Tag Archives: modesty


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.


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For shame

Initially, Botox foxed me.  Setting aside botulism’s unknowable long-term beauty impact (a side order of tumour with your otherwise smooth brow, madam?), I was unconvinced that facial paralysis is attractive.  Didn’t self-expression connect us with people?  Then I grew older and wrinklier.  Then I heard that Botox stops blushing.  Should I, could I…


Red is great.  It’s the colour of romance and squashed cars driven by short men with hilarious, forget-me-not hair.  Roses and Ferraris are red because it embodies sex, life and danger in efficient pigment code.  That’s why most women wear blusher.  But as a serial face-melt offender, I used to hate involuntary blushing. What bothered me was the message that it sends.  Namely, that something has got under my skin, and a shameful part of me is screaming to get out.  


But embarrassment is a valuable social emotion.  Only humans blush, a puzzle that primatologist Frans de Waal reckons to be one of the few mysteries that Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot solve.  I disagree.  Since embarrassment transpires when social rules are broken, you could consider blushing a weakness, because it announces our feelings.  However, such weakness, such honesty, is attractive.  Men have long got hot over flushed maidens, which indicates that our species evolved to favour flushers.  Why? 


Humanity’s survival stems from our ability to follow social rules, co-operate, and be more than the sum of our parts.  And embarrassment is social sensitivity in action.  For every Alpha leader who can smile through his plausible lies, we need at least ten people who respect boundaries, and wince when they tread on toes.  Not only do we know where we are with Beta blushers, but their embarrassment, like a flashing stop sign, helps keep us in line.


Kingsley Amis observed that history is the tale of man, an animal, trying to convince himself that he isn’t an animal.  Emotions remind us of the truth. Yes, when you put your foot in it, you may long for the earth to open and welcome you back, like the worm you were before life grew so complicated.  But sensitivity is appealing, and all emotions convey information.  So if somebody embarrasses you, listen to the feeling.  



As seen in ES magazine

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