"I Swallow", and Other Contemporary Fashion Statements


"I swallow," said her t-shirt, and it did so in baby pink cursive. That’s odd, I thought, lulled for a moment into geriatric naiveté by the gentleness of the script. You swallow. Most people, save for those with regrettable disorders of the digestive tract, swallow. It seems an odd boast.

Surely, there are more glamorous functions than that of the alimentary canal to celebrate? Why not honour a less obvious capacity? Such as that of your hypothalamus. A t-shirt reading "I release thyroid-stimulating hormone from my anterior pituitary" strikes me as far more interesting.

Oh. That kind of swallowing.

It was four or possibly five years ago that I saw this t-shirt. Around the same, disappointing era that the Mesdames Hilton strutted into broad cultural view, "amusing" slogan shirts of the type also began to foul my ambit. After my initial disbelief diminished, I wondered why the young swallowing lady felt compelled to advertise her function as a semen repository at all. It was quite evident that you swallow, I thought, like an old lady would.

Needless to impart, there has been daft cultural studies assay into this subspecies of dress. Some Londoner, apparently, investigated the trend and found (surprise) that it was a legitimate and robust expression of young, potent female sexuality.

Whatever, to employ the blank parlance of the young. I just deem it faintly scary. And, despite a lack of acuity with my own gag reflex, I imagine that such fellatio promotion does little for the reportedly receding members of young males.

Wouldn’t it be much nicer to surprise your suitor with an unprecedented swallow than to offer him a menu of perversions before the digestif? I’ve never been very good at having sex with men. Nonetheless, I believe I might perform more profitably than the strumpet in the baby-pink tee and her questionable sisters.

After encountering the lady who swallowed, I noticed a rash of similar promotion. "They’re real" (N.B. not an effective endorsement on a B Cup) or "I may not be perfect but parts of me are effing excellent." Like dermatitis incubated in the filthy changeroom of the Pussycat Dolls, this illness ravaged the chests of young women.

I wasn’t so much offended as nauseated. And troubled for the vigorous sexual future of the young. Again: if one’s petit-ami is allowed an exhaustive, and possibly inaccurate, preview of all physical qualities, what novelty remains to recharge him/her into the overdrive necessary to good bonking? Poor lambs, and their net-effected, porn tinged bad sex. Are they ever to truly enjoy congress? Not, I expect, until the people at Nintendo introduce their much-awaited f*ck pad.

I worry. So, really, it is more my concern for civic health than it was a moral compass that led me to despise such t-shirts.

Having said thus, I have done my time in offensive t-shirts. As I inch closer to 40, I have abandoned these in favour of mid-level cleavage baring chemises. As my décolleté is yet to turn to untidy parchment, I figure this look is more apt than a shirt which blares, "I will suck your penis." (In any case, this would be a wanton untruth. I will not suck your penis. Not unless it is attached, for example, to Graydon Carter and a half promise of a column at Vanity Fair. Then I would suck your penis with gusto.)

When read amongst contemporary t-shirt literature, my first offensive t-shirt was, really, not terribly offensive at all. It was the promotional work of a truly dire punk rock band named The Anti-Nowhere League. It said "I Hate People". Oh, let me tell you, it caused quite the stir in exurban Canberra circa 1986.

As I aged and acquired a more refined taste for political unrest, I wore a number of t-shirts designed by anarchist collective and occasional band, Crass. I believe one of them depicted Margaret Thatcher probing a sheep in its rectal area. This, I recall, was a trenchant critique of the Falklands conflict.

My boldest t-shirt wearing statement, however, came in borrowed form. Again, a promotional by-product of a band, this one came from the wardrobe of my partner. Designed by the anti-copyright mavens of a San Francisco noise collective called Negativland, this one raged, "Christianity is Stupid. Give up."

My partner gave the t-shirt it a fairly thorough work-out back in the nineties, attracting — it must be said — a great deal of brutal critique. However, a man in a Kosher Deli on Carlisle Street, East St Kilda was greatly amused one Shabbat and gave her a good discount on a boiling chicken.

I wore it once — to Chadstone, Melbourne’s Fashion Capital. It inspired such panic in the eyes of the young check out assistant at the Health Food Store (I was buying spelt pasta) that I did not have the heart to wear it again.

Nonetheless, I regard this kind of offence as mildly constructive. Not a bad thing to do at all, ensnared as we are in an era of hyper-politesse. (No, don’t make me say "politically correct" because I shall gag on the language of the right more intensely than I would an ejaculating penis.) A fear of offending others has reduced the scope of our expression. This, I am certain, is why people keep sending me emails with "UR" where "you’re" should rightly be. This, I’m certain, is why I can rarely find anyone to talk to whom I do not wish to (a) stab and (b) send to elocution lessons.

The "I swallow" t-shirts, of course, are an entirely different matter. Blank, ironic sex is everywhere. Even at Chadstone the Fashion Capital. So it is hardly, despite the claims of aggravating social theorists, revolutionary or plucky for little tarts to waddle about in their slutty t-shirts. It is, in fact, rather conservative.

But the other sort of t-shirt, as much as they may turn one’s guts, are something I might offer mild applause. Those that challenge mores, upturn beliefs and confuse might not be bad.

And this is why I didn’t mind the idea of the blaspheming teen on the Gold Coast. The t-shirt that prompted his arrest read "Jesus is a C—."

While I am certain that the vanishing historical presence provisionally known as Jesus was, in fact, a rather super chap, I don’t see why this bloke was chucked in the big house. Not unless the girls who swallow are going there as well.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.