dilemma

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this week's problem

During a row Jude's husband said he didn't fancy her because she looked like a "fat bloke". He has since apologised and she admits she's let herself go, living in T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms, but she still feels angry, saying it's up to her what she weighs or wears. After all, she has three children and a big house to run. Or should she pay more attention to her appearance?

The whole idea of dressing "for your husband" smacks of bondage and slavery. It evokes images of becoming a sex object, a masculine plaything, a ridiculous pouting figure in fishnet tights, wobbling on stiletto heels, hourglass figure crammed into a hampering, tight short skirt. Not the sort of get-up that would be the easiest to wear when running a house or sorting out the kids.

And it's small wonder Jude feels angry if she has this sexual paper tiger in mind. Whatever next? Bondage? Three in a bed? Total sexual humiliation? Back to the boiler suit, Jude, and put that lipstick away!

But perhaps she has to look at her husband's remark more calmly. First, the insult was blurted out during a row, and what's said during a row doesn't necessarily mean anything after the row. So why does the insult still rankle with Jude? Had he called her a "selfish cow", for instance, she might have forgotten it. But no, he said she looked like a "fat bloke".

There are two issues here. The "fat" issue and the "bloke" issue. Unless she's gross and lumbers from room to room like a Michelin man, she could put the fat on one side. Losing weight is time-consuming if you go to the gym, and self-punishing if you go on a diet. But looking like a bloke? Does she really have to? Running a big home with three kids may be stressful, but it's not a sport. You can do it in a skirt and stockings just as easily as in trackie bottoms, an article of clothing so repulsive worn by either sex that I personally believe it ought to be distributed en masse as a form of birth control.

Isn't the real issue about both Jude and her husband's sexuality? Does the fact that she stomps round the house looking a mess in trousers make her husband feel emasculated? Jude may say that that's his problem, but it's nice to feel like a sexual being. It's nice to feel like "a man" or "a woman" rather than an androgynous nothing. It makes you feel good.

So where has Jude's feeling of femininity gone? Why, in other words, does she not want to dress more as a woman herself, forget about her husband? I recently grilled a friend who had just come from M&S bearing a pile of sexy underwear. How could she bear to wear it just to turn a man on? I asked, and she looked at me as if I were mad. She had bought it, she said, for herself. And, the penny finally dropping that sexy clothes are not inextricably linked with sexual slavery, I have not worn a pair of thick tights and school knickers since.

It sounds as if Jude, by wearing what she does, is making some kind of loud statement to her husband that reads, to him: "I'm exhausted, I'm busy, keep your hands off me." I suspect that what that statement is really all about is some kind of sexual insecurity of her own, though, and she's actually saying: "I've never been sure whether I've been attractive or not, so now, by throwing myself into my role as slave to my house and children, I'm opting out of the sexual attraction race altogether."

In other words, the very clothes she wears denote bondage, though not of a sexual kind. It would be nice - for herself - if she could wear neither trackie bottoms nor fishnet tights and become free to be, simply, a woman.

readers' responses

That husband of yours should love the lamp and not the lampshade. Running a home is notorious for tiring women out. You skipped your lipstick for the hoover and the time spent on your hair is now spent on the kids. If your husband is comparing you to the women on the TV, like in Baywatch for example, give this guy a reality check.

All the women on Baywatch have a make-up person, a hairdresser and a stylist on hand all the time they are filming and, no doubt, on the way home as well as at home. You don't.

I hear that when the ever glamorous Cher is chez Cher she wears a tracksuit and no make-up. She does wear a wig, though.

So Jude, honey, either ask that rude husband of yours for a glamour allowance of pounds 100 a week, or go get a job as a television presenter, let him be the housewife and see how he likes it.

Jenny Foley

Surrey

I married at 26, size 14, and had a family. Now I'm size 18-20 and intolerant of uncomfortable clothes, but I manage to look presentable for 55 (so my husband tells me). The one sacrifice is my plait: my husband likes my hair covering my ears, so I have it trimmed every two to three months. (In return, he has what I consider a more flattering style as well.)

Is Jude's husband still as gorgeous as when they met? No receding hairline, no slightly increasing waistline? Is he pulling his weight in the family if he hasn't changed as well?

Good luck, Jude. You need a platonic admirer. They motivate one no end.

Elizabeth Pullan

Bognor Regis

I think Jude's self-esteem is fairly low and the fact that a large house and three children seem to be her priorities may mean her husband is feeling neglected. They need to make time to improve their relationship with each other as partners rather than just parents.

Jude needs to stop submerging herself in household matters and give herself a little time to find out who she really is again. If she really wants to be an overweight earth mother in baggy clothes with a home-grown hairstyle, that's her choice and her husband will have to accept it. This lifestyle, however, has a limited duration: children grow up very quickly, and if Jude's relationship with her husband is to endure, it needs more communication from both sides.

Pamela Walker

Essex

I suspect that deep down you feel: "People like me don't wear nice clothes." You don't see yourself as an attractive person and you wear clothes that are in tune with this view of yourself.

T-shirts and jeans are fine for doing jobs around the house. But what about when you go out with your husband to visit friends, to the children's school or even just to the shops? Try wearing something that makes you feel positive. You may be surprised at the effect this has on your own self-image.

I'm glad you haven't succumbed to the magazine myth that clothes are everything: what you are is far more important than what you wear. But who you are is reflected in your clothes and I would hope that your clothes show you to be a person who is confident, attractive and proud to be you.

Hilary Young

Nottingham

I find Jude's husband's criticism of her unforgivable. Someone should tell him how he is failing his wife and how exhausting it is to care for three children and a household. He ought to know this already. If he does not understand, he is not only lacking imagination but also intelligence and does not deserve a wife and family.

He sounds thoroughly spoilt and self-indulgent and if he were mine I would tell him so quite frankly. I would also add that I often didn't fancy him because I was too tired and since he is now showing himself to be hurtful and lacking in understanding and consideration I'm likely to fancy him even less in the future.

Yvonne Heward

Lincolnshire

next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My husband and I have shared a bed very happily for 20 years, but his snoring is getting to epic proportions. If I prod him he stops, but only temporarily, and nights usually end with me, furious, going off to another room. Since a burglar entered our house at night six years ago, I have hated earplugs - and anyway the vibrations can be heard through them. He either appears to find it all rather amusing, or denies he snores, and on the occasions I've woken him up and demand that he moves he gets furious, and says it's nothing to do with snoring, that I'm secretly angry with him. Sometimes he refuses to go, but even if he does it's so unpleasant it's easier for me to go, even though I wake up burning with resentment. I'm starting to think separate bedrooms is the answer, but my husband gets upset and says this would be the beginning of the end of our marriage. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the `Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171- 293 2182), by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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