Sunday, February 7, 2010

How Very Dare You!

Although the Brits have a reputation for being a tad uptight and "proper", are they really more prudish than Americans?


When I go on holiday/vacation to European beach resorts, I’m instantly reminded how long I’ve been in the States. There are grown women with children wandering around TOPLESS and I’m embarrassed. Not sure if I’m embarrassed for me or for them as some of the sights are not pretty. I was trying to think what might happen if someone tried this in the States, but no one would try it in the first place, perhaps with the exception of Miami Beach. In fact, I’m convinced there’s a secret law that says once you reach the age of about thirty, and/or have a child, you must wear a one-piece; bikinis are for smokin’ hot bodies only. Flash a flabby belly or display less than perfect abs and you are escorted from the beach or pool area.

There’s no doubt about it, Americans are still Puritans in some matters. My friend’s children go to a school where the girls’ uniform is a jumper/pinafore, but modesty demands they wear spandex running shorts underneath. Apparently children’s knickers/panties with Dora or Hello Kitty motifs are deemed too salacious, no matter that that the skirts aren’t short enough for even the quickest flash. (Simple solution in my opinion – let them wear trousers.)

Laws governing indecency or “public lewdness” are set at the state level, and indecency includes exposure of the female breast. Many of the fines are higher than those for drunk-driving, and only Virginia specifically excludes breast-feeding.

And now I’ll excuse myself. It’s Super Bowl night and who knows, there might be another “wardrobe malfunction” to titillate the nation.


The idea that the Europeans in general and the British specifically subscribe to a more casual outlook concerning the human body never occurred to me when I moved over here. It was not until I was here a few weeks I noticed topless women cavorting in a newspaper my mother-in-law was reading. I was stunned. When I pointed it out and remarked that such a thing was unheard of in the States, she said, "Yes, we have always thought of the Americans as a bit prudish."

Prudish? Moi? Well, I guess so, when you consider that I have heard the words, "Fuck" and "Cunt" on the telly and seen them in print in mainstream newspapers, and witnessed full-frontal nudity on programs shown after the 9 PM watershed (though, I hasten to add, not nearly often enough).

The people of Europe regard a naked body as something natural. While we Americans understand it is an utter perversion to be naked. (Say, you don't think we have a hang-up or anything, do you?)

The Brits also don't shy away from telling it like it is. If an opinion piece or new article requires an emphatic, "Fuck me!" then they put it in.

If you remain unconvinced, I remind you of the 2004 Superbowl. After flashing a pastie-clad boob, the Federal Communications Commission was called to investigate whether CBS violated decency laws, with potential fines running into the millions. A year or so later, during a singing contest, Javine flashed a totally unadorned boob and the British public were so outraged they did, well, nothing. No one got excited over it.

It does make life more interested, but it gives me a sore neck from staring at the TV for hours on end in case I miss something.

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  1. naked is normal - whats up with that??

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  3. Great post title! We love Derek in my house. (Catherine Tate Show)

    The daughter of a lady in my office just returned from Spain. She told her mother about the topless beaches and how she felt a bit uncomfortable. The lady in my office wondered aloud how anyone could do such a thing. I piped up and said, "When I was in Spain for my honeymoon, I went topless as well. When in Rome, do as the Romans do." You could hear a pin drop in the room. Enough said.

  4. I once went to a beach in Australia and found I was the ONLY person on the beach with my top on! So yes, I took it off.

    Expat 21, of Expat Abroad

  5. And ever since that boob-exposing Superbowl in 2004, we've had mostly old Brits performing during half time :) I guess there's no chance of them exposing a boob on the air. Oh Lord, I hope not.

    Danielle Barkhouse
    Author of The Expat Arc

  6. I have always wondered why Americans think British are prudish and uptight - it's just not the case. We're more quiet and polite, yes, but it's the Americans who overreact about swearing and nudity. American girls are FAR more uptight and prudish than British ones, especially!

  7. Americans are definitely more prudish; it must come from those Puritanical beginnings. But will be interesting to see what happens as the culture here becomes more Latin (with so many Hispanic immigrants) - maybe they'll start to lose some inhibitions?

  8. I'll never forget the tv show that was on after the watershed on my first trip to the UK, plastic surgery every night for a week. Boob jobs and labiaplasties as far as the eye could see. Before, after and during. Absolutely bizarre. I know it was presented as scientific and not erotic, and I know I work in biomedical research, but it was too much for me.

  9. I love sunbathing topless, I feel strange with a clammy wet bikini top on, and miss the feel of warm sun on my boobs! Fortunately in San Francisco we do have some nude beaches, this being about the least prudish city in the US. Unfortunately it is almost always bloody freezing at the beach though!

  10. Eeep, I burned my nipples once sunbathing topless. Even if everyone thinks I'm the prudest prude in prudeville I will never go topless outside again.

    In any case because poor nappy valley girl hit on one of my great pet peeves I'll take a break for a hopefully good natured rant.

    It's far more likely that sexual mores of the US are related to Victorian hangups and Great Awakening than Puritan ones. Most of the American colonies were not founded by Puritans, and population wise they were not dominant. Besides one of the colonies that was indeed founded by Puritans, was Rhode Island, not exactly a bastion of Puritan law. e Puritans in general get a bad rap for sexual prudishness. Actually about 1 in 10 girls in Massachusetts were pregnant when they married. And as long as they actually got married that was pretty kosher. Not that Puritans were sexually liberated hippies or anything, but in important ways (say, the education of women) could be liberated for their time. Besides the actual denominational offspring are Congregationalists and UUs and the like, the most liberal of American churches.

    "Let us thank god for having given us such ancestors; and let each successive generation give thank him, no less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages."
    ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

  11. Two things:
    1) I seem to be the only guy commenting on this, but I have sunbathed topless and I did NOT burn my nipples.
    2) RE: above comments. Where are the photos ;)

  12. I do remember reading about pregnant Puritan girls way back when, I have to say. And yes, I only sun-bathed topless once for the exact same reason!

  13. Skinny Dipping in the UK is sort of a wholesome pursuit. Usually done in freezing seas and after a few pints. Not that I'd know of course.. ah hem.

    Anyway, I went with my friend to Atlantic City (it's a long story.. involves firemen, another friend, gambling, recent splits - all the ingredients for a great weekend). Anyway, we went skinny dipping in the hotel pool and nearly got ourselves into a lot of trouble. Not with the authorities, but with the other blokes around who appeared to think that we were the type of girls who do more if they paid us. We ran.

  14. Fuck, I can't think of anything to say.

  15. Danielle, I wish at this years Superbowl that Pete Townsend had kept his disgustingly soft, pink underbelly in his wardrobe!

  16. Iota - that was possibly a bit too subtle.

    Vino - yes. I kept thinking, "don't lift your arm too high". I think they used a bit of guaze (sp?) over the lens!

  17. I don't think it helps matters much that America is the litigation nation.


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