Clothing Optional Morality

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Title: Traditional Attire of the Himba and Herero

Location: Near Brandberg Mountain in Damaraland, Namibia (taken in March 2011)

History: The Himba (shown left), descendants of the Otjiherero, maintained their nomadic lifestyle and traditional garb throughout the centuries.  The Herero (shown right), on the other hand, splintered from the Himba approximately 150 years ago and moved Southward while the Himba remained in Northern Namibia, near the border of Angola.

Traditionally, Himba men and women go topless, cover their bodies in ochre to protect their skin from the Namibian sun, and wear a loincloth of animal skins.  During the 19th century, the Herero, influenced by German missionaries who considered their traditional attire (similar to the Himba’s attire) immoral, adopted a distinctive style of dress.  The dress, reminiscent of the Victorian style, falls to the ankles and is comprised of long sleeves and a bodice that buttons at the neck.  Under the dress, women wear six to eight petticoats to add fullness to the skirts and often accessorize the outfit with a shawl.  The headpiece is fashioned to resemble cattle horns as the Herero tribes are well known for cattle ranching.

Background: I decided to share this photo to illustrate how Western beliefs influence African culture.  German missionaries are an inextricable link in the Herero tribe’s cultural shift from their historical traditional attire to clothing, which is designed to cover their breasts and body in order to alleviate immorality, sin, lust, and desire.

Unfortunately, women’s bodies and attire (or lack thereof) remains linked to morality and is viewed as a corrupting force throughout Western society.  In fact, a New Jersey court recently ruled that topless sunbathing is “inherently indecent and immoral.”  While a man can walk around shirtless (in a variety of public arenas), women cannot expect the same constitutional right to equality because they are a threat to “the public’s moral sensibilities.”

Although I am not personally inclined to walk around topless, I am an ardent believer in providing equal rights to women.  Women’s breasts are inextricably linked to our sexuality and have thus become a topic of “morality” and a form of repression.  As many conservative Americans are fighting “the threat of Sharia law” (Islamic religious law) one might think that our courts would not be so quick to make rulings based on moral decisions rather than the American Constitution.

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