The other night as I was watching a documentary about Feminists in Literature, a group of underwear models assaulted me. You know the ad, the commercial where paper-thin post-pubescents strut across a stage wearing only little bitty swatches of material? A haughty female voice, reminding me of tea and curtsies, asked "What is Sexy?" and before I had a chance to consider the possibilities, a stick figure with stilts for legs and giant feathers on her back bounded down the runway. Heading straight for me, she flew so fast that I thought she might crash through the TV screen and land in my living room, from HD to 3-D right before my outraged eyes. Then a blushing girl pouted and told me where I could buy something that would make me sexy.
The following day at lunch one of my girlfriends and I impaled our lettuce leaves and lamented about being overworked (we are), overstressed (who isn't?), overweight (I am, she's not), and over it all, and then the discussion evolved into one about her current romantic dilemma. She'd been seeing someone for more than two months and through the weeks of romantic dinners and Netflixing at her place he had yet to make a move. At first she'd been impressed by his chivalry and restraint, so rare in this day of bathroom selfies and instant gratification -- obviously he was a classy catch, but the more evenings they spent together the more her affection for him intensified and in proportion, her desire for a little action. By the end of her story she was tapping both feet and ordering a second glass of wine; 16 dates and still no hanky-panky. "Maybe I'm just not sexy anymore" she said, as if it had an expiration date.
We examined for hours, we excavated, we took apart each of their interactions and laid all of the pieces on the table like a puzzle in attempt to discover whether he was just a gentleman or if, perhaps, he preferred one.
We agreed that she needed to do something. Passivity was producing only confusion, self-doubt and mounting frustration. If he was indeed homosexual she'd be disappointed but nonetheless would wish him the best and send him on his way. At least she'd know. At least she'd be able to put to bed the idea of him as a partner, thus clearing the space for a real one to appear.
We staged a seduction. Having read a lot about the Greek Sirens, I felt qualified to Direct:
"Dim the lights and bring out the candles, preferably scented ones, musk is always nice. Do you have any Patchouli? Turn the music on, low, something with a languid, sensuous rhythm like soft jazz or maybe a soulful, sultry tease by Sade or Norah Jones. Wear silk or satin or something sheer, low-cut and easy to remove, no buttons. Sit close beside him on the couch and make sure your knees are kissing. And the liquor! Yes, have on hand some wine or warm brandy, whatever you think, but nothing that will make him belch or pass gas. Rest your hand on his upper thigh and every time he says something funny or insightful, give it a squeeze and look straight into his eyes."
I caught myself within minutes.
"Cut!" I cried. "No, no, no. Forget all that"
I shook my head. Where had that come from? Had the TV been muted last night while the Feminists spoke? Shame fell like a curtain over my directorial debut.
And then, thank whatever rules the universe, I saw it for what it was. With zero thought and as much hesitation it had come up and out. I regurgitated ideas and images that have been fed to me, year after year, by the media and the movies and the makers of the many, too many, products that I purchase. I even had a grammar school teacher who once said to me, "Boys don't like girls who talk too much," as if that would shut me up. I've bought in to the belief that what Sexy Might Be is something that can be manufactured, a thing that can be made or a way of behaving that can make me so.
I forgot, just for a few minutes, what I know in favor of what I've been told is true.
We're not virgins to this news; we all know that the beauty industry wants our faces but doesn't have our backs. We've read the stories about reshaping and airbrushing and felt justifiably appalled and insulted by the ruse. "We're too smart to fall for that" we think, and it's true, we really are that smart. We know that what sexy might be has nothing to do with what props or acts we put on and everything to do with the energy we put out; unique, personal, self-actualized vibrations of satisfaction and well-being. Is there anything more attractive than a woman at ease with herself? Men don't think so. While the package may catch their eyes it's the contents which hold their heart. What sexy might be is a gift, not a trap.
And not only to be given but also acknowledged, by and for ourselves, however we choose to define it.
So if we know what's going on why do we still buy into it? Even if we don't rush out to get the products themselves, we take the idea about What Sexy Is home with us and let it live there, we make space for it inside of ourselves. I know better and I bought into it, if only for the brief amount of time it took me to leave my senses and then come back to them. We must believe because we have no other choice but to do so and I can feel the Feminists thumping me on the head for even thinking such a thing. The message is there though, in deep, embedded like the worst kind of weed in the soil of our innermost minds where only beautiful, life-loving foliage is meant to bloom. I sell advertising for a living so I understand how this works. A verbal or visual suggestion, even better if it's both, repeats and resounds, sometimes connected with a thing that we connect with; a song or a place or a special event, until it takes root. We remember. Our impressionable, defenseless subconscious, the theater of our dreams, receives the intel but also accepts its pernicious subtext of sabotage, simply because it's such a familiar refrain. That teacher from grammar school? That happened 35 years ago, and it's still with me-one sentence. We want to believe that we're desirable and sexy but we've literally been convinced that we're actually not.
We keep talking and hearing about this and that's such a great thing, but the discussion alone doesn't destroy the effects. Just because we know what's being done doesn't undo it, and saying that something's bad enough times won't make it good. A better message, repeated and resounded until it takes root, seems to be the best defense. We can start wherever we are now but also begin where we begin-
Years ago I bought my young daughter a character Barbie-accomplished, professional, Doctor Barbie. Along with her starched white coat and tools of the trade, her stethoscope and doctor bag, came a pair of plastic white stiletto pumps. I threw those away. My daughter liked to take her dolls with her into the tub at night, so we had a standing bucket of naked Barbies in the bathroom at all times. I told her I thought it was a good idea to leave Doctor Barbie's clothes on as she might be called upon to perform an emergency surgery. She seemed to understand.