Our power does not have to lie in our sexuality.

Sure, we can find power in our sexuality. But let’s not let that define who we are.

For women, it’s often tricky to find routes to power that do not compromise our persons in some way or another. It really is an issue of our society in general that power is so fought after, or perhaps just an issue of humanity. What does power mean in contemporary society? That is a question for another day, but we can easily identify a few types of power straight off the bat. There is physical power that one does not really choose for themselves save for enhancing whatever genetic makeup they’ve inherited from their parents. There is, of course, political power, which almost seems like power for the sake of power when we remove all of the ways that politics influence the lives of millions (as if any House of Cards characters actually care about their constituents – and as if real politics is any different from House of Cards lol).

Then there is the power that is a little more difficult to define. The power that gives men the ability to move throughout public space without a question of their belonging (all other factors aside). The power that buttresses economically privileged individuals from encountering constant physical danger. The power that allows white individuals to get tased, or frisked, or warned – but not shot. (No disrespect to all the thousands of white people who have died or been injured at the hands of the police). These powers are harder to define because they are not ever absolute. Part of the craziness of being part of a devalued group is not ever knowing for sure if that one comment that one dude made really meant what you thought it might mean…

There are ways, however, that this sort of covert, slippery, undercover unsure power shows itself, and that is through (in)visibility. Particularly in a world where “personal branding” is becoming a thing, who is seen and not seen is of utmost importance, and it denotes who has power or not. I remember a time in France where I was in a new city and struggling to find the bus stop before my bus left. Looking around myself for people to ask, I automatically chose the man who was walking towards me and made eye contact with me. Later I thought about why I had chosen to ask him. I must have felt that he was trustworthy and had the authority to tell me where I could find my stop. There was a woman walking next to him who I remember not having made any eye contact with. In that interaction, she was invisible, although I was aware of her presence. It was an interesting experience for someone like myself who at least tries to always acknowledge the women in any interaction. Why didn’t I ask her? True, she hadn’t made eye contact with me that I had noticed, but why didn’t I notice? And if she hadn’t, why hadn’t she? I could have easily approached her and asked her instead, but my own deeply placed internal bias towards men triumphed in my moment of uncertainty. (fuck that lol)

It is easy to parse out this factor of hard-to-define power when observing the dynamics of walking down a street. Yes, street dynamics are heavily influenced by location, time of day, culture, etc. However, I would be willing to bet that most women, when having eye contact made towards them by men, are the first to look away. I know because I do it myself, and I don’t control it. There are other times when your difference makes you stick out like a high beam, and you are very highly visible whether you choose to be or not. And then let’s think of older women in any country. Who takes the time to glance at older women? Invisibility can make us fade into the background.

As I think of the ways then that women can gain visibility – and therefore an aspect of power – then it is impossible to disregard sexuality. Sexuality it seems at times is the only “positive” way to be seen as a woman in the public sphere. Think of social media and how this clearly plays out there. Yes, there are women who are being seen everywhere, by their friends, their family; but the ones who are really seen, who have “presence,” are the ones who bring an aspect of sexuality into their persona. All of this to say what we already knew: hot girls get attention, and these days, attention = power.

For a while I was down with this whole scheme of things, too, but it was easy for me because I was a hot girl. We want to act like we don’t know, but that was the reason that some people liked me at all, and why some people liked me more than they would have otherwise. I was banking on my hot girl power because I am smart – and I figured out at one point that I could use my sex power to get what I wanted or make things swing a little bit more in my direction.

A lot of people choose to employ the basic ass thinking that condemns attractive women for knowing that they are attractive and reaping the benefits of it, but that is just lazy logic. Think about it: you grow up being told (implicitly and explicitly) that your value lies in your service and relationship towards men, and that that value must be procured through your looks and sexuality (motherhood included). Then it is confirmed by the attention (wanted or not) that you receive as you grow older and “develop.” If you’ve ever been a teenager and know what that feels like, tell me you wouldn’t exactly bank on whatever resources you had to gain attention and admiration from your peers. The takeaway here: let’s all stop being so basic about attractive women (because as much as we want to hate, we know we are all complicit in supporting that system).

And so now here we are: a hot girl, who recognizes the privilege of her looks and uses it to leverage the other aspects of her life. Sounds about right? Regardless, it feels about right when you are the one wielding your sword of sexuality, using it to manipulate the outcomes in your life and therefore empowering yourself. It is a sort of power, and I am not fussing about that – it is visibility after all. But what I am here to say and feel compelled to say is that we should recognize it as a false sort of power, and as women, not get sucked into the temptation and greed that that feeling of power can cultivate.

