Being sexy or sexualized?

To what point is being sexy no longer a sign of confidence? To what point are you just being sexy because the society tells you to?

To what point does flaunting your assets no longer serve a greater purpose of empowering women; But instead, it reinforces the need for a woman to use her body as a leverage and perpetuates the sexualization of women?”

I remember when I was around 10 years old, just budding in puberty and becoming aware of sexuality, I was sitting in the living room with my mom waiting to head out for a dinner event. I remember my mom had a beautiful bright orange (or was it yellow?) dress on. The dress was long, simple, and sexy. It had a very low and deep v-neckline that showed off her crisp collar bones and soft cleavage.

As a little girl who was raised by my grandma from age 1-6, and was taught the virtues of being reserved and being a “good girl”, I didn’t like it. I thought it was too much.

So I told her to change. I told her my brother (3 years old back then ) will mess up her dress if she tried to hold him. But I remember my mom stopped whatever she was doing, held my hands in hers, and said:

“莹莹,妈妈穿着这条裙子因为我喜欢啊。你是不是觉得太暴露了?(我点头)

暴露一点就暴露一点呗! 穿的漂亮一点还有错?趁身材还好的时候当然要多穿的漂亮点啊。等你以后长大了身材棒棒的,穿的性感一点漂亮一点多好。”

“ Wendy, I am wearing this dress because I like it. Do you think it’s too much? (I nodded.)

That’s fine! Is there anything wrong with trying to be cute? You gotta be sexy while you can. When you grow up, I hope you dare to be just as sexy and beautiful. ”

Remember that was 10 years ago in China, back then still with a restrictive cultural complex on sex and gender expectation. So I learned from that day, against what my society had been telling me, that there is nothing wrong with trying to be beautiful, to be confident, to be sexy, and to show off your assets whatever that might be. Be sexy if you like, and be happy.

But lately, I have been thinking about it a lot, being someone whose job mainly revolve social media, who spends a lot of time on social media, and who wraps her head around our feeble but sometimes incredible human minds.

To what point is being sexy no longer a sign of confidence? To what point are you just being sexy because the society tells you to?

To what point does flaunting your assets no longer serve a greater purpose of empowering women; But instead, it reinforces the need for a woman to use her body as a leverage and perpetuates the sexualization of women?

Sexualization:

  1. A person’s value comes only from his or her appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  2. A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  3. A person is made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  4. Sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person. (This is especially relevant when children are imbued with adult sexuality).

(Psychology Today)

What do I mean by that? Let me just lay it on you by telling you what I have seen on social media and as a woman.

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Gender role/ gender expectation:

Gender roles in society means how we’re expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based upon our assigned sex. For example, girls and women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing. Men are generally expected to be strong, aggressive, and bold. (PlannedParenthood)

A person’s gender role may or may not conform to what is expected based on a person’s sex assigned at birth. Gender role may also refer to the social role one is living in (e.g.,as a woman, a man, or another gender), with some role characteristics conforming and others not conforming to what is associated with girls/women or boys/men in a given culture and time. (APA)

On one hand, I am all for being confident, being sexy, and showing off your body.

Coming from a background where sometimes I am afraid to be frowned upon and talked down to because of what I wear and what I show, I think it is great that we have the choice. That as a woman I have the choice to love my body the way it is, to play with the idea of being sexy, and to share my love of myself with you through photos.

We have come a long way to having this choice. The Feminist Movement and the Sexual Revolution back in the 1960s and 70s not only liberated us from simply being “[servers] of food” at home to a breadmaker in the workplace but also demanded our sexual freedom and control over our own bodies.

Seeing women of all kinds being sexy and taking pictures of their natural skin makes me feel empowered.

On the other hand, it tires me to see social media crowded with women in their underwear, young girls posing in their bikinis, and talented women subjecting themselves as sexual objects in posters.

As women, are we posting sexy pictures because we feel sexy or simply because the society is telling us to? Posting sexual contents and sexual imageries are the fastest the way for a girl to get fame and attention on the internet. So are we posting it for the right reason?

To what extent do all of the sexual imageries stop being empowering, but become an implicit gender expectation for women to use sexuality to signal confidence? Are we just exerting more social pressure on women to constantly be able to be sexy and play with the idea of sex?

As a society, to what point do the sexual contents on media no longer serve the purpose of giving women power, but becomes another way for the society to sexualize women?

If most of the contents and images you see of women on media are women in their underwears or posing like they want to be in your bed, it only takes so long for you to not be able to separate women and the idea of sex. We, as human beings, are already incapable of ignoring the physical beauty and sexual attraction, how can all these imageries of women in sexual settings help us stop viewing women as sexual objects? How does it help stop gender expectations?

“Why does it matter,” you might ask.

First of all, as a woman, it matters to me. It matters to me how I view myself, how my society views me and my body, and how my friends are influenced by the society.

Secondly, studies have shown the more time adolescents spend on viewing sexual media content, the more likely they will engage in early sex. Sexually active teens tend to view more television with a high level of sexual content (NCBI). Adolescents learn about gender expectations and establish a worldview based on what they see, and there is no doubt that they spend a lot of time viewing social media and being on the internet.

I still wouldn’t know the answer if my 13-year-old little brother ever asks me why women always have to show so much skin in every picture.

Lastly, stereotypes, once in your head, even if you don’t believe it, never go away. It will always be part of the automatic processing in your brain. Gender expectation is just one type of stereotypes. The only way to combat automatic processing is with your controlled and conscious behaviors. Until we are all aware of the gender expectations we may have established in the society, there is no eliminating them.

Every individual is entitled to be as sexy and as unsexy as they would like. It is your choice. But every choice we make as individuals congregates into the choices we make as a society and establish a culture. Within a culture, we build expectations and the expectations influence the individual choices we make.

So how many sexy photos are enough? How many would be considered empowering and how many would be damaging?

 

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