My late father – not someone who could usually claim great advice (or indeed the dispensing of any advice) as a skill – once told me, “Never trust the physically uninhibited.” And the older I get, the more I’m inclined to agree. I was 14 and he was responding to the revelation that, while I’d been sleeping over at a classmate’s house, her middle-aged dad had wandered in to have a pee while his teenage daughter sat in the bath. Normal for many families and in no way sinister, I’m sure, but the Hughes clan was characteristically aghast. More recently, I was horrified to see another girlfriend (in her mid-twenties) posting Facebook pictures of herself, sunbathing topless, with her entire extended family similarly exposed on neighbouring lilos.
Like many children of the 1970s, I grew up in a house where there wasn’t acres of flesh on show. We didn’t bathe with my parents, I can’t remember ever seeing my dad’s willy (an agreeable arrangement for us both) and, despite my now edging closer to menopause, my mother has yet to acknowledge that I have, in all likelihood, started my periods. Nowadays, as I shower while my kids play in the bath two metres away from me, or wee with the door unlocked as default, and feel glad to know every centimetre of my sons’ bodies, I see that my covered-up childhood was often daft, arguably unhealthy and unduly prudish. But enough of the inhibition has stuck for me to know that those with little or no body modesty are simply not my people.
I don’t ever want to hear your loud comedy burps, smell your farts, check out your Prince Albert or feel your new boobs
The recent craze for hot tubbing, for example, is truly my idea of hell. Sitting around in what is essentially eight people’s bathwater, drinking heavily in the hope of forgetting that my leg has involuntarily wandered into a fellow guest’s Speedos, while bits of soggy Pringle bob past, almost literally gives me the willies. It screams of abject horror and misery, with distinct undertones of swinging. Likewise, pool parties. Cossies as occasion wear is permissible in the under-16s, but adults standing around semi naked, daintily nibbling on Waitrose mini burgers? No. Whichever “friend” decided that would be a good idea is frankly not on your side. Ditto, I don’t ever want to hear your loud comedy burps, smell your farts, check out your Prince Albert or feel your new boobs, and please know that anyone who feels the need to defecate in my presence, Jessa from Girls-style, will be similarly evacuated from my life. A little dignity, please.
The gym is perhaps the ultimate danger zone for the physically repressed – you never know when you’re going to be forced to come face-to-fanny with a complete stranger. The four walls of the changing area seem to cause even normals to lose all sense of decorum. There’s always at least one woman putting on her post-shower make-up, needlessly starkers, when surely a pair of pants should be one’s first port of call? People conducting lengthy conversations about school fees while their nipples almost skim feels far more self-conscious than covering the hell up. I recently saw a fellow gym-goer standing spread-eagle, while she wrestled with the wall-mounted communal hairdryer to give her pubes a perfectly coiffed blow-dry (no one does this at home, why force it on people in public?). Naturally, I rolled my eyes while performing a Mr Bean-style feat of escapology behind a massive towel, as befits Queen and country.
There are upsides to my very British reservations about getting my kit off publicly. I will never mourn the bikini years, because I never had them – even when I had the body shape I’d now donate vital organs to get back. I don’t give a damn about the stretchmarks my children left behind, or the slightly sad-looking boobs they drank the fullness out of. I really, really like winter clothes – the more enrobing, the better (I may be the only person who applauded Nigella’s full-body swimsuit). There’s no blackmail fodder hanging over me in a Snappy Snaps envelope. And I’m not ashamed of my body – I’m in not-appalling nick for someone who hasn’t been entirely respectful of it for 40 years. And I don’t care what’s on show in my home, particularly in the bedroom. But at no point outside of it do I want to delight in yours. Unless we’ve already done some flirting, had some dinner and a good old-fashioned snog, it just isn’t cricket.