My blog is called Smart Sexy Vegan, and it occurs to me that I’ve put lots of words on the page, lately, about the first and third concepts, but not so much the second — sexy.
What a loaded word, right? Immediately, here at my keyboard, thought constellations wheel in the night sky of my mind’s eye as I grapple with what to even say about the word “sexy”.
First off, it’s been an outrage — a fucking outrage — for me to grow up in a cultural climate that dissuades us from legitimate, positive, lifelong attention to our own bodies. We are so hemmed in, here, mentally.
The main influence I’m going to blame is Christianity, at least the Americanized, lowest common denominator version of it. Christianity in itself has been quite the gestalt, through time, with many fascinating, wonderful, tragic, and bizarre gestures, both expressed and internally forestalled. I have no more quibble with Christianity than with any other organized religion; which is to say, no more than with any other cult; which is to say, no more than with any other hierarchical, ideological control mechanism.
It’s funny, actually, that we perceive this divide between the Christian Right’s idea of creation, versus the scientific paradigm of evolution. I mean — it’s really funny. Literally lolling.
Because Christianity has evolved like a motherfucker, but whereas we’ve all been taught that phrase, “survival of the fittest” — and when you hear this, don’t you just imagine a majestic wolf, surveying the snowy tundra of which he is lord, thanks to his superior skills of adaptation? — I’d say it’s more like the re-phrase my dad always used, tongue in cheek: “survival of the survivors”. Meaning: whatever minor reconfiguration of a blob of protoplasm, or what have you, that resulted in it lurching left when everyone else lurched right or some shit — that adaptation won, that day.
So this is what I mean when I say “Christianity has evolved” — it is a glob of protoplasm just like every other fucking thing, that has sometimes lurched left and sometimes lurched right. And so centuries later, none of it means anything except that this version is the version that has withstood a process of ultimate, sustained committee-think, in which every radical, good, mystic aspect of it has been homogenized and sanitized for society’s bland, one-eye-firmly closed, viewing pleasure.
And equally engagingly, the scientific community — with whom I have no qualm either, because the measurement and categorization of Things is an activity our brains cannot help but do, so surprise, religion! — you’re doing it too! — has busied itself with splitting the wrong hair about this, as usual.
And it’s not so much the scientific community, although they are guilty of gazing at the most arbitrary navels, sometimes; it’s really the lay adherents of Science as the cool, new religion that I find obnoxious. Creation is preposterous!, they scoff. But we have no qualm with acknowledging that mothers create new life. Yeah, I know it’s a sperm and an egg and a bunch of science shit, but I’m pretty sure any new mother would slap you, if you went up to her and said “I’m sorry ma’am but you didn’t create a damn thing, here”. Because she did — and somehow we’re all able to get that.
Oblivious to the hypocrisy of both perspectives, our culture has moved confidently forward with certainly the bathwater, less so the baby, in all of this. Christianity as a dominant cultural influence (ie this is not about the apparent actual message of Jesus Christ) is a cult of bodily denial, organized along hierarchical terms. Animals are bad, mmmkay? They play and fuck and roll in the dirt. And God is good, whatever that means, and of course the project of human civilization has been to figure out what that means and then argue about it. And since our body is more like an animal and our [whatever else is left, after you subtract the body] is more like God, then we need to suppress, deny and disown the former, and identify ourselves entirely, but schizophrenically, with the latter. Perfect!
But wait, it can get even better: since women seem more biologically body-bound than men, that makes them lower, relatively, on the hierarchy. And then we organize men of various colors along that hierarchy too, and racism unfolds with unconsciously choreographed ease because no one is less body-bound, or more body-numb let’s say, than the idealized Rational White Male.
Immediate problem: the male is terribly body-bound in the sense of libido, but we’ll just attribute and attach that shortcoming to women, and voila! — hierarchy protected.
This collective ideology functions like a service we didn’t realize we’d subscribed to, which will simply keep charging us until we look at our bank statements and decide otherwise.
I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again: how do you identify a nameless, faceless dominant ideology? By the reactionary isms that surround it. In this case, everything that surrounds an ideology of body denial is going to look like some form of narcissism, by contrast. Some form of inappropriate concern for the body and its appearance, especially.
Concern for the body and its health is a form of body attention that we are culturally prepared to accept, but only very conditionally. For instance, it’s okay to eat healthy and exercise within proscribed gender roles. Since women are more body-bound — ie, more like animals — it makes sense that we’d fall prey to vegetarianism, caring as we do about our close cousins, one rung down, on the hierarchy. Also, we’re haphazardly able to admit that animals are like babies and women are supposed to care about babies so it’s a little more okay for a woman to care about animals. It also makes sense that we’d want to walk, jog, do useless cable workouts in our hot pants, being the sacred baby receptacles that we are. It’s good to be fit enough — but only just enough! — to be a sacred baby receptacle.
