Swans Commentary » swans.com May 18, 2009  



What Does It Mean To Be Sexy?


by Raju Peddada





Look at this beautiful image,
composed of wounds amassed.
Full of sickness, yet desired by many,
it has neither permanence nor constancy.

Those who hold the worthless to be of value,
and see in the valuable the worthless,
do attain the valuable,
pasturing, as they are, in the field of wrong intention

—The Dhammapada - Buddha


(Swans - May 18, 2009)   Before we compliment each other profusely on how sexy we are, let's look into what being sexy really means. Let us begin with our mother, the earth, and then look at ourselves and how we stack up with all of our intelligence.

Our earth is sexy! It is a procreative organism, and is reborn every millisecond by recycling itself through reproduction. Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson states that there are five thousand kinds of rapidly reproducing bacteria in a pinch of soil that we know nothing about. Beauty and being sexy is about procreation and regeneration. It is replete with symbiotic relationships for continuity: like bees and flowers, bats and monkeys and fruit trees. The ocean is the amniotic fluid that sustains 70% of life on earth. There is purpose for sexiness in nature; it is to extend itself for the benefit of its constituents. Beautiful flowers, not closed buds, attract the pollinators; the bird of paradise with its exotic dances and plumage wants to extend itself by mating with a mature female, not a nestling; the ripe coconut falls with its dry husk to float on water, so it can migrate and multiply elsewhere. Everything is contextual and purposeful. Sexiness has a reason to be here, it promotes survival. Our fecund earth is like an egg that is being continuously fertilized by its own turbulent atmosphere for its sustenance. While nature designs perfection, we, in all our hubris, reconstitute what nature intended, with our interference, producing diabolical manifestations and consequences.

We are a nation that is obsessed with being sexy, yet over 50% of us are fat and physically unhealthy. I have not seen this kind of repulsive obesity on other continents. We are also a nation that is obsessed with extrinsic rather than intrinsic beauty. We want to force our human buds open by the unnatural dousing of reconstituted beauty when the internal beauty is years away. When nature gives puberty at 12-14 years of age there is a reason for that design, emotional maturity is not remote. But when we induce puberty with growth hormones and steroids on 9-year-olds we are messing with the plans of nature. Innocence and health are decimated in pursuit of green vanity with devastating results -- sexy then becomes sickening.

The sexy question is "what is sexy?" Lust is the telescope through which we perceive what is sexy. Recently on Oprah's show, a fourteen-year-old boy was asked in front of his thirteen-year-old girlfriend "what was a long term relationship to him?" He replied "six months," to the chagrin and shock of the audience that included the boy's parents. I wonder why they were surprised. This is the age of the "Salacious Houri," not your "mature 12-year-olds" but 0 to 7-year-olds. These are the pageant girls who are fussed over by their pretentious, hollow, and paranoid mothers who coach them to strut, swagger, flip their golden or brunette locks, and pout their lips with impudent impishness. There are professional spas for these 0 to 12-year-olds with services ranging from facials, glossed hands and feet spread up for pedicures and manicures, and hair removal. While this may sound perverse, it is the fact of the day. This new generation of spa vets, before they join elementary school, are already on their way to spending upwards of $290,000 by the time they arrive in their body-detoxification years. Inversely, a trip to the spa has become more rewarding than scholastic pursuits, quite prescient of the narcissism and devolvement at hand.

US women spend about $7 billion a year, nearly $100 a month, on cosmetics; if saved and invested for five years, it would pay for a full year of tuition and fees at a public college. YWCA-USA chief executive, Dr. Lorraine Cole says: "We believe that the obsession with idealized beauty and body image is a lifelong burden that takes a terrible toll on all young girls and women in this country." Imagine what kind of intellectual fulfillment through travel and learning this money could garner our kids, if it wasn't wasted on something that is utterly ephemeral. While this "investment" on the exterior is consummated, the divested and beautiful mind withers away in feckless platitudes and banality. As a society we have been consumed in the deflowering of our children, the veritable buds of life, by rote exposure to laser hair removal, reality TV and celebrity makeovers, and allowing lipstick and lip gloss for 5 to 8-year-old girls. Forty-four percent of the girls aged 6-9 use lipstick; 36% use hair-care products, and 13% abuse other cosmetics; still these girls feel worse about themselves, as they grow up to become objects of desire instead of being projects for progress. Why is that? Can somebody take those parents that wantonly corrupt their children like this behind the woodshed? We may have to declare a "national state of beauty obsession emergency."

