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26-06-2005
  1
kit
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Flash that flesh .
Oh, please put it away

Women are putting more and more of themselves on display, says Mimi Spencer - and apparently they're doing it for other women (though men may not realise this). But is this liberation or fashion fascism?

Sunday June 26, 2005
The Observer

Sun's out. Roses are out. And, in true British summer tradition, breasts are out, too, not to mention legs, midriffs, cleavages, the whole fleshy, flashy shebang.

The curious thing is that this Great Undressing doesn't actually require any sunshine at all. As Liz Hurley noted the other day: 'More and more people, even in the depths of winter, seem to wear an awful lot of summer clothes. For the past couple of years,' she added conspiratorially, 'I've worn open-toed sandals throughout the year. I think once you've got to the stage where you're not really hanging out for the bus any more but getting into a car, you can. Of course [some people] are taking public transport, in which case they can't.'

Oh, but we do Liz, we do. On the number 27, it's all breasts ahoy and navel manoeuvres. Walk along any high street and you'll see women in all manner of tiddly clothes, the kind that could easily fall off if they sneezed. You might think that the boho look, with its flowing skirts and peasant shirts and hundredweight of ethnic beads, is this summer's hot fashion news. Think again. This season, as in every season for the past five years, come rain, shine or mild drizzle, your must-have accessory is a well-toned, buffed superbod.

The idle observer might conclude that this neo-nakedness is designed to ensnare a mate as he blunders past in his shorts and sandals. But no. This parade is designed for women. There will be females out there who may sniff at the triviality... but I bet you look too. Come on, admit it. Hands up anyone who watched Celebrity Love Island and wasn't pleased to see that Abi Titmuss had huggable hips, a nice, round belly and a chest which looked like two carrier bags full of orange juice?

There are rules, though, in this great national game of Strip. Hurley, now 40 and an expert in the art of flesh management, issued several guidelines last week, counselling us all to avoid 'anything that is too small or too tight, unless you're slim and toned... I'm sick of seeing flab bulging out all over. Bare legs in a miniskirt,' she added, 'can look dodgy at any age.' True enough, which explains why Hurley's legs rarely leave the comfort zone of those white jeans.

Charlotte Church, who only a monent looked like your kid niece, has further grown-up advice concerning this perilously thin line between clever exposure and naked embarrassment: 'You've got to have one thing on show at one time,' she says, wise beyond her years. 'You either do cleavage or a midriff thing or a back thing or a leg thing.' Do all the 'things' together and you'll look like a cat's breakfast. Step forward, Jodie Marsh. Or any one of those soap stars out on the razz.

Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman recognises the pitfalls of flashing too much flesh. 'Choose your bit,' she agrees. 'Very few people can show everything all at once. I've never thought, for instance, that cleavage and legs make a good combo. But do back and legs together, by all means. The key is to be confident in it and why you're doing it. If you're not comfortable, you won't look good, full stop.'

The 'one bit at a time' rule has served celebrities well for years. Kate Moss, for instance, is all leg. Renée Zellweger is forever revealing her shoulders. Charlize Theron gives good back. Mind you, even old hands fall foul of the rules occasionally. When Hurley dined with Donatella Versace and Arun Nayar at Milan's in-vogue restaurant Dar El Yacout recently, she wore a dress with an astonishing cutaway hole exposing the underside of her breasts, which made it look as though she'd attached a toddler's bottom to her front by way of amusing decoration.

The problem is that fashion has been encouraging us to get increasingly naked for years. Ever since Eva Herzigova pitched her breasts at us from the Wonderbra billboards of 1994, the clothes-to-flesh ratio in everyday fashion has been tilting in favour of exposure. Close behind the Wonderbra, as you will recall, came those low-rise trousers which gave airtime to a hitherto uncharted segment of flesh. It wasn't long before the midriff joined the party. Beyoncé, JLo, Girls Aloud. The female belly marched forth - flat, ballooned with child or somewhere comfortably soft in between - and took up its position in the pantheon of body bits which were now worth revealing to all in the queue at the supermarket.

'There were,' says Shulman, 'whole areas that were once under wraps which are now regularly displayed. The revealing of the hips, which happened some time ago, has morphed into a general feeling of security with exposure. It's no bad thing that women feel such confidence in their bodies, but we do need to be aware of the messages we're giving out. I told a young girl just recently that she really oughtn't to walk around with quite so much flesh on display. She had no recognition that it might be provocative. Perhaps it's because women are so interested in looking at other women, not in a sexual way in the main, that we have overlooked the fact that men are probably looking too.'

Why, though, are we women so fascinated by other women's bodies? Why do we gawp at them so in Heat and Hello!? Dr Kerri McPherson, lecturer in psychology at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, offers two explanations for this invasion of the body watchers. 'There's the classic sociocultural reasoning - that we are bombarded by images of perfect bodies and we internalise them to the extent that we're assessing everything against that standard. So we're in a constant state of judgment. But also at the heart of everything we do is the drive for reproduction. What women are striving for is to look better than the next person; we are all in competition with each other - far more so than with Nicole Kidman. The majority of us realise that we'll never look as good as the celebrities, so we choose to outshine our nearest rivals.'

As a result, we lumbered with what Joan Bakewell calls 'a self-regarding, body-conscious culture'. While freeing yourself from the shackles of clothing can have its upsides - a sense of liberation, celebration, a frisky, foxy kind of fun - it only works if you truly want to indulge. Those who don't can get crushed in the rush to shed our clothes and our inhibitions.