For men, vegetarianism represents major slumming — the dietary version of the king eating downstairs with the servants. And we accept and approve of vigorous, even painful exercise on the part of men — after all, what are men except the furthest evolved iteration of a bunch of sperm? It is their lot in life to swarm, mindlessly (but rationally!), towards the mate, the castle, the promotion, the contract. Males represent the principle of expendable competition — a meritocracy of acquisition.
So that’s our basic outlook, if we ever admitted it, on the body and its health. The body and its appearance, though? These isms deviate even further from the baseline. We frown upon narcissism. It’s everywhere, so we spend a lot of time frowning, at a lot of things. When bodily denial is the dominant ideology, we get really fucked up and here’s why: we walk around trying to prove to ourselves that we ARE a body, but we HAVE a soul. That’s exactly backwards. In reality, we ARE a soul, but we HAVE a body. So an ideology of bodily denial means that we all came to a restaurant but then, by varying degrees, and because reasons of vague Christianity, we’re refusing to eat. The restaurant is our temporary, physical embodiment experience, to which we have arrived, and from which we will exit, with our bellies empty or full or somewhere in between. So: the people refusing to eat, at the restaurant, are frowning like it’s their full time job at the people who are not refusing to eat. Some folks are eating a little. Some folks are eating a lot. Some folks are eating so much, indeed against their own holistic interests, that we hold them up as the example of why this restaurant is immoral.
The isms of the people not refusing to eat are various — feminists, models, fitness aficionados whose programs actually work (when people exercise but don’t look good, we privately approve — it’s the new hair shirt), sex workers and to a lesser degree, people who admit to having sexual selves, etc.
This is what I meant when I said it’s an outrage to have grown up in this cultural climate. I’d go so far as to say it’s retarded, except actually retarded people seem to stay in better touch with their own bodies than the average normal person. Any facet of our beingness here on earth — and that triune beingness is comprised of physical, mental, and spiritual/emotional aspects, which no one can ever change, except by dying, which removes only 1.5 of those aspects — which is wholesale suppressed, will, without fail, and predictably as the sun, rise in some compartmentalized form.
So if you’re currently frowning towards any compartmentalized, social manifestation of any of these aspects, look to the dominant culture’s suppression of it. Here, I’m talking about the physical aspect, but it holds true across the board.
I hope you see how important this preface has been, for any real appreciation of the word “sexy”. I put it in the title of my blog for good reason.
So here’s what I think about sexy. Let’s plunk “sexy” down onto the most archetypal meta-spectrum any of us are likely to negotiate in life, which can be reduced to these two extremes: pursuit of a desired experience versus avoidance of an undesired experience. Our individual negotiations of this meta-spectrum are necessarily very personal, as no one can decide for anyone else what constitutes a desired experience versus an undesired experience.
This concept is pretty abstract, so let me try to flesh it out. Years ago, a man at a bar brandished my own gig flyer — which I can only assume he took home and later masturbated to — at me, as I sipped my cocktail on a set break. He said, “You know, you’re actually pretty good. You should stop selling yourself short.”
It was his perspective that, because the photo of me on my gig flyer was sexy, that meant I was selling myself short as a musician. Sometimes you run into these situations, where a person’s assessment of your reality and its plumbing is so far off base that it’s impossible to even form a response. Here are some facts:
1. Gig flyers benefit from an attention-getting image.
2. I had a bunch of attention-getting images laying around because I was longstanding friends with a famous local photographer. He liked the way I modeled and I liked the way he shot. Money never even changed hands. It was literally a creative partnership, and one of the most rewarding of my life, spanning twelve years in all until his death.
3. I’m reasonably good looking, in a way that can either be played up or played down, and I’m very comfortable with both. My flyers and modeling represented some of the fun ways in which I enjoyed playing it up.
4. I am, at times, a pretty good musician, but whether I’m good or not, it’s a form of creative self-expression I enjoy for its own sake.
5. At that time I lived in a mountain town that strongly self-identified with a shabby chic ethic, if not just shabby. The residents of that town, collectively, associated a spruced-up appearance with their arch-nemesis, the sprawling metropolis due south. Their reflexive vilification of this disgusting Babylon’s feminine aesthetic, to include pretty dresses, high heels, styled hair, and nice makeup, overlapped exactly and unfortunately with those forms of gender performance I most enjoy. Clearly I lived in the wrong town.
Somehow, all these factors came together, in this guy’s brain, in such a way as to signal to him that I was selling myself out as a musician. He went on to say that the sexiness of my flyer was the only reason he’d come to my gig, ironically. So, net…gain?
I decided my set break was over at that point, and released him to the wilds of his own presumption.
