Posts Categorized: psychology

My Life In Lingerie (or An Ill-Fitted Romance)

Different female mannequin torso with sexy lingerie surrounded by numerous bra

Oh, lingerie. You are so very beautiful. You evoke in my mind images of classic pinup beauties, impossibly elegant women who lounge in boudoirs, and expert flirts who flash their garters with flair. Flipping through the Victoria’s Secret catalogue is high on my list of simple pleasures. And I delight in watching my burlesque sisters rock the stage in a gorgeous custom made corset.

I love most every everything about lingerie…except wearing it.

Over the years I’ve tried teddies and nighties and uber-lacy bras with frilly peek-a-boo adornment. Yet every time I slip into a slinky, silky something it’s like being in someone else’s skin and I can’t quite find the sexy confidence I’m seeking.

Growing up, I thought lingerie was the sexiest category of clothing.  If you wanted to be guaranteed-or-your-money-back desirable, you could put your body into something with lace and see-through bits and bam! Instant hotness. I also assumed that if one looked “hot” one felt hot. When I began exploring partnered sex and my own seductive abilities, I turned to lingerie believing it was my best bet at transforming myself into a temptress.

And it did work…to a certain degree. Back in university, I remember spending a healthy portion of my meager student income on some nighties, fancy bra sets, and a pair of thigh-high stockings.   Despite feeling awkward about elastic in unfamiliar places and the strange smooth feeling of satin, enticing my partners had never been easier. But somehow the sex itself was rarely as mind-blowing as I’d hoped it would be. My intention was to spice things up, but I found the fun of sex was somewhat diminished by the odd sensation of industrial strength underwire.

I never felt so much pressure around lingerie as I did as my wedding night approached. By the time we got married, my partner and I had been together for four years. We lived together and we’d had lots and lots of sex.  Still, I got it in my head that our wedding night was supposed to be this big deal production with flower petals and me dressed in a white, marabou-trimmed something. In retrospect, it’s telling that I chose my wedding day dress in an afternoon but hunted for my wedding night clothes for weeks! Eventually I chose something out of sheer exhaustion, but it had the same problem as all of its predecessors. It was beautiful…but I didn’t feel desirable. I felt weird and self-conscious, like I was pretending to be someone else.

For many, role-playing and/or adopting a sexual persona can be great fun and very healthy.  For some, playing at being someone else can be an arousing, perhaps kinky enhancement. Sex can also leave us feeling very vulnerable and playing with character may provide some psychological shielding as we explore and maybe veer out of our sexual comfort zones. Dressing up can be part of that process. I worked as an actor for years and costume was always an important part of inhabiting my character.

Given all of that, you would think that dressing in special clothes and playing a part would have been a successful strategy for me sexually. Instead it was the opposite. On stage I felt safe, secure, and rarely got nervous. Unless my parents were watching. An audience of strangers didn’t phase me. Strangers didn’t know me, so they could easily accept that I was an ethereal fairy or street-wise prisoner or nurturing, wartime nurse. But my parents knew exactly who I was. Performing for them made me so nervous because I had to make them forget their daughter and accept me as someone else, which made me feel terribly self-conscious, which made staying in character harder, which made me even more nervous, which oh my god! Infinite causal loop of mobius anxiety!

I feel similarly awkward putting on personas for my sexual partners. So far, they’ve all been people with whom I’ve shared an intimate connection. I feel uncomfortable doing that with someone who knows me so well.  I tried lingerie because I assumed that was what a sexy woman was supposed to wear. Now, I understand that I can be seductive in way that feels natural for me.  Lingerie can be a beautiful, powerful declaration of sexuality. That’s just not what it does for me.  In retrospect, something comfy and made of cotton would have made me much happier on my wedding night. It’s what I wore the night before I got married. And it’s what I’ve worn every night since.

In my mind lingerie is beautiful, elegant and graceful. I still love to look it at. I admire the women who can wear it . And while I still love thumbing through the intimates section of my favourite catalogue, I’ve finally accepted that for me and my sexy style, lingerie just isn’t the right fit.

Are you a lingerie-lover? What type of clothing makes you feel super-sexy? Does wearing something racy and lacy make you feel like a power player or do you turn to other types of clothing when you’re in a seductive mood.

photo via Pond5

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Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is a new resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, having recently moved from Ottawa, Ontario to pursue a PhD in Human Sexuality. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.

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Don’t Think, Shop

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One of the first things I make my style consult clients do is write. I send them a laundry list of questions about their personal style preferences and choices: Tell me about brands you like and brands you hate, styles you love and styles you wish you could wear. List 5-10 adjectives that describe your style. Are you a skirt girl, pants girl, or both? Do you wear dresses, and if so, what style? Can you wear heels, and do you like to? Name a celebrity whose style you admire and tell me why. Introspective questions like these come up in my book and mini-makeover PDF, too, and I’ve found that nearly everyone who answers them finds them to be helpful and revelatory. And I do NOT believe that’s because I have some magic set of questions that unlocks the secrets of great style. I’ve come to believe it’s because we are trained to give only cursory thought to our personal style choices.

There are lots of books about style, and bits of style advice filter through from TV and magazines. Some of this advice urges us to be mindful shoppers and evaluate items before buying, and some of it focuses on jettisoning pieces that no longer work. But very little of it asks us to think seriously about what we’re already wearing and why, or encourages us to utilize what’s already hanging in our closets. Instead, most of this advice is tied directly to shopping.

