Am I Sexy?: An Ugly Duckling’s Lament

Baby Kate trying to be sexy, circa 2006.

I have clear memories of all my milestone compliments. The first time someone called me “pretty,” and then, “beautiful.” The first time someone specifically said they loved my nose, my hips, my labia. All the suitors who’ve called me “cute” and all the different tones in which they’ve said it. These memories form a patchwork tapestry of my self-esteem – a guilty admission for me to make, in this world which tells us you’re not allowed to be loved by others until you love yourself first. It hasn’t really worked that way for me.

But all those words represent a nonsexual admiration – if not strictly chaste, then at least wholesome. I remember experiencing different feelings entirely the first time someone called me “sexy.”

He was an older boy at my high school, not a romantic interest of mine but on my horizons nonetheless, because his crush on me was unignorable. I don’t remember why he said it – what specifically he was referring to, and when – but I remember how I felt. I felt confused.

See, I grew up an ugly duckling. This is a fairly common experience, one with which you’re probably familiar, so I won’t go too much into the pain of believing for your entire childhood and adolescence that you are unattractive and that therefore your life will lack something fundamental. I hated my big nose, my chubby curves, my dull skin, double chin, irrefutable plainness. I wanted to be an exotic, unmissable stunner – like my best friend at the time, who got compliments all day every day on her model-pretty face and model-sexy body. (It did not occur to me then that maybe she didn’t like this type of attention, or that maybe she would’ve preferred to receive the more substantive compliments I received all the time on things like my intellect, humor, and writing. The grass is always greener, am I right?)

So to be told that I was sexy activated some deeply-rooted cognitive dissonance in me. I knew what “sexy” looked like in our culture – I’d absorbed it through magazines and movies and television and general discourse, like we all do – and I knew I did not look like that image. It didn’t occur to me that there could be a spectrum of sexy, not just an acceptable window of sexiness you might happen to fall into but indeed a wide-ranging, almost infinite array of qualities some might consider sexy. I know this now, having spent years writing and reading sex media where folks eroticize everything from chubby bellies to big noses to hairy toes to sharp-toothed giantesses and beyond. But I did not know it then.

So “sexy” was a word that did not apply to me, at least not comfortably. I laughed when the word came out of that boy’s mouth directed at me. He must have been mistaken. He must not have spent much time looking at me. He must not know what “sexy” even meant. How else could this word ever be used to describe me?

Ten years have passed and I am still mildly uncomfortable when described as sexy, hot, arousing, erotic, a turn-on. I can accept that my work is sometimes sexy – that someone’s pants might get tight as they read a flowery description of sex I’ve had. I can accept that certain qualities of mine might be sexy – that someone might fetishize my hips or my feet or my lips, focusing in on those parts to the exclusion of all others. I can accept that someone might want to have sex with me – because they like my brain, they want intimacy and closeness with me, or they simply want to get their rocks off. But it still vexes me to imagine that I, as a whole person, in my totality and weirdness and unconventionality, could be sexy.

It worries me that this is true, because if I feel this way – I, a woman who writes about sex on the internet, and is therefore inundated day in and day out with messages from horny, enamored suitors of various degrees of appropriateness – then, truly, anyone could feel this way. My cognitive behavioral therapist is always asking me to look for evidence of the core beliefs that bring me down – like that I’m not sexy – and though I’m faced with an onslaught of daily evidence to the contrary, I still can’t seem to shake this odd belief. That makes me worry on behalf of everyone who doesn’t feel sexy – which I’d guess is most of you. Not everyone has the (debatable) privilege of constant validation that I do. There are countless incredibly sexy people out there who never get to hear just how sexy they are. And that is tragic.

So I’m here to remind you that you are sexy, by virtue of the fact that any and every quality in existence is sexy to someone. I’ve swooned over bald-headed men who longed daily for their hair back. I’ve fantasized about tugging someone to me by the chubby hips I knew they hated. I’ve obsessed over the beauty of “imperfections”: crooked teeth, asymmetrical moles, big noses, gnarled hands, scarred skin.

And in doing so, I’ve learned to believe – intellectually if not emotionally – that I can be sexy, too. Just like pistachio isn’t my favorite ice cream flavor but I believe you if you tell me it’s yours, I can accept that I might be sexy to someone, even if, when I look at myself in a mirror, “sexy” is the farthest word from my mind.

