A Spell of Consensual Objectification

It was a simple sun dress. A short and flimsy coral affair which as citizen of Sweden I might use for barely four weeks of the year. Not really worth the 700 krona price tag. I twirled in front of the mirror at the shop, noticed the curve of my belly and the very obvious Hovis-like bulge either side of the VPL.

Summer is not a welcome time for those of us who struggle with body image.

Sighing, I drew back the curtain to show my boyfriend who was submissively sitting outside, fulfilling his ultimate destiny–as he’d joked earlier–of carrying my shopping bags.

I’m like the perfect boyfriend, he’d said, for a girlfriend who likes shopping. 

I’m like the perfect girlfriend, I replied, for a boyfriend who hates shopping. 

I rarely shop. The noise, the heat, the people. I’m one of Amazon’s best customers. But sundresses can’t really be bought online when you are never sure whether you are a ‘medium’ or an ‘extra large’. Ironically it is looking in the mirror at clothes stores which has precipitated my dislike of shopping in general.

What do you think? I said, grimacing at my reflection before turning to him.

But his eyes had turned into glassy saucers… and under his shorts things were shifting.

‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘I think I finally understand why men say she was asking for it. It’s as if God came down and said, lookee here, I’ve put this little treat in your life and it’s wearing a skimpy coral dress. Take it. Touch it. Eat it. It’s yours.

To get the truth of what’s going on inside a man’s head is an amazing privilege. It’s one that my boyfriend and I have cultivated for almost three years now. Because to get honesty, you have to accept whatever honesty brings. Including bias. Prejudice. Entitlement. All that good stuff we like to vilify, but which is rife because well, we’re human.

There’s a whole lot going on in my boyfriend’s head (as well as in his shorts) when he feels entitled to my summer body just because I’m now able to unwrap myself from the four layers of clothing inflicted on my habitually pasty white flesh by the Swedish winter. That he finds me suddenly desirable is the easy-to-understand part.

Firstly it’s association. For 8 months of the year, the only time my boyfriend usually sees so much of my flesh is as a preclude to sex. Nudity is associated with sex, even if intellectually we know we cannot assume that.

Secondly the sun increases libido via vitamin D which supports better production of estrogen and testosterone and all other things being equal, this makes us happier and hornier.

Thirdly, I’m slightly tan in the summer and whilst a tan used to be associated with blue collar work, since the era of Coco Chanel it’s been increasingly associated with luxury, modernism and independence. Despite the health risks, it’s bold, attractive. It’s also a message that we’ve returned to our connection with nature and become radiant because of it.

Nudity + Horniness + Radiance = Sexually vibrant being.

So she must want sex… right?

The truth was that warmed by the sun and released from the shackles of my woolies, I did feel sexual. I also felt empowered by his instinctual reaction and as I am still after three years, rather partial to my boyfriend’s bod, I might have–were it not for the public changing room–just dropped down and gone for it. He was smouldering desire, and I wanted to have sex with him. Yet that I wanted it, did not mean that I felt entitled to him. He did to me. Why?

I’m guessing that for men it’s like going to an all you eat buffet. You suddenly feel like you must eat even if you’re not particularly hungry. That buffet is the thing that incites you to eat. Not eating it, would be a terrible waste (or so you tell yourself).

In sex terms if you don’t use the erection, you lose it. Perhaps you want to pork the person who incited the erection… Not porking the person, to continue the analogy, would be a terrible waste.

The difference is that the all you can eat buffet is only there for your gratification. It is an object and as such has no decision making power, or agency. Women are not objects. They do have decision making power or agency. And for partnered sex to occur, both must want it.

Needless to say, I bought the dress. And was delightfully, horrifically and wantonly objectified for the next 24 hours until I staggered home with bowed legs.


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