The more I see of flesh, the less I like it

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The Independent Online

All this talk of nudity is making me nervous, particularly when the women getting their kit off so smartly to such critical acclaim and commercial advantage are, by my reckoning at least, well past their sell- by date. There's Kathleen Turner for instance, a respected and admired Hollywood actress but at 45 no spring chicken, stripping off for the West End version of The Graduate. When the box office opened they sold 40,000 tickets.

Then those feisty members of the Yorkshire Women's Institute, aged between 44 and 66, who posed in the altogether for a "girlie" calendar for which the Walt Disney corporation is currently negotiating to make into a film. Even Frances O'Connor, the actress who plays the title role in the new TV production of Madame Bovary more explicitly and more knicker-rippingly than Flaubert might have wished, is pushing it a bit at 29.

Looking good without your clothes on has a lot to do with shape, of course, but even more to do with skin. There is a bloom about young skin that no amount of Pond's cold cream or collagen implants can replace. But, alas, it doesn't last much beyond the teenage years. You must know the story about the middle-aged wife trying desperately to bring back desire to a flagging marriage. Wearing nothing but Chanel No 5 and a seductive smile, she opens the front door to her husband on his return from work. "Well, how do I look?" she purrs. "Whatever you've got on," he says pushing past her, "it needs ironing."

I'm not suggesting for a moment that women do not have as much right to take off their clothes as men. It just saddens me that they should want the mockery and criticism that such exposure inevitably brings.

I remember going to see a preview in Wardour Street of a truly dreadful film called The Bitch, written by Jackie Collins and starring her older sister, Joan. I suppose Joan must have been around 40 at the time and as immaculately preserved as a vintage car with all its working parts replaced. But even so, every time she stripped off there were howls of derision from the men in the audience and noisy exhortations to "get 'em back on".

Some of the reviews Kathleen Turner has had, which have nothing to do with her acting and everything to do with her middle-age spread, make me want to cry.

So why do they do it? Well we know about the Yorkshire WI. It started off as a joke to raise money for charity and now they've hit the jackpot. Good for them. Kathleen Turner is different, and don't give me that guff about sacrificing herself to her art. She could have worn a flesh-coloured corset - apparently the stage lights are low - which would have served the dual purpose of hiding her middle-aged spread.

No, there's more to it than that and whatever it is, it's bound to have a ripple effect on the rest of us. At the age when we thought: "Phew, at last we can relax and wear big sweaters and elastic-waisted tracksuit bottoms," we shall feel obliged instead to have the sort of bodies that pass muster on West End stages and calendars. We will join gyms and buy workout videos and cut out butter and chocolate and wonder about having liposuction.

It's at times like these that I think wistfully of Arab women in their all-concealing djellabas with only their eyes showing. The more I see of flesh the less I like it.

There's only one shower in our local swimming pool that has a curtain, the rest are communal, and I've noticed lately that more and more women are queuing for the curtained cubicle so that they can wash in private. Maybe we're all getting fed up with flesh.