Stuck on Sexy

I’ve been thinking about sexy.

How it’s portrayed in the Evil Media and how I see it –for good or ill– in the real world. I remember being young, like twelve, and lamenting how boys would never like me because I couldn’t do helpless. I was an absolute failure at “boytrapping” because didn’t need or particularly want boys to carry my books or help me do math or show me how to play sports (when I learned you don’t really play croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs my sadness knew no bounds). And while some of that has changed –I now make it a policy never to carry anything heavier than a five dollar bill– most of it hasn’t. I’m still good at math, I still don’t give a hoot about any sport that doesn’t involve a live flamingo and I still can’t do helpless.

That’s not to say I didn’t try. Oh for years I threw myself into pretending to be a helpless, dim girl with all the zeal I could manage, which was quite a lot, but it just didn’t work. Boys didn’t like me any more than they had in the first place and I didn’t like myself at all. Why could other girls pull off helpless and I couldn’t?

Because “helpless” wasn’t my sexy.

Just like the yellow sweater that made my best friend look so alluring made me look like a jaundiced ottoman, that sexy worked on them, not on me.

Where we get in trouble is when we try to make ourselves fit into an established and very narrow definition of sexy. That’s where we get the starving, the plastic surgery, the injections and implants and skin bleaching cream (the idea of this horrifies me most of all, perhaps because I have longed my entire Kleenex-white life for just a sprinkling of melatonin.) We know that not every color looks good on us, not every cut of a dress or a pant, why do we think any differently about sexy? It’s not about making yourself fit a look, it’s about finding a look that fits to begin with.

The question isn’t what works for me (high camp, btw. I’m practically a drag queen) but what works for you. Do you feel like an ethereal goddess in those flowy, renaissance-y dresses that make me want to die from the horribleness? Are you the fresh-scrubbed girl next door? Maybe you’re nothing so definable.

In 2008 it’s your mission –if you choose to accept it– to find or tweak your OWN sexy.

Love it, own it, work it and let the whole damn world know you do.

39 Responses to “Stuck on Sexy”

  1. Bridey January 3, 2008 at 3:17 pm #

    Great question! Sexy for me seems to be a very simple look — jeans, boots, and turtlenecks are much more likely to get me noticed and even complimented than skirts and dresses. I’ve tried, but I just look (and feel) silly in girly-girl clothes. (And those long, floaty things the fat-lady designers are so fond of make me look like a very short parade float.)

    I’m fat, busty, short-waisted, and run generally to curves and billows, but the item I got the most compliments on — no contest — was a pair of tightish black leather pants. They should never have worked on me in a million years, but they somehow did.

    (And, yes, I know leather pants are silly, but I was younger and more foolish then. I used to wear four-inch heels, too.)

  2. Elastic Waist January 3, 2008 at 4:14 pm #

    I know it’s totally cliche, but confidence really is sexy. I have found this can be accomplished with a super great haircut.

  3. Kitty January 3, 2008 at 4:46 pm #

    Heh. I’m the smart, capable, absent-minded library-nerd sexy, usually found in jeans, a button-down shirt with a cami underneath, and a messenger backpack with a laptop, notebooks, textbooks, and pens. And wire-frame glasses and bangs in my eyes. Found it last year, and it works for me–even the straight girls are into it. ;)

    I do get helpless when confronted with numbers, but that’s more comedic to most people and gets me an “Oh, honey” reaction, even though it results in serious distress.

  4. Cat January 3, 2008 at 5:04 pm #

    I can’t do “helpless,” either, and I’ve never tried. The kind of guys I’ve always been attracted to would never find “helpless” sexy. They like strong, smart, capable, witty women. I don’t think sexy is about clothes, accessories, or body shape or size. I think it is all about confidence, intelligence, and wit.

  5. Twistie January 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    The look that does it for me is a sort of flower child meets goth look in lucious bright or deep colors. Stevie Nicks and I could share a wardrobe happily.

    Ruffles, lace, velvet, suede…and I never go anywhere without a hat. I’ve actually stopped traffic. Not often, but it’s happened.

  6. sara January 3, 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    Great post! Reminded me of a line from Dar Williams’ “When I Was a Boy:”

    And now I’m in a clothing store, and the signs say Less is More
    More that’s tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me

    Elastic Waist, you are totally right – it is cliche but so true. That confidence is also found when you’re wearing something that fits PERFECTLY.

  7. Jillian January 3, 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    Dear Plumcake,
    Ummm, excuse me? You are the bomb dot com.

