Words || Jasmine Phillips
“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy… You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
– Margaret Atwood
Gender performance is a funny thing. I was extremely comfortable in my femininity from a young age; toddler-me was thrilled to twirl in fluffy skirts, floral dresses and floppy sun hats.
But there is a kind of femininity that all women struggle against from a young age. And even those of us who are comfortable, and cis, and happy being women – the confines of this kind of femininity are still suffocating. It’s femininity that teaches us to desire one thing above all else.
To be attractive to men.
We may live in a time far from dowries and courtship, but the ghosts of these traditional exchanges remain visible. A woman’s virtue is still heralded as a precious gift, the sexual promiscuity of women is still punished with slut-shaming, victim-blaming and public disgust. Women’s media is focused around the central question: what do men find attractive?
It’s this obsession with male desire that prevented me from coming out until later in adolescence. Because I looked at men, and I was self-conscious around them. I wanted to be attractive to them – I wanted them to find me attractive.
The Challenge was this: for one week, I was to become the embodiment of male fantasies. Not the ultimate sexual woman, but the ultimate demure-sexy woman. Sexy in an innocent way. Shy and sweet but also sensual. Costuming that suggests curves, but still “leaves a bit to the imagination.” The walking, talking female lead in a 2000s romantic comedy targeted to adolescent boys – think She’s Outta My League, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Think the BBC Leading Lady skit: “Thin, sexy, hooker-virgin with boobs and hips – but not big ones! She’s never had sex, but she’s all about sex… You know. Just… Leading Lady.”
So, exactly what did this look like?
Expensive. I had to borrow money from the Grapey Editor in Chief to be able to afford my movie makeover and still pay rent.
$50 for a full bikini wax. $15 for an eyebrow wax. $19 in DIY acrylics. $20 for fake tan. $19 worth of false lashes. And an estimated $250 worth of makeup (thankfully already in my arsenal).
If we were going whole hog, we would have done my hair too, but honestly my wallet ached from the Priceline splurge.
And I was paying in more than dollars. The age-old saying “beauty is pain”?
I stumbled around in heels for the first three days of my Ultra Feminine SexBot week. I held out until my poor, confused feet (I never wear heels) gave up. I grew blisters on both heels, both ankles and several toes.
Britt piggy-backed me to the car after just a few hours of shopping.
And then there was the hair removal.
The furthest I had ever gone with my beauty therapist was a delicate-but-detached eyebrow wax. Even then, despite her gentle hands, I’d given up on waxing my eyebrows in favour of plucking them.
And I was about to go straight in for a home run.
Based on recommendations, I chose to head to Castle Towers for this outdated-yet-still-unfathomably-popular form of torture. In light of the conservativism of the Hills, I half expected a hair-removal horror story that matched my favourite lesbian comedians. I showered twice, soaked myself in perfume, rubbed on some scented lotion.
What if the beauty therapist made fun of me?
In reality, my waxologist was an incredibly beautiful woman with dark lashes and bleached hair that cloaked her scalp in short, tight coils. When I told her I’d never had a bikini wax before, she took extra care to make sure I was comfortable, and firmly advised me to let her know as soon as anything became painful. We bonded over a love of Sydney West, and a mutual distrust of middle-aged Hills Soccer Mums. I briefly talked about my girlfriend, who was sitting patiently for me in the waiting area, and she shyly admitted that she was bisexual herself.
I barely noticed the sting of my pubic hair being removed as we laughed– it was over before I could wind myself up to being anxious.
While I came out unscathed, I later discovered that my girlfriend had been harassed by homophobic teenagers in the waiting area. So, like. Glad to see she got the proper Hills welcome.
But it was all worth it, in the end. To get male attention.
I’m kidding. Well, not about the male attention.
I was twice as likely to have doors opened for me, and three times as likely to have men sit next to me on the bus or during lectures. I was five times more likely to get hit on at uni. I also got a 30% discount on my cocktail while out at a family restaurant.
And, yeah. The attention felt nice. Nicer than I would have liked. I threatened to fall back into an old and unhealthy mindset of tracking how much validation I was getting. I noticed myself being noticed, and it became increasingly difficult to not seek this out.
Don’t get me wrong, I held strong on this. I adore my partner, and I am confident, now, in knowing that I am not attracted to men. But this is an old, and societally-ingrained addiction. One that, for years, kept me from figuring out who I was, and how I wanted to dress – not the male voyeur inside my head.
And beyond the beauty-pain and unhealthy mindset, there were other disadvantages that came with this change.
On average, I was catcalled at least 50% more often when I was dressed as my Perfect Sexy Feminine Doll (and, no, this was not a compliment, Dickhead). I was not taken seriously in class by many of my peers. I became increasingly self-conscious about my body; how I wanted to be slimmer. I packed on thicker layers of makeup, and I winced when I peeled it off.
Between 2014 and 2018, very few people saw this unmade face. I wore thick layers of makeup everywhere; a 45-minute routine of primer, foundation, concealer, powder, setting spray. I couldn’t duck out to walk the dog without at least foundation, eyeliner, and a strong lipstick.
I was only able to step outside with my regular, freckled, short-lashed face when I finally shed my false attraction to men.
That isn’t to say that you can’t escape the prison of perfect femininity if you are attracted to men. I am not you, dear Reader. All I can do is give you a short list of things that helped me take little steps toward my own freedom of expression.
If you are an everyday makeup user, try to wear a little less every day. The less foundation the better – your natural skin is completely fine. It’s okay for other people to see it. It’s okay for you to see it.
Try to create your own positive media. Unfollow models and Kardashians on Insta. Follow the i_weigh campaign, bodyposipanda, flexmami – there are so many women and nonbinary folks who publish gorgeous pics of their bodies. Recognise the features of these folks that match your own.
When you are getting dressed, think about what makes you happy. Try your best to ignore fashion “rules” that focus on slimming you down – accentuate parts of yourself that you like. If your favourite colour is yellow, then wear yellow! Who gives a fuck if you’re an autumn?
That’s all for now, my dear Reader. Take care of yourself.