Question: If you could choose any super power, which would you choose and why? Flight? Yeah, it’d be cool for, like, one afternoon, but your hair will get messy fast and you’ll get sick of trying to find an outfit to go with that cape even faster. Telepathy? Think of the headaches you’ll get after listening to the thoughts of everyone eating next to you at the Caf. Super-strength? Try getting a moment to yourself once every little old lady in the area learns that you can carry tons of groceries without breaking a sweat. So which super power is both useful and fun? X-ray vision!
Man, think of the benefits. You know how you’re supposed to picture your audience in their underwear during a class presentation? With x-ray vision, you could. And how crazy would it be to show up at a party and know for a fact how everyone looks naked? Every moment would become super erotic. With so many stimuli, you’d be turned on all the time. Sounds fantastic, right?
Wrong. X-ray vision would totally suck. First of all, you’d be violating people’s privacy nonstop. Obviously. Second of all, and this is really the point of this post, you’d be confronted with the reality of the human body wherever you look. And in the world of us college kids, this reality is pretty confusing.
Most of us have been trained since birth to think of our bodies (and all bodies) as beautiful. How many times did Barney sing at us that people come in all shapes and sizes and that we’re all special in our own little ways? But, if these lessons stuck with us — if we all managed somehow to remember that we’re all hot and sexy individuals — why do so many of us suffer from body image issues? We’re all pretty awkward here at the College of William and Mary, but maybe a look at the conflicting lessons we’ve been taught about our bodies can help us understand from where some of that awkwardness stems.
Go into any bookstore and check out the magazine rack. Count the number of smiling faces you see. Know why they’re smiling? Because they’re airbrushed! These men and women have no fear of wrinkles or sunspots or flab or unsightly body hair peeking out from where it shouldn’t belong. Now, if you’re feeling a bit more daring, grab one of those adult magazines, the kind that come shrink-wrapped in plastic. “Playboy” and its ilk are packed with glossy images of women with teeny tiny waists, ultra-tousled sex hair, and huge watermelon breasts. Now run back to campus and put on your x-ray goggles. See any bodies that look like the ones in these magazines? Nope. We mortals have zits and birthmarks and teeth that aren’t the color of arctic snow! We have body hair and cellulite and breasts that don’t match. We have beer guts and scraggly chest hair and chicken legs. We have flaws. Remember, children: people come in all shapes and sizes. And x-ray vision proves that these different shapes and sizes don’t measure up.
So clearly there’s a huge discrepancy between what we’re told to think about our bodies (beautiful! special! all shapes and sizes!) and how we actually feel (I’m not as good looking as the men and women in these magazines). But that’s a pretty basic realization. Hopefully most of us have grasped by now the fact that those people are celebrities and models and don’t represent the vast majority of 18-40-year-olds. And most of us have tried to get over this. But, because this is a sex blog, we have to ask: how does this affect our sex lives? If we agree that these magazines (and really, it’s more than just magazines — it’s our whole uber-sexualized youth culture) are perpetuating an unobtainable ideal and that our ideas about how our bodies look and how our bodies should look are totally different, then how do we feel about each other’s bodies? If we glance through our x-ray goggles and acknowledge that our peers don’t measure up to the hard bodies in “Men’s Fitness” and the balloon creatures in “Maxim,” are we disappointed? Do we feel let down, gipped, lied to when our sex partners don’t all have six packs and pubic hair shaved into neat little landing strips? If we’re being honest, well, yeah.
And that’s OK. It’s OK to be attracted or turned on by the beautiful people in magazines and movies. But it’s important – way more important, in fact — for us to look around from time to time and remind ourselves of reality. We have to access those x-ray super powers and take a look at our bodies and the bodies of our peers. These are the bodies of our friends, classmates, sex partners. These are the bodies of the people we hang out with, work with, sleep with. And each of them comes in different shapes and sizes, and each of them is special. Thanks, Barney.