What if you had to choose between being hot, or experiencing pleasure?
I’ve been toying with this question lately, as a thought experiment.
Hypothetically, if you had to choose between looking hot (that is, being considered hot by society’s standards) and being embodied (that is, connecting to your body’s sensory pleasure), which would you choose?
I figure most women would choose– or at least would want to choose– to experience embodied pleasure.
After all, who would admit to being so vain or shallow that you’d rather be hot than fully inhabit your own skin??
Then I really started digging into it.
For the purposes of this thought experiment, the definition of hot is significant.
“Hotness” is a particular kind of beauty which is focused on following the social rules of sex appeal.
Other words for attractiveness, like “beautiful,” “sexy,” and “pretty” all seem fairly subjective to me, relying on personal preference, personality, relationship, and context.
But “hotness” is fairly objective. It’s an assessment of a particular person’s ability to follow the agreed-upon (and ever-evolving) Rules of Hotness.
Hot is more of a checklist than a personal state, and we can all acknowledge, even when we don’t personally find a person attractive, that if they check enough boxes, they are objectively “hot.”
Here are some of the boxes which a modern woman must check in order to be hot. You’ll notice that many of these are actually “achieved” through effort, skill, time, and money, rather than inborn:
A thin/toned hourglass body
Big perky breasts
Long femme smooth hair
Big doe eyes
Kardashian level makeup
Smooth and hairless skin
Well-fitted clothing and high heels
A particular way of moving, speaking and posture
Now just to clarify, I’m not saying these things are required to be attractive. I’m simply observing that “hotness” is a collection of socially-agreed-upon markers of attractiveness and sexual appeal, and for women the above list covers a lot of them.
If you need further proof, look no further than the fascinatingly dramatic before/after effects of hair/makeup/styling that porn stars go through. They might begin the process as average-looking woman, but by the end they have checked enough boxes to be unfailingly “hot.”
This is relevant, because our society praises and rewards female hotness. Which means the question of hotness versus pleasure is really about having social currency versus having a strong connection to self.
If a person gave up pleasure in exchange for hotness, they would also be gaining success, money, opportunities, a more diverse pool of partners to draw from, and more privilege in general.
Hotness also gains us access to a feeling of being valued, visible, and accepted. So with that in mind, why would anyone ever choose pleasure??
Sure, you could have incredible embodied sex and an enormous amount of sensual delights, but life would be significantly more difficult. You would struggle to gain attention, visibility, and a feeling of being valued.
To that end, it isn’t exactly superficial or vain to choose hotness, is it?
I’m posing this thought experiment to you because in a lot of ways we really do have to choose between the two.
We can only really focus on our internal selves or our external selves at any one time. Think about when you’re having sex, and start thinking about how your body looks from that angle. Immediately you’re not in your body anymore, right?
You can’t really stay inside your body while also imagining how you look/seem/come off from the outside.
This is actually a very common reason so many women don’t experience as much sensual or sexual pleasure as they want. Because as women we’ve been taught to constantly stay focused on our external selves– what people see or think about us, what we look like, and how we’re coming off to people.
Not to mention the fact that we have a finite amount of time, money, energy, and attention to spend.
If we spend even a few hours per day gaining “hotness” points (on hair and makeup, shopping and outfit selection, skin care, hair removal, diet and exercise choices, appearing to have it all, etc.) we can’t spend that time and energy on the stuff required to become re-acquainted with our internal selves.
Our hotness eats up the resources which might have otherwise been free to pursue emotional processing, healing, restfulness, time in nature, meditation, joyful sex, intimate bonding, and all the other channels for mindfulness and sensory pleasure.
You can see that in a lot of ways my hypothetical is a real question, right? I suppose I’m suggesting that we get a little more honest about the situation.
My hope is that bringing more honesty to the situation we’re in (of needing to choose between hotness and embodied pleasure, in a culture that rewards hotness), we might eliminate some of the shame that women feel about choosing the way they do.
Yes it’s a dark thought.
But if you’re a woman who values opportunities, success, ease, approval, acceptance, attention and belonging more than anything else right now, then you might be willing to make this trade.
And if we can recognize the fucked up system we’re all working in, then maybe we can stop judging each other or ourselves for making either choice, and take a lot of the shame out of being female.
You’re not shallow, you’re savvy. You’re not vain, you’re street-smart.
By the way, I totally see that this is kind of a weird thing to say as a body image coach who preaches unconditional self-acceptance and authenticity, but think about it:
What is more self-accepting than recognizing you value being treated well by society more than you value great sex or other physical sensations?
What could be more authentic and empowered than proudly proclaiming you are making a conscious trade, fully aware of (and consenting to) the consequences?
Just some food for thought.
Because maybe (just maybe) if we can start by accepting that we don’t accept how we naturally look, we can nip the disempowering shame spiral that confines so many women in the bud.
Because cultural rebellions (and yes I still do believe we are in need of a cultural rebellion) cannot be led by women who are living in shame.
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