Nigella's burkini and the staring state

I love the story about Nigella’s burkini. There’s the neologism itself. Fantastic. (Plus, the nice coincidence that nigellus is a word for black in Latin.) But there’s also the human insight it provides into why women might voluntarily want to cover – an insight that runs contrary to the logic of the French ban on the burka.

Nigella is apparently worried about the sun. But other women interviewed talk of not wanting to be stared at, so as not to feel under an omnipresent seductive gaze. Which is precisely what the French state wants to be able to do: a citizen is one whom the state can observe unimpeded.

But then again, the odd thing about covering is that it makes you all the more conspicuous. Whence Nigella splashed all over the newspapers, emerging from the waves like a draped Venus. You see the same contradiction with celebrities who wear dark glasses, and stand out all the more from the crowd. Or the darkened windows of limousines, which bystanders can’t fail to notice.

Onto darkness, we humans project our fantasies, quite involuntarily. You don’t need the horror flick to confirm that shadows and silhouettes look sinister, and draw us, demanding our wary attention. That’s another thing the French ban has presumably achieved: it officially sanctions the proliferation of fears about Muslims.

But then, that’s surely why the burkini fails too. It keeps the sun off. And gives birth to a whole new kind of seductive chic.