hands of the few at the top, and they pay no taxes on most of it because they hide it overseas. The rest is taxed at the low capital gains rate (average 18%) while the shrinking middle class pays 33% of their income in income taxes, and a way disproportionately higher amount in all the other myriad taxes of daily life: property taxes, sales taxes, registration fees, etc.

        Our bought and paid for conservative government is poisoning our groundwater with fracking. Our children can’t avoid eating GMO food without having extremely health conscious parents of some means to buy organic (esp. milk!) and most people don’t have the knowledge, money or opportunity to do so.

        Stay in Germany. The America of our collective memory, home of the free, land of the brave, doesn’t exist anymore. It’s more like the crappy unregulated America of the early industrial revolution, only Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives aren’t coming to save us. We’re pretty much screwed.

        • You sure got that right. I live in one of the 2 blue counties in Texas and one of the poorest in the country. Breast feeding is stigmatized here period. Being able to buy formula is seen as a status symbol. Even the poorest avoid it and nobody would dare to do it in public. We are a predominantly catholic, baptist and evangelical area and no one would dare do it in public. Body shame is something that is hard to overcome.

  7. Hi Lisa! I really enjoyed reading your article. I’m German, but from a pretty religious background. You are so right with: “Having a child out-of-wedlock gets you much less stares than a wedding before the age of 25.” Religious and secular lifestyle in Germany are two different worlds and I’m constantly switching from one world into the other – depending on the people around me. And I myself really like the relaxed attitude you described here. Thanks for pointing it out. Mathilda

  8. On the nipples discussion, one lady at my church growing up had to put bandaids on her nipples because the men wouldn’t stop complaining and the building was FREAKIN cold. I wish I were making that up.

    • Oh dear, I would have felt so ashamed if I was in that lady’s position. I think now I’d just say “I don’t like your face very much either, but I ain’t asking you to put bandaids on it, am I?”. I’m totally pro “if you don’t like what you’re seeing, look elsewhere”.

  9. It seems like a good place for you to be now….if the people there are comfortable with sexuality (which includes nursing a child ) or nudity while bathing, if that is the social norm and people don’t care then it is more relaxed than the US. You are trying to let go of those restrictive, confining sterotypes that have hurt you very much. Do what you feel comfortable doing, within the social norm and you will thrive (I hope). I am 61 and finding the gym I go to rather surprising after I found a sign on the sauna that said “please wear your bathing suit or underwear” It’s a women’s locker room, why do we have to hide our bodies. I wouldn’t want someone masturbating around me in the locker room but if she wants to self massage because of a leg cramp or arthritis she should feel comfortable doing that. WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL Sorry for venting. Take care of yourself, enjoy your journey of life. Blessings, Pixie

    • I totally understand your point. I have never been to a sauna in the US, but nowadays I would say that it’s completely over the top if women feel insulted by a woman’s body. How can you be comfortable with yourself if you feel harrassed by other women??

  10. Also I think a lot of American prudishness about sex is just ingrained in our culture and goes back to our Puritan roots. It’s odd because we’re not squeamish about violence at all, there’s a huge cultural disconnect in that regard. I went to a video store once and overheard a woman ask the clerk if a film was appropriate for her kids, boys ages 10-12. I think the film was “Open Range,” can’t remember but I do remember I’d seen the movie and it was incredibly violent. The clerk said, “well … I’m not sure … it’s pretty bloody.” And the mom said, “OH I don’t care about that! I just wondered if there was any nudity in it.”

    Stupid woman. Her kids are probably psycho killers today. LOL.

    • OH YES thanks for pointing the violence part out, I completely forgot about that! Violence is very cencored over here. Like, sex scenes are ok in movies, and sex scenes which aren’t too pornographic (e.g. nudity, sex under a blanket etc) will not be a big deal for the age rating (12+ usually allows explicit nudity and covered-up sex scenes). Violence, on the other hand, will rate the movie down so fast, you won’t be able to say “chainsaw massacre”. Movies that are considered for 10-12 yrs in America will get a 16+ rating here. I was never used to violence in movies, so I’m easy to shock. Sometimes I’m in horror when I find out that a movie is rated for 14 ysr in America (which often leads to 18+ here). Movies that are ok to be displayed in shops openly in America are “under the counter” stuff here – they aren’t allowed to advertise very hard films and you have to ask for them because shops aren’t allowed to leave them around on the shelfs (because even the covers that are bloody are considered damaging for children who may run around the shops! also they don’t want small children to know about these movies until they are old enough). It’s really a vice versa world, where you will find more soft pornography in the normal section and have to go to the X-area for hard violence films, lol!

  11. Oh, Lisa! You are BRILLIANT! I just love this! 🙂

  12. Interesting perspective! I am from Germany (East Germany) to be specific, but ten years ago moved to a (very liberal) university town in the Midwest. I was in my 20s then…
    I find the difference between my very liberal circle of friends here and the situation in Germany, with nudity, abstinence, religion, etc. isn’t so different – but that is limited to that particular part of society. I admit to sometimes getting away with some liberties – like changing into my swim stuff at the lake, instead of in a changing room. Interestingly enough you can get away with it, if you do it quickly and with confidence. But the freedom of mind – you describe this *they just don’t care* attitude very well – cannot be found in the US, it’s true. In Germany I grew up as a child that was used to go to the nude beach every summer with thousands of other people. My parents, aunt, uncle, grandparents, godparents, colleagues, complete strangers – all naked. You just didn’t think about it. Everybody had a body, that was that. In college I came home one day and didn’t have my key. My roommate’s mother opened the door – in bra and undies. Never met her before. We shook hands – completely normal. Not sure what would have happened if I was a guy… that’s a bit more taboo even in Germany…
    But yeah… the cultural approach is very different. I find that sex and sexualized looks are on the hand much more stigmatized and on the other hand much more *required* of women in the US. The US is more uptight and yet much more openly fascinated by sexiness – an interesting dichotomy.

  13. Thank you! I really want to make a sign that reads “God hates judgmental actions” and another that reads “God hates gossip!!!” As we all clearly know that God cannot hate his own creation or else the Universe would implode, God does get to hate our choices. At least according to the box in which we put God.

  14. I just posted about this in another blog, but I’ll repeat part of it here.

    When I was a little girl my best friend and her mom used to go swimming at a local pool with my mom and myself. We would always shower in the nude in the locker room,s open showers. I consider it a blessing that my friend and I were exposed to locker room nudity at a young age. When we started junior high a few years later we were completely comfortable in the group showers that everyone was required to take in gym class. That was not true of all of the girls. It took some of the girls a while to stop being embarrassed while showering in the girls locker room.

    I feel like moms are doing their daughters a major disservice when they teach them to fear other females seeing them nude in a locker room. My husband and I plan on starting a family soon, and if we have a daughter, I feel that it will be important for her to see that I am not ashamed showering and changing in a female locker room. I believe that that will help her body image as she grows up.

    I think that the Germans have the right attitude when it comes to same gender nudity in locker rooms.

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