Living Dolls?

I recently picked up this book in Waterstones and have just finished it. It was so gripping that it took me all of three days to totally devour it. It totally reminded me exactly why I class myself as a feminist and has led me to reconsider a few of my own life choices and some of the behaviour I participate in. It got me thinking about the ways in which our hypersexual culture affect us all. I've always considered myself pretty clued up when it comes to the sexualised society we live in. My mother was, and still is, an ardent feminist and being a big reader myself I'd got through The Second Sex and The Female Eunuch by the time I was 15. The bands I listened to also had a strong influence on me, and they were always artists who were very opinionated on the importance of not judging or discriminating in terms of gender or sexuality. Morrissey declared himself the "prophet of the third sex" and a lot of Manics fans I know are bi/pansexual or gay, or transgender. You'd have thought this was encouraging. Despite the very obvious ways that sex is used in the media to influence and to control, there's always alternative culture to return to, to take solace in, right? Well, having thought about the ideas Natasha Walter discussed in her book, I'm not so sure.

It's true that mainstream culture is a huge influence on us all, whether we like to think so or not. I know for a fact that despite my unconventional and liberal upbringing a lot of my self worth has been tied to sex. At university, probably the worst time in my life, I slept around quite a bit in order to validate myself and increase my self worth. In hindsight I find it shocking that I believed that being sexually desired by a drunk stranger was the way to make me feel good about myself. I never considered doing something for myself personally, seeking help or engaging in any activities that really would help my self worth. I do now feel that in many ways this is a direct consequence of living in the pornographic culture that we do. Comparing yourself to porn stars and models, to the girls who saturate every single piece of media you encounter; that can't be good for anybody. I know that many girls engage in the same behaviour I did and enjoy it immensely; but that doesn't have to be the only way.

Now, it is not only the Nuts and Zoo type girls who we have to fend off. It would be slightly easier for me to distance myself from the pneumatic blonde, the stick thin pouting girls with breast implants and impossibly long legs. That was never my "look". I liked the alternative side of things; tattoos, piercings, vintage clothes. But even that has been damaged by relentless sexualisation. The SuicideGirls phenomenon is presented as an alternative to the mainstream culture. Their website states that "SuicideGirls is a community that celebrates ALTERNATIVE BEAUTY and alternative culture from all over the world." This idea of "alternative beauty" is stressed very heavily on the site. The girls have tattoos and piercings, they shout. They're quirky and individual, not just Barbie dolls from a factory line.  It's refreshing, they claim. It's fun and sexy and obviously arousing but not in the exploitative or damaging way that more mainstream pornography can be.

I disagree. If you examine the models on the site and take away the gothic packaging, there isn't much to differentiate them from the girls you might see in Zoo magazine. They all have good bodies, straight teeth, nice make up, pretty faces, big eyes, good skin. They may have dreadlocks, or tons of piercings, or be covered in tattoos, but the beauty that they're selling is not much different from that it claims to be against. Models from the site have reported widespread abuse, that respect for women is just the same if not lower than in conventional pornography or erotic modelling. Previously I had seen it as refreshing and exciting, and in many ways had actually been inspired by them. They're tattooed and pierced but they're hot! I felt it was exciting and different. Now, I think I was wrong.

It makes me wonder; what's left for women? When even alternative and underground cultures are being taken over by cookie cutter good looking women, where do those who don't fit in the very limited spectrum of "beauty" go? I'd like to be able to define myself outside of my sexuality and would hope that younger girls would too.  To be a woman is not to be a pair of breasts and a bum. Our role is not to titillate and perform for men. Obviously everybody wants to look attractive, but that doesn't necessarily mean ticking certain boxes. I have stretch marks. One of my boobs is bigger than the other. I have a flabby stomach and I burn after 3 minutes in the sun. I'm not tall, I'm not thin, I'm not toned, I'm not tanned and I never, ever will be. Previously, on nights out or when with more traditionally beautiful girls, this made me feel small and insignificant. But the fact that I'm not "conventionally" attractive doesn't make me less of a woman. It doesn't even make me less sexy. Your self worth is not tied up with your sexuality. I'm so glad I read this book at a time when I most needed to be reminded of this. I hope other girls will see this message too and come to realise they can do so much more with their lives than make themselves into a work of erotic art simply to be devoured by men. I hope they realise that, although they can go into glamour modelling or pornography, that there are thousands of other opportunities for them too. I hope they realise that they are not defined by their sexuality. We can do what we want and this should never be defined by what is expected of us. So ditch your fake tan and bin the fake eyelashes. We can rebuild respect for ourselves and for other women one step at a time. I'm with you all the way.


  1. I deffinatly agree. I'm not really attracted to "conventional" beauty.I much prefer girls who look unique and don't just mindlessly follow society's standards of beauty.

  2. You are missing a very real and important point. As tacky and lame as it sounds; beauty *is* in the eye of the beholder.

    One person who finds another attractive and adores that person because of how beautiful they are can easily lust after someone else completely different looking.

    Lust and love are completely opposite sides of the puzzle. I believe when you find someone beautiful this is a much closer feeling to love than when you lust after a person.

    When you lust after someone it is a raw animal thing but when you find them beautiful too that is when you know you will do anything to keep them.

    I know many girls and guys who slept around just obviously for validation and often they never see the difference between lust and beauty. Those kinds of men will never tell people they look beautiful and not have a motive nor would they ever describe a sunset Orr flower as beautiful... unless they can fuck it.

    It's a simple understanding of the world That some people never realise. The media say sex sells and they are right, it taps into one of our most basic instincts after food. But they never ever say. Beauty sells... because they know true beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it is for that reason the Suicide Girls don't get any more respect than Katie Price.

