Someone I slept with last year made a comment that’s haunted me ever since.
“I’ve never seen such a huge discrepancy between someone’s actual sexual personality and the way she presents herself to the world.”
Initially, I was taken aback. What the hell was that supposed to mean?
When I asked him for clarification, he said something along the lines of,
“It’s just that in your life, you’re so bold, so forward, so this-is-who-I-am. It’s not that you’re timid in bed. There’s just a tenderness about you that I didn’t expect.”
I sensed exactly what he was getting at.
I often feel as though my self is split into two distinct halves (Gemini is, after all, my ascending sign, go figure!).
There’s the soft-hearted poet who listens to indie folk ballads, drives to the ocean alone to think, can talk about books for hours on end, practices and teaches yoga, has long, emotional conversations into the wee hours of the morning.
Then, there’s my playful, gregarious, I-don’t-give-a-fuck sex-kitten-alter-ego who doesn’t take herself or anything else too seriously. Who’d prefer to stay on the surface of things. Who wants, in fact, to do nothing but doll herself up, go out, get sloshed, flirt with everyone in sight, and put all those hours of asana practice to good use by doing full splits on the bar.
My latter half , we’ll call her “Yvette,” is a smoky eyed vixen, a tigress, a ruthless attention seeker, and a general blast to be around, if I do say so myself. She has a crude, raunchy, wicked sense of humor. She does backbends in four-inch heels in the middle of the dance floor. She’ll talk to anyone. She’ll make out with attractive strangers for sport.
A few years ago, she flashed the bartender to get a round of free shots for all her friends.
For five minutes, she considered working at a bikini bar, accepting tips in exchange for giving lap dances. Yvette went so far as to schedule a series of job interviews before Jeanette checked back in and vetoed the idea entirely. In other words, she’s a shameless, champion party girl.
One might expect a shameless, champion party girl to go home with him at the end of the night, to sleep with him quickly and casually.
There’s nothing in the world that probes more vigorously at my oldest scar tissue and deepest vulnerabilities. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing that carries more potential for damage or alternately, for healing. Nothing more moving, scary, or spiritually revelatory.
In my opinion, sex is as deep, real, and raw as it gets in this life.
I could learn more about myself from a night in bed with someone than I could learn from a year’s worth of conversations and experiences outside of the bedroom.
For better or for worse, the way I feel about sex is the opposite of what one would likely expect from Yvette.
All this being said, Yvette isn’t exactly fake. We human beings are multidimensional creatures; our personalities have many facets. To a degree, Yvette serves to give my innate wildness healthy expression, and often, she genuinely enjoys herself. But at this point in my life, I recognize that Yvette is something of a costume, a personae, a buffer between my thinner-than-average skin and the harsh world we exist in.
Yvette = my chosen route to escapism.
I began to, unconsciously, cultivate this part of my personality circa age 18 as a means of self-protection, as well as rebellion against my own sensitive nature. I needed some semblance of character armor. A way to temporarily abandon my tangled mess of emotions and unresolved traumas, which didn’t exactly blend well with weekend college culture.
I wanted a break from being Jeanette , from feeling so intensely and caring so damn much. I latched onto Yvette (and, not irrelevantly, to an eating disorder) the way a lot of college students latch onto drugs and alcohol.
Yvette seems to have taken root in me; she’s stuck around a few years beyond college. These days, she seems to surface on Facebook more frequently than she does in real life.
Some of what I publicize via social media communicates a message I’m not sure I want any one of my 600-some odd Facebook friends to drink in and interpret as they wish. When I post a black-and-white photo of me posing in my bra or a video of me pole-dancing to “Cockiness” by Rihanna.
I become yet another emblem of a superficial, pre-packaged, American sexuality that isn’t authentic to who I am, what I want, or what I stand for.
I recognize that this perpetuates and contributes to our culture’s demise while threatening my personal sense of fulfillment and self-respect. As a result of advertising myself, I attract the sort of attention I don’t want. Men feeling as though they have the right to flirt with me in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Men making all kinds of assumptions about who I am and what I’m looking for. And yet, I find it almost impossible to quit putting myself in the line of fire.
