On Zoom, in the bedroom and everywhere else
During a women’s sexuality education class, my co-facilitator and I set aside the first session to talk about body image because we know it’s a challenge for women in “getting in the mood.”
I know that men have physical hang ups as well, but the pressure for women to be sexual objects of desire is deeply and thoroughly ingrained in our culture. I learned this term, “spectatoring” which is when women are distracted from sex because they are worried about how they look. How their bodies look naked, including their entire shape, breasts, hips and thighs…but also whether their body hair is completely removed, how they sound during sex, moaning or bodily noises and whether their partner really “likes” their body. Does he approve? Is it good enough? Am I doing this right?
This is why some people insist on the lights being off, I learned.
(Even more considerations, poor dears: women who think their genitals are imperfect, that their vulvas are uneven, that their labia lips shouldn’t be so long, that their anuses are too dark…no fucking thanks to you, male-gaze pornography.)
We opened up that conversation with this question:
When you were young, what did you think “a sexy woman” was?
Because most of us were the same age range, we had a lot of things that basically added up to Jenny McCarthy and Cindy Crawford: tall, thin, but with enormous breasts (meaning ~DD, which I now know is not even close to enormous), slim hips, a round but not big butt, thick long hair, symmetrical facial features, straight white teeth, with an all-over “healthy” tan (boy, I’m glad that’s changed!)
So if those descriptions don’t fit you, what are you supposed to do? (Beauty culture would suggest: try harder and buy our products and procedures.) But what if that won’t work? Should you just resign yourself to non-sexual status?
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some versions of this become women who either assume a helpful friendly role and submerge their desires, or women who accept way less than they deserve because they feel lucky to get any sexual attention at all. (See pointed representation of this in Shrill, season 1.)