We are told overtly and covertly that new stuff will fix our style hang-ups. Buy this thing and and you’ll finally be stylish. Add this item and your wardrobe will be complete. Wear this garment and your chic factor is instantly upped. Look like this celebrity and you’ll be a better version of yourself. Strap on this contraption and all of your body-image woes will vanish. The vast majority of entities that deal in style and fashion do so through shopping, so it is in their best interests to keep us buying. When we take the time to think about what we truly need, what may actually work for our styles, which items will get the most use beyond season-of-purchase, these folks become downright panicky. They want us to funnel our dissatisfaction with our current wardrobes into procuring new wardrobes, and never counsel us to work with what we’ve got. Or even think critically about what we’ve got. The longer I work with my clients on honing their personal styles, the more attuned I become to these, “Don’t think, shop” messages.

I’ve had clients who wanted to skip the closet consult and go directly to personal shopping. I always encourage them to do some analysis and writing first – even if they don’t want a formal consult – because I know that introspection will prove valuable. Very few of us are completely content with our wardrobes or styles, so many of us feel near-constant urges to make change. But if we don’t examine our current behaviors and choices, we’ll have a harder time making informed and intentional choices in the future. Our current closets might not be working for us, but filling them with new stuff that was chosen without any examination of how the old stuff got there probably won’t work for us either.

So if you’re at a spot in your style evolution where you feel stuck, or utterly sick of everything you’ve got, or confused as to how to change your sartorial direction, look to the past and present before you jump into the future. Sit down and write about your current style, your wardrobe favorites and orphans, why you shop and what you’re drawn to when you do. Think about the shapes, colors, and fibers you are drawn to again and again, and if they’re not working in everyday practice, see if you can figure out why. List out brands, styles, fabrics, trends, colors, patterns, and shapes that you love AND ones you hate. Consider what you have the most of in your current wardrobe, and why. Resist the temptation to chuck the lot and start over. You may decide to do that in the end, but setting aside time to really think about how you got here will help you move forward with real wisdom under your belt. If you believe the hype and shop without reflection, you might nab a new wardrobe that feels new and exciting for a few precious weeks. But if you utilize introspection and contemplation, you’ll be able to craft a new or revised style for yourself that truly works in the long haul.

Image courtesy Willem van Bergen.

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A Pale Girl’s Confession

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So I’ve written about being a pale girl before. And as we head into true summer and the Minnesota air heats up, I watch as the people around me become tanner and tanner while my own skin stays nearly as colorless as it was all winter long. But I will now, finally, confess to you all something that I find both hilarious and shameful:

LAST spring – sometime around May – I began to notice something in my outfit photos. Despite the fact that I slather on the SPF 30 every single day, my face, neck, and arms were looking decidedly browner than my legs. It’s the legs that gets us pale white girls in the end. After six months encased in tights and pants, they absolutely glow in the warming summer sunshine. And I experimented briefly with using a lighter powder on my face to balance out the color difference, but it was no use. So, eventually – right after I’d received a few choice comments from people in my life and read a few beauty blog reviews – I invested in one of those slow-build, moisturizing self-tanner concoctions and began slathering it on my legs. And for a while? It looked decent. Not too orange, and not terribly dark. Seemed to be doing exactly what I wanted: Darkening my legs a little and making me seem like I was one, uniform color all over. Albeit a very light one.

But then? Then, friends, my body realized what was going on. And, as my body is wont to do, it rebelled. I noticed that I had a VERY dark blob/streak along the back of my right calf. The one on my left calf wasn’t quite as pronounced, but it threatened to get worse with further application. Believe me when I say that – in the three week period during which I undertook this experiment – I applied that gunk thinly and evenly over my legs. This was not user error. This was some bizarre self-tanner buildup being caused by my leg cells sloughing off at different rates. This was my skin saying, “Listen, lady. You’re pale. Why on earth are you trying to fake your way into non-paleness?”

I scrubbed and soaked and did everything I could think of to get rid of those blob-streaks, but they stuck around for the remainder of the summer. And that? That spooked me. I had jumped into this little project without giving it much thought at all. I mean really, I did zero research, paid no heed to the fabulous hypocrisy of it all, and failed to consider what would happen if something went wrong. I had willingly embedded molecules of dye into my own legs, and now they were hanging on for their little dye lives. What kind of long-term effects could this have? Would they turn infectious or carcinogenic over time? (Yes, I’m an awfulizer. There is no real evidence these products are harmful.) Would I have blob-streaks on my calves until I was 50?

Luckily, they’ve faded. I can still see their judgy little shadows, but they’re getting paler as time wears on. And I’m (kinda) grateful to them for sticking around in this slightly less obvious form. Because they remind me of my folly. These lotions work flawlessly for many women and are, in fact, a safer alternative to light/sun tanning of any sort and a cheaper alternative to spray tans. I don’t disdain them universally because every woman is different and every woman’s appearance-related priorities are different. For some, products like this mean they can ditch the nylons, feel less self-conscious at the beach, and feel confident about an aspect of appearance that previously caused discomfort or anxiety. All totally valid. The reason I feel this was an important lesson for me, personally, is that I realized in retrospect I’d done exactly what I rail against: I caved to peer pressure, bought something that cosmetic companies were telling me to buy, and never considered why I was doing so. I never asked myself how important this was to me or when my priorities had shifted. I never considered what the long-term impact might be or if opinions other than my own were doing the decision-making. I ran off half-cocked. And I’m thankful that my quirky little body put on the brakes for me.

Who else has played with self-tanners? What do you think of them as a concept? Do you love them for giving you some color without fear of health hazards, or feel like they feed into the pressure for pale-skinned women to be tan all summer long? Have you found yourself purchasing and using beauty products without thinking, only to find yourself questioning your own motives afterward?

Images courtesy Drugstore.com

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