Do Wah Diddy

"I like your dress."

Some people do have nice figures. There is no argument, surely? A person usually knows when they have a nice figure (or a 'good' figure or an 'attractive' figure). Other people usually know when they haven't, or they are somewhere in between, like most of us. Of course there are variations of 'nice figure' such as muscularity, amount and position of body fat, roundness or straightness, or whatever – and personal taste and different cultures. There is not one single exact 'nice figure' but a range of nice figures, depending the observer's particular perspective. The common factor is that people can't help observing whether they like someone's figure or not – and there is definitely such a thing as a nice figure.

A particular woman knows she has a good, athletic figure. She likes to admire herself doing twirls in the full-length mirror in her bedroom. She has a wardrobe full of dresses and dozens of pairs of shoes. Whenever she goes out somewhere she stands at the mirror to make sure she's looking as great as ever (she always does).

This same woman is on the staff at the CBI. A couple of years ago, in November, at the annual conference, she caught the eye of some bigwig or another who knows a good figure when he sees one. At some point during the conference the man made a comment to the woman about her appearance. He told her the dress she was wearing suited her figure (it did – the woman made sure of it). He said afterwards that she looked a bit glum and he wanted to say something to cheer her up a little.

The woman was so offended by it that she complained to her manager about the man's 'inappropriate conduct' in commenting to her about her appearance. The man was more or less forced to apologise for his remark after being spoken to by the Director General and said he was "mortified after making the comment" (i.e. "I should not have said it," although, privately, he presumably meant what he'd said). What is an apology, actually?

It seems unreasonable to take offence when someone suggests your clothes suit your figure. That's what clothes are supposed to do: fit. Perhaps it's less about the clothes than the body and it really means something a bit more risqué. Even then, so what? I have seen a young male employee with a nice slim figure walk into a typing pool full of women all turning round saying: "Nice suit Andrew. New, is it? Suits your build" (or something along those lines). Perhaps I should not even mention "typing pool" and "women" in the same sentence in case someone is offended by the insinuation that typing jobs are only for women (they were, but times have changed). Perhaps this Andrew was embarrassed or perhaps he wasn't. Either way, he will have got over it. He certainly didn't complain to his manager.

The CBI bigwig might have survived relatively unscathed had he not also been accused by other women of pinching their bottoms and whatnot, and telling a woman that her dress made it hard for him to concentrate on anything else. Such things should not be acceptable in a workplace but I think there is also a funny side to it if not taken too far, like saying to a woman she's got 'incredible tits' for example, or a 'sexy arse'. But a captain of industry being unable to concentrate on anything else than a woman's dress is really quite funny. I am sorry if you don't see the joke.

See also Luck in nature | Opinion »

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Page last modified: 01 June, 2024
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Patrick Taylor