  8. Angel January 3, 2008 at 10:10 pm #

    I didn’t know there was another lesbian here. :)

    Anyway, sexy for me is taking care of myself. Making sure my hair looks nice, I’m dressed decently and I have makeup on when I leave the house. So many people neglect to do this. It’s all about the way you present yourself.

  9. Tracy January 3, 2008 at 11:16 pm #

    Right On!

    p.s. it’s melanin. Melatonin helps you sleep.

  10. shiloh January 4, 2008 at 12:42 am #

    I have never, ever been able to do helpless because I’m always the one to fix things. It doesn’t help that I’m tough-looking with big muscular arms and legs, rather than curvy.

    My partner can’t abide helplessness, its not his thing, and I’m glad for that.

    There are people who find intelligence, confidence and capability, sexy.

  11. AnotherTracy January 4, 2008 at 8:33 am #

    In college, I had helpless sexy down to a T — and it worked for me. It took years for me to figure out why, given that I was attracting quite a few guys, why I was never attracting the guys I wanted. Well, turns out that the savior types who like the helpless girls aren’t the guys I like. I prefer the guys who are attracted to confident, smart, slightly crass women, like me. (We are, of course, going to ignore the blatant-sexuality phase I went through just after college. That, too, attracted men… again, not the ones I wanted. I’ve mellowed into something much more me now.)

  12. teapunk January 4, 2008 at 9:05 am #

    I don’t do helpless. I used to feel the same way about it – I wanted to do helpless, desperately, but I couldn’t change the way I am and it didn’t really attract the boys.
    Plus, the whole being dimwit helpless thing sucks – nowadays I’m being scary and enjoy life a whole lot more.
    I really think you should teach that girls in school: Don’t be a helpless dimwit. Our mothers (or grandmothers) have burned their bras, and still women do the act of “I’m a blonde honey and I can’t do anything by myself, do help me”?
    I don’t want a man who wants a wife whom he feels superior to.
    I want someone who’s equal to me – and in some cases, equally daft works for me, too.

  13. Gingembre January 4, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    Ugh. I spent (ok, spend) so. Much. Time. On trying to find the garment that will make me femme-sexy. I think I completely lost my own sense of style at one point there, actually.

    I used to do wild woolly hair, scruffy jeans or looong flowing skirts, big boots and big titties. Classy and feminine never worked for me. At a (UK) 18, I pulled nerds and hairy stoner boys, and I was happy. I can’t figure out when my shoes started to shrink and my cleavage started to vanish, but I haven’t felt right since.

    Now I’m trying to wiggle about in a pencil skirt and wondering why I don’t look feminine and luscious. I have curves! Shouldn’t it work? Well, it doesn’t. Not because my body is wrong, particularly, but the rest of my clothes are wrong, my posture is wrong, the whole thing is just horrible.

    I need to be dorky, sarcastic, relatively ungroomed but always comfortable in my skin. I need to be the girl downing pints when everyone around her is sipping chardonnay. I’m not going to pull off the vintage pinup thing, however much I love it on other people, because it’s wrong for me. I’m no helpless waif, and I’m no femme fatale either. I’m just some stompy girl.

  14. kimks January 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm #

    I think what is sexy is confidence and being comfortable in my own skin and fully owning whatever my look for the day is- Jeans and A T-Shirt- cool- business suit- great- Sweaty and covered in muck because I am helping with a Habitat for Humanity Project or helping with rebuilding the Gulf Coast- Awesome. I think seeing myself as smart, strong, capable and compassionate is fully communicated to the world and this is Sexy to me- I find it Sexy in others too.

    My Husband has said time and time again that I am the sexiest woman in the world to him because I am who I am and not afraid of my own strength.

    My friend was talking to someone who was trying really hard to be the helpless version of sexy why my husband (and others) found attractive in me- her reply” She had the Welcome Tattoo removed and has a spine” Enough said.

  15. Leah January 4, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    I feel sexiest when I’m in-between two “types.” When I’m the cosummate hostess in a lovly LBD, refilling drinks from the mojito pitcher, and telling raunchy jokes. When I’m dressed in my painter’s jeans and shirts, barefoot, working on a set and I’m talking politics. When I’m in my office-casual wear, coffee in hand, and hooking up jumper cables. I love surprising people – their amusement makes me feel smart, charming, and witty, and THAT makes me feel like I can have anything I want, and THAT makes me feel sexy.