But this is a valuable example of how problematic sexiness can be. And sure, we could get really angry at men, right now, for assuming that the patriarchal male gaze informs women’s identity decisions to a ridiculous degree; we could get really angry at women for asking to be taken seriously by men, but then outfitting ourselves in gear which clearly sends sexual signals; we could then go back to being angry at men again, for being so un-evolved that they can’t seem to decide whether they’re operating from a cave or a colosseum; from the cerebellum or the medulla oblongata. We could return once again to being angry at women — well, women dress provocatively on purpose and then get angry at a man for responding UNLESS he’s the man she wants to get a response from, in which case she’ll get angry if he DOESN’T respond —
Exhausting. Let’s cut to the chase and ask: in my decision to create a gig flyer with a sexy picture of myself, was I pursuing a desirable experience or avoiding an undesirable one? For me — which is the only agent that matters in this particular anecdote — I’m satisfied that I was in pursuit of a desired experience, even though that pursuit invited some minor collateral damage. In personal value fulfillment terms, it’s more important to me to line up with my own preferred forms of creative self-expression (music and modeling and glamming up, in this case) than to manage or predict a random man’s response to that.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s just obvious that many women, being publicly sexy on purpose, are doing so from an uglier place. Something along the lines of, ‘I’ve given up on being appreciated as a human being, so I’m going to make sure I’m appreciated as a sex object at least’. This feels like avoidance of an undesired experience — feeling unloved or invisible — masquerading as pursuit of a desired experience — feeling lusted after, and highly visible.
Men’s stuff is a little different, since dominant Christian ideology has attributed and attached their libido to women. But it’s certainly possible for men to be more and less sexy, while selling themselves more and less short, by whatever metric.
Generally speaking, though, we all can at least agree that being sexy, in some form, is good, right? At least it feels good? Nope! Walk around sexy in a body-denying culture and you essentially just became a slightly taller tree, drawing slightly more lightning. Think of the most narcissistic subcultures you can — bodybuilding is probably the apex — and feel your own level of unease and scorn. That’s the lightning. I’m not saying extreme body-identification and manipulation is “good”, or doesn’t become problematic at a certain degree; I’m just saying we can’t help but view it through this lens of vaguely Christian disapproval. The fastest way to invite everyone’s suspicion that something is deeply wrong with you is to have a very good body.
But we like positive attention, right? We all crave it. So how can we get it, in regards to our physical selves, without being guilty of going against the body-denial grain? We’ve found the perfect hack: it’s called fat acceptance culture. We get to have our cake and eat it too, and I don’t even mean that literally. Fat acceptance culture says, Behold! — How thoroughly I’ve denied my body its basic needs, in accordance with my culture’s subconscious value system that none of us admit to but that we all live by! As self-identified sexy people of the fat variety, we may rank lower on aesthetics at the surface level, but we more than make up for it on the virtue signaling deeper level.
This is how far up our own asses we’ve gotten. Rather than being able to collectively admit that the body is an economy, an ecosystem, an equilibrium that functions best in homeostasis; we lash about, vilifying not only those truly problematic perspectives — you know, where even rail-thin models are elongated in photo shop, and then teenage girls everywhere starve themselves in perfect, toxic obedience — but also the nearly asphyxiated common sense of simply thinking it’s good to be the right weight, or close to it.
Can you imagine a group of animals — any kind of animals — getting themselves this fucked up and confused about something as basic as weight? Newsflash: we are animals. And what animals are supposed to do is get a little chonkier in the winter, if they live in a cold climate, and a little sleeker in the summer, but both of these extremes represent only minor deviations from each animal’s individual equilibrium.
Why are animals able to pursue their embodiment with such grace and finesse, while we humans stagger about in this self-perpetuated dumpster fire of reactive, rhetorical, physically-focused grievance? Well, for one thing, animals unavoidably embody their own athleticism, and the principle of easy movement. For another thing, they negotiate the meta-spectrum — pursuit of desired experience versus avoidance of undesired experience — much more straightforwardly than us. The stakes are pretty high for lil buddies. But most of all, animals haven’t decided it’s unvirtuous to occupy a body. We could learn a lot from them, but unfortunately we can’t because our sense of hierarchy demands we dominate them and the principles they represent.
Here’s some common sense wisdom my mom gifted me with, offhand, when I was in my teens. I was going through adolescence, a highly body-conscious time. “Honestly,” she said, “I just think that if a woman if basically the right weight, and puts herself together respectably, and brushes her hair and wears clean clothes that fit, and washes her face — that’s really all there is to it.”
And that, folks, is all there is to it. ‘Sexy’ means occupying your own body with as much grace, ease, integration, and presence as possible. Everything beyond that represents your own travel along some kind of spectrum. And that’s fine, but ask yourself: am I traveling towards a more desirable experience of my own embodiment? Or away from a more undesirable experience of my own embodiment? And by whose metric?