Sexiness Exposed

Amy Julian

In a society where advertising and exploitation go hand-in-hand, it is said that “sex sells.” Indeed, this cliché holds true and has been the issue with many of the latest marketing attempts towards younger children. In a society that promotes Bratz dolls, panty-less celebrities, push-up bras, and breast implants, it is hard to evade the images of sex in the media. But are the media, fashion industries, and beauty industries really portraying the epitome of sexy or is it a subjective image that we create in ourselves to define this so-called sexiness? What exactly do real people, with limited checkbooks and less perfect bodies find sexy?

Lingerie lords at Victoria’s Secret seemed to offer an answer to this query, by explicitly asking, “What is Sexy?” in its 2002 ad campaign. The television ads feature buxom Brazilian beauty Adriana Lima in next to nothing, blond bombshell Heidi Klum in a push-up bra, and countless other models donning lingerie and seductively eyeing the camera. Rolling around between sheets and licking their lips, the vixens ask: “What is Sexy?” It’s no surprise that the final answer to that question in these ads was none other than: Victoria’s Secret. Victoria’s Secret spokeswoman recently said her company looks for “self-confidence, humor, presence, and achievements” as what ultimately is sexy. But then again, I’m sure if my body looked like the “sexy” models in the ads, I’d be pretty self-confident too.

Psychologist pioneer Abraham Maslow in a 1943 paper introduced his “hierarchy of needs.” Ranking in the first tier of this hierarchy is physiological needs, which along with food and water, includes sex. As advanced living organisms, we are conditioned to seek sexual gratification and pleasure, as a basic rule of human survival. Because all humans are individual of one another, as seen in style of dress, preference to certain foods, and personality, it is understandable that the aesthetic that an individual would seek to achieve this sexual pleasure and stimulation would differ. So why then do companies, like Victoria’s Secret, insist on driving the message into our heads that skin and breasts and sultriness are the ultimate in sexy?

It is interesting to look at what males and females find “sexy,” and discover they are not necessarily what the mainstream would consider to be so. Sure, of the many students I consulted, physical appearance and certain bodily features play a part in what their definition of sexy is, but what’s more is that the emphasis seems to shift as students get older. One UMB freshman (who chose to remain anonymous) said “cleavage, big [breasts], small waist, round ass, tan” is sexy. “Playboy bunnies, the bleach blonde, almost too dumb to know you are with them for their hotness,” another male student responded. This is not surprising, as so much emphasis is placed upon this ideal of beauty that even female students reported feeling sexier when tanned, either completely ignorant or stubbornly disregarding the potential for skin cancer. As a sun worshipper, I myself find that I am able to feel more body confident and sexier when I have a little color-a sentiment that is derived from seeing bronzed, beautiful women that men fawn over and wanting to emulate those women in the easiest (and cheapest) possible way. It is difficult to know whether the media instills this desire in us or whether it is truly a personal attitude. “Sexiness is about being confident but not cocky,” a 22-year old male student says. “It’s loving your body and owning who you are without coming off too pretentious.”

It’s hard to say whether sexiness is truly an attainable state when such opinions on the topic differ. Many, surprisingly men, agree that when a woman is comfortable in her body, she is willing to try more things, like getting creative in the bedroom, which is sexy. I was surprised to learn that many of the female students I surveyed (myself not included for fear of an abundance of subjectivity) were focused on specific features that they found sexy on the opposite sex. “A nice set of eyes,” “full lips,” “strong body,” and even “scrawny, girly, Emo boys” were the physical qualities that many of the female participants responded with. After discussing with both male and female students what they found sexy, men named “confidence and personal drive” as the leading nonphysical quality they found sexy, where women named humor as the number one nonphysical trait that exudes sexiness.

The main purpose to attempt to expose, or understand at the very least, what sexy truly is, is to gain a sense of self-assurance. But as almost all of the participants confirmed, there is no clear-cut formula for sexiness. So even if one’s body may not be that of a supermodel or sports star, perhaps the person you are meant to be with (male or female, gay or straight) doesn’t find that sexy to begin with. Alas, perhaps sexy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.