Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sexy - or Not

I have been meaning to revisit the recent discussion engendered by the cyber Sexy Blogger’s Award which made the rounds a few weeks ago. Specifically, I found an aching poignancy and sense of comprehensive sorrow and acceptance in swan’s passionate repudiation of such a designation here. Simplistically and rationally, “sexiness” ostensibly lies in the mind and heart, it is the vision as seen from the eyes of one who adores you, the reflection of self from the eyes of one predisposed to find you compelling (her Tom puts it beautifully and with a poetic passion that made my heart melt).

Emotionally and spiritually, however, it is instead the inward vision of self, the always implacably rigid and unrealistic yardstick by which we measure our own charms, and sadly, for many of us, our own worth.

As much as the rational mind, bolstered in my case by a feminist conscience, preaches sexy is in the mind and heart, sexy is in how you present yourself and in your conviction and innate belief in your own value, the lingering malaise of childhood realities, the suffocating weight of societal imperatives, the increasingly visual inundation of what are blatantly termed “sexy” images and the inability of very few flesh and blood individuals to measure up, ensure that what we know we “should” believe and what we actually internalize are two different things.

Like many North Americans, I know that my sense of “sexiness” is inevitably entangled with my personal appearance. Growing up, I was teased unmercifully (and I am NOT talking abuse, this was normal sibling interaction – I LOVE my sisters) – for my small breasted reality. My sisters (all 3 of them) proudly flaunted the North American idea of large bosoms and my own lack inspired much hilarity and teasing. Now the rational part of me understands that small or large, breasts are breasts and their sensitivity, the ability of that soft flesh to give and receive pleasure is ultimately what makes them sexy and appealing. But when I look in the mirror and see the paucity of curves, emotionally I internalize “lack”.

Again, the obsession with thinness (particularly in North America), the slavish adoration of washboard abdominals, the snide, often cruel treatment of celebrities that even have “normal” figures simply underlines the “rule” that to be “sexy” one has to be thin (skeletal in some respects). Again, while rationality, hell, reality shows again and again that your waist size does NOT have a bearing on your attractiveness; it takes great strength of character and a solid sense of self-esteem to resist internalizing that belief.

I know that it was a mantra with me for years that IF I just lost weight, IF I were skinnier, IF IF IF .. then for a fairly long time I WAS thin ... I was wearing the small sizes, had no flesh to “pinch the inch”, even to my jaundiced gaze, I was borderline skinny ... and was I happy? Nope. Because then I just focused on something else, the flesh that is simply there because I had four large healthy children, the breasts that were no longer as firm, the thighs that weren’t long enough, straight enough, curved enough, the lack of butt ... there is always fault to be found when your eyes are clouded with self-loathing.

But I remember moments in time when the slick feel of flesh against flesh engendered not anxiety but a delicious thrilling delight. When clothing was thrown off eagerly with a fulsome, delightful abandon that ignored the depredations of time and found self-love in the sensuality of being desired. When I could lie sprawled on our bed, unashamed, revelling in the flesh I owned despite the battering of experience and the reality of less than perfect flesh. When the hot slickness of my need was enough to perfume the air and paint lust into our hearts and perfection glowed from his eyes and hands and in the flesh that filled his hands and heart.

Because it is not simply that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but rather it is the look that lies in the eyes of one who finds in your flesh, in your mind, in your heart, in the hot, quivering need of you for that person, a lust and a want and a desire so intense that it catches your breath and metamorphasizes a simple body into that of a goddess.

It’s not a need to have every man (or if so inclined, woman), look and desire you; albeit seeing that reflected in a stranger’s eyes is not unwelcome to most of us (given it is within acceptable limits). But that in itself does not make you feel “sexy” – not to the core. For at a certain age, at a certain point in our lives, all of us drop off the radar. It is as if we “disappear”.

Eyes slide over us as if we were insubstantial phantoms, our presence in stores goes unremarked, the door before us is let go and slams in our face, and service has to be demanded rather than anticipated. That is a reality that many women my age experience. But back when the dynamic between us was incandescent with want, it was as if suddenly I existed in the world again. I found attitudes were more positive, that people seemed to ‘see” me… men opened doors, smiled and generally acknowledged that I existed.

