A few days ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by James McGrath Morris about my new book. During the interview, he said, “Beauty is a powerful thing in society.” He went on to ask how we change men’s eyes; how we change the way men view women because their perception has been institutionalized. Days later, his question haunts me.
How do we change the way men perceive beauty?
Is it possible?
Can women stop trying to be an ideal and still have men desire them?
Because lets face it, we want to be desired.
I struggled with this. There’s such a fine line between wanting to be desired and feeling sexualized. When James asked his question, I replied, “We need to start believing our men and learn to say thank you instead of calling them liars when they compliment us.”
My husband does not think I am less beautiful when I wake and stagger bleary-eyed into the kitchen. He thinks I’m sleepy. He does not find me less beautiful when I’m sweaty, covered in dust, or walking around in sweatpants and no makeup. His perception of my beauty isn’t flawed. Mine is. That’s because in our culture, beauty is tied to desirability. Desirability is institutionalized. If you’re not sexually desirable according to prescribed norms, you’re not beautiful in your own eyes.
In the media, the two are inexorably linked. In bars and clubs, dorm rooms and offices, beauty is trumped by sexuality and sexuality is defined by the media’s estimation of desirability. Is the woman soft? Conquerable? Does she cast down her eyes in a gesture of submission? Do her plump, red lips invite male fantasy? The curve of a breast, a long, lithe thigh, or an ass that’s just the right size are weapons used against women and men. For men: Who can get the hottest chick? For women: How hot can a chick get?
Sexy and beautiful are two different things. Beauty shines. It’s vital, engaging, and undiminished by conventional definitions. Sexy, on the other hand, changes according to societal trends.
Today, thinking about James’ question, I’m wondering. What if women traded on beauty instead of sexy? What if we allow ourselves to be vital? The fact is the men who love us find us sexy at the strangest times. They also find us sexy most of the time. We’re desirable because they love us and that means we don’t have to subscribe to the conventions. If we’re to change men’s eyes, we need to stop being commodities and let ourselves shine.