“Sexy,” as a concept, is subjective, flexible, accommodating. One person’s “ugly duckling” is another person’s “scintillatingly hot.” I hope you’ll remember that, even if it takes you a while to actually believe it.

I’m Fat & People Still Want to Fuck Me

Hey! This post deals with weight and body image stuff. If that’s tough or triggering for you, I encourage you to skip this post. I won’t be offended at all. You take care of you. ♥

chubby belly

In early 2014, I “embarked on a weight loss journey.” That’s how I phrased it. Because I was trying to be positive about it. I didn’t want it to be poisoned with all the self-hatred and patriarchal beauty standards I’d come to associate with weight loss.

But let’s face it: it was definitely about self-hatred and beauty. That became immediately clear when I noticed how much counting calories was sapping my emotional energy, and yet decided to keep doing it.

15139783471_798aa0785e_oI got down to the lowest weight I’d been in years, 150 pounds. On my 5’5″ frame, that put me into the BMI range called “normal,” rather than “overweight” – not that BMI is a terribly useful measure, but still, I was proud. Through hard work and focus and perseverance, I’d whipped my body into shape.

And I liked the way I looked. But no one wanted to fuck me.

Oh, maybe they did. I have no way of knowing. But certainly, my weight loss didn’t translate into any tangible sexual success for me, the way I had envisioned it might. My 3.5-year relationship came to an end right at the time that I hit my lowest weight, and we hadn’t had sex in months – and then, after we broke up, I was too shy and anxious to pursue sex with anyone else. So my vagina remained a no-fly zone.

12189697_10204235816849774_3570291086761898945_nOver the following year-and-a-bit, I lost motivation. It became too difficult to focus obsessively on calories on top of school, work, writing, and having a social life. I gained back all the weight and more. I’m now the fattest I’ve ever been, at 190 pounds. That’s frustrating, and makes me feel like a failure, and many a time I’ve looked into the mirror at my naked body and completely hated what I saw. But, weirdly: I’ve never received more sexual attention than I have in the past few months.

Please understand that I’m reporting this to you not with a braggy tone but with an incredulous one. There was a time when I deeply, honestly, truly believed that my weight was the barrier between me and romantic success. I saw some women in my communities who were fat and still socially successful, but I believed they had something fundamental that I did not: a pretty face, a fun personality, an “it factor” I just hadn’t been born with.

So, it was definitely surprising to me that I hit 190 pounds and now can’t even keep track of all the sexual and romantic propositions I receive. In fact, it kind of makes me angry that our culture told me this was impossible.

The notion of the “unfuckable fat woman” is a rampant one in our media and culture. A fat woman who has sexual desires – especially if she dares to act on those desires! – is often a punchline. As if it’s hilarious, shocking and ridiculous that someone so undesirable would view herself any other way. As if fat people can’t be gorgeous, hot, loveable and fuckable.

While weight gain was positively correlated with sexual attention for me, I’m definitely not trying to argue that correlation implies causation in this case. I don’t think people are more into me now because I’m fatter; I just think I’ve grown up a little, I’m more confident, less anxious. Paradoxically, while I don’t like my body these days, I’ve also learned that my body doesn’t define me as a person, so I like myself more overall. You’ve probably heard it thousands of times, but it really is true: confidence makes a person hotter. It’s an almost universal fact.

I’m also “putting myself out there” more than I ever was before. Anxiety kept me from attending events for a long time, and also made it difficult for me to stick with services like OkCupid and Tinder. Part of that anxiety was about my body: even though I wasn’t as fat then as I am now, I still worried that I’d look thinner/cuter in my photos online and that my matches would be disappointed when we met up in person. Now I know better – I post photos that show what my body really looks like and let the chips fall where they may. And you know what? A lot of people love my body!

There is something freeing, too, about the word “fat” itself. I avoided it for a long time, choosing words like “chubby” instead. I did this partly because I wasn’t technically “plus-size” (usually the cut-off is size 12-14, and I’ve only recently crossed that threshold) and didn’t want to claim that word without having actual experience being read as fat, and partly because the word scared me. I had internalized the message that “fat” is one of the worst things someone can call you.

As with many hurtful labels, though, if you claim one for yourself, it stings less when someone else slaps it on you. Recently some dickhead on the internet called me “fat and ugly” and it didn’t bother me at all – because I knew it was kinda true and I knew that was okay. Beauty is subjective, fat is fine, and just because that guy isn’t attracted to me doesn’t mean no one is. That seems like an obvious insight, maybe, but it helps me each and every time I remind myself of it.

