What Is “Sexy”?

Danielle of From Two to One has posed a question: What does sexy mean?  She and I both know the dictionary definition, of course, which is usually something like “sexually attractive or exciting” or “sexually suggestive or stimulating.” But things are are often further contextualized than a simple dictionary definition allows.

One thing Danielle said especially resonated:

In my middle school and teen years, sexy increasingly meant something both powerful and unsafe. It was powerful in that sex is a form of currency in our sex-obsessed culture. But it was also unsafe in that I was taught that most men were basically predators-in-training, making their female counterparts victims-in-training.

As I became a woman, I subconsciously understood that my body wasn’t seen as entirely my own and that being sexy was unsafe.

I, too, grew up seeing “sexy” as primarily negative, dangerous, and even dirty. And for that reason I seriously disliked the word. I hoped that I was “pretty” or “beautiful,” but would never have used as sullied a word as “sexy” for myself.

As I moved into mainstream culture and threw off much of the negative baggage with which I had surrounded sex and sexuality, I lost my earlier distaste for the word. At the same time, though, I began to see that in our culture “sexy” is often commodified and packaged, something used to sell goods or draw a crowd.

Still, I didn’t react by rejecting the word “sexy.” Instead, I sought unconsciously to rescue it from the commercialization of sex and the idealization of the “perfect” body. And in the midst of my rejection of my earlier views on sex and sexuality, taking up the word for myself was empowering. You see, “sexy” is the word I use for the times when my body issues disappear and I feel completely at home in my body. My walk gains a sort of saunter, I like what I see in the mirror, and I feel at one with my body. I feel strong and self-confident and powerful and bold. And I call that sexy.

The other day I read an anecdote about a mother and child. The child asked her mother, “mommy, what does sexy mean?” And the mother responded, “it means being comfortable in your own skin.” That may not fit the dictionary definition of the term, but I like it.

How about you? What is “sexy”?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.