Appearance, part 3: appearance and being ace

I recently read Anthony’s Bogaert’s Understanding Asexuality for the first time, and in one chapter he mentioned that asexual women might not feel the need to look sexually attractive (I can’t remember exactly what he said so if anyone else knows, feel free to remind me!). That rang true for me because, taking it a step further, I would specifically like to not appear sexually attractive to other people. When I was younger I did want to look attractive, or at least pretty, and I feel like there might not be a definite line between just plain “attractive” and “sexually attractive”, but for me it meant looking nice while avoiding any clothing that was too tight or showed too much skin.

It really wasn’t (or isn’t, since I still feel this way) such a reasoned-out thing, though; not “If I wear a low-cut shirt, there might be a sexual component to any admiration other people give me”, but something much more instinctual—“I would be really uncomfortable wearing anything that showed cleavage.” I can’t really fathom how people are fine wearing bikinis in public; showing that much skin strikes me as very vulnerable, and I could never do it. And I’m guessing these feelings all come back to that fear of being looked at as a sexual object, or even just a sexual being. I don’t want people to think of me that way, because that’s not how I am.

Teachings about modesty in high school Sunday school classes freaked me out because we was told that men were prowling around ogling women and thinking lecherous thoughts about them—or at least, that was my interpretation. The teachers said, “Dress modestly so you won’t cause your brothers [in Christ] to stumble”, but what I decided was, “I’m going to dress modestly so I won’t be a victim.” Not of any physical harm, but of being thought of sexually. And although I now know that these classes presented an inaccurately homogeneous view of men, I still feel that being seen as sexually appealing would be a form of victimization to me; one I would never know about, true, but still one I want to avoid.

I think this specific idea comes from being a sex-repulsed ace. I would never willingly engage in sex, and so the idea of anyone thinking of me in a sexual way feels like a violation of a boundary I’ve set up, and makes me really uncomfortable. So I try to avoid entertaining that idea, and the way I accomplish this isn’t by actually preventing anyone from thinking of me sexually (because it would be impossible to know if I’m fully succeeding or not), but rather by trying to make myself feel like no one is by looking as un-sexual as possible. Not giving anyone reason to think of me sexually allows me to assume that no one is, which makes me feel safe, even if this feeling is based on an illusion (after all, we were also taught in Sunday school, “Some guys will still lust after you even if you’re wearing  a sack!”)

Anyway, I’m guessing that this is at least part of—maybe even the main reason—why looking feminine in public makes me feel vulnerable (I think another part is that I feel more likely to be critiqued and judged by others when appearing feminine), and why I’m most comfortable presenting fairly androgynously. Maybe it also at least partially explains why I don’t prioritize my appearance particularly highly—I know not all aces feel this way, but I do wonder if it’s a factor for me.

Read the rest of the posts in the appearance series here.

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