And at the time I felt sexual and sexy .. but it wasn’t a stranger’s glance that ignited the fire in my soul nor an acquaintance’s sudden reaction. For incorporating the concept of sexiness is an internal process that begins on a micro level in your soul, fuelled by the look in the eyes of the one you crave, by the frisson of lust along flesh aching for his touch, by the absolute conviction that you are desired, cherished, wanted.

And it was THAT sense of being wanted by the one I adored that allowed my true feelings of sexiness to be internalized. Grasped to myself, cognizant of my physical imperfections, nonetheless an incandescent belief in my own desirability glowed through me, illuminating a plain face, imbuing a work-a-day body with grace and with sensuality and exuding from the pores, pheromones that enveloped me in a walking, sensual shower of lust.

I KNOW that the perfect breasts, the slender waist and long lissom legs do not in themselves bring contentment and sensuality. I remember Caroline with her luscious, generous curves and come hither eyes and how the men flocked around her, young as she was. I remember Erin, with her narrow shoulders and concave chest, and winsome, plain face with the men three deep. Perfection of face and form then is no guarantee of ‘sexiness’ – a reality I know is true because of the number of wonderful women I have known without the “perfect figures” or “stunning faces” that nonetheless exude an earthy, real sexuality that attracts lovers to them likes flies.

But inside many of us lurks the insidious worn of disbelief, fuelled by a combination of memories of awkward childhood growth, when shyness and lack of awareness coloured us wallflowers and neglected. Inner visions of our outer shells pocked with the soulless abuse of hollow people, tarnished with perceptions of falling short, buffeted by the careless cruelty of first loves whose shining visages never turned to our hopeful faces.

But worse than that; even with a youth normal in all respects, many of us carry inward scars of disillusion and crushing disenchantment. Scars worn shiny from experiences best forgotten but indelibly inscribed on our souls. Wounds festering still beneath a thin layer of skin, pulled tight to protect against prurient curiosity and painful revelation.

My own scars are layered thickly on a body grown cold, tissue knotted and twisted with disdain and repudiation. They lie just beneath the surface of the skin, invisible to the casual eye, but to a discerning soul, throbbing painfully beneath the patina of insouciance.

And I mourn the loss of my belief in my desirability and lament my paucity of sexiness, my inability to pull the mantle of want around my shoulders and feel to my soul its warm embrace.

… But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

(excerpt from Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress)


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. I doubt too many can fully understand the doubts and esteem challenges from our society's "perfect models" that are spread throughout our culture.

For me, I will take a great brain, brilliant writer and small breasts anyday. If I have to make a choice of those three, I would chose the small breasts over the great brain. :)

I love your stuff and all that is behind it. Keep writing.

Louise said...

Oh sweet Selkie, I wish I could offer you words of wisdom and comfort; I wish you will be able to pull the mantle of want around your shoulders again and think of the last part of Marvell's poem:

"Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run."

Love, Louise

Loving Annie said...

Oh Selkie... what an amazing and beautiful post.

I don't think I've ever read anything as eloquent or true on the conflict of sexuality like that before - how we see ourselves versus how the world sees us...

I've always had the flawless body (or used to) and it wasn't enough, Selkie, because my face didn't match it, my face was plain at best...Eyes too small, ears too big, forehead too little, neck too short, face too long and pear shaped to boot... you get it - so many things structurally wrong that I could not change...

How I used to long daily to be pretty - to have that power to have men fall all over themselves when they saw me. To have a CHOICE of men, to know without a doubt desirability, the security of it...

You echoed some of the pain I've felt at not having a pretty enough face - and the total rush of joy and triumph inside at my Mike tellling me I was beautiful, and how incandescent that made me feel - and then to others, I was...

And then when he no longer cared - I wasn't anymore, not to me and not to strangers. My magic was gone.

It really IS a struggle... I have no words of comfort or transmutation for you, dear Selkie...

I wish I did, I wish I knew how to take that belief in our own sexuality and bring it to life for ourselves, that glow, that surety of sweetness that being wanted by someone you love brings with it...

My empathy...

selkie said...

