Originally published on xoJane and cross-posted here with permission.
First, I’d like to note that I pitched this piece before Chaya wrote “Life is Hard Enough Without People Looking at Your Butt.” Separately, I’d like to say that in no way do I judge anyone who dresses in a “sexy” manner. I’ve seen a bunch of writers on this site rock some super sexy looks and all that matters to me is that they are happy with the way they look. Which, from what I’ve seen, they totally should be.
Saturday night, I was walking in the Mission when a man called out to me, “Ooooooooh, girl. Look at that ass.” This isn’t the first time in my life this has happened, as I happen to have the type of derriere that solicits catcalls, but instead of being huffy, insulted or put out, I simply smiled with a shy shrug and said, “Thank you.”
Yes, my WASPiness now apparently extends to street harassment.
But here’s where the man’s comment did make me stop and think: I go very much out of my way to never come across as sexy. At the time of the Mission-Street-butt-compliment, I was wearing skinny jeans, flat ankle boots that I refer to as “my lesbian boots,” a baggy T-shirt, and a winter jacket. My hair was down and barely brushed, my face nearly free of makeup.
Clearly the jeans were curve hugging enough that the man saw what he saw (thank you wine and cookies!), but all in all, I wasn’t turning any heads that night. Or at least I wasn’t attempting to.
Which is pretty much my look in general. I’m wary of sexual attention. It makes me cringe.
High heels, short skirts, and bold lipstick might look amazing on some women, but those things make me feel vulnerable. Like I’m seeking attention. And for whatever reason, the idea of strangers acknowledging me in a sexual way when I feel like it seems like that’s what I want makes me genuinely uncomfortable.
I mean, I wear a trucker hat and sunglasses to the corner store to pick up milk. (Milk = wine, by the way, but I think we all know that by now.)
I understand the nuance of “when it seems like that’s what I want” is complicated. Of course, in theory, a woman should be able to wear whatever she wants without unwanted attention. Just because she’s wearing a tight dress she shouldn’t “seem like she wants” sexual attention.
However, the fact of the matter is: We’re not there yet. Frankly, I don’t think we ever will be. At least not in my lifetime.
And so, for the most part, I attempt to avoid that type of attention altogether.
But, I do fall into it once in a while, as even the most “prude” amongst us does. (I use prude in quotes because I think we all know that there’s nothing prude about me once I open my mouth.)
For example: Vegas. Every girl has a “Vegas outfit.” The last time I went, mine was a short leather skirt that most would consider super-sexy. I paired it with a baggy top (I know, I’m exhausting) and strappy heels and I was barely inside the hotel casino before I was tugging and hunching, trying to hide from the world. I couldn’t get back to my room soon enough.
Whether or not people were looking at me, I felt like they were. Or even worse: I felt like it seemed like I wanted them to. And that made me feel both squeamish, but also like I was coming across as needy. Like I wasn’t confident enough to not dress like that.
Believe me: I fully understand that there are women who put on high heels and short dresses and feel sexy and amazing. And that’s awesome. I just happen to feel sexiest in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt.
For whatever reason, I feel the most attractive when I’m not trying to be attractive. And I feel the most confident when my clothes don’t restrict me. When I can run and jump and walk without worrying about twisting my ankle or falling down a steep hill. I want my feet to be able to take me as far as I need to go without having to stop because they’re tired.
That, to me, is sexy. Having to say, “My feet hurt. Can we take a taxi?” Not hot.
I wasn’t always like this. In my mid-20s, I made it a point to show my cleavage at pretty much every opportunity. Push-up bras and plunging necklines were my thing. I didn’t even realize how much that look was a part of me until I was watching a Niners’ game with the guys one Sunday and one of them said, “Jesus. Are you going to take your sweater off already or what?”
And then everyone laughed. Except me. The sweater, for the record, stayed on.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I want to be sexy without trying too hard. I suspect that means that most of the time, I end up being anything but. Though it also doesn’t bother me as much.
I no longer want someone to notice me because of my boobs; I want him to notice me because I make him laugh. Or because I make him think. Or maybe because of how hard I’m smiling after an epic powder run. I want someone to think I’m sexy when I’m at my most comfortable. When I’m being myself. And that’s not when I’m dressed up in shoes that hurt, not smiling because I’m worried there might be lipstick on my teeth.
It’s not that I don’t like attention, mind you. I love attention. Like I’ve said before though, I’d just rather get it because I’m snowboarding on Easter dressed like a bunny or wearing a Captain America costume on the 4th of July. I like attention because I’m making people happy through my actions, not my appearance.
I think part of it is growing up “pretty” with an even prettier mother. My mom made it clear to me at a young age that her looks got her things. And they did. They got her trips to opera openings and foreign countries and places I’ve only dreamed of. They got her jewelry that’s fancier than anything I’ll ever own.
For fuck’s sake, they got her seats on the 50-yard-line of the Super Bowl in New Orleans. AND SHE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE FOOTBALL.
I’ll never forget when I was in my 20’s and she questioned the fact that no one gave me free things.
“Not even ice cream cones?” she asked as though she couldn’t believe I walked into stores and wasn’t showered with handouts.
“Not even ice cream cones,” I told her. “But that’s cool. I don’t mind paying for my own stuff. It’s why I work.”
And when I said that, I smiled. Because I remembered when I was a teenager and she explained to me that when she was my age she modeled for extra money.
“You,” she said, as she looked me up and down, “You could never be a model like I was. But,” her face perked up, “you could maybe be a hand model.”
And then I fell down a flight of stairs and ripped the knuckle completely off of my left index finger.
So, yeah. I guess that’s the “therapy” explanation of why I shy away from being overtly sexy. I guess the rest of it is that I believe I’m sexy without the hair and the makeup and the tight clothes. I believe that my intelligence and my wit and the fact that my favorite thing to do is make people laugh — I believe that is what makes me sexy.
And I believe that if someone is checking out my boobs instead of listening to me speak, there’s a good chance he’ll never realize that about me. Or at least it’ll take him a while longer to get there. And who has time for that?
Follow @daisy on Twitter for super unsexy pictures. Who can resist such a thing? Exacula.