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One of the liberating things about reaching middle age is supposed to be freedom from body fascism – but is daring to go bare a step too far?

Where do you stand on nakedness? I don’t mean young, smooth-skinned, lithe nakedness. I mean older, dimpled and slightly untidy nakedness. Where do you stand on that? Last week was rather exciting for unexpected bare bits, what with Michael Eavis getting his kit off for charity and David Dimbleby’s furry back tattoo, and then a scattering of unabashedly naked middle-aged female knees. This is November, for heaven’s sake. November, as in prelude to wintertime, when the older and less nakedly adventurous traditionally heave a sigh of relief and retreat back into their thermals, trousers and 100 denier tights like so many hedgehogs digging in for the winter. Is there … could there be … a whiff of rebellion in the chilly autumnal air?

There was another thing that prompted this train of thought – a YouGov survey apparently shows that 21% of people aged 60 and over wear nothing in bed, compared with 6% of 18- to 24-year-olds. I can’t be the only one to find this surprising. This statistic is in direct contradiction to received wisdom on pyjamas, bed socks and the woolly peignoir.

If I were to cast a critical eye over the Invisible body and remark on my own personal preferences, I would say that I have never been a devotee of naked sleeping, even when there was a Mr Invisible to nakedly sleep with. In summer it’s too sweaty and in winter it’s too chilly, and I like the feel of crisp cotton, cuddly flannelette or the slip and slide of silk on my skin. The Invisible knees are too battered by the life they’ve led for me to feel altogether comfortable with naked knee display, although when they’re clad in opaque tights, to me they become entirely acceptable. I would rather conceal and reveal. But then that’s what I want and feel happy with, which is basically what it’s about – one’s own choices and being free to decide what that is without any sense of coercion from fashion, the media or anywhere else. This is the liberating thing about reaching middle age – freedom from all kinds of body fascism.

What’s particularly pleasing is that there seems to be a growing sense of pissed-off-ness with the rather rigid notions of what is aesthetically permissible. It’s too restrictive – for everyone. A good example of this is the bonkers business of weeding the lady garden, or pubic topiary, which you might be forgiven for assuming ceases to have any particular relevance for the over-50s. Ah, well, that’s where you’d be wrong.

I’ve had a number of communications from anxious middle-aged women who, finding themselves single again and ready to re-enter (as it were) the dating scrum are concerned about whether contemplating sex after 50 means making an appointment for a “tidy up” “down there”. No, it doesn’t. And what’s more, I read a thrilling piece last week indicating that this ridiculous practice is showing signs of decline. But while this might well be true for older women I wonder whether it’s a bit optimistic with regard to the younger ones whose concept of what people’s bits look like has been somewhat tainted by … well, you know where that argument goes. There is some good news anyway for menopausal women and that is that you don’t need to worry because hormones take care of it and, like eyebrows, it all begins to disappear anyway. Excellent, problem solved, although I admit it’s a little disconcerting at times.

On the other hand – there are, after all, two sides to every argument – I am thoroughly conflicted on the matter of nakedness for me personally. A few months ago on Woman’s Hour I heard a good deal of tutting from an older woman on the issue of being shy about going naked in a gym changing room, and that made me cross. Not everyone is comfortable about striding around with it all hanging out – especially those of us still traumatised after 70s PE and the girls’ showers. There again, like my irrational fear of spiders, I can’t see the point of worrying about it and yet I do. And that makes me cross because, as a sometime contemporary dancer and occasional house model (all in the past), my body was/is something I was proud of displaying and I had no worries about it at all.

There is a photograph by Jeff Walls called The Giant, which is unusual for its subject matter, and if I told you it was a picture of a naked older woman you probably wouldn’t want to look because nudity is fun, right … but not for the old? Yet when you do look it is impossible not to be taken aback by the beauty of the image. So why don’t you want to look? Which kind of brings me back to the beginning – where do you stand on nakedness?

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