Annie - have you ever seen the movie The Enchanted Cottage? Your comment at the beginning made me think of it ( I haven't seen it in years, but yes, this whole discussion sadly reflects the movie's premise.

and god knows, i WISH I had the answer!

TG - you ALWAYS make me smile... thank you.

Louise, thank you honey - and yes, I love the entire poem (I'm a sucker for Marvell and his cohorts).

Gillette said...

Yes, it's that inner sparkle that I and others find so sexy. It definitely changes the structure of the face. I can tell just by looking at someone where they are at internally.

And yes, I, too, have found it so illusive these past few years. It's like a spiral..I feel dead/afraid/confused, so I exude nomojo...which then causes the phantomness, which then leads to less mojo. I absolutely hate when the universe reflects back to me exactly what I believe.

How do I reignite my inner sexy spark and reverse the current? This has been my quest these last few months.

Ha...word verification is "hippi"- my precise area of focused discontent :)

Loving Annie said...

I haven't seen it, Selkie...

Gillette is right.

It is self-perpetuating and self-generating... But how do you believe what the world doesn't echo until they believe it too ???

selkie said...

what I find incredibly frustrating (and poignant) is that intelligent, beautiful women like you and Gillette and my other readers KNOW this, but seem to have as graet a struggle as I do to internalize truths you would smack our friends for thinking! But then, there's the whole rationality versus emotionally internalized thing.

Annie- good question, I wish I had the answer.

Loving Annie said...

'Cause sometimes we find it easier to love others than we find it to love ourselves !

And good point !

Gillette is beautiful in my eyes because I like her as a person.

I'd never rip her to shreds piece by piece visually and dismiss or degrade her like I do myself.


Any any man that did so to Gillette - who was blind to her good qualities because he focused on some micro-aspect that wasn't magazine comparable - I'D THINK HE WAS A TOTAL ASSCLOWN SHE SHOULD NEVER BE INTERESTED IN ANYWAY - LET ALONE VALUE HIS ATTENTION !

another good point.

So see, my head knows, it's my heart that still goes, "but"...

hmmmm, more self-image work to be done. Maybe this posty will encourage EACH of us to do that and be conscius of it !

See ya around cyber-space, sexy-sparkling woman !

Anonymous said...

I can only say I would hold the door for you. I would watch you walk through. For a breif second my world would stop.

It has happened many times and will happen many more and I don't think I have ever met a model.

gabby said...

Selkie -- that was beautiful! This is a lesson that My Master has been working with me on. I have a very difficult time seeing myself as the beautiful creature he does. I know in my mind that we cannot look like those models but still long to. I want to present a perfect offering for My Master but find myself limited. It is a lesson that has proven to be my hardest yet and one that I fear will take some time still to learn.

Thank you for helping me not feel so alone in this fight.



swan said...

Selkie -- You took my words of angst and framed those emotions with elegance and eloquence. Clearly the emotional experience that this "award" sparked for me is one that many of us share. Like you, I understand the intellectual and politically facile attitude toward the question of what is "sexy." I know that the healthy view of my "self" is one that is more grounded in my own self-awareness and less in that social view. If only the knowing were enough to make it so...

hugs, swan

Liras said...

I am always stunned by women tearing themselves into chunks that hey cannot assemble into a desirable whole. Always.

My Dad repeated incessantly how lovely I was. I actually believed it, thus we adolescence hit, I was not swayed by boys and their fickle desires. Many liked me, some did not--most did not like my smart-ass attitude.

But that did not take away from me or how I perceived me.

The outside only attracts--the inside is what keeps. Even Heidi Klum, Halle Berry and legions of other sexy fine women have been cheated on.

I think that pretty girls get a certain amount of attention but since there are so many other pretty flowers, what does it all really mean?

One's physical body is more than a tool to be used by others--it is the tool of the owner.

If more of us women understood we belong to ourselves, we would be in a better mental state and not so sad about things that in the end, all decay.

Hope you start liking more of you, each and every day. After all, there is only one Selkie.

Amber said...

When I was 14 and thin and long-haired and wonderful-looking (I have pics) I was convinced I was ugly.

I wasn't being coy, I knew I was ugly beyond any hope.

