London - Last week I endured of hellish day of work pressures, domestic distractions and a banging headache. It reached a crescendo when I served my family a burnt dinner, which my children pulled faces at and pushed around their plates before asking to be excused from the table.
Having finally cleared away the dishes, I knew only a long soak in a frothy bath could offer any hope of respite. As I poured bubble bath into the warm water and stripped off my clothes, I breathed deeply and instantly felt more relaxed.
Yet my peace was shattered when my ten-year-old daughter, Sophie, marched into the bathroom with the unapologetic authority of a conquering army.
“Mommy, I forgot to tell you I need a packed lunch tomorrow and... oh.”
The runaway narrative suddenly screeched to a halt, as she stopped to survey my unclothed form.
Irritated by her unflinching perusal of my birthday suit, I quickly stepped into the bath and slid under the foam.
But judging by her creased brow and steely glare, my daughter’s mind had moved beyond thoughts of whether she should have cheese or peanut butter in her sandwiches.
And though I sensed I was inviting disaster, I couldn’t help myself.
“What is it?” I rasped, trying to cap my irritation. “What are you looking at?”
“You, Mommy. You just look... err...”
Holding my breath, I waited for the killer adjective. Looked what? Cold? Annoyed? Psychotic?
But it was worse. Oh, much, much worse. “Sorry Mommy, but you look so, err, floppy”
Floppy? Floppy? If ever there was a word a naked woman wants to have expunged from the English language, then floppy has to be it. That is unless we’re talking sagging sofas or old straw hats.
Certainly, it should be illegal to use as part of a little girl’s forensic analysis of her mother’s body - especially when her mother’s chest is on the larger side.
But looking down at the pendulous breasts just peeking out from the foamy bubbles, I silently conceded that Sophie had a point. It’s just that she is the only person brave - and cheeky - enough to vocalise the harsh truth about my mid-life body.
At that very moment I decided there was only one thing for it; I would never let my daughter see my naked body again.
Whenever there is discussion about parental nudity, the focus understandably rests on the father/daughter, mother/son dynamic, since it is bound up with a child’s burgeoning sexuality.
Indeed my husband Martin began covering up whenever Sophie was around about five years ago. And by the time Sophie’s three brothers, now 21, 19 and 15, had reached the age of two, I was always at least partially clothed around them.
However, with Sophie things always felt different. After all, she was a girl, she was born with the same bits as me. My nakedness was, I felt, a natural way for her to come to understand her own physical development.
It was also a way to counter the many damaging influences young women are subjected to. I wanted her to learn that to be beautiful you do not need to be slender to the point of emaciation. And I wanted her to understand that nudity is not always sexual.
So I didn’t mind her seeing me as nature intended. She’d bound into my room in the morning and sit chattering to me while I got dressed, and trail after me into the bathroom when I went to have a shower in the evening, wittering away about her day as I washed.
For the past few years, we’ve taken a winter holiday at a lovely hotel on the Red Sea. The bedroom has a sunken Jacuzzi on its balcony, and each night, Sophie and I would fill this expansive tub with lashings of bubbles, strip naked and bathe under the stars, chatting about the day’s events. I felt totally at ease being undressed in front of her, and she never passed comment on my body.
But in recent months, I’ve noticed that Sophie has become more critical in her appraisal of my naked form. Brutally candid in the way that only children are, she sees, and therefore she comments.
Partly because she is getting older and more aware of her own body. And partly because she soaks up the body-conscious, over-sexualised imagery of fashion and pop music like a little sponge.
Not from Sophie will you ever receive the kindly reassurance that as adults we expect from a close friend. Instead, she delivers her unvarnished appraisal about the way I look whether I’ve got clothes on or not.
I don’t mind comments about the colour of my shoes or whether a dress looks “lumpy” (I remind myself this comes from a pint-sized fashionista who thinks a One Direction ra-ra skirt is the height of couture).
However her views on my naked form are much more hurtful. Why? Because she is vocalising the gloomy thoughts which roll on a loop through the back of my mind about the saggy, blubbery body which has taken the place of my once-lithe physique.
In short, the truth hurts.
Don’t get me wrong. Sophie is never motivated by spite. Sophie is an affectionate little girl, who constantly tells me how much she loves me. But being affectionate and honest are not, for Sophie, diametrically opposed.
She has yet to learn the art of lying which is perfected by most adult women. She is yet to understand that it is almost de rigueur to continually offer false reassurance to fellow females.
Recently I caught her casting a practised eye over my naked body as I squeezed myself into a bikini.
I heard the sigh of despair through her pursed little lips before she blurted: “Mommy, please tell me you’re not going to wear that. It’s just too... young.”
Ouch. What did she mean, I demanded? She fought to articulate her thoughts, saying there was just too much, floppy - that word again! - flesh on show for someone “of my age”. Of course I want my daughter to be able to form and express opinions, but I wish she didn’t have such a knack for putting a verbal knife through my heart.
Yet, there is also redemption. Too many young girls are vulnerable to body issues. Especially when one survey recently revealed that a generation of adolescent girls could fail to fulfil their professional potential because they are suffering from low self-esteem about their appearance.
Or that one in four females aged between 11 and 17 are weighed down by pressure to conform to an ‘ideal notion’ of how they should look, another survey suggested.
So what Sophie’s candour has allowed me to do is turn this notion on its head, gifting it back in messages about how I don’t care what she thinks of my body, that it’s important to feel comfortable in one’s own skin, and not listen to what others say about appearance.
And I’ll keep peddling those messages. I just won’t let my daughter see me naked before we have such a discussion. - Daily Mail