The real boobs in the Holly Willoughby dress row are the 139 angry viewers | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

If the The Voice presenter's outfit was too skimpy for the BBC, what must women must do to make their norks 'family-friendly'?

I'm not sure what to make of the knowledge that there are 139 people out there, somewhere in this country, who find television presenter Holly Willoughby's breasts inappropriate. It is not a significant number of people, indeed, it's far fewer than the number of people who are criticising the chancellor's own choice of bap (singular), and yet their view that her plunging dress was unsuitable for "family viewing" has still been given credence by the BBC, who today apologised on behalf of Holly's breasts in the wake of what this newspaper is already calling "Boobgate".

Of course, it was your classic "bullshit" apology ("I'm sorry you were offended") which, as anyone whose ever been forced to appear contrite for a course of action that they still believe to be completely justified knows, basically means "I am sorry for you, and your delicate sensibilities (you bunch of boob-fearing Victorian ladies)". It can be a useful tool, but in this case it should not have been deployed at all. Holly's breasts are perfectly able to speak for themselves, and deserve the same freedoms that they were granted during Saturday night's extravaganza.

I'm always wary when the word "family" is used to preface something else, whether it's "restaurant", "holiday", or "planning" (the latter especially, because surely, in using contraception, one is saying quite emphatically "no more family, please.") But I am especially wary when it's used to describe various types of media, whether it's "newspaper" or "viewing". Such phrases are always followed by statements of astonishing prudishness. It's something that has struck me particularly when it comes to the No More Page Three campaign (and has been used by some to discredit the organisers). Signing the petition because you object to tits appearing in a "family newspaper" is your prerogative, but your reasons for signing will always imply that you're doing it more out of discomfort with the naked female body than you are with the way that body is being commercialised and objectified. And that begins to look less like feminism, and more like slut-shaming.

All of this has got me wondering just what, exactly, a woman must do in order to make her norks "family-friendly". Surely breastfeeding is the very definition of the term, and yet there are still those busybodies who are willing to walk over to the mother of an infant and pompously comment that "this is a family establishment" (to which the only appropriate reply is: "I know, I am literally feeding my family"). Perhaps our breasts all need to be assigned their own spokespeople, so that next time my tit falls out while I'm doing lengths at Highbury pool, a man in a suit will emerge from the sidelines and say "I am sorry if some viewers find Rhiannon's tit to be unsuitable. Rhiannon enjoys swimming and I feel the (admittedly inadequate) suit that she is wearing was wholly appropriate for the occasion."

Next time you're walking down the street and a man advises you to "put them away, love", would it not be useful to have someone there to comment on your behalf, if only so that you don't have to deal with the idiot yourself? "Thank you for your comments, your views are important to us and we will take them into account next time my client is on the high street trying to find a top that fits both her size eight waist and her DD knockers, and all for less than £30."

"Put them away, love" is essentially what those 139 sexist bores were saying when they registered their distaste at Holly's breasts in a dress, a dress which, I should add, is no more revealing than any of the sartorial monstrosities that appear on Strictly Come Dancing, not to mention what you can cop an eyeful of on any of the mainstream music channels, pre-watershed. Most of those who object to Page 3 and lads' mags shoots are not saying that they would like to inhabit a titless universe and would somebody please think of the children – what sort of fun would that be? – but that they dislike how normalised it has become to objectify women's bodies for commercial profit. I agree with them, but I also suspect that people are still conflating the two.


Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

The GuardianTramp

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