I don’t blame the men, and I although I take ownership for the role I play in precipitating these interactions, I don’t blame myself. I blame our culture.
It seems that most of us are confused as hell about how to treat ourselves and relate to each other.
In 2012’s “Sexy Baby”—a, “documentary examin[ing] what it’s like to be female in today’s sex-obsessed culture, from a pre-teen battling with her parents over social media to a young woman undergoing plastic surgery [to] an ex-porn star teaching exotic dancing.”
“Your Facebook photo isn’t who you are, it’s who you want to be. We make ourselves seem like we are up for anything, and in a way, all of this Internet stuff kind of traps you. You started an alter ego that has to be maintained and in a real way, it does kind of shape how you end up and how you actually are in real life.”
I’m floored by Winnifred’s insight and equally disturbed by the fact that, in spite of her deep, precocious awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes of today’s social media phenomenon, she still participates in it wholeheartedly, dressing provocatively, conducting “sexy” Facebook photo-shoots with her friend, Olivia, et. al.
What’s more disturbing is that at 25-years-old, I’m no different from Winnifred.
What is going on here? Why do we, as strong, bright, creative women with an obvious capacity for independent thought, fall hard, fast, and repeatedly into these insidious trappings? How have we become so numb?
Why do I turn on my car radio and scream along to songs that contain offensive, misogynistic lyrics?
Is it the same reason why so many American women shave or wax their pubic hair without knowing or even questioning why? Is it the same reason why, four years into my recovery, I still sometimes deny myself pizza or cake when I want it, even though I think that lush, full hips are the sexiest part of every other woman’s body?
Every day, our culture bullies and brainwashes women into a state of desperation into emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical starvation.
According to an article I found on camgirlnotes, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, the directors of Sexy Baby, came upon with the premise for their documentary when, “Gradus, a photographer, was shooting a story on college bars and … noticed even the mainstream ones had stripper poles.”
“All the girls were pole dancing and their guy friends were treating them like strippers, putting dollar bills in their shorts,” she said. “It was weird. No one was having fun, it was autopilot behavior. …We are all so desensitized. To get any sort of attention, they have to put it all out there and one person works so hard outdoing the next.”
I, too, find myself competing in a marathon I never signed up for.
If you were to strip my identity of all the cultural influences that have come to color it over the past 25 years, I have no idea what would be left. What would that woman look like? What in this world would she value? Who and how would she love?
It’s no breaking news. Our society breeds girls to believe that they’re not enough. That if we let ourselves be, we’ll grow into fat, lonely, invisible women. In turn, we have to keep pace. We must tend to our images, fight to maintain our bodies, fight to be noticed, work to be lovable. And in our culture, lovable translates directly to fuckable.
Perhaps every time I channel Yvette, what I’m trying to say is I’m sexy. See?
If I’m sexy enough, you’ll let me in. If you let me in, you’ll see that I’m worth loving. If you see that I’m worth loving, you’ll love me. Please love me. Please. Please. Please.
I can’t imagine a more backwards, distorted thought process. I know that I won’t attract the intimacy I crave by appealing to what I’ve been taught men want. And yet, like Rihanna in “Pour It Up” (look up the lyrics – they’re downright vile) or Karen in Hans Christian Anderson’s “Red Shoes,” I can’t stop dancing… can’t stop moving… can’t stop selling myself.
It’s a hustle. I’m afraid that if I pause to take a breath, I’ll be left behind.
Is it possible to feel integrated/participate in contemporary culture, digital culture, specifically, while maintaining perspective, retaining self-respect, and staying true to our individual ideals? How do we go about striking a healthy balance?
I’m curious to hear your responses.
Jeanette wears her big, mushy heart on her sleeve. She’s always had a penchant for boundary-pushing, a drive to play on some of life’s darker edges, and a burning desire to seek and speak truth. Among other things, she’s a yogi, a belly dancer, and a serious dance club enthusiast. Her poetry and literary non-fiction have appeared in numerous online and print publications. You can take a gander at some of her casual musings at http://jeanetteicdisorder.
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Asst. Ed: Olga Feingold/ Ed: Kate Bartolotta