I remember when I was stripping many of my female friends asked me for advice on how to get into stripping, thinking it was all glitz and glamour and being the sexy centerpiece on the stage of the night. What they didn’t know and what I found hard to truly convey to them was the utter lack of attention that is shown to you at a strip club – see, being one of many girls, all of whom are dressed in their best, most sultry (read: profitable) sexual presentations, renders you actually less visible despite the obnoxiousness of trying; you may catch the eye of the gentlemen you just passed but you sure as hell won’t keep it from the next girl that passes him.

This is the clearest evidence that our sexual attractiveness is a false power – because it is always dependent on the gaze of another, and that gaze is never, ever exclusively yours. Whatever happened to Megan Fox? What happens when the instagram honey-of-the-month, well…. gets to the next month? What happens when a woman gets fat? FAT is still a word that strikes fear into the heart of the person whose mouth utters it. How fucking stupid is that?!!! XD

Real power, at least to me, or power that is worth cultivating, is solid. It puts down roots for itself and is stabilized by its own intentions, and not the opinions or whims of others. A real power for me is the power I find in making room for myself, in accepting myself, not always liking myself but loving myself with an understanding that I am not different from another. When you cultivate your own imagination, you carry with you something that no one else, not one person, can ever take away from you. Only death can take away our imagination, and death is the great equalizer anyway. This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy our sexual presence and have fun being sexy with others, but that far too often, women – we are conned into accepting the pithy fruits of temporary visibility, even when the path to it is lined with insecurities because there will always be the next one.

It was fun for me, to be “powerful” and popular, well-liked and wanted. I did enjoy myself, but, there was something that eventually needed resolution. One, that I was enjoying privilege that otherwise oppressed people, and two, that I didn’t want to be so married to my sexuality/ sexual presentation/ perceived attractiveness that I made it my focus to maintain it. It takes a lot of effort to keep up with what is the latest in sexy, and a whole lot of perceiving oneself through the eyes of others. When I was in Japan I got “fat” – fat being subjective and in this case, meaning “too fat for Japan.” Up until then I had been living as a hot girl, and gaining many privileges from it (and annoyances) whether I chose to or not. In Japan the culture is too homogeneous and too well-mannered for me to have gauged my attractiveness to others at any given time. Just like that: I was hot, and then I was not. And actually I am grateful for it. I struggled very much with this loss of identity and had to come to terms with my own disordered body image, but I was able to lose the privilege of something I wasn’t sure I wanted anyway, and in turn start cultivating a power within myself that was not dependent on how sexy I ranked.

Now, after that, I am still sexy. That’s not the issue haha :D. But there are times when I am not sexy, and it doesn’t matter. There are people who’ve I’ve met who don’t give a second thought to the way I look, an experience that would have been quite foreign to me in my college ho years. Yes, there are privileges that I have given up, but now, I am not striving to fit some sort of mold that tells me people will pay attention to me if I fill it. I am cultivating my own power, in my imagination, where no one can strip me of it but me.

This is a call to all my ladies out there: don’t be hot for a day. Don’t try to be hot for a day. We are valuable as women whether the president wants to fuck us or no one wants to fuck us. Let’s stop caring about being hot, and just be hot on days we want to be hot, or just be hot because fuck it! Why not? Or just be hot because we think that we’re hot! It is so taken for granted that that is what we are all striving for, but what if we just say: “No, I’m not, and I do what I want.”

When you give yourself the power of seeing yourself, then being seen by others becomes less important. Detach yourselves from the imperatives of false power, and you will find something that is easier to root your soul in. It is not easy work, but I would argue that it is necessary for a freer womankind, and a more liberated sense of self.

How to love your body in a culture of sexism

I’ll preface this post by saying that if you came here to find a literal answer that corresponds to my title, I got nothing. I have no idea how to overcome the overwhelmingly enormous mountain that is sexism + body image that stands before us women and the valley of true self-love. All I know is that: somehow we must carve a path to self-love or we will keep encountering the pain and confusion that come every time we encounter this barrier; with every calorie we count, every selfie we see, every commercial telling us that the only thing we need for happiness is to “buy this new face cream!” (anti-aging, y’all.)

What I can say in this post is that we must stop treating negative body image in women as a personal issue, or as an issue that is somehow strangely disconnected from all of the other structures in our society that are causing us great harm. It is not just that “sexism in advertising contributes to poor body image.” It is not enough that female celebrities that fit into the canon of desirable female attractiveness are “speaking candidly about sexism.” Sexism is the focus on the body as the center of our worth and value as individuals; it is not as if body image was just a thing and then sexism came in to distort it – we don’t talk about how we should learn to “love our minds” in the same way we talk about learning to love our bodies (or at the same rate), and when we speak about self-love, we are always talking about loving our bodies as well.