Feminist writer Joan Smith is concerned about this new pressure to expose. 'It depends on why you're doing it and who you're doing it for. If doing it makes you anxious, then clearly it's a bad thing. We still live in a culture which is punitive towards women; there's a tyrannical expectation of what women should look like.'

In the process, the body beautiful and its exposure has increasingly become women's first language. Take Victoria Beckham. She constantly looks as though she is offering her breasts to us on a tray, in the manner of a 1970s suburban hostess with a bowl of nibbles. Is it tyranny or liberation that requires her to use her breasts to define herself, now that her music career has gone pop and her golden marriage is tarnished? If ownership of an exhibition-standard body is the zenith of modern female endeavour, you have to wonder what Mrs Pankhurst would have to say about it. It's as if we have settled back, recognised the achievements of our gender and decided, right-ho, time to get the tits out then. 'It's intensely egotistical,' says Joan Smith. 'More than that, it assumes that if you get one thing right [in Beckham's case, knockout breasts], then everything else falls into place.' Clearly, it doesn't, something that Charlotte Church has realised. 'Britney and Beyoncé look great when they do their thing,' she shrugs. 'But I don't wanna be that. And I can't be bothered to get in shape to be that.' Perhaps that is the most liberating idea of the lot.


Plenty to think about here ..................


Last edited by kit; 26-06-2005 at 02:48 PM.
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26-06-2005
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Meg
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I'm not sure that I entirely agree.....I don't flesh is on display any more than it always has been...

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26-06-2005
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^yeah I agree, I haven't noticed a change.

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26-06-2005
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thanks for that kit...I read mimi's column in 'You' every week, and today it was about the whole 'showing midriffs' scenario...she has a contact e-mail at the bottom of the page I've always been tempted to e-mail her the URL for this sight...perhaps if we did she'd give some more input on such subjects

I do believe in the 'one bit at a time' I hate it when I see girls out on the town in tiny skirts AND tiny tops with heels...it just looks awful, and they generally look uncomfortable

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26-06-2005
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I've actually seen a decrease in flesh surprisingly

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26-06-2005
  6
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Where I live, there's plenty of flesh. Especially the 15-year olds enjoy wearing the tiniest denimskirts and the most cut-out tops ever. But that's nothing compared to what I've seen in the UK and in France

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26-06-2005
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Seems like its been all about boat shorts and long peasant skirts lately. At least where I live.. I mean you'll always have the girls who bare too much, but they're the kind of girls you see on elimidate and I just pretend they don't exist.

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26-06-2005
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^ Yes, I've seen less flesh baring as of late...but there still are too many Pris Hilton lookalikes running around for my taste.

Right now I think the sexiest thing a woman can bare is some leg (above the knee and lower) or the shoulder....other then that I'm just so sick of skin.

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26-06-2005
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I think the article means more of a long term thing than just the change from last summer to this, which some people seemed to be talking about. In the 50's you had ankles, by the 60s/70s it was legs, and now its everything.

The change to summer clothing is pretty noticeable in the UK, and a lot of the time its not a very pleasant sight. This summer is probably better than last, there are a lot more long skirts. However, those who are least flattered by mini skirts seem to be the ones still wearing them!

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26-06-2005
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It's not liberation at all... it stopped being about liberation a long time ago. Anyone remember when the female soccer player tore off her shirt to show her sports bra, just like the male players tear off their shirts when they win, but she was ridiculed rather than being allowed to do it? It was because she wasn't the ideal skinny model body with big breasts... women are only allowed to be "liberated" from clothing if look like Barbie.

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26-06-2005
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In the past year or so showing skin has decreased in popularity hugely! Ladylikeness has been all the rage. Even high waisted trowsers became fashionable taking low riders place. Even stars such as Christina Aguilera turned over a new leaf. This article should have been published 5 years ago.

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26-06-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paullw
However, those who are least flattered by mini skirts seem to be the ones still wearing them!
yeah I completely agree. I wonder at these girls who are spilling out over supertight jeans...how they aren't bothered by it... but I also agree with meg and others in that I don't think it's any more on display than it has been for the past several years.

call me an old fashioned prude, but I personally am all about modesty. I think it's ever so much more elegant and sexy to wear well-fitting, feminine clothes, than reveal all.

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26-06-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by utopia
call me an old fashioned prude, but I personally am all about modesty. I think it's ever so much more elegant and sexy to wear well-fitting, feminine clothes, than reveal all.
anyone with any brains would agree with you

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26-06-2005
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Yep, it is so much more tastful to wear clothes that flatter than to reveal all, even if you have the much-desired toned tight bod.

I don't really see a lot of flesh being revealed nowadays..except maybe for certain tweens (oh I hate that word) and some clueless 18-year-olds running on the street. (But I do have an office temp who dresses regularly in tubes and mini-skirts)

I always believe that the more you reveal, the less power you have.

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26-06-2005
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Thats why I never understood when christina aguilera would always say that being overtly sexual is empowering. She'd always be like if I can walk into a club wearing a mini skirt and short top and have everyones attention and guys at my mercy I feel empowered. I wonder how she'd feel if she got raped one day cause of it People with any intelligence just aren't gonna take you seriously or give you the respect you deserve if you just put it all out there. It makes people think thats all you have to offer and therefore it's all they'll want from you.

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