When is it okay to NOT be sexy?

I wanted to revisit this topic since I last wrote about my opinion on sexual objectification.  I feel that feminists are collectively conflicted as to whether being sexy is inherently degrading or if it is..just whatever.  I really, enjoyed this opinion article, Practically Feminist, which touched upon some ways sexuality may make some feminists uncomfortable.  I wanted to further explore what it means for women to be sexually objectified, and how prevalent it really is.

Personally, I consider it a bit extreme to say that every time a woman wears make-up, works out, or is attracted to a guy, she is sexually objectifying herself.  I have read these opinions on some mainstream feminist blogs.  I think it is unrealistic, and unhealthy, to completely decouple sexual desires and grooming from women’s liberation.  These are basic human instincts.  It is not abnormal to take care of your appearance and want to appeal to potential mates.  Of course, prioritizing one’s appearance over other vital aspects of life – such as your health, relationships, and activities – is when it gets problematic.

However, I have also noticed some odd attitudes from both men and women.  People look at me like I’m a freak when I show up to the beach wearing a one-piece bathing suit with water shorts.  “Why don’t you just wear a bikini??!  You’re skinny enough!”

Here is the thing, dear readers: I just do not feel comfortable wearing a bikini to a public beach or pool.  It would feel like showing up in my underwear.  I would feel naked and exposed.

However, I have trouble expressing this because people might automatically think I am criticizing their fashion choices.  I am open-minded enough to understand that while I may not like wearing bikinis, I won’t chastise other people for doing so.

Similarly, I had an experience where I had to turn down a belly dance performance because the dance studio we were collaborating with would NOT accept any other costume choice other than a coined bra.  While coined bras have become the normal belly dance costume choice, I stand by the fact that if you dance in a bra, people will be paying attention to things other than the dancing.  But again, while I respect other people’s decision to wear what they wanted, I stood by my right to wear what I was comfortable in.

I have also gotten questions about why I like to dance lyrical hip-hop – a type of dance that is very active and fast-paced, but not seductive or sexual.  I have gotten comments that the dance is very unfeminine and “tomboyish”, even though all of the other people I dance with are…women.  People don’t understand why I, a post-pubescent girl, don’t dance to look sexy, but just because I like dancing.

Now, I am not against being sexy.  I just choose to flaunt it on certain occasions, such as when I’m going on a date with a guy, rather than all the time.  What has been weirding me out since I turned 18 is that young adult women are expected to look and be sexy around the clock (or at least, that is how it seems based on people’s reactions to my choices.)

However, some questions I have are: What does it mean for a man to be sexy?  Do people react the same way to a woman in a bikini as they do to a guy in swimming trunks?  (Another version of this questions is, when career coaches warn you against posting Facebook pictures of you in a swimsuit, is this implicitly directed to both women AND men?  I have some reasons to doubt this!)  Are men expected to carry out all their activities with their sexual attractiveness in mind?  I actually know many guys who explicitly admitted that they learned how to play guitar, and went into sports, because they knew girls liked it.  Therefore, is sexuality as problematic for men as it is for women, and should it even be a problem?

I’m still figuring this out, and would love to know your opinion.

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