United Kingdom

ULRIKA JONSSON says it's only the British who are so hung up on baring all in a heatwave

Lying naked on my front in the privacy of my garden on a scorcher last week, I took a selfie.

It showed half a shoulder, a fraction of my make up-free face and a hint of the slope of my behind. 

Not exactly provocative. I posted it to my Instagram, then got back to dozing in the sunshine.

Lying naked on my front in the privacy of my garden on a scorcher last week, I took a selfie

I didn’t think anything of it. I have no problem being naked. I’ll happily walk through the house without a stitch on, and wouldn’t feel uncomfortable being seen naked by family or friends if, for example, they walked in on me changing.

And I’m far from the only woman in the public eye to share an au naturel snap on social media, with Liz Hurley, Heidi Klum and Helena Christensen among those who have posted candid photos.

As far as I’m concerned, nudity is not a big deal. If only everyone else felt that way.

Moments after posting, my peace was shattered by the ping, ping, ping of messages on my phone. They were from my elder daughter, 19-year-old Bo, demanding I delete it immediately. 

It stayed put. I wasn’t looking to embarrass Bo. No, this felt, to me, a simple matter of principle.

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Bath belle: Singer Lily Allen loves a naked pic too. As far as I’m concerned, nudity is not a big deal. If only everyone else felt that way

I’d posted it as an illustration of personal and physical freedom. It was the kind of uncomplicated feel-good moment every woman should feel free to enjoy — at peace with the various lumps, bumps and idiosyncrasies that make a body your own.

Why do I feel so strongly? To my Swedish soul, a naked human body, male or female, is nature in its rawest form. 

Much as I love my daughter and respect her opinions, I wasn’t about to let her, or anyone, tell me what I could and couldn’t do with mine.

Since I moved to the UK from Sweden in 1979, I’ve felt completely stumped by the deep-rooted inhibition of the British public when it comes to the naked human form.

In the changing rooms after PE, my fellow 13-year-old school friends went out of their way to cover their bodies while getting changed. 

They clung to their clothing like life rafts; should one item slip, exposing their innocence, it seemed they’d suffered a fate worse than death. Their embarrassment was excruciating.

I didn’t get what the problem was — back home we had all chatted comfortably, barely registering that various parts of our bodies were exposed between clothes changes.

To us bodies, were just that: bodies. Certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by, whatever shape or size.

Naked ambition: Pop star Rita Ora. To my Swedish soul, a naked human body, male or female, is nature in its rawest form

But here, it was all so different. I recall getting ready to have a shower post sweaty hockey game only to find myself stared at like some kind of alien as I strode naked across to the showers.

What was embarrassing was not that I was exposed, but the way my classmates were looking at me. 

Their unconcealed horror was simply too much to bear, so I sloped back to where my clothes hung on a peg and quickly covered up.

My lack of inhibition stems, no doubt, from my childhood. My dad slept naked — insisting his body needed to breathe at night — and thought nothing of walking around our home without a stitch on.

When we went out sailing he and my mum would sunbathe naked, walking around, inside and outside the boat, completely starkers. Me too. It was normal, unremarkable.

Can you imagine that kind of innocent scene being casually re-enacted during the family holidays taking place on the Norfolk Broads this summer? Me neither. But then, that wasn’t just another country — it was another time. 

An increased awareness and fear of strangers with evil intentions has taken us over — making modern parents even more reticent about allowing their eight-year-old child to play naked.

Me included. I might have a Swedish soul, but all my children were born and brought up in the UK. I couldn’t help but absorb some of the, frankly irrational, hang-ups regarding the naked form. And so I’ve conformed to societal expectations, shielding their small bodies from the perceived threat of the public gaze.

I look back at that with regret. I want them to feel as at ease with their naked bodies outside their bedrooms and the shower as I am with mine. But in this respect they’re products of their environment far more than their genes.

So much so that my daughters, Bo and Martha, 16, grimace when they catch me walking around naked upstairs. This annoys me. 

I often shoot them a dark look and say: ‘This body made you!’ It saddens me, too, that they’re so painfully aware of their own bodies.

If I inadvertently see them half-covered coming out of the bathroom, or accidentally walk in while they’re getting dressed, it feels like the school changing rooms all over again. The speed at which they cover themselves up in front of me, their mother, is upsetting.

Liz is more: Ms Hurley is happy to share a skinny-dipping selfie

Klum hither look: Heidi stares into the lens for a saucy snap

I get that they might feel self-conscious — but I’m their mum; I have a female body, too. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that mine is constantly ageing. As any woman will agree, it’s still a difficult journey at times. 

It’s one we could be navigating together. If only the presence of ordinary, day-to-day nakedness didn’t elicit feelings of disapproval and dismay.

On Instagram, I have 100,000 followers — largely women. I’m very open with this sisterhood, showing them pictures of the real me most days. 

Why on earth should I let myself be shamed into taking down a picture that epitomises that ethos? 

When the children were little, I sunbathed naked more often. These days, I wait until I have the place to myself — like last week — because the girls frown when I take my top off and tell me I’ve gone too far if I go the whole hog.

Malcolm, my 12-year-old son, doesn’t, so far, see what the fuss is about. I guess this might change with puberty.

Or maybe he’s inherited from me the belief that there is nothing alarming or sexual about a naked body. I really hope so.

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