Kylie and the way of all flesh

Click to follow

When you have made a career out of wearing so little, what is there left to do but cover up? Perhaps I am being cynical, but Kylie Minogue exposing her flesh is hardly a novelty; announcing that she intends to wear more clothes in future is another matter, even if she has done it while appearing in a pink satin body on the cover of Vogue. The Australian singer even claims to have undergone a sudden conversion, realising that many pop videos have become too close to pornography and wondering if she is to blame. "I look at all the girls on MTV and everything is so graphic and I think I might have started all that with the gold hot pants and by presenting myself in such a sexy way on the last album," she laments in the December issue.

In another interview, this time with a German magazine, she admits that she reacts to some hip-hop videos by thinking: "My God, what sort of disgusting things are they doing?" But her insistence that she wants to "move away from the flesh thing as that's everywhere now" suggests that this is a smart piece of rebranding rather than a stand against the exploitation of women's bodies. Even if we give Kylie the benefit of the doubt for a moment, it is still worth asking why it took her so long to come to this realisation. This is, after all, the woman whose wax model in Madame Tussaud's crouches on all fours, showing off her famous bottom; then there is her video for Agent Provocateur underwear, in which she sits astride a bucking horse and fakes an orgasm, dressed only in bra and pants.

It is easy to see why any woman, even one as used to being in the public eye as Kylie, might get fed up with continually being eroticised in this way. Her image - perpetually bright, pubescent and available - must sometimes seem like a gilded cage for a woman of 35. It looks and feels manufactured, a charge she readily owns up to in Vogue, as well as revealing that she has relied on a man, her "creative director" William Baker, to shape it for the past 10 years. It was Baker who chose the gold hot pants she wore for the video that accompanied "Spinning Around", and presumably he will be on hand to advise her she embarks on her new "grown-up" look. Naturally this raises questions as to whether anything about the public Kylie is authentic, or whether she is just another passive receptacle for male fantasy.

Meanwhile, as Kylie poses in her underwear for (allegedly) the last time, Meg Ryan is taking hers off in the film version of Susanna Moore's novel In the Cut, and for very different reasons. The novel caused a sensation seven years ago with its insistence that women have a right to enjoy sex, even if they risk being punished as a consequence, and the movie poses questions about female power and desire that are habitually airbrushed out of pop culture. It is no accident that all the leading players in the project are women, including the director, Jane Campion, who wrote the screenplay with Moore, and Nicole Kidman, who co-produced it.

Abandoning the light comedy roles that made her name, Ryan plays Frannie, a teacher who lives in a rough neighbourhood of New York where women are pushed around by pimps and boyfriends, but she refuses to be intimidated even when a serial killer starts selecting victims near her apartment block. She begins a passionate affair with one of the cops investigating the murders, although she knows that her uninhibited behaviour is likely to be misunderstood in a working-class culture which sees sex primarily as an expression of male power. Some critics hate the movie, but that is because it enters dangerous territory, suggesting that women have to take risks in order to be free. "When people say that Frannie's a masochist, it's because we have allowed ourselves to believe that we deserve the things that are done to us," Moore once said. She is right: look at poor Kylie, berating herself over degrading images of women that appear in videos devised, styled and shot by men. Frannie is the polar opposite of those male constructs and Ryan is that rare species, an actress who had to take her clothes off to prove she has grown up.