Learning and books have been relegated to the bottom of their priorities. Today girls are subjected to 500 sexually incantatory ads per day, without any remorse or respite. Why are we debasing our own progeny? We are developing and raising pimps, Don Juans, and sluts in our society, while in places like India and Singapore, kids are being groomed to take on advanced algorithms, algebra, and calculus classes. What is sexy? Do you want your 13-year-old daughter to be a mathematical explorer leading the charge into the cosmos or a scurrilous soporific slut swinging her ass on the boulevard of dreams? According to a Centers for Disease Control study, 3.2 million American adolescent woman, aged from 14-19, carry a sexually transmitted disease -- that is, one in every four is infected posing severe risk of infertility and cervical cancer. Is that sexy enough?

A quick Google search of this rhetorical query "What is Sexy?" sprang up fifteen pages of the following: Anna Kournikova, Paris Hilton, and Kardashians sisters Web sites; sex toys-vibrators; trashy lingerie shops; sex doctors for vaginal tightening and penis enlargements; Black Eyed Peas "sexy" album; celebrity picture pages; a public service ad on teen sex; Wikipedia definitions; many song lyrics; Sexy, a novel by Joyce C. Oates; Wiktionary explication; and Victoria Secret and Fredericks of Hollywood sites. The X-rated were: mating and dating URLs, measure your sexual IQ site; shrink sites, but most were well tagged porn sites. Blogs were interesting but were limited to sexual content and attraction chatter. None addressed "What is Sexy?" the way I liked it expatiated.

"Sexy" in a primal and primordial way means attraction to the opposite gender for the purpose of procreation; to seduce or win a mate for regeneration, for continuity. The human species is not distinct from your prancing peacocks, gyrating birds of paradise, snarling dogs lined behind bitches, or small male frogs dragging their hind legs with a passionate "ribitt!" -- ribitt hoping to mount their large females. The sexiest ones in the animal world are the male seahorses that keep the eggs in their pouch till they hatch, and care for the hatchlings once out, and the birds that mate for life. How about sacrificing your life to extend your gene pool into eternity, like the male octopi, black-widow spiders, and praying mantises? Our dubious distinction lies in the fact that we are unfortunately the only species whose male brains weigh over one kilogram that quickly make for the exit after scoring with the female, even with no potential risk of being devoured. In fact, our large brains have somehow extricated instinctual goodness in us, and replaced it with malignant propensities shunning responsibilities and existential obligations. Is that real sexy?

The dictionary does a terrible job at explicating the term "sexy." Sexy means different things in different species and cultures. In the American and European culture it means anorexic, bulimic, and skinny models on catwalks selling sexy clothing, cosmetics, and empty hubris; being emaciated is the ideal here. In some places in Asia, Africa, and sub-Saharan outposts, it is the fat rotundity and big buttocks that get the mates, the essence being their breeding capability. While vanity in the West has atrophied the average woman into candidates for C-sections at delivery times, the average Asian and African woman from the spectrum can have 8-10 kids with midwives at their homes without any surgical procedures. My maternal grandmother is one such woman. This woman was fit as a fiddle with her dawn to dusk routine; she was angelic, cerebral, proud, and simultaneously humble; and had delivered and raised eleven kids at home with a village officer's sporadic income. Now that is sexy!

All the lingerie in the world will not render you sexy if you are not so within. This reminds me a very poignant and powerful photograph of Marilyn Monroe by the visual maestro, Richard Avedon. In this transparent picture, Monroe's physical appeal was completely overwhelmed by her inner pathos, which made the picture a classic paradox. Being sexy is a state of mind, an admixture of projected image, confidence, and attitude. I found most young women of India and the black women of the Caribbean and Africa infinitely sexier than the beauty obsessed, painted, and psychotically narcissistic young European and American women. They would be sexy if they weren't so insecure about their age, but it is the younger set, the "MTV" and the "Sex in the City" crowd that causes consternation. No wonder men here are looking for wives in Asia. The Indian and Moroccan women were arousing without ever displaying their body. Age and gravity lays waste to the physical firmness in time, but it is your talent that remains sexy forever. Picasso, like Maria Callas, is the ultimate sex symbol of post-modernity, their sexiness is forever. One only has to ask Arthur Miller what Marilyn Monroe was, a sex kitten or a melancholic maiden. And for that matter, why did this sex symbol marry someone with his looks, if it was not for that piercing intellect and compassion?

"Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!" —Vladimir Nabokov

The American mall has unequivocally become a venue, a veritable catwalk, for exhibiting your body. Unfortunately, this display is mostly by the most undesirable ones out there, pre- and post-pubescent girls. Our body has been denigrated from being a temple to a teasing and tantalizing brothel of our culture. And this brothel has become the repository of everything bad, from clothes to bad food to uncommitted sex with transients and attitude. This insouciant menagerie at the malls, theatres, and clubs is the main cause in the rise of obdurate pedophiles and pedophilia in our Western culture; where babies are paraded in beauty pageants and sold on "Barbie does Dallas" type shows. This obsession catapults over to the middle-aged women too, who often look ghoulish and scary with all their caked makeup. And in order to have their makeup last on the face, they move like robots, keeping a callous distance from everyone, including their kids, and in some cases grandkids. Chronological age is a neurotic insecurity in our culture with women, with their outright lies and denials about their age. It is a psychopathic immersion bordering on lunacy and perversion.

I sometimes feel that our society has become a big corroboration and collusion of merchants, schools, government, and parents hell-bent on teaching the newborn more about lust than living. We have diluted the word sexy to a point where it doesn't mean anything more than an adjective for good bodies, clothes, dolls, and porn sites. It is plasticity that has become sexy. The acts of love, care, sacrifice, duty, honor, honesty, dedication, perseverance, fortitude, and punctuality are labeled dowdy, unglamorous, and not ascendant. Why is Susan Boyle the most watched person in the world? Does it have to do with her inner resplendence, personality, and confidence that annihilate our pre-occupation with looks? With one stage call, Boyle has reduced all the jeering and empty teen queens in the audience to a black nullity. I bet even Olga Kurylenko, the newest Bond girl, in full nudity, would not have garnered those 50 million YouTube hits. One of the bright judges, Amanda Holden said "it was a wake up call for everybody."

Sexy is a word that has been hijacked by the fast brands, pimps, and parading sluts, like many other words that have been misappropriated, abused, and confiscated by our politically correct culture. Words have been convoluted and neutralized like: "gay" by the homosexuals; martyrs, or freedom fighters by terrorists'; interrogation by torturers. You see where I am arriving with this: The real meaning of "sexy" is a whole lot more than reconstituted faces, red-carpet exhibitionism, cat-walking bulimics, and the street-mall butt strutting. Sexy has now become associated with all the malevolent "S" word synonyms like shrewish, selfish, slut, sell, silly, sick, sewer, and shrill. And somehow the other "S" words had transmogrified to antonyms like substance, style, shine, sacrifice, sophisticated, suave, super, shrewd, smart, strategic and sanguine.

Have you ever known of any sexy man or women who has changed history? I chased this mirage, an illusion, racking my brains, to unearth a beauty that has indeed changed the world with her or his sexy appearance. I found it in the Homeric mythological heroine, Helen of Troy. Ironically, it was her beauty that had consequently wiped Troy out of existence. The sexy ladies of antiquity were the harbingers of doom. Here is a partial list: Helen of Troy as the benchmark; Nefertiti poisoned many would-be competitors; Bathsheba induced murder of her husband by King David; Salome agreed to dance if she could have John the Baptist's head; and the redoubtable Cleopatra, who brought down the Ptolemy empire and the republican Rome. I would even advance the hypothesis that in most humans, brains are inversely proportionate to looks -- Einstein was a physics hunk, not a physical one. With all our liberties and opportunities here, we have not produced one woman that is a leader or an intellectual force on the world stage, other than some great writers. This is an indictment of the culture. I am almost forced to accept that oppressive and repressive cultures sculpted better women like Elizabeth I, Gertrude Bell, Ayn Rand, Golda Mier, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Aung San Sun Kyi, Queen of Jhansi, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Clara Barton, to list a few.

I understand the desperation to clutch at and prolong our youth for a little longer, but it is futile -- it slips away eventually, leaving us looking like sad clowns. Returns are only skin deep when investing in our looks instead of intellect and attitude. I find the frolicking of a family in their back yard sexy; a family member cooking for everyone after a hard day's work delectable; focus on each other despite tantalizing distractions out there utterly sexy; loyalty to one another despite all the polemics infinitely moving; being a caretaker for parents immensely redeeming, and reading to your mate becoming. These things to me are sexy. I find sexy people in the most ordinary and simplest of circumstances, fulfilling their obligations. They were sexy in their revivifying confident personality, humility, and simplicity. Eventually, what I discovered is that being sexy is not being aware of it at all.


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About the Author

Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/rajup14.html
Published May 18, 2009