I still have body anxiety sometimes. I think we all do. And I still deeply value the affirming comments I receive from sexual partners: “I love your body,” “You’re so beautiful,” “Your hips/stomach/thighs/butt is so sexy.” You can like your body and still need affirmation sometimes; that’s perfectly fine and normal. I have so much gratitude for partners who understand that – who know that my fat body is inherently valuable and desirable and valid but that I still appreciate being told that.

There may come a time in my future when I have the energy and the drive to work on weight loss again. I know I’d be healthier and happier at a lower weight, but I also know that right now, I just don’t have the time and emotional bandwidth to put myself through that process. But no matter how my body might change over the course of my lifetime, at least I know now that weight doesn’t affect my desirability as much as I feared it did. That’ll give me the confidence I need to live my life as a fat, openly sexual woman.

I Showed My Face on the Internet & Nothing Awful Happened

I am a sexy ghost. A faceless apparition. My Twitter avatar is a picture of my boobs. My bio photo is my knees, adorned in sex toys. The name I go by is not my real name, obviously (although: admit you would be at least somewhat impressed by my parents if they had, indeed, legally named me Girly Juice).

There are two main reasons I have always hesitated to show my face in any capacity connected to this blog:

1. I worried that potential future employers, distant conservative family members, shitty misogynist trolls, etc. would stumble across my pictures and use them against me in some way. These worries, if I let them get too far, always morphed into melodramatic waking nightmares in which I ended up homeless, alone, and disgraced. (I know. I’m ridiculous. I told you, I have anxiety.)

2. (And this is an even sillier and more embarrassing reason…) I’m insecure about how I look, and I worried that if people saw what I looked like, they wouldn’t think I was sexy or pretty, and it would cause them to discount my opinions and stop reading my blog.

When Caitlin and John came to my house to interview me and film me masturbating (which is a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother blog post), we got onto the topic of sex blogging and anonymity. Caitlin point-blank asked me why I kept my identity (and my face) so private in the blogosphere, and I went on a meandering ramble about closed-minded office jobs and facial recognition technology and sex-negative assholes… and my tirade was so aimless that at the end of it, I was left thinking, “Why don’t I show my face? Is there a real reason, or is it just my stupid anxiety-brain?”

I have so many friends in the sex-positive corner of the internet who reveal not only their faces but their names, their real-life accomplishments, their identities. And I’ve always been jealous of them, because they can be their whole selves. When their readers and fans love them, they really love them, not some reductive persona.

A few months ago I tweeted that I was toying with the idea of showing my face, and some douchebro replied something like: “Don’t. I like mysterious women.” It reignited all my old doubts about how anonymity might be more alluring to readers than my actual face and body. What if you thought you were reading the sex stories of someone who looked like Jamie Dornan and then you peeled back the curtain and it was actually Gilbert Gottfried under there?! (That’s not to say that I think I look like Gilbert Gottfried… or that he doesn’t have some perfectly lovely characteristics… but you see what I’m saying, yeah?)

When I got dolled up for the Feminist Porn Awards, I came downstairs and there was no one in my house. (This is quite unusual; I live with three other people and two of them work from home.) I got frustrated that there was no one around to tell me, “Hey, you look good!” and that combined with the overall sex-positive, yay-for-sex! attitude that tends to pervade Feminist Porn Week… so I impulsively posted some selfies. Of my face.

And people were really fucking nice about it.

Like, literally every single person who sent me a reply was incredibly sweet and supportive. No one made me feel like it was a particularly big deal or shocking reveal. Everyone was just… great. And it’s one of my most-favorited tweets to date.

I’ve posted a few more Twitter selfies since then (and not just of my cleavage or underwear or disembodied lips), and the results have always been the same. My followers are complete and utter sweethearts. They have made me wonder why I was so scared of doing this for so long.

And they’ve also shown me that my constant self-criticism about my looks is unfounded. I don’t look like a magazine model, and I never will, but lots of people still think I’m pretty. No one, so far, thinks my face or body are incongruous with my femme-sexpot internet persona. It’s just not a big deal. At all.

Sex bloggers and other sexy-on-the-internet types: do you show your face? What’s your reasoning behind showing or not showing it?

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?