  16. AngelleNoire January 4, 2008 at 4:53 pm #

    I am sexy in jeans, sneakers and any one of my vintages 80′s child tees (particularly Strawberry Shortcake…throws em off) and whipping the fellas at video games. I am sexy walking through the bookstore in my superfantastic black button down shirt, slightly dressier jeans and boots, flaunting my big sexy girl brains in the poetry section. It’s taken me a very long time to stop apologizing for liking what I like (games, computers, did I mention the games) and just get on with it already. If a guy can’t deal with the fact I can hand him his arse in a video game then he is quite obviously not worth my time…or the sore thumbs.

  17. Pippitypup January 4, 2008 at 6:13 pm #

    When I was in 7th grade there was a girls’ magazine handed out to us in gym, mostly, I think, because of the article on birth control.

    What really stuck with me was the huge spread on getting boys to like you. The number one tip? Don’t show off your knowledge.

    I tossed that sucker in the trash. Don’t show off your knowledge? You mean, pretend to be stupid so boys will like you? Forget it! I wanted a guy I could talk to, and if he couldn’t handle me being smarter than him, tough.

    I didn’t date much in High School…most guys were too dumb to live, with no ambition and no future. It took college to find the right one, and that was 26 years ago.

    My sexy? Brains!

  18. Chaser January 4, 2008 at 7:11 pm #

    My eyeballs have crossed with envy over the Strawberry Shortcake tee. I can’t wear such things and I love them.

    Good for you Pippity. Rock on.

  19. Sara January 4, 2008 at 7:25 pm #

    I have been thinking about this too. I perfected the helpless belle in an effort to not be so intimidating, and it does attract men, but not ones that I really wind up liking. It’s a useful trick for, say, getting the guy at Home Depot to cut all of your lumber to size and put it in your car for you. However, the brains and competence will come out, and then you’re in trouble.

    There are fewer men trying to save me with their over-compensating might and manliness, but the new sort are a much better fit. It’s much more fun to be a whip smart, slightly obscene chick in fabulous (if a bit theatrical) clothes. I do dresses and vintage ladylike far better than I do jeans and tees. And yes, I have stopped traffic more than once. :-D

  20. Jenna January 4, 2008 at 8:50 pm #

    My whole “look” is very feminine, but more in a “vampy film noir dame” kind of way, occasionally verging on the femme fatale. I like it, it’s pretty straightforward, so it meshes well with my personality (also straightforward).

    I know I can’t pull off romantic, pastel florals, baseball caps, ruffles, pigtails, cartoon character t’s, bangs, or ballet flats. Lord knows I have tried, but girlish on me just looks ridiculous, and has looked ridiculous since I was about eight.

    But I can work a side part, a black pencil skirt, red lipstick and peep-toe pumps like nobody’s business. Dark wash jeans with my black stiletto boots seem to work well too.

    P.S.- I have found that the men you attract by batting your eyelashes and downplaying your brains generally just aren’t worth having.

  21. The Dot January 4, 2008 at 8:51 pm #

    I really own the retro sexy kind of look, 40s-50s fashion with full skirts, bust detail, pencil skirts, emphasis on waists and well-fitted jackets, and HOT shoes. No minis or plunging necklines for me, thanks! Of course, one has to have the gracious, ladylike attitude to go with this, but I think another big element of sexy is humor and a certain whimsicality. Confidence, too. I’ve never had a problem getting guys to like me, though! I just tell myself that for all the ones that are scared off by my confidence, assertiveness, wit, and intelligence (not to mention my bodacious bod), there are a dozen willing to take me on.

  22. Melissa B. January 4, 2008 at 10:10 pm #

    Pippitypup, do you remember which teen mag that was? I remember an issue of Seventeen magazine (which I adored back in middle school) where a letter-writer wrote in that she was at the top of her class and captain of a sports team, and her friends told her that her standards for a guy were too high because she wanted someone who was similarly driven and didn’t just want to watch TV and “hang out.” The editor wrote back and said “yes, your standards are high, but don’t lower them if it will make you unhappy!” Words to live by. I hope Seventeen is still that awesome!

    As others have already said, confidence is the ultimate sexy. I had a severe confidence problem in high school and college and had very few dates. After college I cut my hair and started paying attention to what I wore. I felt much more attractive, carried myself with much more confidence, and guess what? Guys started knocking down my door begging me for dates. (Ok, not actually begging, but asking politely. Still, it was a big change for me!) Incidentally, the assumption that guys prefer women with long hair is total nonsense. Men may say that in the abstract, but I know for a fact that chin-length-hair me gets much more attention than waist-length-hair me. It’s all about what *you* love and what *you* can rock best.

  23. JaneC January 5, 2008 at 2:09 am #

    My sexy is a combination of brains, confidence, cooking and decorating skills, and being unafraid to ask my husband for help if I need it. He likes to be helpful, though that doesn’t mean I need to be helpless. He likes it that I am an in-control kind of girl, but he also likes reassurance that I do need him.

