I was invited to attend a Body Positive Sex discussion panel yesterday, hosted by Scarlet Ladies, an organisation designed to empower and connect women by destigmatising female sexuality. Hosted by the always fabulous sex-pert Alix Fox, I'd vaguely been expecting to feel empowered and raring to go off and find myself some body positive sex. I sort of got that, but actually it was more a discussion about the body positivity movement, and some general experiences of sex. Hearing from the wonderful women who shared their thoughts and experiences, I had an epiphany.
We're doing it so wrong.
I kept hearing the discussions about "All bodies are beautiful", "You just need to work on feeling beautiful in your own skin." etc, but it's bullshit. Because we're allowing the beauty myth to continue to suffocate our confidence and self esteem. We're buying into the idea that being beautiful matters. Being beautiful shouldn't matter. And when the body positive movement tells me to feel beautiful, I'm realising they're simply focusing on the wrong things.
The antidote to the beauty standards pressures isn't that we all need to feel beautiful, it's that we need to realise that being beautiful doesn't matter.
Being beautiful is a little like being tall. It's almost something you just are (depending on societies preferences at the time of course). When the body positive movement tells me I should work on feeling beautiful, that everyone is beautiful, I just want to scream a little inside - "But I'm not and that's ok". Stop making me feel 'less' about something that just shouldn't matter.
Being beautiful is a gentic lottery, and although we'll all be attractive to different people, really, beauty just isn't something we should focus all of this attention on. We do it because companies like to sell us stuff. But do you know what; men don't sit around trying to feel beautiful. Men are taught that they are valuable and awesome in so many ways, whereas we're still buying into the idea that it is our purpose to be (and feel) beautiful.
Do you know what we should be focusing our body positivity messages on? That beauty is skin deep. That we can work hard on being so many other things; interesting, kind, strong, funny, creative, and fabulous. We should be reminding ourselves that we don't need to feel beautiful to have amazing sex. That sex and love is not reserved for beautiful people. That beauty is shallow, and that we are not.
I wrote about this Dove advert a couple of years ago (Why do we have to feel beautiful to prove we're confident?), so I'm just going to quote myself, soz if that's odd:
"Firstly, we're not all beautiful. There I said it. We're all beautiful to someone, even if it's just our mothers, but we're definitely not all beautiful. We may be pretty, striking, attractive, but not always beautiful. I've never understood this need for us all to meet this criteria to confirm our self worth.
Secondly why is our acceptance of ourselves so linked to liking how we look? Are little boys told they must believe they're beautiful? Are men constantly told that they need to feel beautiful? Maybe we are fully capable of feeling awesome and proud of being smart, or kind, or strong? Why must all women be beautiful?"
So I guess what I wish I'd heard more of, at the talk about Body Positive Sex, was stories of women realising that sex isn't about perfect bodies, or beautiful faces. That sex can be healthy, happy, sweaty and glorious between all consenting adults. And that it's not my job to feel beautiful, and that as a woman I should spend my time developing my strengths and my self worth in ways that aren't linked to me feeling beautiful. When I hear a lovely lady saying that she finds her cellulite distractingly unattractive during sex, the solution isn't trying to make cellulite seem beautiful, its just realising it just doesn't matter.
Stop pushing the idea that women need to feel beautiful. Beauty is empty and keeps women in a place separate from men. We need to shift our conversations to qualities that matter. I know that its a long fucking road to get the conversation away from beauty, but we need to help level our playing fields. Feeling beautiful consumes so much of our time, and it rarely brings joy or fulfilment. We just need to realise it isn't worthy of so much of our attention.
During the talk, we were asked to remember our best and worst sexual experiences, and I instantly recalled mine. And it had nothing to do with how beautiful we felt. Hearing from the women on the panel, they shared similar narratives. Body positive sex isn't about feeling beautiful, it's about feeling positive about your body's right to exist, and to enjoy pleasure. It may seem like a subtle difference, but I feel it's pretty critical. I have enough to get on with in life, without having to feel the pressure to feel beautiful, and I wish we'd all stop demanding it from ourselves and those around us.