You Do Not Have to Be “Fuckable” to Be Valuable

(Quick note: this post deals with body image, weight, food, exercise, and insecurity. If those topics are triggering or troublesome for you, I encourage you to skip this post. Take care of yourself!)

I’ve been struggling with body stuff a lot lately, and it’s not fun. Counting my calories alternately seems to keep me sane or make me want to tear all my hair out. Looking at my naked body in the mirror feels unbearable some days and totally neutral on other days. My feelings toward food oscillate from toxic resentment to pure sensual love. It’s… confusing.

When I have feelings that trouble me, on any subject, I always do my best to get to the root of them – to figure out where they’re coming from and what can be done about them. Like most people (especially most women), my relationship to food and exercise is about so much more than just food and exercise: it’s about gender, and self-worth, and past emotional traumas, and bone-deep insecurities. So there’s a lot of excavating to do if I want to work it all out. But I think I came up with an important insight recently, and I’d like to share it with you.

Women are socialized to understand our beauty as our most important feature. More important than our intelligence, humor, interests, professional pursuits, or even our sexual talents, our beauty is supposed to be our ongoing project and most crucial prize. Our total value as human beings is ascribed to our appearance, and that does a lot of damage.

I have internalized the idea that not only am I required to be beautiful (meaning: conventionally pretty and thin), but I am required to be beautiful all the time. Just look at the beginning of practically any fictional hetero romance: whether it takes place in a cheesy rom-com, a staid period drama, or a twisted YA novel, the “meet-cute” typically hinges on the woman looking pretty and the man noticing.

I’m an avid consumer of romantic storylines, so it’s no surprise that this trope got so deep into my head, I guess. But it sucks, because now I go through life with the sinking feeling that any moment spent looking less than beautiful is a moment wasted, an opportunity squandered. As much as my higher intellectual self tries to squash this irrational feeling, some part of me is still constantly wondering if the lover of my dreams is somewhere in my vicinity, and if, were they to see me right now, they’d be interested or just walk right by me.

It instills a scary desperation, a constant uncertainty. The last thing I ate becomes a statement on my entire morality. The time elapsed since my last workout defines what kind of love I deserve. My ability to attract the attention of some handsome suitor becomes the single most important measurement of my value as a human being.

Of course, I know this isn’t really true. I know there is more to me than my face and my body. I even know that I’m capable of love no matter what size I am, because I’ve dated at my fattest and at my thinnest and no one has ever run screaming out of the room at the sight of my naked body. Far from it: I’ve had my curves praised, lusted after, worshiped.

But I’m single now, and shy, and anxious, so the worries creep in. And the result has become all too clear in recent months: food has lost its joy for me, because it mostly makes me feel guilty; I exercise out of obligation instead of genuine desire; and my guard is always up when I’m out. What do these people think of me? Do I look good enough to be in public right now? Am I performing “beautiful femininity” well enough?

Well, fuck that shit. I am valuable whether or not I’m “fuckable” and so are you. No matter how much your silly brain might try to trip you up, the fact is that different people are attracted to different things and so if your hygiene is acceptable and you’re a basically pleasant person to be around, someone out there will be into you. Promise.

But, beyond that, it also has to be said that being loved romantically is not the most important thing in the universe. Sometimes I get so caught up in desperate romantic wishes that I forget about the love I already have in my life: family, friends, passions, excitements, even my love for myself (which does exist, somewhere under all the layers of self-criticism).

Sometimes I watch the way men interact, and the kinds of things they talk about, and I realize that men are valued – and value themselves – for who they are and what they do, not what kind of mate they can or cannot attract. I need to reject the patriarchal paradigm which says I am only as valuable as the number of dudes who want to get in my pants. I do so much cool shit and I am so smart, funny, kind, clever and delightful. That should be enough. That is enough.

It’s still a daily struggle to figure out how to live comfortably in my body without upsetting my mind (or vice versa), but these revelations have been helpful to me. I breathe a little easier knowing my fears are unfounded and silly.

