There comes an interesting time in the lives of young women when we realise the effect that our body has on men. It could be when out of the corner of our eye, we see that male head is turned as we totter across the road in our first high heels, parenthetically wiggling our hips. Or it could be when we notice that every boy we come across can not take his eyes from our white school blouse, and if we undo the top two buttons, they become completely transfixed. A little flash of our blossoming bosom accompanied by a shy smile, and he’s all ours, at least for that moment.
I remember as a fifteen year old that our weekend religious teacher made a new rule that we girls were to stop wearing tight clothing as it had been brought to her attention that the boys in attendance could not concentrate on the important Biblical teachings. The good girls began to wear baggy, figure-hiding attire, and those of us who were slightly devilish were sure to also wear clothing in loose styles, just a size or two too small, which forced our clothing to cling in some places, accentuating what we badly wanted to be noticed for in our haste to grow up: a womanly body. Even dowdy cardigans in dull colours fully buttoned could say one thing, “I’m a frumpy girl,” while whispering an invitation to unwrap with ones imagination.
Before long we would engineer opportunities to be alone with boys, feeling each other up while mostly fully dressed, then, with limited time before adults returned, quickly removing at least some of our clothing and urgently going as far as we allowed ourselves to go with our explorations. Innocent – who, me?
That was then. I can’t remember being especially modest or shy when naked but I expect I would have been. Being fair-skinned I was always the girl with long red hair wearing a wide-brimmed hat and cool silk or cotton long-sleeved clothing to protect myself from nasties like sunstroke and sunburn anyway, so I’ve never really been one for getting around in skimpy shorts and tops. (Is my envy of those, with skin coloured by the sun, visible?)
Before long though, delight in our bodies and related consequences can turn to worry and even a self-conscious disgust as clothing stops fitting us, fashions that always flattered us are no longer “on-trend” and confidence in our own personal style evaporates. Lumps and bumps have appeared and glances stop coming our way – women become invisible. So is it any wonder that in the book I mentioned in my last blog post, What Men Want by Bettina Arndt, the author talks in detail about women saying they don’t want to be looked at when naked, not even by their own partners.
Yet, a lot of men love to look at naked women, and pornography still abounds.
I have a memory of a film clip about a woman who allows men to look up close at her cervix. I thought that it must have been back in pre-internet days, and it was of an “art installation” of some sort, where a woman lay on her back with her legs over stirrups or something, and men lined up and were invited to take a small handheld torch or it could have been a lamp and one by one they were allowed to shine the light on and inspect her vulva. (Within days of publishing this blog post without a link, I was happily lead to the woman I had been thinking of). The thing that I remembered most clearly though was that the queue was very long, the men seemed a little self-conscious, (they were, after all, being filmed while they viewed a stranger’s lady parts) but that they all dutifully took their time to have a very thoughtful, good examination before the torch was passed on to the next in line. Maybe it was the first time they got to see a woman in the flesh who unashamedly invited them to stare. It was kind of a more restrained boobs on bikes without the cheering crowds but also being able to take a look up close and without any movement.
I also like to look. I can relate to men finding it difficult to avert eyes at the moment of a flash, because bodies are fascinating. It never ceases to amaze me the variety of vulvas that exist (and I’m only writing of those I have seen in the flesh). Not to mention breasts and nipples. There are areolas so pink that they almost blend into the surrounding flesh, dark ones, large pointy nipples, inverted nipples, small boyish ones, large areolas, small aereolas, puffy areolas, sagging bosoms, pert breasts, breasts that are enhanced and stay upright, pendulous breasts, teardrop shaped breasts, melon-like breasts etcetera. And I haven’t even started on derrières. Wouldn’t it be fun to look at and shine a light on them all?
I guess what frightens some women is that their men will compare them to the known standard of perfection of the day, the one that is photoshopped in the media, and that probably doesn’t really exist except in one or two percent of people whose bodies freakishly fit the ideal of any given era. In the 1920s, to be beautiful you needed a flat-chested boyish body, in the 40s and 50s, you needed a small waist and comely buxom chest. In the 80s, Elle McPherson was The Body: strong, athletic and confident.
Nowadays nudity is available in free online pornography and men can look at every type of body at any time. But is there so much nudity that it is not really meaningful or even sensual anymore? In the real world, have women lost the art of the tease? On visiting an escorts’ directory online, is the sliding image bar just a series of bodies, no one any more outstanding than the other, rather, is it just a blur? I don’t believe that any of the above is really true.
Men love to look, and the difference between the bodies they love to look at is vast according to the abundance of niche porn sites and cam models and sex service providers which exist the world over. The media or fashion industry may be trying to push a certain ideal, but the loins of men have their own responses. Gay or straight, men love nudity. Shall we show it to them?
* My gratitude to a wonderful client who sent me the top image on a treasured handmade card – I think you will agree it is perfect for this post.