There was an older woman in the bar, must have been possibly between 60 and 70 years old… who was smiling, kind of minding her own business, doing her thing… except that she was getting a lot of staring attention for one reason in particular: she had some pretty substantial breasts, and they did not look at all like those of most women in their 60s – or in their 20s, for that matter. Although I did not ask her, I think it was pretty safe to say she had probably done some kind of substantial modification.
A man possibly 30 years younger than her came up to her, looking at her with a sense of wonder. After getting a good stare in (like a number of other people were doing), he looked at her and said, “you look gorgeous!”
And she broke out in a broad grin and replied “thank you!” And the two of them embraced, and sat down together and started talking. Though I can’t say for sure, I got the feeling they hadn’t met before given the questions I heard him ask – “where are you from?” for example.
And I remember thinking… this guy pretty obviously was looking at her breasts. The woman had not done any recent cosmetic work on herself as far as I could tell, and she seemed pretty comfortable in her own imperfect skin. I’m sure she knew that her breasts were a big part of the reason she was being given attention, even though I think that this was definitely not the only reason.
But the thing I later figured out was this: even if this older woman was [possibly] being judged [objectified?] by her breasts, she not only didn’t mind this, but took such attention as a compliment – presumably because looking the way she looked was a choice she made for herself, and the ensuing adoration of her own choice was a vote of confidence in whom she is proud to be – a larger-breasted woman – even if she may have gotten there in part via breast augmentation.
Indeed – ideally, we would appreciate each other independently of what we look like. But the real world is not like that. What you present to the world visually – the mask, as my friend put it in her poem – is indeed a part of who you are. To take ownership of that mask and have the fruits of your active ownership result in compliments and positive recognition can feel pretty good, even if it is technically objectifying.
This is not an endorsement of plastic surgery as a way of solving one’s body image problems; what I am saying, however, is that more controversial areas of personal and artistic expression such as the breasts count just as much as anything else – such as tattoos, for example. The fact that the breasts are more heavily associated with sex does not make them off-limits for adoration and expression – just look at our acceptance of cleavage displays, even in quite formal settings. For this woman, receiving a compliment on her looks that was [probably] quite related to the way her breasts looked was in the same category as, say, receiving the same compliment due in large part to having long, really brilliantly-colored hair.
And who am I to say that this younger man found only her breasts attractive? In fact, I do not think that was the case. Though he did take a good gaze at her breasts, he looked her in the eye when he complimented her. Certainly, the breasts formed a notable part of the attraction – but I’m quite sure this interaction transcended mere objectification; his words were “you look gorgeous!” and not “your breasts look gorgeous!”
There are a million other ways somebody could be objectified: maybe this younger man has a “thing” for much older women – or maybe he likes women that go to bars. Maybe he likes confident women; maybe he likes “white women,” or women that dress in trench coat-style garments and have brownish-blond-gray hair (this woman matched all of those things). The point is that objectification is not always an impediment to making a good connection, especially in the first few moments; in fact, it’s often something that we use to project a little something outward about whom we really are inside. Not everybody will see it correctly (there may be some people who see this woman with her breasts and think, “wow, she’s desperate,” for example – an impression I did NOT get at all), but those who do see our “messages” correctly and relish their content can then pick up on it and respond, and both parties may then have a mutually awesome time. 🙂
The time comes, sometimes, when you have to use the very same weapons that are used to beat down others… as flowers of love. The most positive people out there understand this; they may indeed have their own ideal about a world in which people do not do these superficial maneuvers, where people can “just be themselves” – but they also are able to use the superficialities of the moment to get deeper and more authentic. They are able to take the same old tired tropes and stereotypes and show how ridiculous and unnecessary they are by first embracing them – tuning into these cliché channels of communication as an entryway to then blast through them and eventually leave them behind. And the best thing about these people is that in so many places they go to, they help those around them blast through the surface as well, completely changing the game and making that moment in time much more colorful.
This is particularly personal to me – because as a kid, I never had a way of feeling any sense of normalcy. After feeling like I found my “normal” in being a stubborn maverick who delighted in the way he mastered the art of conflict (because, you know, conflict was supposedly a sign that truth was happening), I found a better way: do what you like, don’t hurt anybody, welcome those who appreciate you, and don’t mind the rest (as long as there are no safety concerns anywhere). Those that like you for who you are and what you decide to put out there will be all you really need. I think that this woman in the bar embodied this attitude, and that put a smile on my face.