Have you battled similar thoughts and concerns around body image or romantic/sexual desirability? How did/do you deal?

How to Receive Desire When You Feel Undesirable

Honesty time: I may be a sex blogger, but I hardly ever feel sexy.

I’ve grown up with a chubby body and a face that’s definitely not “conventionally attractive.” But truthfully, insecurity and an ugly self-image can plague anyone, regardless of what they look like on the outside. Even the most gorgeous, magazine-worthy folks have their own self-love struggles to deal with.

Dissatisfaction with your appearance can cause problems in all sorts of areas, but one place where it feels especially weird is when you find yourself being wanted by someone. When you’re the target of desire and flirtation, it can feel foreign, misplaced, or even like a mean trick. Even after years of working on my self-acceptance, I still find myself assuming that compliments I receive from flirtatious strangers are really just a joke, and that they’re mocking me, Regina George-style.

That said, here are my best tips for how to deal with being desired when you feel undesirable. These work for me… most of the time.

Work on your self-love. Everyone could use a boost in this area, I think. I am a fan of Gala Darling’s “Radical Self-Love” materials, as well as the book You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay. You can also keep it simple by just paying yourself a compliment every day in the mirror. (Are you surprised to see hippie-dippy self-love stuff on a sex blog? Don’t be! Self-acceptance is mandatory for fulfilling, healthy sex, methinks.)

Remember that attraction is subjective. Oh, this is a big one for me. I look at myself in the mirror and think, “That’s not hot!” and so I assume, implicitly, that everyone else feels the same. Well, they don’t! Everyone is attracted to different qualities and body types and personalities and faces. Sometimes it helps to remind myself of all the quirky-looking people I’ve been attracted to. They weren’t supermodels, but I adored them. And it’s perfectly understandable for people to feel that way about me, too.

Invite more flirtatious energy into your life. I am an advocate of relationship models that allow for flirting with people other than your partner, because I think that flirty energy is enormously healing and uplifting for most of us. But even if you’re in a strictly monogamous relationship, you’re still allowed to enjoy crushing on others and being crushed on by others, though you may need to keep those feelings inside yourself. You can also watch movies or TV shows where there’s a lot of romance going on – I find that works almost as well as the real thing! The more commonplace those flirty, happy, romantic feelings become in your life, the easier it’ll be to believe that you can be (and are) the recipient of desire.

Fish for compliments. Honestly, fuck people who tell you not to do this. (I don’t mean “fuck them” in the sexual way. I mean it in the “oh, fuck off, you asshole” way.) Obviously it’s annoying when someone is constantly complaining about how ugly they feel, in an over-the-top attempt to garner praise. But if you’re feeling shitty about yourself, you are allowed to ask for reinforcement and affirmation from those who adore you. You are allowed to say, “What is your favorite thing about me?” or “What is the sexiest part of my body?” I used to be a hardcore advocate of the idea that you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you, but then I learned that actually, hearing about how much other people love you can be a great way to shore up your own self-love reserves.

Adorn yourself lovingly. Fuck what other people think looks good on you. What do you think looks good on you? What clothing, makeup, and/or hairstyle is going to make you feel your cutest and most fuckable? Put that stuff on (or go out and buy it, if you don’t already own it) and wear it as often as you reasonably can. Physical trappings may be deemed shallow by some, but they can work wonders on your self-image, so you may as well use them as the tools that they are.

Choose, and embody, a sexiness role model. When you’re at a party or some other environment where you tend to feel like an ugly shrinking violet, choose a celebrity or real-life person who you view as strong, sexy, and desirable – and then pretend you’re them. Try to take on their posture, confidence, and energy. This is a “fake it til you make it” sort of approach, but it works. (Another similar thing I like to do sometimes: imagine your sexiness role model, or your latest crush, is watching you do everything you do. You will automatically act – and feel – sexier and cuter!)

