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In the world I'm writing about, nature spirits such as dryads and nymphs are real. I want them to appear undressed to those humans who encounter them. In the course of the narrative, one of the dryads is asked why she doesn't wear clothes, but I cannot for the life of me come up with a valid reason why these beings would be naked.

Other supernatural beings such as gods or demons can be dressed without going shopping, so nature spirits should be able to wear whatever they want, too. So why don't they?

Why do they choose to appear naked? Or why were they created that way (by whichever god or goddess made them)? Or why do humans see them that way?


It is not an erotic story!

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closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, Aify, Vincent, James Jul 18 '18 at 6:13

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 18 '18 at 4:40

14 Answers 14

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The nature spirits are just that- spirits! They have no fixed material form, and instead appear as an idealized, natural version of whatever entity is encountering them. To a human, they appear to be beautiful humans wandering through the forest au naturel. To a bear, they would appear as a bear clad with an ethereal glow. And so on and so forth.

I imagine the dryad might answer the question posed to her by saying something like, "This how you came into my world, and thus it is how I came into yours."

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    $\begingroup$ +1 just for that last line... $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Jul 16 '18 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ When I read this answer, it gave me a shiver. Something in how you phrased it resonates with my idea of the supernatural. $\endgroup$ – user53051 Jul 18 '18 at 14:54
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Bears don't wear pants. Squirrels don't wear shirts. The trees don't wear hats. Why would a physical embodiment of the natural world wear clothes? Clothes are a construct of human society, and spirits simply have no need for them. Clothes aren't natural, so it makes perfect sense that a nature spirit would shun them.

Otherwise, where do you draw the line? Pretty soon you'll have forest nymphs in spandex jumpsuits rolling around in Hummers, throwing their empty GMO hot dog containers out the window.

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    $\begingroup$ As simple as this answer is, I think it's right. Given the natural element involved, the question should change from "Why don't dryads wear clothes" to "Is there any reason dryads might wear clothes?" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 16 '18 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ And bears do wear pants... when they're part of a circus act... $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 16 '18 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon: Those circus acts famed for their true and accurate representation of the natural world. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 16 '18 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ Hermit crabs wear mollusc shells. $\endgroup$ – Hot Licks Jul 16 '18 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ "Pretty soon you'll have forest nymphs in spandex jumpsuits rolling around in Hummers, throwing their empty GMO hot dog containers out the window." I could see that happening in an urban fantasy series. $\endgroup$ – JAB Jul 16 '18 at 20:35
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Because they’re nature spirits.

Clothes are manufactured, in their earliest incarnation using the pelts of dead animals and various bits of dead plant. Why in the world would a nature spirit clad themselves in such things?

Later on you get into the petrochemical industry which is astoundingly even worse.

You can consider it a form of sartorial protest vote. They don’t see why they should clad themselves in dead things and know full well that if your body is capable of growing its own plants you need better personal hygiene, so instead they remain naked, as nature intended.

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I can think of some options off the bat:

  • No concept of a nudity taboo, if nudity is a non-issue in nymph society then cloths are going to be ignored as unnecessary and or strange.

  • No need for shelter, if nymphs etc... as somewhat magical beings don't feel the cold, or the heat, then they don't need any form of shelter from the elements, clothing is therefore pointless.

  • Natural state for natural beings, clothing would prevent nymphs from being truly in touch with their environment, a fate worse than death if they're forced to endure it too long.

  • Clothing as a symbol of artifice, cloths are made things, humans make things nymphs live in the world as it is they don't need to alter the world to suit them, they avoid clothing and other visibly constructed possessions on principle.

