What if I don’t want to be sexy?

Let’s see if I can get through this post about body image and issues without telling you what kind of body I have, and you see if you’re comfortable not knowing at the end of it, okay?

Much as I try not to be Twitter incrowdy (my excuse for never blogging), this did arise from a Twitter “event”. One idiot was promoting “managed anorexia” because he felt only thin was valuable, and a lot of great people responded by trying to get #curvesaresexy trending. Then some less great people started labelling thin bodies as unsexy, and some other people objected and…

This is how it goes, though. Bodies – pretty much invarably women’s bodies – are where the discussion is at. Whether we value curves, bones, or all kinds of bodies, women’s bodies are a site for discussion in a way that men’s are not. And I don’t think that changing the object is as helpful as changing the subject. Laurie Penny put it beautifully in her moving piece on recovering from anorexia:

[T]he real breakthrough came when I stopped defining myself merely by my dress size. Once I started to believe that my worth as a person had nothing to do with how my body looked to other people, I began to give myself permission to take up the space I needed.

Put it like this: if offered the chance to never be treated as a body-object again, on the condition that neither would anyone ever find me sexy again, I’d take it. That is, of course, from the vantage point of being a mother, and therefore devoid of public sexuality in most environments anyway. (Seriously – for a start, it takes about 12 times the effort to communicate that I am, in fact, a lesbian, once people know that I’m a mother.) And I’m in my mid-30s, so moving past the realm of mainstream sexy, anyway. But not moving past the point where my body is a defining factor in how I am perceived, how I perceive myself, and where who I am is positioned in culture. Worthy of notice or not worthy of notice, that judgement in itself requires that my body be noticed. Unsexy, mumsy, frumpy, dykey, MILF, invisible because physically unremarkable, all of those require an evaluation of my body.

And I would just rather not. I don’t want to be a mainstream or a countercultural or a fetishistic sex object. I want to be a subject, and my subject, largely, is not my own body, or even my own sexuality. I want my daughter to stop thinking it’s important to call me “pretty”. I want her to stop thinking it’s important when people call her that. I want to remove the instinct I have right now to tell you that, of course, she is beautiful. Can I tell you she’s valuable? That you are? That I am? Can we leave it at that?

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2 Responses to What if I don’t want to be sexy?

  1. *littlestar. says:

    I do think being defined only by our bodies is no good (and this does happen to men as well by the by) and our culture absolutely spews this sort of crap out. (Those sorts of ideas and ridiculous gender stereotyping are why I homeschool).

    But, I must say I don’t think it’s bad that your daughter wants you to know you’re pretty. Being pretty isn’t bad, neither is being ugly. They are not a choice mind you, which may be why it rubs you the wrong way for it to matter. But, we are animals, to deny our sex selection process and how it makes us feel (very basically) is unrealistic I think.

    For you it may be that your sexuality is something that you have put away, which is obviously fine for you (and I know this is the case for many mothers). But, for me it wouldn’t do. I like being sexy. I like it when my husband tells me I’m sexy. I’m a mommy but this does not mean I am asexual. Bodies are what we have initially to look at to judge people by (and they are initially what signals sexual attraction for us), I think that pretending (or wanting that) there is no judgement going on based on our bodies is as silly as making ALL judgements based on it.

    I know what you mean about not wanting being beautiful to be that important to your daughter though. I do have the same issues, I do tell my girl she’s pretty but I don’t want her to imagine that’s all there is to be so I make sure to tell her she’s smart and imaginative just as much. All things in moderation. Good points to think about. : )

  2. Deborah Hopkins says:

    I am a mother and a decade older than you – from the rightly limited info on that subject. I am hetero – though not practicing – almost entirely because of this very issue.

    I absolutely sync with the wish to not be defined by what somebody else perceives me to be. I find the ceaseless pressure to conform to the judgments of strangers, in work, in the street, in the supermarket, at my son’s rugby matches, deeply patronising and insulting. As though I cannot exists unless I simultaneously fit everybody else projections of who i am – or should be.

    As to interpersonal stuff and intimacy, as soon as somebody demonstrates that they find me physically attractive – this happens less and less, but usually is unwarranted and imposed by people who don’t know me at all – I find myself having to control a wave of anger.
    A surge of ‘how dare you impose that on me, you don’t know my name, you know nothing of the essence of who I am as a person, WTF?’ overwhelms me and I have to restrain myself from the temptation to voice it!

    I don’t voice my position on this as with most things in public these days.

    An attempt recently to quietly and politely state my personal opinion in a group of people i have known for some years, created a violently abusive and foul mouthed attack from a man, who was so personally affronted by my attempt to self define, that he – and his wife – have refused to acknowledge my presence ever since.

    This inability to exist as I define myself, as an intelligent adult who is not defined by my sexual availability, creates as I see it 2 options for me. To either be visible as a sexual object under external rules, and therefore subject to stares, abuse, unwanted sexual touching in public from strangers and therefore vulnerable OR to be asexual /not sexually attractive, invisible to the eyes of the majority and therefore safe from attack or assault.

    In both cases I am not treated as an adult, as a subject, independently formed and I am not respected for having my own mind.

    Your post has defined my long held wish for an alternative state – I wonder if it will ever happen.
    Thank you for voicing it all the same, it is strangely and sadly reassuring.

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