Improve your nutrition and activity level. This is boring and bordering-on-preachy, but I do find I feel sexier when I’m eating well, drinking a lot of water, and getting a decent amount of exercise. This is especially useful for those of us who don’t like our bodies. It’s hard to hate your body for how it looks when you simultaneously love your body for how it feels and what it can do.

Consume more images of people who look like you. Make a Pinterest board or photo album of people who have whatever physical “imperfections” you don’t like about yourself: big hips, big nose, big feet, whatever it is. I promise you there are sexy-as-fuck people in the world who are totally rocking that feature that you hate on yourself, and I also promise that filling your eyes with images of these people will slowly-but-surely shift your perception of that feature.

How do you make yourself feel sexier when you feel distinctly un-hot?

Sharing the Sexy #29

• To Be a Slut has some new workshops planned. Body Love sounds like a must-do!

Accidentally sexual vintage comics. Yessss!

• Interested in voyeurism or exhibitionism? On PerfectCam, you can watch all kinds of sexy folks doing sexy things live – and you can even model yourself, if you want. Fun!

• A new study confirms that circumcision is genital mutilation.

• Ignore the grammar and punctuation mistakes and just enjoy this fascinating account of Ugandan sexual practices.

• Evil Slutopia’s chapter-by-chapter Fifty Shades write-ups continue to be hilarious and illuminating.

• Most disturbing thread I saw on Reddit this week: a woman’s “alternative relationship” with her cat.

• Epiphora really, really hates pink sex toys. I agree and would love to see more blue/turquoise toys in the world!

“Real men” in underwear ads. I put that in quotation marks because I think it’s weird when people try to argue that models aren’t “real people.” Can we just say “non-model men”?!

Full disclosure: one of these links was sponsored!

Sharing the Sexy #21

Female porn stars with and without makeup. Draven Star sans makeup is tooootally the kind of girl I would’ve had a huge crush on in high school. Or, you know, now.

• My mom forwarded me this link: vibrators can be used by actors and singers to warm up their voices. I also hear you can hold a Hitachi to your nose to clear up congestion…?

• Here is a great article for introducing trans men’s health to healthcare providers.

• Stoya writes about heteronormativity and monogamy.

• Um, people are upset because of some mannequins shaped like average women. Our culture’s confusion about the definitions of words like “overweight” and “obese” is really appalling sometimes.

• Arabelle Raphael put together this great list of self-care strategies for sex workers.

Can a tantric awakening ruin you for other kinds of sex?

• Here is an excellent piece on that horrific Steubenville rape case we’ve been hearing so much about, and the sexism in its media coverage.

• Trans icon Kate Bornstein needs your help to pay for cancer treatment. She’s one of the sassiest, sweetest gender outlaws out there, so I highly encourage you to donate what you can to help her survive.

Body Pride – or, Why I Spent Four Hours Naked With Strangers

A few months ago, I was on a tea date with a friend and she suddenly announced, “I know this girl, and she runs these Body Pride workshops! Everyone gets naked and you sit in a circle and talk about body image and sex and stuff! Do you want to go with me?”

I said sure, but I was thinking, Uh, that sounds kind of terrifying. See, I’m an introvert. A huge one. Maybe it’s not apparent from this blog, but I am. And meeting new people is scary enough as it is, but doing it naked? That seemed a little too far out of my comfort zone.

Fast forward a few months. In the middle of the night, I had a fit of impulsivity, as I often do, and fired off an e-mail to the workshop organizer, Caitlin, asking her to sign me up for an upcoming Body Pride event. In the morning, I asked my friend if she still wanted to do it with me, and she said yes. So it was a plan.

The day finally came. I found the top-secret location that had been texted to me, and nervously punched numbers into the buzzer. “Hey, I’m here for Body Pride?” I said into the speaker, feeling that the tone of my voice didn’t exactly convey the “pride” that would be my goal tonight. I sounded like a little mouse.

Caitlin let me into the beautiful space and I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the floor with the other girls who had arrived so far. The middle of the circle was full of delicious, healthy snacks, and the ladies were chatting about relationships and sex (what else?). Caitlin brought me a glass of wine and I slurped some down for courage. Most of the folks were older than me, or seemed that way, anyway (I sometimes feel like a 15-year-old when I go into shy-girl mode), but I didn’t feel too out of place.

