If you’re the sort of heterosexual woman who can’t help comparing your body to the bodies of other women, look to men for the answer. Well, not to them—at them.
Over at Elle, advice guru E. Jean fields a question from a woman who says she’s “highly sexual and severely jealous,” particularly when it comes to monitoring her boyfriend’s gaze in public. The advice-seeker confesses:
I constantly notice the eyes of the guy I’m with: where his glances go, at what angles, for how long, how many times. This consumes so much of my time, it wears me out.
I’m jealous of other women’s bodies. Though I’m very pretty, I’m terrified another girl will make my beau fantasize about her and get bored with me because I don’t have her perfect physical attributes—hourglass figure, flat belly, large breasts.
How do I stop fearing the perfect bodies around me that he might see?
Similar to how having a certain amount of money can actually be anxiety inducing (ask lottery winners), this is a perfect illustration of the fact that pretty people do have problems—particularly when you fear that being pretty is all you’ve got.
Even the most bulletproof self-actualized woman will struggle with her appearance. Inhabiting this world as a woman means wrestling on some level for most of your life with a vast, ubiquitous flipbook of definitions of beauty everywhere you turn, often which do not look like you. Most of us yearn for the validation of both society at large and, specifically, our partners, who we hope will want to look at us more than they will want to look at other people. But there are always other people around, mucking this plan up. “I’m just looking around,” is the standard male protest.
I once knew a guy who checked out women like he was paid to do it without anything like subtlety, no matter his relationship status. Even with girlfriends, he’d stop, look, and linger at every attractive woman he saw. I was embarrassed for him. I asked him once if his girlfriend didn’t mind, and was bewildered when he admitted instantly that she was mostly putting up with it, and that she lost it particularly when he ogled on nice occasions, like her birthday.
So why don’t women scour rooms for hot guys and then hone in like a predator, making their attraction clear? Could we flip the script? E. Jean seems to think so.
Her advice to “Pretty and Suspicious” is to check out other dudes, make a big fuss about how good looking they are, and make her beau jealous. To give him a taste of his own medicine. “By the time the bill arrives, his brain will be so fogged with fantasies of strangling the guys he thinks you’re looking at, he’ll have forgotten the tarts altogether,” she writes.
I agree in part, but I have to stress adamantly that this approach should not undertaken as revenge, but rather, redirection—otherwise it won’t work. You have to really commit to this by taking the time to focus in on every person in a room, giving your thoughts over to enjoying the wildly varied sorts of appeal that can exist in the male form. Try listening to the person you’re with when they are talking, but when you’re talking, look around. A lot.
Even if you don’t do it deliberately, it may happen anyway on its own. For many straight women there is a definitive moment in which they realize they have been far too consumed with being the ultimate source of pleasure to a man, when they could have taken that pleasure for themselves.
Once I had this moment, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I realized I’d spent my entire young life watching men watch women, rather than simply watching men. It never occurred to me to sink into this as a pastime in the way that men always have. And the more you’re able to embrace the beauty of others, the less obsessed you’ll be with your own perceived lack thereof. And if a man you’re with asks what you’re doing? Oh, nothing—you’re just looking around.
Image via USA/Magic Mike XXL.