  • People can't see their clothing, human lore concerning nymphs says they're nature spirits so clothing and other manufactured goods are at odds with our concept of such creatures. Since nymphs have no "real" physical form in our world and what we see is filtered through what we "know" about them and to quote Terry Pratchett "everyone who knows anything knows" that, in this case, nymphs don't wear cloths then we can't see the cloths they do wear. This filter that keeps humans from seeing the true nature of fairies etc... is often called fey glamour it has a long history in folklore as well as genre fiction.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea that humans can't see the nature spirits' clothes, because their concept of them is that of naked humanoids, but I'll have to think through the implications of that. It raises the question why humans conceive of those spirits as naked, which, I guess, could be said to be answered by your other points. Hmm... $\endgroup$ – user53051 Jul 16 '18 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @LogfileWizard Some humans who are either unusually in or out of tune with the magical world probably do see their cloths either because the glamour doesn't affect them properly or because they're more prone to seeing things as they actually are rather than as they would like them to be/as they expect them to be. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 16 '18 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think this answer's legibility would be improved by the usage of bullet points. Otherwise reading it is a jarring experience because it's written in pure list form. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Jul 16 '18 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ I'm reminded of a scene in Forbidden Planet where Leslie Bridges' character says “I didn't bring my bathing suit.”. Anne Francis' character says “What's a bathing suit?” getyarn.io/yarn-clip/e50beec1-14c5-4478-9307-d9597b346894 $\endgroup$ – Tangurena Jul 17 '18 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ The last point is interesting, but for it to hold there would have to be some expectation on the viewer's part. If I was walking through the woods and saw a person that I had no reason to believe was a nymph, what would act to prevent me from seeing that person's clothing? Glamour seems more like something that is projected rather than some sort of internal racial delusion. $\endgroup$ – Corey Jul 17 '18 at 23:26
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"Why do you wear no clothes?"

"Precisely because you ask the question. It is in my nature to embody nature, yes, but also to steward it, guard it, and indeed invoke it. You ask the question because you are discomfited. You are discomfited because something animal inside you moves. It moves because I present myself to you like this; bare and dangerous to your sense of normalcy. What sort of nymph would I be if I caused no more animal urge in you than a man baking bread?"

In other words; characters often make choices based on who they are, their needs or norms, but they may also make choices based on the reactions they wish to see in others.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't sell short the baking bread, now. That bread smell gives me an animal urge for sure. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 16 '18 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk And that's the point! The bar is set high, and must be cleared. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Jul 17 '18 at 0:07
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Because being naked is natural.

Over 95% of all organisms that live or have ever lived on the planet have not worn clothes. If nature is the norm for determining what is natural, then naked would be natural.

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    $\begingroup$ While this technically answers the OP's question, it does not provide an explanation of why nudity is natural. What causes the nature spirits to shun clothing? for example. Please note that short, one-sentence answers are pretty much always flagged as low-quality/for-review. The site prefers an explanation. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 16 '18 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ I added some more text though I think it is redundant. This kind of answer is implicit. I am surprised the OP did not think of it themselves. $\endgroup$ – Tyler S. Loeper Jul 16 '18 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ Is it? There are human tribes that have no clothes yet live in a culture. For example, the Yanomami live naked but they do have a culture (including laws, religion, language, taboos, etc.). $\endgroup$ – user53051 Jul 16 '18 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ The 95% is a very, very, very low figure. Given that only humans wear clothes, I would estimate the number to be closer to 99.9999999%. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jul 16 '18 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ You calculating that % by species or mass? $\endgroup$ – The Nate Jul 17 '18 at 2:36
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"Why would I wear clothes?" the dryad asked. "I don't get cold any more than this oak would shiver on a brisk spring morning. My body holds no shame for me - I have no reason to hide it. And while I pride myself in who I am, my body doesn't threaten anyone else, so I have no cause for modesty. If my body evokes passion in another, that, too, is delightfully natural. I need no silks to communicate wealth, which is a wholly material thing, nor do have I any need of sigils or symbols to communicate a trade, or a marriage. I've never had any urge to wear clothes to express something about myself - but even if I did, nearly all clothes come from the despoiling of something that lives, be it fiber from my friend the oak here, or the skin of a bear or rabbit. I no more begrudge humans the need to wear clothes than I begrudge the wolf the need to eat, but if a creature like me were to drape myself suchly, it would be crassly macabre, even if the components were scavenged from living things already fallen."