When everyone had arrived, Caitlin and Khadeja passed out forms for us to sign. We had to agree that we wouldn’t sue the workshop organizers if the experience messed us up in any way (I can’t imagine how it could), and we could optionally allow them to use our photos on their website and in their work-in-progress photography book. Yes, there would be a photoshoot at the end of the night. I wasn’t sure whether I was mostly nervous or excited about that part. Somewhere around here, I noticed that my friend hadn’t shown up after all, so it was just me and eight women I’d never met before. Yikes.

Then an announcement was made to the effect of, “Okay, everybody get naked!” and we did. I think my boobs were the first ones to come out, because I’d purposely worn minimal clothing to make it easier to disrobe. And, to my amazement, I didn’t feel the least bit ashamed or embarrassed. Everyone else was taking off their clothes, too. And then we were all sitting in a circle, completely naked, like it was the most normal thing in the world (because it kind of is).

The organizers passed out “muff mats,” little hand-towels for us to sit our pussies on, because women have bodies and those bodies sometimes excrete stuff that probably doesn’t belong on a stranger’s floor. Not in a shamey way, just in a practical way, you understand.

While everyone sipped their drinks and passed back the last of their signed forms, Caitlin explained where the idea for Body Pride had come from. She told us the story of her revelation that bodies weren’t something to be ashamed of, or even to be “just okay” with – that they should be loved, embraced, celebrated. And so she’d decided to take photos of herself naked and post them on the internet (indeed, one of the bravest and most scarily permanent decisions a young woman can make in this day and age). She’d then gotten an e-mail from a friend asking if there were going to be “happy naked girl parties” to further this agenda, and a lightbulb went off in Caitlin’s head. And so Body Pride was born.

The workshop was run in an around-the-circle way, with each woman speaking on the topic at hand when it was her turn. First we talked about why we’d decided to attend; answers ranged from “It just sounded like fun” to “I need to become more comfortable with my naked body” to “I just broke up with my boyfriend and this seemed like a good thing to do afterward.” Even though we all had different specific reasons, it seemed that our intentions were ultimately the same: to be with other naked women in a non-sexual but personally and sexually affirming way.

We talked about our childhood experiences with sexuality and masturbation, our parents’ influences, our present-day body image, sexual debuts, relationship regrets, wishes for the future, threesomes, and porn. We covered many topics, thoroughly and respectfully. Every woman’s words were listened to and absorbed. The discussion was structured but still participant-led. Caitlin sort of sat back and let us talk about what we wanted to talk about, only intervening occasionally if we needed to be steered a little.

By the end of our hours-long talk, most of us were pretty drunk, and nudity felt completely natural and normal. Caitlin and Khadeja moved over to the white backdrop that was already pinned up on one wall, and set up a tripod, camera, and large studio light. Someone put on some sexy, groovy, cheesy music from the ‘90s (I definitely remember there was Sir Mix-A-Lot and the Spice Girls) that got us into a dancing mood. And one by one, we each took our turn in front of the camera, shaking our booties, flaunting our bodies, loving our beauty. I felt like a drunker version of Bettie Page. I felt powerful and gorgeous and luminescent.

When we weren’t posing, we signed the Body Pride guestbook, talked about ex-boyfriends, and had more to drink. These women, who I’d only met a few hours before, I felt like I understood. I saw that their motivations and histories were not so different from mine, even though some of them had had over 300 sexual partners and I’ve only had two. We were all united in the common pursuit of sexual freedom and radical self-love.

Finally, it was time to go. I put my clothes back on, which felt weird. I stumbled out drunkenly into the street and said goodbye to everyone. Then I went home and had a bagel and pondered the nature of female sexuality.

Interested in attending a Body Pride workshop? Do you live in the Toronto area or can you get there? Then keep an eye on Caitlin’s website for future events!