‘Just standing around looking beautiful is so boring…’
- Michelle Pfeiffer
Ah, Michelle. I feel your pain.
Actually, I don’t, because like most of the world, I don’t have a ticket to the Beautiful Club. They can be bought, of course, at huge expense and if you’re willing to spend a lot of time – a lot of time – primping and waxing and grooming and pouting. Air brush and botox and stand the right way and try not to smile too hard, and you might be allowed in to worship at the altar of Supermodel.
Like most young girls, I wanted to grow up and be beautiful. (Brush your hair a hundred times. Wash your face in the morning dew. Work on that blank expression.) Unfortunately I’ve failed so far - to either grow up or be beautiful.
Yet there was a moment, a few years ago, when I was looking in the mirror and despairing at my flaw-ridden reflection, and a light bulb went on.
I may never be beautiful, but fuck, I could be sexy. Sexy like Marilyn or Peaches or Debbie Harry or Macy Gray or Eartha Kitt or Patti Smith. (Feel free to add your own version of sexy to the list here).
Sexy is so much more various than beautiful. More powerful.
‘Hips, tits, lips, power.’
– Big Bad Baby Pigsqueal, by Silverfish
While the beautiful people are standing carefully on the red carpet, one hip arranged at the right angle and chin down, trying not to smile too hard, the sexy woman is out mud-wrestling in a ripped dress, screwing her hair up and not giving a flying fuck. A sexy woman has a sense of humour. A sexy woman doesn’t worry about her manicure when she’s raking her nails down a man’s back.
Really, all Beauty is fit for is preserving behind glass. It’s dazzling, sure, and we shrink before it. ‘It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness’ (– that’s Leo Tolstoy, and I’m not going to argue with him.)
But show me a beautiful character that has any hint of a pulse, and I’ll eat my eyelash curlers. There’s something cold about beauty, at least, beauty as we’re led to believe – cold perfection, symmetrical features, flawless skin. Aiming for size zero.
Yes, a woman knows she is beautiful when her dress size tells her she has ceased to exist. That’s the point. Beauty is a chimera. We’re being sold the Emperor’s New Clothes, because really there is no such thing as beautiful.
‘Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford’
– Cindy Crawford
But, now, let’s have a look at sexy. You can smell sexy. It’s about how you move, the certain quality of your smile, an attitude that knows all about the body and its mysterious, pulsing, sweating, heart-racing, blood-pounding ways. It has body hair and breasts and balls and fluids. (Yes, I realise I’ve just created a monster. Bear with me).
The point is, Sexy is about revealing our real self, gloriously flawed. It’s not about struggling to erase all the signs that show one is human in the pursuit of a mathematically perfect ideal.
Only one person decides if you're sexy or not - that's you. It’s about heat, and the suggestion of softness. How your flesh would feel cupped in the palm of a hand. It’s about feeling skin against skin and tasting the mouth of your lover and feeling that beat start inside you that turns your knees weak and makes you hungry and knowing that your body is meant for more than just decoration.
It’s about dancing like no-one is watching, the taste of chocolate ice cream, how your body jiggles when you move. Most of all, of course, it’s about fucking.
No one can stay beautiful and make love. I mean, have you ever seen yourself in the act? Face screwed up and sweating and mouth hanging open and hanging upside down off the edge of the bed is not a flattering pose.
Most of all, being sexy is about being a real, live, fuckable human being.
And that’s why when I’m writing, I look for the things that are ‘wrong’ about a character. All the ugliness that makes a character (or a person) unique and fascinating and memorable, also makes them real enough to fall in love with.
‘Give me a ruined complexion and a lost figure and sixteen chins on a farmyard of Crow’s feet and an obvious wig. Then you shall see me coming out strong.’
- George Bernard Shaw, to Mrs Patrick Campbell.
I say keep your Beauty. Give me ugly, give me crooked teeth and a soft belly and funny feet and a squint, and I shall show you sexy.
How about you?