I don't know if I am being terrible romantic about my youth, but I don't remember being particularly attracted to men just because they had no shirts on. For one thing, men didn't go around without shirts a lot, except at the beach or by the swimming pool, or when mowing their lawns, and no-one looks his best mowing a lawn. Equally, I thought young women who squealed, "Look at his a**!", were not merely crude but weird. I mean, what is the symbolic value of buttocks for young women? Honestly. For older women, I suppose they might be an indicator of virile youth versus flat or saggy old age. As a young women, I personally was all about clothes and animated faces. [Long and embarrassing reminiscence edited.] Where was I?
Oh yes. Shirtlessness. So the other day I was walking along the beach with my friend and her new baby. It was a warm, windy day, one of those rare warm Edinburgh days when the beach is crowded with families and naked white babies and fourteen year olds in bikinis and gangs of youths. Almost nobody ventures into the actual Forth to swim because no matter how warm the sand is, the Forth is COLD. And often dirty. So I was surprised to see a gang of shirtless youths in bathing trunks swaggering towards us. Were they perhaps going to the swimming baths?
And then a funny thing happened. The swaggering youths no longer had heads. They were all naked chests. A vast magnetic smorgasbord of naked human torsos, without personality. In a panic, I forced my eyes away, and the torsos sauntered by. I looked back and they had their heads again. Goodness knows how old they were. Nineteen? I hope nineteen. They were pretty hairless.
It was a bit unnerving, but I put it out of my head until the next day when I was on the Rough Bus and teenage girls in incredibly skimpy clothing got on at the suburban shopping mall. The coltish girl in front was wearing a tiny halter shop and short snorts and actually looked very good in her outfit, if also seriously unsupervised, unlike her chubbier (but not actually fat) friends. I gloomy composed the aphorism "If you look great in a bikini, you're probably too young to wear it."
Then it occurred to me that the contrast of my reaction to mostly naked boy teengers was completely different from my reaction to these mostly naked girl teenagers: grudging admiration and pity for the later, and I don't know WHAT for the former. Feeling attracted, completely against my will, to multiple bare chested swaggering guys who could have been anybody felt super-creepy, and I didn't like it. So I told B.A. all about it.
B.A. was sitting under the portico of the Historical House with a beer and the Times Literary Supplement. He was wearing a shirt.
"Yes, well, now you know what men go through," said B.A. cheerfully. "We get used to it."
"UGH!" I said. "BLAH! I don't like it. Maybe it's because I'm growing old. Testosterone is kicking in! WAAAAHHHH!"