Julia Newman wants men to fight for body diversity, because it will enrich their sex lives too.
I miss Marilyn Monroe even though not only did I never meet her, but I was born almost half a century after her, and also was not alive during her career. But I miss her, her body, her grief, and her perseverance. I miss the way she tangoed with the press, ever-performing, ever-manipulating. All of her neuroses, well I have them too. I see strength where some chauvinists saw helpless daft.
In front of the camera, she was a master of disguise. She enchanted and seduced and collectively we have come to see this seduction as calculated—every sway of her hips, every bat of her eyelashes carefully crafted. My question is: why don’t we seem to accept that this legacy of performance continues?
Miley Cyrus may have received flack for her shock-and-awe performance at the VMAs, but I think the backlash missed the point. We laugh at how obvious her gyrations and nude leotard declared, “I am not a little kid. I own my sexuality.” But what kind of sexuality is that? There was nothing artistic or original. If she had any guts, she’d own her body by exposing her vulnerability. And she’d do it sparingly
Sex is messy and it usually doesn’t involve a foam finger. For most women, owning our sexuality means giving voice to our needs and a yearning to accept our bodies and allow for pleasure even if we don’t have the taut skin and tone of a 19-year-old.
What I love about Marilyn is that her relationships with the men in her life—Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio—were cloaked in mystery but also privacy. We can imagine they cherished the kind of intimacy we all have with our own partners. Marilyn was constantly exposed, but she actually did own her sexuality. She chose what we saw and kept hidden what was to her too intimate for the undiscerning eye of the media.
I wish Miley could own her sexuality, cherish it, protect it. I wish women could own their bodies by choosing when to expose and not stripping down in order to sell more product. And I wish I wasn’t so afraid—even as a real and true feminist grown-up—that men expect me to be a VMA Miley Cyrus in the bedroom.
Even as a real and true feminist grown-up, it is easy for me to disregard reality and experience by falling for the media messages about who I should be and what I should look like. There are times when I think I’m being ridiculous, when I find men who easily laugh off the body stereotypes as “not what I want.” And those of course are the relationships that count.
But I also meet real and true progressive-thinking (dare I say feminist) grown-up men who actually admit that, yes, they have come to expect models in the bedroom. They are actually frustrated and ashamed by how they have become duped too.
I want men to rally—the men who love women. I want men to react against the photo-shopped, incomprehensible images in the media. Because those images are having an effect on them too. They’re warping the otherwise free-thinking men just like they’re warping me. I want men to fight for body diversity, because it will enrich their sex lives too.
I miss Marilyn not just because of her body but because of her complexity. Sexuality is complex, and anything that claims otherwise—whether in performance or word or image—is simply destructive. To raise healthy women with healthy ownership of their bodies, we need to raise men who are just as invested in letting them.