Should your doctor see you naked?
Sometimes, the legendary American prudery gets in your face in unusual ways.
One of them is your typical visit to your physician for a full check-up. The usual drill is that you wait for a while in the waiting room, nervously flipping the pages of Happy Medical News for Senior Citizens, until a nurse calls you into the inner sanctum, where you first follow her (a male nurse is a rarity in an American doctor’s office, less so in hospitals) into a little room where you get weighed (that’s when you realize that it’s time to hop on the dieting wagon again!) and your temperature is taken (it’s done routinely, even if you’re not sick.)
The nurse then takes you to the examination room, where she takes your blood pressure, after which she reviews health issues that you may have, and, then, invites you to undress and to don the obligatory ‘doctor’s office gown’, a flimsy piece of cloth or, worse yet, paper material.
Why do you get to wear this ridiculous garment for the entire duration of your examination by your M.D.? Well, because, God forbid, Dr. Feelgood cannot – in any way, shape or form – see you in your full, glorious nakedness.
Which, you will agree with me, is preposterous.
How, indeed, can a physician properly assess the health status of a patient without getting a good, solid look at his/her entirely naked body? Having been born and raised in France, I spent a good amount of time buck-naked in front of miscellaneous general practitioners and specialists and, never for a minute, did I ever feel self-conscious, embarrassed or, worse yet, violated, because I was fully naked in front of a person who was not one of my parents, my spouse, or a romantic partner.
In the opening sequence of the 2007 French film Ensemble, c’est tout Camille, the female protagonist (played by Audrey Tautou) exits the trailer that serves as the examining facility for la Médecine du Travail. As any French employee, she has to submit to a yearly government-ordered and administered physical. Two of her female workmates are waiting for their turn on a bench, across from the trailer. One of them asks Camille (about the Médecine du Travail doctor):
– Y t’a examinée toute nue? (Did he examine you completely naked?)
To which Camille replies:
– Ben, évidemment! (Well, of course!)
The other woman adds, however:
– T’as gardé ton slip et ton soutif, au moins… (You kept your panties and your bra on, at least…)
To which Camille does not respond.
This dialogue reflects the common French practice of being examined fully naked by a doctor. It also alludes to the fact that not everyone is fine with this practice – and that some women would rather keep their undergarments on, especially if the doctor is from La Médecine du Travail and, as such, a complete unknown.
But back to American prudery, and an American quirk that goes against America’s legendary Puritan tradition: Americans of all ilk, who don’t know each other from Adam, constantly run into each other buck-naked in fitness centers and swimming pool locker rooms, where they prance in the nude as if it were nothing at all. Does American prudery stop at the locker room’s door? Please, someone, explain this to me!
Frankly, I’d rather be naked in front of my doctor than in front of total strangers in a locker room. Of course, I am well aware that locker rooms are separate for men and women, but I feel as self-conscious being undressed in front of women as I would in front of men.
I am not one of the naturist persuasion (although I have a secret admiration for those who are), but there are elements of the relationship of Americans with their bodies that I do not quite get. Not being able to be seen completely naked by their doctor is certainly one.All images © Elisabeth Dunato