From Issue 2.6 - June/July 1996
The Eye of the Beholder
Hey, folks, check out the new column header! It's been pointed out to me several times now that the old self-portrait that appeared here (and also on the title page of "The Sexually Dominant Woman") was drawn five years and -- uh-oh -- about 40 pounds ago. So I decided it was time to update my image.
I feel just a bit bad about making this change; it's kind of the writer's equivalent of throwing out all the skinny clothes in the back of your closet. But it's led me to think about an issue that's taken up a totally unreasonable amount of my time, thoughts, and emotional energy for four decades or so: the issue of physical appearance.
I remember a good friend of mine, a woman of tremendous warmth, intelligence and accomplishment, calling me up one night. She'd been in some sort of visualization workshop, and had done an exercise in which she visualized the one change she'd most like to make in her life. She was embarrassed -- almost tearful -- when she told me that the change she'd visualized was becoming pretty. And I was embarrassed, too, to confess that I wasn't sure I'd have made a different choice.
And this, mind you, is at a time in my life when I'm saner about physical appearance than ever before. Believe me, I've been there. I've lost and gained a few hundred pounds. I've refused to leave the house without mascara on. I've grown my nails to half an inch of painted perfection, and spent untold hours polishing, shaping and repairing them. (I'm much better now, thanks.)
The only thing that makes any of this acceptable is knowing that my craziness is shared by untold millions. One of the most down-to-earth women I know -- we've been friends for nearly a decade and I've never seen her in makeup -- told me once that she always chooses a seat with the light behind her, to help conceal a few nearly invisible acne scars.
I think one of the big obstacles that holds back a lot of novice hetero women from experimenting with SM, especially as tops, is self-consciousness about their appearance. They've read the magazines and they know what a "dominatrix" is supposed to look like, and they're worried about cellulite bulging over the tops of their thigh-high boots. Or, worse yet, they decide deep inside themselves that they don't deserve to get what they want because they don't look good enough.
It's always fun for me to see how these women react when they actually start attending SM events. Like many alternative sexuality communities, the SM community seems to be quite tolerant of variations in appearance -- some of our most beloved and lustworthy leaders are too fat, or too old, or too "different"-looking to be considered sexy in the vanilla world. The dearth of hetero females in the scene also means that women who grew up as wallflowers often get their first opportunity here to be Queen of the Prom -- and, boy, is it fun.
The good news: I think SM can do an amazing job of helping to heal the wounds borne by many people around the issue of physical appearance. I did a scene last year in which my top put several rows of clamps on my belly -- my much-hated, saggy, cesarean-scarred, stretch-marked belly, the part of me that I never look at if I can avoid it. Does it sound weird to say that I was blown away by my friend liking that part of me so much that he was willing to hurt it? I assure you, it was a profound experience to discover, at gut level (pun intentional), that something so ugly could give both of us so much pleasure.
In fact, I think a lot of SM has to do with changing the relationship between our bodies and our selves. We learn that pain doesn't have to feel bad unless we want it to, that every part of the body can be a source of pleasure and discovery, that our imaginations can turn us into any creature we're capable of picturing. One of the truest moments in the book 9 1/2 Weeks is the narrator's recollection of admiring her arm in a handcuff, seeing the beauty of the smooth skin and the tiny interplay of muscles and the softness of the little hairs set off by the harsh steel. Arousal, excitement and a sense of "rightness" make us all beautiful.
But we still have a long way to go. Our porn still features mostly slim young models (although, given a choice between a big ol' jiggly well-padded butt and a scrawny little apricot-sized affair, I know which one I'd rather hit). Some of our most skilled and empathetic professional dommes have trouble making ends meet, while hardbodies who spend more time choosing their fetishwear than learning their craft can make serious bucks. And I've noticed that female submissives who are un-young and/or un-slim seem to have trouble finding Master Right (perhaps the cultural enjoinments about dominating Mom are still too heavy).
But it's better in my world than it is in my vanilla friends' worlds
by a huge margin. And it gets better all the time. We'll see how we're
doing in 20 or 30 years -- when I'm a fat sexy old lady.
Lady Green is the author of "KinkyCrafts: 101 Do-It-Yourself SM Toys" and "The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners," and co-author of "The Topping Book" and "The Bottoming Book" (under the name Catherine A. Liszt). She publishes a newsletter and teaches classes for novice dominant women and their partners. For a catalog, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to 3739 Balboa Ave. #195, San Francisco, CA 94121, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.