As a woman I will say: this is a problem I never asked for, and a burden that do not wish to carry. No matter how “feminist” my views are, no matter how radically I try to unravel the poison in my brain that has eroded aspects of my humanity, this is a hurdle that continues to present itself, reinforced everywhere I fucking look – li.ter.a.lly everywhere. See I am trying to come to terms with the second-class citizenship that I never asked for, and this is an especially insidious distortion of my humanity that I am hard-pressed to find relief from anywhere. As a black person, as a person of color, while the trauma of racism and the invasion of whiteness upon my psyche follows me everywhere I go, I can find respite and healing when I am among others who are hurting from the same things I am hurting from. The strength that I find in community when it comes to that pain is available in abundance. We are aware of what is happening to us, of the war that has been declared upon our souls and we find solidarity in our resistance to it (it is not always this beautiful, but it often can be).

As a woman I feel I am still searching for this community, and it is difficult to admit, but it is because we, collectively, are still invested in the structures that are destroying us; one foot in, one foot out (or both feet, which can seem like an easier resignation). I can say this because I am struggling with this myself. I am really trying to be on some radical-type shit, some “I-don’t-care-about-anything-but-love-that-resists-oppression” type shit, but I still look at my body every day, and I still make those seamlessly “natural” decisions about how I want to eat today or how much physical activity I want to engage in on any given day (and no y’all, I’m a lazy-ass bitch, if it were not for the fucked-up ideals of “womanhood” then my ass would never put on a pair of running shoes EVER). This is not about being a fitness-head. This is about survival, and relevance. Men have body image issues too, yes, but men are relevant by virtue of their gender (if we are only looking at this in a vacuum); women are already devalued, and our one way to salvation is apparently having men want to fuck us?

Because no matter how successful we are in the realm of capitalism, no matter how loving we are in the realm of spirituality, no matter how strong we are in terms of resilience, larger society deems us valuable based on our sexual appeal towards the heteronormative male eye, and this in and of itself is one of the most harmful if not the greatest tool that sexism has to offer. It does not matter that there are endless campaigns to appreciate beauty that does not fit into the heteronormative ideal (yes it matters a lot actually, but not for what I am speaking about) – these campaigns are still centering the body of a woman as the locus of our value and worth. The solution – if there ever was one or ever can be one that isn’t a complete overhaul of everything ever – is not to say that “every woman is beautiful,” because you know what, yes, we as women are beautiful and should believe that about ourselves (as should all of us weak-ass humans), but also – who the fuck cares??? Who the fuck cares if I am beautiful or not? I am a human being; we are all just weak-ass, sorry-ass human beings, and by virtue of that we are all worthy and our lives entirely valuable. Why do I have to be beautiful? It pisses me off, and honestly like, I ain’t even trying to be beautiful no more – then what? If shit hits the fan is you still a fan?

It is hard to even start with any productive or linear “logic” when it comes to this topic because it is already so illogical to begin with that we, as a culture, as a collective, as a society, are all more or less invested in the ideas that women’s value lies within the shape and size and appeal of our bodies. Even when we do not actually believe this in our core, how many of us are brave enough to shed ourselves fully of the bullshit, to take the risk of social irrelevance or social death to be more full within ourselves and more rooted in our humanity? I am not brave enough. Yet. I am saying this even (and even more so) as someone who has massive amounts of unearned “beauty privilege” because of the exotification of my racial ambiguity, and the close proximity of my features to features that are considered “top” (more or less so depending on the factors). It hurts me that I have this privilege that I never asked for. It hurts me that I can incite insecurity in other women depending on our socially-perceived value in any given situation. It hurts me that I feel insecure when assessing my own socially-perceived value in any given situation against that of another woman.

I can sit here and lie and pretend like these things don’t affect me. I can give in whole-heartedly and dive deeper into the self-objectification train that we don’t even realize we are on. I don’t want to do any of those things. Honesty is the only thing that has granted me the space to be better and to slowly push towards my own mental emancipation from the slavery that is oppression; and honestly, I know our worth as human beings (it ain’t nothing sacred or special, it can be, it doesn’t have to be, but it is there). I know our value as individuals, but I still engage in self/other/perception. I know that this is all bullshit straight up, but I am still scared to completely let go, to be sustained purely by my own love-of-self and convictions in what I know as truth.

I want to reach out to my sisters and tell them: we don’t have to be beautiful. Girl, it’s okay. But for now the most I can do is set my relationship status with my body and my mind as: It’s Complicated.