Despite fierce Portuguese heat, I’m not writing this in my bikini. If it sees the light of this holiday, it will be for the briefest moments, between plunging into the pool and jumping out, into the coy embrace of a kaftan. You will gather I’m no fan of stripping off. This has many advantages. Friends police their pubic perimeters, ripping out innocent hairs in procedures that surely breach the Geneva convention. They call me inhibited. I consider them victims of a deceptive, bullying mindset.
Gok Wan became the patron saint of unnecessary nudity with a TV show that persuaded curdy women to parade their unfettered wares before a laughing crowd. Nobody seemed to doubt this event was empowering. But to equate nudity with liberation, and clothing with inhibition, is at best, lazy thinking. In the 1960s ugly men used similar arguments to persuade women to shag them.
Why should one’s pride be defined by what one is or isn’t wearing? Well, clothes are cultural artefacts: their stylishness lies as much in the beholder’s interpretation as the wearer’s intention. Equally, to strip is a social act. It doesn’t liberate you from other people’s opinions. Quite the reverse: challenging taboos requires spectators. Which is why stripping is really about power (it comes from a thirteenth-century word for plunder). Context dictates who is in charge. And when bellies, thongs and muffin tops come out to play, my privacy is being invaded too.
As computers dissolve the boundary between public and private, and Jordan becomes an icon to under-10 girls, self-display is increasingly de rigueur. What do we throw away with our inhibitions? To me, deprivatising our bodies cheapens the privileges of intimacy. The world-wide waste of time hosts a porno harem of multitudes. Booming plastic surgery on the fruits of Mars and Venus suggests people are both watching and concluding that their own, formerly private parts, are unfit to be seen. The aesthetics and ethics are intertwined because images change how we see ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d defend to the death your right to wear your birthday suit. In your home, garden, or on a designated beach. But I’d rather eat Brüno’s hot pants than wear mine for you.