An open letter to everyone who has been told they are “too sexual”
Your sexuality, or lack thereof, is entirely up to you – no one else can assume that. It’s not up for debate. And it’s definitely not for anyone else to assume it’s audaciously enjoyable. Or to shame, slander, denigrate or penalize you as a person. Although, unfortunately, people tend to do that.
The memory of my first job interview after college lives rent-free in my mind for the rest of eternity. After agonizing over what to wear to cover DDDs — thanks, in large part, to crippling insecurities rooted in a life of mixed media messaging and ostracism from school dress codes — I was still sexually harassed by a old man in a wrinkled business suit who accused me of being “too naughty” for the role. So mean, in fact, that he threatened to jump out of his upstairs window because he couldn’t look away from the dress I was wearing (my from the mother) rather than, you know, looking at my resume.
It was far from the first time I was told that I was “too sexual”. It wasn’t the last either.
Later, I got a job where I had enough home. My team took me out to happy hour, where my coworker put his arm around my shoulder, grabbed my right breast, and let out an audible “honk, honk” to mark my first day on the job. .
At this point, I began to realize how preconceived perceptions others had of me (and complete disregard for basic human decency) could cause damage – like costing me my career. I learned later – through a series of disturbing situations – that it could also cost me my safety.
Unsolicited sexual attention (read: sexual harassment and assault) is never acceptable. Yet society seems to sexualize both skin and smiles – because some people salaciously “demand” it or “too nice” (which, while we’re here, is a casual little thing called ” blame the victim”).
More times than I can count I have been told that I am too “sexual” – that I exude sexual energy, bathe in a sexual aura, emanate sexuality – both from strangers and from people that I love. And I am a sexual being. I am expressive and communicative and open-minded and flirtatious when I feel like it. Which, no, is neither all the time nor anyone’s freedom to label.
Frankly, I’m fed up. Frustrated. Tiredness. And all the other F-words except, I would say, free. Freedom is the last thing I feel in a hypersexualized and often objectified body. And I’m not alone.
So if, like me, you’ve been told to shut it down, remember this…
Neither nudity nor skin is synonymous with sexuality.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been accused of “exhausting my breasts”. I don’t wear my boobs at all; in fact, they are physically attached to my body whether I like it or not (and I see no reason not to like it). The reality is that I couldn’t cover my DDD cups with a sack of potatoes if I tried – and, frankly, I don’t care to try because, dare I say it in a society that suggests that I’m perfectly imperfect, I love my body.
Nonetheless, I’ve received countless messages about the sheer irrelevant presence of my breasts – in videos or photos that have nothing to do with them, including hot air ballooning in Turkey and pumpkin picking with my family. . Often these messages simply say “Boobs!” Other times, something like “you’re the reason women get raped.” Which, of course, is equal parts panic-inducing, disturbing, crushing self-esteem, and crushing the soul. This is especially true for someone who has been sexually assaulted and struggled with guilt for calling it a sexual assault when it was never “so bad” compared to other people’s stories. (Note: that’s all so bad.)
But the world is starving for altruism, for selfless concern for others. On the contrary, so many people are fiercely obsessed with each other due to their own internalized insecurities that they project onto each other. (Related: What Does It Really Mean To Be HIV-Positive?)
That’s a big part of why topless women, including breastfeeding moms, bother some narrow-minded people with a lot of learning (and unlearning) to do. They’ve been socialized to believe that nudity is, in and of itself, sexual – and so someone showing skin makes them feel uncomfortable, perhaps because they or they feel sexual about it or maybe even because they to worry they will see it as such.
Nudity is not necessarily sexual. No doubt, it is rarely sexual. Equating them suggests that whenever you are naked, you are sexual. But every time you feed your baby, shower to bathe, undress in the locker room, undress at the doctor’s, you’re not sexual.
When I took my clothes off for a sports deep tissue massage after a grueling week of hiking in the Himalayas, I didn’t want to be sexually groped. I just wanted to heal my muscles. The last time I stripped naked on a nudist beach, I didn’t want to be sexualized by the man relieving himself in the bushes behind me. I wanted to take some sun. When I jumped in the pool on a recent Airbnb stay, I didn’t want to be hassled by the lurking host; I just wanted to take an afternoon bath during a stressful work day. (Related: Billie Eilish Would Like You to Stop Using Her Style Choices to ‘Slut-Shame’ Other People)
Bodies are not sexual. Context and consent are sexual. The sexual is situational.
Being nice never justifies unwanted sexual attention.
I happen to be an extrovert with a giggle, and I’ll chat with almost anyone. Admittedly, I sometimes found myself in awkward situations or in uncomfortable conversations.
As women, we are often damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If we are too nice, we are called flirters. But if we’re not nice, passive, and soothing, we’re called sluts. (Related: Taylor Swift is tired of seeing sexist double standards holding women back)
The reality is that being nice to someone does not justify or solicit subsequent sexual behavior. You can definitely smile at someone without some sort of secret sexual agenda or ulterior motives. After all, as women, we are harassed to smile all the time. Hell, we sometimes smile through bullshit just to survive or keep it from gaining traction.
Remember, you should never feel bad about making someone feel bad about making you feel bad. Yeah, let that sink in.
You didn’t give someone the wrong idea of being “too nice”. You didn’t drive anyone around to be friendly. And you don’t owe anyone anything. Even if you have at some point wanted to engage in sexual activity or a sexual relationship with this person – or perhaps even have done so in the past – you are free to change your mind to n any reason, including no reason at all, at any time. This covers all situations, from one-off flings to long-term relationships.
Of course, open communication can clear up misunderstandings. But, frankly, the disappointment induced by someone else’s fantasy is not your burden to bear. (Also read: Exactly why toxic masculinity is so harmful)
You are so much more than your body.
There is, indeed, a difference between calling someone’s body “sexy” and calling it “sexual.” Someone might see you as sexy, and that might very well feel good. After all, it’s safe to say that most people like to feel sexy, even if they don’t always intend to look sexy.
But “sexy” can be harmless because it’s in the eye of the complimenter; they or they own that. “Sexual”, however, is dangerously devoid of consent, because the person who decided for you that you are sexual puts that on you. From there, they can make false assumptions and falsely justify their own sexual advances. At best, they intrude on your privacy and break down your very worthwhile boundaries. At worst, they commit crimes.
Your body is your home, and there’s so much more to being “sexy” or “sexual.” Mine is also strong and smart and storied. It’s what carried me through life, helped me grow in my career, pursue my passions, and travel the world. And, of course, that’s also sometimes how I explore sexual pleasures.
The point is, your body is many things, and it never has to be all of those things. The only thing it still is is your safe space. And that should never be taken away from you.