One of my favorite bloggers, The Edmonton Tourist, published a post recently about how desperately so many women (she and I included) have struggled at times to be someone’s physical ideal.
Raised in North America and fed a steady diet of fashion magazine models, MTV video stars, and movie queens, I think we women fail to even realize a lot of the time how much we measure ourselves against certain criteria, and typically find ourselves lacking. I think we’re aware of it in a big picture sense; but the insidious little moments when those doubts whisper in the back of our brains are probably far more common than we notice. Sure, I think it gets better with age – most of my female peers are relatively content with their appearance – but certain aspects of our bodies remain or become trigger points of insecurity. We all know the usual culprits: thighs, tummies, butts, and, with age, wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby arms. But really, the list goes on and is super-dependent on our individual bodies and how we perceive them.
The men that we are with – particularly the ones granted the privilege of seeing us naked – are incredibly powerful determiners of our self-image. And it’s taken me a pathetically long time to realize that men have almost no idea how easily an off-hand compliment or put-down can completely alter our sense of what is beautiful about our bodies. It’s almost frightening how much control we cede to them in this regard,and how perpetually clueless they are of this power.
When I was younger, I took every male comment of this kind as an absolute. If a guy said my legs were hot, I assumed all men would think so. It wasn’t just his personal opinion; I extrapolated and assumed that I simply had empirically hot legs. But the same was true with negative comments. It wasn’t just one guy who thought I was “too pale.” No, my fair skin was basically ugly and something all future men would have to look past if they were to be attracted to me.
Then I grew up (or, rather, grew older…), and it finally dawned on me that the same things that one man might not like about me, might be another man’s favorite. Let’s visit my pale skin, for example. My skin is pale, yes. It does not tan. I will never look like a summer goddess in a swimsuit. But, it is also silky soft, even on my arms and legs, as more than one partner has commented on. So, one man’s “ick” factor might be another’s quiet fetish.
But what’s interesting to me is how persistently (and subconsciously!) I held on to certain ideals about female bodies, even armed with this perspective granted by maturity. It seems I am still coming face-to-face with my own pre-conceived notions. For instance, I am relatively tall – 5’7” – and have always seen that as an asset. All my female friends who are short want to be taller, my daughter Bryn, who is short, wants to be taller, my mother always wanted to be taller. But James, being only about 5’9” himself, has always preferred petite women – small and tiny, which I am not. It’s strange to confront the idea that something I’d always banked on as a physical asset might not be so in every relationship. Here was something I’d never even questioned, and yet it, like all other aspects of physical beauty, was in the eye of the beholder apparently. Does my height bother James? No, I don’t think so. But is it his perfect ideal? No, it’s not.
Then there are the flagrant, incorrect assumptions based on gossamer-thin evidence that we make about what our man might prefer. Maybe these assumptions are founded on off-the-cuff comments about actresses, old girlfriends, or even women on the street. A couple of comments about other women’s “great legs” and we may – without even realizing it – assume we’re with a guy who places a high priority on long, shapely legs. And so we file that away and critically examine whether our legs stand up to that ideal.
In the best relationships, of course, these ideals don’t really matter or affect the relationship in any identifiable way, but I would argue that they usually creep in and get in the way without us even noticing.
And this is where boobs come into my story.
One of the first things I noticed about James when we started dating was that he’s a Boob Guy. In my experience, most guys are particularly fond of a certain part of women’s bodies – he might be an Ass Man, a Leg Man, a Boob Guy… you get the idea. Before getting a real glimpse of the woman’s personality, he is likely to notice and appreciate some part of her physicality. Seems like it’s just male nature, and, frankly, I think women are pretty much the same way, except that we don’t talk about it all the time. I, for example, am an unabashed Chest and Arms Girl. Legs? Eh. Six-pack? Whatever. But give me a man with a broad shoulders, great pecs, and strong biceps, and I melt. Sad, but true.
So, anyway, James is a Boob Guy, and unashameably so. It’s like he can’t help it. He’s never rude or creepy about it, but I’m certain that his particular idea of Heaven involves lots of well-endowed girls in bikini tops. And, as best I can tell, he’s always been this way. There is a long line of relatively large-chested (some made by God, others by man) women in his past, and as soon as I realized this, the little worm of insecurity started wiggling in my brain.
Because I am not big-busted. I am a solid B-cup. Aside from the years when I was nursing my babies, I have never been any bigger. There’s nothing wrong with my breasts but there’s nothing amazing about them, either. Were a musician to wax poetic about my attributes, my breasts would likely fall into the Fine-but-Forgettable category. I’ve never particularly thought much about them. They’re there. They’re fine. They functioned as needed for my babies. But I’ve never used them socially or capitalized on them the way women more physically gifted than I seem to.
And then I ended up with a Boob Guy. After many months together, I realized that I was avoiding walking around bra-less or naked on top in James’ presence. When we were in bed, I would pull the sheet to cover myself without thinking. In fact, if I thought about it all, it was only to be grateful that he was so strongly attracted to me despite my breasts being not the best he’d seen.
But I was wrong.
One night, as I lay naked in his arms and we watched television, James commented – so casually that it took my breath away – that I had the most perfect breasts. Sincerely shocked, I looked at him to see if he was being facetious, but he wasn’t. In fact, continuing in the same tone, he very matter-of-factly enumerated what he loved about them. I was so stunned, I don’t think I even responded. Perfect breasts? Me???
The Moral of the Story should be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out for you: Men are more complicated than we give them credit for much of the time. What attracts and holds them is most definitely not as simple as the latest Cosmopolitan would like us to believe. There is truly no empirical ideal of female beauty, THANK GOD for that. Seriously. A man’s ability to appreciate and admire so many different aspects and manifestations of female beauty is a blessing and a wonderful treasure that we should never discount or ignore.
So, whatever part of your body you’re scared of showing off, or whatever piece of yourself you’ve been covering up in front of your guy, STOP. You never know what he’s thinking or how many parts of you make him totally, crazy hot. The fun is in the finding out.
So go find out. Right now. What are you waiting for?