Thoughts on Sexiness and the Male Gaze

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 In my last article, I nonchalantly stated that ‘There’s no such thing as too sexy’. It is, after all, not up to anyone but yourself to judge and define that. I thought nothing of penning this phrase as, for me and at the time, this required no additional thought or argument. However, MP responded differently to this sentiment as she was proofreading the article. She observed that she didn’t exactly feel the same way about the concept of being - and dressing - ‘sexy’, an opinion was based on her own subjective experiences. This essentially was what lead to this collaborative train of thought on “sexiness’. My ruminations lead me to realise that I had neglected to consider that the concept in question can be personally implicated or enmeshed in implicit structures, that I might not have the access to for differing reasons.

 

 I suppose I should preface this train of thought by attempting to define what sexy might mean. A basic step is to consult a dictionary, the much-loved companion of those seeking a simple entry into a complex question. I duly completed this task, which yielded the following explanation: someone or something who is sexually attractive, exciting or arousing. Yet, I found this pathway to be a bit unimaginative, and serving only to pigeonhole a concept that is rightfully nebulous. I thus chose to explore it through a personal lens. In Athens, where I grew up and first encountered specific ideas of attractiveness and desirability as a young adult, being “sexy” seemed to comprise of a few specific physical attributes. Long, straight dark hair, a slim figure with the right curves in the right places, and a specifically languorous and slightly disdainful attitude of insouciance, as if you just couldn’t be bothered with what was happening around you. Around the time of these titillating observances and discoveries, this concept of somehow being sexually appealing to others was directed towards boys. Standards of attractiveness were informed by the intention of pleasing the opposite sex and thus where beholden to the concept we have termed the “male gaze”: an encroaching systemic (yet innocuous) institution of heteronormative ideals.

 

 The body I felt forced to inhabit through these strictures of what was attractive to boys felt alien and uncomfortable to me. And I expressed that in an intensely physical way through extreme shyness. For most of my teenage years I inhabited a curious duplicity, in feeling both tenuously attractive and absolutely ludicrous.  Comparatively, I have always felt sexiest when differing from those heteronormative rules. This was a gradual change, and rather informed by my transitioning sexual identity (I’ve written a bit about this here so I won’t go into too much detail). Needless to say, I’ve confidently reached the conclusion that being sexy doesn’t require a specific formula. It doesn’t mean aligning your body to the gently flowing lines sketched out by societal projections concerning desirability or attractiveness.

 

 Having established my own relationship with the word, I want to return to what MP and I initially discussed: the idea of being “too sexy”. If this phrase is used in relation to clothing, it’s usually deployed to imply excess, to state that it is somehow inappropriate for a specific social occasion: too revealing, too short, too body-hugging. As a result, “too sexy” is used to instigate a compartmentalisation of when and where being sexy is acceptable.

 

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This is something that I haven’t found myself worrying about (aside from gradually teaching myself to disregard ideologies as to what constitutes “sexy” or “inappropriate”), due to my lived physicality: namely, my relatively slim body and small boobs. There’s a bias – particularly in fashion – to favour the idea of being effortlessly and subtly sexy, and thus there has been until quite recently a tendency towards a more svelte figure, which does not significantly call attention to itself. The assignation of “too sexy” seems to act as a condemnation against bodies that take up too much space, which draw too much attention, which spill out of the strictures of clothes. Here’s another way to look at it.  Condemning someone as “too sexy” seems to accuse that their intention behind the way they dress is ‘unfeministic’, pandering to some patriarchal idea of attractiveness. And frankly, we at WTPD have no time for this holier-than-thou attitude.   

 

I’ll offer up a few conclusive thoughts to this stream of consciousness. Sexiness is a very subjective state of being rather than a specific physical & behavioural formula to be followed. It’s a nebulous concept and escapes one when they try to pin it down. And it shouldn’t be any different. And to me, feeling sexy means feeling entitled to the space that you have a right to take up, which you previously felt uncomfortable inhabiting. Finally, I think conversations about the ‘male gaze’, taking liberty in your own sexiness and dressing for yourself have never been more important. Let’s keep them going.

Eliza