I was up later than I should have been a couple of nights ago and I can no longer blame it on the disrupted sleep pattern my body was forced into by two night shifts a couple weeks back. It’s not the rota coordinator’s problem anymore, it’s all me. I’ve failed to self regulate and I find myself meandering into intemperance and insomnia more nights than is healthy. On this particular night, I had just finished watching a documentary on Donald Trump (will he become President, won’t he? Is this all a dream?)  with my dear old Dad, and casually flicked through the channels with the intention to head to bed. As I flicked, I came across 3 naked women, standing in booths, and another woman scrutinising their bodies as a presenter teased her, asking what she thought, who she liked best. I saw the title of the show, Naked Attraction. Ah, this was the show I had heard others talk about and had determined not to watch. The nudity wasn’t as shocking as the sheer banality of it all. Clearly, TV has run out of ideas. And when you’ve run out of ideas, naked women will generally keep the party going for a bit.

We’ve all seen nudity on screen, be that via an X rated site, a film or even an advert for washing up liquid. This generation of westerners is suffering from nudity fatigue – we’ve seen so much nakedness it no longer excites in the same way.  The existence of Naked Attraction is just one more story to add to the particular secular liberal narrative that wants us to believe that nudity (women’s in particular),  is sexually liberating.

France’s recent ban on the burkini, a modest swimsuit cleverly named to allude to the burqua, was met with astonishment and derision by many liberal media outlets.  It’s a shocking display of disregard for religious liberty. It polices women’s bodies. It makes Muslim women bear the burden for the atrocities committed by a few renegade terrorists who many Muslims would not even consider to share their faith. It’s oppressive. I agree with all these statements, but I wonder how we can separate the ban from the prevailing attitudes towards female bodies and sexual liberation that we have incubated in the West for the past 50 years, as if the two aren’t directly correlated.

The reason why the burkini is so ‘other’ is not merely becuase of the head covering although this is significant part of it. It’s also because of the idea of modesty and covering the female form that is such a stark contrast to our current social norms.

We live in an age where some women can propel themselves into fame and fortune sheerly off the back of sex tapes large bottoms and where women, (black women especially) with considerable musical talent often face overt and subtle pressure to act in an extremely sexual manner in order to achieve success. (I specified race because fuller figured black women who sing better than Adele and like her, aren’t overtly sexual, are not achieving her level of success, and yes, it’s at least partially a race thing).

Despite this being to my mind obviously oppressive, there is a relentless insistence from some sectors of society that these women are sexually liberated and concurrently, the subtle suggestion that modesty and covering are rooted in oppression. Although many liberal pundits in the wake of burkini will loudly proclaim that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she dresses modestly, we have created a culture where uncovering is by design. Our fashion magazines, our shops, our advertisements and our media all propel us in a direction of nudity under the guise of freedom and despite declaring that we support women in whatever choices they make, we have created a culture that celebrates, orchestrates and rewards nudity. Is it any wonder then, that in our subconscious mind, the burkini is an assault on our ‘value system’? Could it be that despite condemning France for her actions, we have as a collective, played a part in facilitating an environment where to be modest is to be constantly othered?

Arguably, the situation in other countries that are less secular ,where women are forced to cover is far worse than what we currently have in the west. I would be the first to say I would much rather live in a country where I could be naked or burqua’d without retribution (and France is now excluded from this), but oppression is not always as bold as morality police and Taliban soldiers. Both societies have failed to reach a place where women’s bodies are not dissected for mass consumption, where women’s bodies are fully their own without the enduring threat of breaking under standards that are constantly placed on them without regard for their emotional, mental, even spiritual well being.

When I cannot walk into a high street shop and with ease find a dress that does not have a random hole cut into it, a thigh high split, or plunging cleavage, in a not-so-subtle way, I am being told how I should be as a woman. There are a thousands of items of clothing, but so few that allow me to not be forced to conform to the narrative that I a freer when I am less covered.

We may rightly condemn France but we are wrong if we do not examine how, maybe almost imperceptibly to some, we have all allowed this to happen.


I remember the first (and only) time I watched Roots. I was 16 years old, and there was a Roots marathon that came on one of the more obscure TV channels. My Mum told me she remembered watching it when it first came out, and that it was something every black person should see. So I sat through 10 hours of brilliant acting, of exquisite displays of terror, hope, rape, violence, calculated deceit, community spirit and the indomitability of love. I sat through 10 hours and wept through most of it. Emotionally, it felt torturous. I remember sitting in the sofa as the credits rolled, snotty wads of tissue surrounding me, shell shocked, angry, and emotionally and physically exhausted.

Some white people (and some stray blacks) like to exclaim that ‘slavery is in the past’, and that we should all move on from it. However, the turn out for films such as Roots, 12 years a slave, and Selma is generally good. (On a side note, I think the British public are more comfortable with these films because they are set in America and white Brits are under some delusion that Americans were the primary beneficiaries and promoters of slavery, and that the British slave system was far more benign and cuddly). Perhaps a lot of white people who watch these films come away thinking “Gosh, that’s awful – isn’t it great that we’re pretty much equal now and only a few people are racist”.

If I’m honest, I don’t have any control over what they think, neither do I particularly care, in the sense that it will make little difference in the grand scheme of things. I do care though, about how we as black people think about ourselves, and I do care about how emotionally useful these films are to me. There are some black people who need to see these films. They need to be shocked into the reality of how utterly destructive and malicious the system was, is and can be. They need to understand that the scenes depicted in Selma happened when my parents were both teenagers, so they are not as far back in the past as some people would want you to believe. They need to understand the connection between these events and our current condition. They need to be inspired by the courage and commitment of the leaders and ordinary people displayed in these films.

I however, from experience know that these films are not useful for me. I have an understanding of how brutal the events that happened were. I have read accounts, I have watched documentaries, although I am by no means a scholar when it comes to Black history. I know enough about the brutality. What I don’t know enough of, is my history before it intersected with Europeans in a way that was destructive. I don’t know enough about pre-slavery African trade systems or about the cultural heritage that was passed down to the Caribbean slaves, or the amazing contributions Africans made to history prior to colonialism and slavery. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m wondering whether constantly seeing ourselves depicted in our oppression is wholly positive?

I do not say any of this to take away from the abilities of the actors, actresses, directors and producers of films such as Selma, and their desire to tell our story in our own words. I think that is commendable and I would never say that that they should stop doing that work. Neither am I putting the onus on these talented people to inform me about other parts of our history – that’s my job.

I’m just at the point personally where I prefer to watch a film that showcases black achievement outside of overcoming some aspect of white racism. Maybe, I’m just not emotionally strong enough to deal with the brutality, and that’s ok with me.

How do you guys feel?