When Liz Fraser sunbathed topless on holiday her children were horrified. Which got her thinking: why, in our sexualised society, do we have such a perverse fear of nudity?
In the May half term, my family and I went on a mission to the southern-most part of the south of France in search of that rare, seemingly almost extinct thing: sunshine.
After four days of incessant rain, thunderstorms and a continuation of what turned out to be, the locals informed us, the coldest May the southern-most part of the south of France had seen for 80 years (which caused me to spend most of the time weeping into a glass of rosé while crouched under a fan heater), something magical happened: the sun. came out!
‘Hello, sunshine’ meant ‘Goodbye, clothes’ and out I ran into the garden to expose as much of my blindingly white flesh as possible to the glorious vitamin D bath that was baking down from above, in the hope that I would turn a deep shade of mocha before lunchtime.
So there I was. Relaxing. In my own (rented) garden. Topless. Until my 10-year-old son came outside and shrieked, ‘Oh my GOD, Mum’s got her droopy pancakes out! Quick, RUN AWAY! Eeeeww, it’s disgusting!’
Which was nice. But the truth is I was feeling a little uncomfortable about my exposure anyway. And that surprised me. Why on earth should I feel uncomfortable sunbathing topless in front of my own family? My children are quite used to seeing me wandering about the house naked after a shower and are, generally, healthily relaxed about nudity. But they were visibly surprised, and even a little uncomfortable, about the sudden appearance of my ‘droopy pancakes’, exposed to the fresh air.
There seems to me to be a bizarre, damaging dichotomy between the prevalent lewd, sexualised culture and a perverted fear of nakedness. Our popular culture is one where music videos aimed squarely at the youth market are little less than soft porn, where our children’s pop idols simulate sexual acts on stage while mouthing lyrics so rude they make most adults’ eyes water, and nobody bats an eyelid when a 13-year-old girl walks down the street on a Saturday afternoon in clothing more suited to a prostitute than a child out shopping with her mother.
Only today a group of teenage girls teetered past me in skirts so short I could tell you whether they had any piercings down there. Nobody even blinked. But had they been topless at the local lido, they’d have been asked to leave.
In our drip-feed culture where sex is seen as a commodity, where dressing and behaving in a sexually provocative way are portrayed in mainstream films, television programmes and adverts as being a route to success, where thousands of young girls of all social backgrounds take the morning-after pill every week, and where breast implants are as common as a visit to the dentist, the most natural thing in the world – bare flesh – is too shocking to be allowed in public.
Communal changing rooms in public swimming pools are a thrashing sea of flesh-terror as ladies squeeze and contort themselves into positions usually reserved for yoga classes, shivering behind their towels, desperate to get changed without revealing a millimetre of lumpy bum-cheek.
And it even extends to babies and toddlers; a four-year-old child running around naked in the paddling pool of a local park sparks complaints by ‘offended’ locals. And it’s now commonplace to see parents dressing their babies – yes, babies – in two-piece bikinis to ‘protect their modesty’, seemingly unaware that what they’re actually doing is grimly sexualising their child. Why not give her a packet of baby condoms while you’re at it, in case she gets lucky in the ball-pit? Better to be safe than sorry.
Still now, at the start of the 21st century in our ‘developed’ country that prides itself on being at the forefront of innovation, culture and technology, women are regularly asked to leave restaurants and get off public transport if they breast-feed their baby, because the inch of bare breast it can reveal is so offensive to some people. It’s utter madness.
Of course, there is a time and a place for everything. I wouldn’t want to walk around my local supermarket topless, though I daresay I’d get served faster if I did. But we’ve seriously got our knickers in a twist in our sex-obsessed culture that has lost sight of what nudity is. Nakedness has come to out-shock the most shocking. Fake is more acceptable than natural. Tits are OK; breasts aren’t.
It’s a culture that sees the naked human body as nothing but a sexual thing, rather than what it is: beautiful and natural. Lumps, bumps, pancakes and all. If you’re heading off on holiday this summer, it might be worth giving that some thought.