I like to consider myself to be a self-aware person. Mentally, I’m sexy, but I’m honest about my body.
Even when I’ve been at my most trim and fit Size 6 self, I have broad shoulders, small and not-so-rounded breasts, a thick waist and belly, and relatively small hips. My skin is not without blemishes and scars. My hair is poker straight and fine. My eyes are small and squinty. I have chubby cheeks that bury my cheek bones. A square jawline and short neck don’t help.
At least I have lush, full lips and a set of shapely and slender legs. I’m particular about the way I dress and the way my clothes fit. I think that I do a pretty good job at camouflaging the parts of my body I’m not happy with.
I personally don’t blame the media and advertising for skewing my perceptions of how I and women should look. I’ve worked with plenty of photojournalists, studio photographers and film crews to know how much work goes into lenses, filters and lighting goes into making photos and video look good. They tend to be a perfecting bunch of professionals for the sake of making their work look good. I also know that hair and makeup prep that goes into a photo that gets seen for a second takes 1-2 hours.
However, I blame a lot of men, but not all men, for projecting unrealistic expectations of how women should look.
I’ve been called tiny and petite. I think it’s a bit of stretch, but it’s still flattering to hear. Most of my male friends talk about the women in their lives and in our circle of friends with adoration. I see the look of glee in his eyes when we reunite after months apart. He doesn’t have to say, “I want to see you naked. Now,” when we’re waiting for the check after dinner; I see it in his eyes. He calls me “beautiful” and “gorgeous” more often than he calls me by my first name. In bed, he craves skin-to-skin contact with every square inch of me. I particularly love the way his fingers brush back and forth over my belly, the part of my body of which I’m most self-conscious.
I’ve also heard my male co-workers and acquaintances speak a lot more critically and judgmentally about women. I’ve heard them criticize women who tip the scales five pounds over perfect as fat. I’ve also heard them say comments like “Nice rack” and “I’d climb her like a pole” about women they deem attractive. If I got a quarter every time I heard a man say, “Talk about a woman who gave up on herself,” every time they saw one at the grocery store with her hair pulled back, no makeup, and in a pair of ill-fitting yoga pants, I’m sure I’d have enough to feed myself for a week.
I’ve been turned down by men who passed on me in the online dating screening process. Some of them have told me, “You’re not my type.” Most of their email correspondences came to an immediate halt the moment after I sent them a photo of myself. I’ve also been called “fat”, “not that attractive”, and “built like a linebacker” … by ex-boyfriends of all people. Even though those men are out of my life for reasons that are far uglier than their comments, those words still hurt as much as I try to forget them.
Do any of these men rank in People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive lists? Hell, no. Think of the first 100 men in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s that might walk through the doors of a movie theater.
Unless a man completely neglects his grooming and hygiene, I’m really hard pressed to call a man unattractive. But let’s face it, relatively few men who go through the same level of primping or deciding what to wear before they walk out of the door as women do. So who are they to judge?
Yes, I know, men are visual creatures. I get the Mars/Venus differences, but they’re explanations and not justifications for boorish behavior and unrealistic expectations of women. I especially don’t appreciate the “men are visual creatures” statement when I hear it from guys whose wardrobe only consists of T-shirts and jeans because they like to be comfortable yet expect their women of choice to be slender, fit and polished with makeup and hairspray.
Every once in a while I hear a man admit that he feels as if he’s not attractive of sexy. They’re mostly men in their 40’s who lament that that they’ve gone gray, lost some hair, or put weight since they were in their 20’s.
I disagree with most of them. Sexy is a whole different thing at 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 than it is at 20 or 30.
One man who impressed me most recently is Noah Brand who wrote an article, I’m Stark Naked: Deal With It. He basically outlined a list of things about himself that society would consider not sexy: male pattern baldness, hair growing in places where it shouldn’t, and a BMI that teeters between overweight and obese. The story is accompanied with a selection of nude photos of himself.
He took that list of perceived imperfections and basically said, “Fuck it. This is me.”
I don’t know how to fix the broken ways our culture talks about bodies. I don’t know how to make people love themselves. I don’t even know how to mend the disconnect between my sense of self and my physical shape. What I do know is how to confront fear and shame and self-hatred, at least for myself, and how you do that is head-on … This is what I look like stark naked. You can like it or not, that’s your own business and I respect that. I have wasted too much time being afraid of what other people think, and as of today, I am done.
If I didn’t already have a wonderful man in my life, I’d seek him out and tell him that I’d like to get to know him.