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Are we not all naked?

When asked about clothes, the nymph has no idea what you are talking about. She cannot see your clothes either. When she looks at you, she sees your aura - your representation as seen from the vantagepoint of the nearby plane she inhabits. You are always naked under your clothes. She can see other aspects about you that you might think are concealed as well - perhaps also concealed from you.

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  • They don't need it: they are supernatural spirits, and don't feel cold or hot. they don't need protection against element, as it doesn't affect them as it do to us.
  • They represent nature: a reindeer in suits will be quite odd, isn't it? well, a mermaid to. They represent nature and freedom, clothes are a human thing, representing human society, not nature
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Two simple reasons:

  1. Because creating clothes requires knowledge of weaving or some other means of manufacturing the clothes, and dryads do not know how to use tools like humans.
  2. Because the creation of clothing requires the abuse or destruction of nature, and that goes against the moral code of a nature spirit.
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one of the dryads is asked why she doesn't wear clothes

Dryads often are depicted as merging into or entering their associated trees. You can simply say that they can't take the clothes with them. Because they'd constantly have to take off their clothes to flit into their tree, they simply don't bother.

That said, that may not be the initial answer. That assumes the dryad knows what clothes are. A dryad in the deep forest may not be familiar with the concept of clothes.

Reasons a dryad might not like clothes:

  1. Prevent merging with her tree.
  2. Scratch or itch.
  3. Too hot.
  4. Can't feel the breeze/sun/rain/whatever.
  5. What kind of a freak wears dead plants and animal skins?
  6. Is she not more comely than the clothes?
  7. Why bother?
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From a human-centric point of view, you are asking yourself why nature beings are humanoid but naked...

But from a god-centric point of view, and conveniently taking as reference we are an Image of God, you should not say a being is humanoid, it is a term used for quick understanding and to aid our minds to get a better picture of the creature.

Also you should consider asking yourself, why and when humans started to use clothes. First reason was protection, then power and belonging. Also envy and jealousy were vital for clothes to evolve into fashion.

The point is you could say nature creatures were also created by god or gods as god-like creatures. Then they were protected to avoid falling in same temptations as humans, or they are incapable of doing things worth falling in disgrace of god(s), so they had never being taught about embarrasment and inferiority feelings because of being naked. And also they might have tree bark or some other physical protection so they've never felt the desire to artificially protect themselves.

Making things to aid ourselves, to expand our possibilities, to make us feel safe, to counteract our handicaps, those are "human" traits.

A driad capable of understand the above would be sure clothes are a proof that humans are lesser beings. A wiser driad would understand that human adaptability is a dangerous and/or worth-respect ability.

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Because nymphs and dryads are emotion or spirit imbued, otherwise inanimate, they don't have the power to create, only to be. A braid or stitch and the power to create one are sacred and only given to humans and gods. Wearing the fauna is the best they can do...

Deep enough?

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  • $\begingroup$ I fail to see how this adresses why they have unique forms, but without clothes. Can you elaborate on that idea? $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Jul 17 '18 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ +1 Good idea, A. J. Benjamin. $\endgroup$ – user53051 Jul 17 '18 at 12:22
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Clothes are possessions. Nature spirits don't have possessions they keep, or initially even the concept.

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    $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 17 '18 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch It does answer my question as I understand it. $\endgroup$ – user53051 Jul 17 '18 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @FredBob, we prefer extended answers. This looks more like a comment. (and the predefined choices in the menu have that text) $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 17 '18 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch I see. But I don't know what else David might have written. His answer is complete. I think the requirement that answers need to have a certain length is not always very helpful. Some information can be conveyed in very few words. $\endgroup$ – user53051 Jul 17 '18 at 19:10