Joan Smith: Brava Sophia! Thank you for (almost) taking your clothes off

Older women are supposed to put up with being seen as asexual
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Wandering round a nudist spa in Baden-Baden a few days ago - it's tough, I know, but somebody has to do it - I couldn't help thinking that nudity is no big deal. It's actually a lot more fun than the uniform of the wives and girlfriends of the England football team, two of whom - the WAGs, I mean, not the players - I spotted over lunch in the town, identically dressed in tight white T-shirts, jeans and cripplingly high heels. Sadly, there was no sign of Victoria Beckham nor of any other footballers' wives at the spa, but perhaps nakedness isn't really their thing. At the grand old age of 32, the former Posh Spice is already an éminence grise , older and (it says in the Daily Mail) wiser than her younger rivals.

In a youth-obsessed culture, older women don't take their clothes off, which may be why there were more naked men in the spa than women. It also explains why the Italian press went nuts last week over rumours that Sophia Loren, a sex goddess in her day but now aged 71, is to appear nude in the 2007 Pirelli calendar. Now you may well think that the whole idea of the Pirelli calendar is pretty naff, or that it's just a clever publicity stunt on somebody's part.

All that's appeared so far is a staged photograph of the film star lying on a bed, not naked at all - she's wearing a black slip and is covered by a sheet - but it was enough to get columnists salivating.

Reactions divided between those who were turned on by the thought of Loren's "flawless" body, which hasn't been seen in public since she did a striptease in a film in 1963, and the misogynists who seized the opportunity to be nasty about a 20th-century icon. "I shall not be looking at Sophia's calendar," shuddered one. "No one can force me to." True, and I suppose I don't have to go to cinemas which show movies in which 70-year-old men pull women young enough to be their grand-daughters. Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson are allowed to go on having sexual feelings, though not usually for women their own age, while older women are supposed meekly to put up with being regarded as asexual and invisible.

Women pretend they don't care about this, but I don't believe it for a moment. Some cope by drawing attention to their imperfections, endlessly going on about their wrinkles and the bags under their eyes, as though beating themselves up is marginally better than waiting for some bloke to do it. It's a way of dealing with fear, I think, and women learn that they need to do it very early; one of my more bizarre experiences was being interviewed about a new movie at the same time as Peter Stringfellow - fully clothed, thank God, though he kept talking about his hot tub - and hearing him criticise the body of the pretty young actress who starred in it.

That's why I love Loren's Delphic announcement that the Pirelli shoot is "something that pleases us and about which we have been thinking for some time". She has the stature to get away with it, teasing commentators with the idea that her body hasn't aged - or that it has and she doesn't care.

In fact, Loren is smart enough to know that total nudity isn't so fascinating and she's turned the episode into a virtual striptease, leaving the press panting for more. According to her agent, she'll be wearing Armani when the calendar finally appears in November, but in the meantime she's living evidence of the power that comes with rejecting sexist assumptions. Smart women know that confidence, not fake tan and fake breasts, makes up for what time takes away.