Obsession with Kate's body is a strictly female disorder


Whatever you feel about royal displays of flesh, our attitudes to public nudity reveal a lot about us

MY BIGGEST objection to Kate Middleton’s breasts is that they are too small, because she is too thin, but perhaps this is not the time to get macho about breast size. We have other things on our minds, obviously. Like the IRA.

As the comedian Patrick Kielty once put it “The Real IRA is not the real IRA. The real IRA is in government.” It’s a funny old rock and roll world, particularly if you live in Donaghmede, which was temporarily draped in black flags last week, and rang with gunshots as a mark of respect to murdered criminal Alan Ryan, as if the last 30 years had never happened.

It was good fun to see Gerry Adams denouncing unscrupulous people for dragging the IRA into disrepute by displaying the Tricolour of the Republic and the black flag of the hunger strikers for their own criminal ends.

But, on the whole, last week was an unwelcome trip down memory – and in some cases mammary, sorry – lane. What with the flags – which were smuggled one by one to the late Alan Ryan’s house by local children who were paid a few euro for their trouble. And the paramilitary funeral. And the Labour Party making a complete twit of itself. And Rory McIlroy upsetting us all by threatening to make his own choice about whether he is British or Irish. It was like the 80s all over again.

Dear Rory, do you not understand that when we say “If You’re Irish Come into the Parlour” the next line of that song reads “And lock the door behind you, because you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Being Irish is very like being in Hotel California in that way. Particularly if you’re a Catholic. Enough said.

And in the midst of all these national identity questions last week was a British royal female, once again being presented as a human sacrifice. Luckily Kate had been visiting mosques in Malaysia on her royal tour, so there were a lot of pictures of her with her head covered by a white scarf. Of course it wasn’t long before the photos of her late mother-in-law were dug out, showing her wearing a white scarf in exactly the same way, and looking martyred.

There are some sophisticated people who are upset about the topless pictures of Kate Middleton because they maintain that “topless pictures” would be pictures with no tops to them, as opposed to pictures of a topless woman. But the rest of us aren’t that refined. We know that the bodies of these women – Diana and Kate – are a cultural battleground, gloated and picked over in an unedifying manner, especially by those of us who enjoy reading celebrity magazines.

And any fool knows that the obsession with Kate’s body is an exclusively female disorder, and that it contains just about every strand of female competitiveness, schoolyard bitching and bullying. Kate’s spectacular weight loss around the time of her engagement sent the female grapevine into overdrive. A lot of us understood that the weight loss was undertaken to prepare for a life lived before the camera lens; but a more select group of adult women understood that Kate’s weight loss was about control. The most ambitious of the mothers at the school gates were already a size six; anorexia moved in on the middle-aged some time ago.

In these cultural circumstances, it was interesting to read the editor of British Tatler, Kate Reardon, setting firm limits on who should sunbathe topless. In the London Times on Saturday, she wrote “Topless sunbathing is a hobby best suited to the 34Bs and below. Those with over 25-year-old breasts should be vigilant for the poached egg effect as your breasts slip gently into your armpits.”

Sound advice, we may be sure. But it does seem peculiar that, in trying to appear like a free spirit by acquiring an all-over tan, a woman is at an advantage if she has the flat-chestedness of a boy. Just as she is not allowed to move while topless: “Any movement is provocative – you can lie there but you can’t run around,” writes Reardon. Which does rather spoil the whole child-of-nature, hippy thing. And Kate Reardon won’t let anyone wear heels while topless either, presumably because that would be sexy and therefore unspeakably vulgar.

Really the nuns had it right with their rules about staying out of trouble by keeping your kit on as much as possible. Or at least checking that when you get your kit off you are not visible from a blooming public road, and about to end up in the Irish Daily Star, God be good to it. Kate, what were you thinking?

Perhaps poor Rory McIlroy should think about these things when he’s deciding whether he is British or Irish – although there’s no reason why he can’t be both. But say, just say, he had to choose between the rather naive British belief in everybody else obeying the rules, and the old Irish paranoia and shame about our bodies, if not about our guns. You have to say , it is a tough call.

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