  3. To some extent I agree with you. On the other hand though, I'm not sure I understand your point about love vs lust. You say that "true beauty" is in the eye of the beholder; surely if beauty is subjective in that way then there is no such thing as "true" beauty. If your claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder stands, then a glamour model or porn star could be just as beautiful as a glamorous intellectual. I am not arguing that this is not the case as it clearly is. Some people do indeed find porn stars, glamour models or SuicideGirls "beautiful" in the way to which you are referring. I am arguing that every woman has the right to be beautiful in her own way and not have to conform to the strict rules put in place by other people. I myself have been made to feel that unless I adhere to these rules I am somehow less worthy than the girls who do. I don't disrespect Katie Price or the SuicideGirls, I just don't agree with the fact that a lot of women feel that this expression of sexuality is the one that they have to adhere to. I also object to the fact that such importance is placed upon sex. I would rather not be having this discussion at all; women have more to offer than titillation.

  4. Yes you are right all people, not Just women, can be thought of as beauty. I don't disrespect any woman for reasons of their choice of earning a living, but some people feel it's ok to disrespect any one who provides a service. You should be well aware if that. But the more seedy the service the more potential for nasty treatment in return. It's like a class war on a very personal granular level.

    I say "true" beauty because the media pass of what they do as beautiful girls but it is the lust they are banking on.

    I'll tell you something I've never told anyone. If. I am attracted to a girl because of lust I would consider her on a raw sexual level. When I see beauty in a girl I want to just holder her. When I find a girl beautiful and lustful at the same time So the two raw emotions balance That is the girl I want to be with.

  5. I understand what you mean. I just wish that the discussions feminists and women were having were not centred upon lust and sex.

  6. I wish a lot of things weren't centered upon lust and sex. But as humans we really only have a singular purpose which is to breed. Cognitive thoughts to perceive beauty and feel love as an entity is both our greatest gift and greatest singular downfall as a species.

  7. I totally agree with you there. A vast amount centres upon sex and lust and all that involves. But I do think that we can make our lives about so much more than that. We can help other people, we can build careers and families. I'd like to be discussing other issues like equal pay. Although those issues are obviously equally as important I feel like these sort of discussions, based around beauty and sexuality etc, I think the work that feminists did in the 70s and beyond should have eradicated the need for this discussion entirely.

  8. I made a grammar mistake there, you know what I mean.
    Thanks for the comments by the way, I really appreciate the debate.

  9. Hey no problem.

    My mum was a strong feminist in the 70s but the problem with being treated equally comes to a point of physical differences. Case and point: is it equal that a woman gets 6 months paid maternity leave but a guy gets 2 weeks on basic statutory pay meaning anyone who earns over £124 a week has to just be thankful for those 2 weeks on half minimum wage?

    Also what if the woman earns more than the guy can he have the maternity leave so she can go back to work?

    Reality Is we live in a physically unequal world. I'm not saying everyone shouldn't be treated equally but what I am saying is that equality comes at a price, which should be equality over everything.

  10. The whole point is that whilst a man's sexuality simply IS, that is, it unquestionably exists, a womans sexuality is purely aesthetisized. Her beauty = sexuality, when this is not the case. Every single woman is a sexual being regardless of her appearance. Also referring to society as "sexualised" is using the wrong terminology I think. The point is that our society commodifies sexuality, not that our society is obsessed with sex. Our capitalist culture 2-dimensionalises it. Therefore society is not really in favour honest and human sexuality but a contrived, "plastic" sort that alienates people from their sexuality. The fact that you don't look like a porn star doesn't mean you are less sexual or have a less valuable sexuality. Beauty pornography portrays female sexuality in a 2-dimensional and dishonest way...such that a woman is only sexual if she is submissive, young, thin etc when actual feminine sexuality is far more nuanced and complicated than that. Far more uncompromising than that. Middle aged women are just as sexual as teenage school girls, fat women just as sexual as the thin etc.
    Self worth IS dependent on how comfortable you are with your sexuality, just the aesthetisization of feminine sexuality and of sex in general actually (in the media you only ever see good looking people having sex in a very particular way etc.) introduces a "gaze" into sexuality. The "gaze" is incredibly detrimental to anyones sexuality and their sexual development, regardless of gender. However as a woman's self-worth is more dependent on appearance than that of a man's this commodification of sexuality is more of a feminist issue. Think about can you experience true sexual pleasure if you are self-conscious about your appearance? If you are worried about how you look when having an orgasm, whether a particular sexual position makes you look fat etc.?

    Despite the second wave feminist movement, beauty pornography and the "beauty myth" still exists to undermine our sexual freedom. Not enough women are adequately selfish in bed. They need to learn to truly let be completely just feel...and love because afterall...they are human beings...not "living dolls" ;)

  11. When I draw a link between anxiety about ones appearance and the sexual act I mean that the only representation of female sexuality is beauty that women feel that in order to be true sexual beings they need to resemble or mimic the actions of porn stars during sex. Obviously any imitation may not be completely conscious. It is exceptionally sad that that is the only vision or conception of female sexuality that exists...or that there is a defined criteria AT ALL. It seems that a defined criteria for men doesn't really exist in this case. Sexual voyeurism is mostly centred around women and a defined criteria always means that a kind of sexuality that women aspire to is exceptionally 2-dimensional. This is one of the issues that depress me on a daily basis...heh

  12. *depresses

    I'm sure I made tonnes of spelling/grammatical mistakes as I type so fast but i had to correct that one

  13. Salen, can you please explain how "a man's sexuality simply IS". Thanks.

  14. I've been saying this about the Suicide Girls for sometime. Missy Suicide tries so hard to sell her ethos, but at the end of the day she's still peddling the same shit. 'They all have good bodies, straight teeth, nice make up, pretty faces, big eyes, good skin.' I would add [mostly] no pubic hair also.


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