When I was in my late teens/20's I knew I was ugly, then, too. Boys/Men who came on to me were lying to get inside me, I knew this and dismissed anything they said.

When I was in my 40's and I was free of my ex and free to be everything I wanted, I got lots of attention. But I told myself they didn't *REALLY* find me attractive, they just wanted to fuck something.

And now, at 53, I look back and see pictures of me and you know what? I was hot. I sure didn't think so at the time but I was.

There is an old show, "Twilight Zone" from the 50's/60's and one ep featured a story about a woman who was convinced she was so ugly, she needed surgery to 'fix' her looks.

Mind, now, this is many years before the botox cosmetic surgery society we find so ubiquitous today.

Throughout the show, she is bandaged and she laments how ugly she is and how much she hopes she will be "fixed" after the operation. At the end, (SPOILER! STOP NOW IF YOU DON"T KNOW!)

At the end, the doctors and nurses take off her bandages and she looks even more beautiful (according to our standards) But everyone in the room recoils and exclaims they are sorry they were unable to help her.

But she looks beautiful to us because we have/had been conditioned to view her features as being "beautiful".

That show was 50/60 years ago, now. It's kinda cheesy and how many people remember it?

But the message is still truth.

Believe you are beautiful. Believe it and you will be.

kannakat said...

Yes, beautifully written as always.
2 points spring to mind:
1. Selkie is right: sexiness is not prettiness: every one of us knows "pretty" girls who just don't have it and unconventional faces and forms that do.

2. Sexiness at its simplest is a manifestation of Nature's urge to multiply. Like all natural cycles, it has its own organic rhythm. Mr Marvell was right about "Time's winged chariot"...women ebb and flow like the tides or the moon's phases, and this cycle also has a natural rise and takes wisdom to see the fruitfulness of a fallow field: luckily wisdom is what mature women specialise in!
And you have lots of it, Selkie, as WELL as fabulous hair!

selkie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
selkie said...

Sir J – There is no question that you are one man who sees with his heart and soul and cherishes the essence of a person. Would that there were more like you!

Gabby – indeed, as Annie says, I think we ALL must work harder to incorporate lessons we know we need to internalize! I think like life itself, learning to love ourselves is an ongoing task.

swan- your insight often sparks an answering emotion in me – and knowing that women I admire and respect are struggling with the same issues, somehow makes the burden a little more palatable.

Liras, I agree with every single word you say; and truly I understand it is the inside that “keeps”- but I think in many of us, not believing that the “inside” is desirable or has worth is the issue. and yes, I AM working on it, but it is indeed an uphill battle.

Amber – there is an excellent story by Shirley Jackson (she wrote The Lottery)- can’t remember the damn name – but basically that exact same story – underlining yes, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Your own blog on the issue was another inspiration for this post – and your knowledge that in the eyes of your Dan you are all that is desirable. There’s no getting around the reality that if the one you adore does not reflect back your desirability, it can cause an inward struggle.

kannakat – thank you for your kind words! and I’m not so sure about the wisdom – it seems to me the older I get, the less I know – or at least that I’m sure of!

I hesitated about posting this – while I write of intimate things at times, I have a quixotic sense of self that keeps me from often being too forthright about real events in my life. But part of the growth I’ve been experiencing over the past year or two has almost compelled me to explore certain emotions, certain mindsets, through writing. Writing remains for me my voice. Thank you for listening and adding your voice to the universal one.

Liras said...

Selkie, all women have to deal with that silky mantle of partial invisibility that age tosses upon us, in a visual and youth-worshiping age.

I hope you climb the hill you are on and stand atop of it, tossing your hair with a sly smile.

Amber said...

Selkie, yes, it helps to have Dan but despite his support, I DO have my "bad" days on this issue. Lately, though, I grateful I have not had the struggle and I hope this mindset continues.

Like Pascal's wager, given the choice of believing I'm sexy/beautiful or NOT believing, I'd rather believe it.

I'm happier that way. :)

selkie said...

Dear Liras, I'm working on it - and damn right I'll toss my hair - its one of the things I DO like about myself!

Amber - keep believing sweetheart ...

john smith said...

awesome post...very well written and atlast nice poem!

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