While working on dinner last night, an important conversation began. I say began, because we didn’t take it too far. We didn’t take it too far because we finished cooking and the topic shifted, as it often does. But this start-of-a-conversation has stayed with me, and I want to return to it, but with wisdom.
The person at the other end of the conversation was a young woman. The topic: what makes a person sexy? All I contributed was the observation that there was artificial sexy—acting certain ways and dressing like a whore (this term is merely part of teenage vocabulary, so I used it)—and then there is the real sexy, which has more to do with everything about the person. Unfortunately, it was at that point that the shrimp were turning pink in the skillet and I was hunting for a potholder. There’s a real art to parental sorts of conversations. You must be available a lot, because sometimes the most crucial things come up just when the shrimp are turning pink, or when you’re trying to find the exit you need off the expressway. I don’t know if kids plan it this way, or if it’s just less intimidating to engage adults when they aren’t looking you full in the face. At any rate, the conversation about sexy ended, and I feel as if it wasn’t enough.
Really, what do we present as a healthy definition of sexy? Because I did not imagine myself remotely sexy until about age thirty-five or forty, I’m not the best resource here. Thanks to an over-emphasis on mere physical appearance, I did not learn how much of sexy comes from within until decades after I could have enjoyed sexy’s benefits. As a teenager I was sure that sexy had to do with big-enough breasts and clear skin—also, the absence of braces. The only thing that changed for me back then was the braces, so it seemed that sexy was not in the cards for me.
In high school and college, I believed that the only people who could determine my sexy quotient were guys my age. I did not know that how I saw myself had a lot to do with how they saw me. I felt homely and rejected, and so they agreed tacitly, through ignoring me. I saw them going after the pretty, sexy girls, and I simply was not among them. The false ideas about sexy were thus reinforced so often—with every rejection, real or imagined—that they became rooted in my soul. From time to time, they still throw up fresh shoots because some plants cannot be eliminated unless you move a whole lot of earth.
I would love to hear from anyone out there about how to explain to young women what it means to be sexy. No point in telling them that sexy is not important because they know that it is very important. But I do believe there is real sexy and false sexy. I would love some help in continuing this conversation.