  24. Nanners January 5, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    Sexy is being who you are without playing games. Pulling the helpless female “rescue-me” act is the ultimate bait and switch. You end up with a person who doesn’t know or care for the real person you are and you trap yourself into spending all your efforts are maintaining an illusion….Classic recipe for relational disaster. What sexy, confident, intelligent adult woman really wants a guy who is all about the packaging? I learned early on that I was never going to attract the average man with my physical appearance, but I also knew early on the I wasn’t willing to settle for an average man.

    I love fashion and variety. Even as an adult I still like to play dress-up and turn myself out. As a child I not only shared a birthday with Dolly Parton but also my fashion sensibility. But, as an independent professional woman, I required wearability and suitability in my daily attire. I want to look good and still be comfortable. I want to look good but still be low maintenance enough to have time for a life….a busy, interesting life.

  25. Lora January 6, 2008 at 6:51 am #

    I’m sorry, but to play devil’s advocate for a moment, what exactly is “sexiness” anyway? That other people find us sexually desirable, no? Who the hell cares if other people find us sexually desirable? The whole term seems to be counterintuitive to what we’re acually talking about here. A better term may have been “inner fire” or “beauty” or “life.” Worrying about how “sexy” you seem to other people seems to me to be the utmost in unsexy.

  26. Norah January 7, 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    Stilettos and a skirt gets them every time!

  27. jen January 7, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    Sexy is confidence, walk into a restaurant with your best clothes on, head high, shoulders back you will turn every head in the place. Not only have I seen it done, I’ve done it myself!!

  28. Ladama January 7, 2008 at 11:39 pm #

    You don’t have words for my sexy.

    It’s about being quietly better dressed, more articulate, and more confident than anyone else in the room. It’s about a particular quality of stillness, the way you pause and look *through* someone, then catching their gaze and holding it a moment too long, as if to place them as only a cog in the general world order, but then reaffirm their significance.

    It’s about loving yourself so well that you don’t need anyone, but you choose to love others. It’s about believing in your worth, then offering yourself, saying “you’re worthy.”

  29. Gillybean January 8, 2008 at 1:03 am #

    My goal for 2008 is to “Embrace my inner Marilyn” style-wise, and it’s working well for me so far. On Friday, I was shopping for the perfect dress for an office Year-end party and realized I’d not only gained a little weight, I’d gone from a size 6 to a 16 in just over a year. My confidence was at an all time low. So, instead of buying a dumpy black dress to match my dumpy black mood like I wanted to, I bought a gold halter dress and red lipstick. Best. Decision. Ever. I worked that dress and felt fabulous all night long.
    I think sexy is all about confidence and like they say, Fake it ’til you make it.

  30. La Rêveuse January 8, 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    Once I had a guy in high school accuse me of flirting with him because I was, “batting my eyelashes.” My friends looked at him, and said, “Duh. She blinks a lot. If she’s flirting with you, she also flirts with me, the janitor, and the television.” (I have chronic dry-eye.)

    Great post. Nice to hear many of us have figured it out. Now, how can we market this idea to teens and drive those stupid Bratz dolls off the shelves?

  31. Rosemary January 9, 2008 at 12:57 am #

    I’m still working on that sexy sort of thing. Maybe this year I can finally figure it out.

  32. Mary January 10, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    To Kimks:

    “She had the Welcome Tattoo removed and has a spine”

    Thank you to you and your friend! This has become my new goal for the year– starting now!

  33. Modesto January 10, 2008 at 9:35 pm #

    Ladies,

    I’ll bet the farm that all of you are lovely, sexy, and a lot of fun in your own beautiful way. Thank you for your comments, and a wink and tip of my wool hat to all.

    A Man

  34. Sexy Girls January 26, 2008 at 3:30 am #

    Hier sind auch sch

  35. Marie July 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    My sexy is somewhere between hippie goddess and angry punk rock girl who will mash your face in with her docs. Sort of somewhere in between kate moss, courtney love, and gwen stefani (if you’re going by American celebs… pah)

    It involves long flowy print dresses, combat boots, smudged-up black eyeliner, and a pixie haircut.

    And sometimes, more often than not, ripped up clothing spattered with paint and photography chemicals.

    I wear what I like, onlookers be damned.

  36. linkbait examples May 13, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    Good post, thanks

  37. Rolling Duffle November 18, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    I don’t think height matters for backpacks. I am six feet tall and any old backpack works fine for me. Just don’t get one of those teeny ones, like that little girls use. But those are dumb on anyone.

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