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By Madison Hoar
Two years ago, a 14-year-old girl sat in her garage Googling the term “asexual.” She had heard the term colloquially, but never knew what it meant. Now, in a moment of uncertainty, she grasped at it to see if it could help her understand the swirl of distress she felt when she considered other people’s bodies. She was right: she had never felt sexual attraction in her life and didn’t want to. This realization might have been a godsend, but she didn’t know that her confusion about the body hadn’t disappeared. In time, it would just transfer over to her own.
This girl was me, but it wasn’t just me. These mixed feelings about people’s bodies are an extremely common part of the asexual experience. As soon as we’re old enough to grasp even the concept of attraction, we’re bombarded with the understood standard of sex appeal. It’s most uniform for women: long lashes, thin waist and thick thighs, a rack big enough to cast a shadow, and a sufficiently seductive personality to match. Of course, these qualifications vary based on others’ preferences, but that’s just it. We’re taught to define our beauty by what other people like, and it becomes so entrenched that sometimes, we attribute that subjective perspective to our self worth. Beauty becomes mandatory. Everyone has to find us appealing, or we’re not appealing at all.
So, where does that leave a group of people that, depending on their end of the spectrum, don’t find anyone appealing, ever?
At first, it was easy. I didn’t feel the need to be particularly attractive, especially as a minor, so why should I make an effort to be? And that mindset worked when I was fourteen. But, as I got older, I started asking myself questions that were more difficult to answer. Did it bother me that my chest was flat? Would I be open to dating people who weren’t asexual themselves? Was I comfortable wearing the skimpier pieces in my wardrobe, like shorts and crop tops?
The root of these questions is borne from perception. There’s a fine line one must walk, and it doesn’t just apply to asexuals. You want to feel pretty and sexy, but not to the point that you worry about your personal safety and comfort. Women and feminine people especially have faced this reality for as long as gender has been a meaningful concept, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Thinking about this reality is what made me realize what the ultimate question behind all the others I had been asking myself was: how can I, as an asexual woman, be comfortable in my own body in a world where sexualization is inevitable?
The way I answered this question was the way anyone who struggles with their image does– I came to terms with my internal self before my external one. I had to recognize that being asexual was something that was never going to change for me, and that I didn’t have to have it all figured out immediately. I tried wearing different clothes, talking to allosexuals about their experiences compared to mine, and simply spent a lot of time talking to myself. Over the course of a few months, I was able to come out to my siblings, then my parents, then friends; now, it’s something I consider a core of my identity. When you’re actively trying to understand something as big as your sexuality, determining where your boundaries with yourself and others lie is something that occurs naturally as you think about it. I didn’t ignore my label, but explored it, and that played a huge part in helping me be comfortable with myself. I dressed to the point I was comfortable with, recognized that I could decide how much I let others touch me, and decided what I liked other people thinking about me.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to realize is that you are in control of your own body, not how other people perceive it— and that applies to everyone. The fears that come with attractiveness aren’t exclusive to you; many, many people feel them. No one wants to be perceived by every single person in their immediate vicinity. Sometimes, it’s just one or two, and for you, perhaps it’s none. It’s okay to not present for anyone else. You can be beautiful for you. The one person who should always find you gorgeous stares right back at you in the mirror.
Madison Hoar is a student at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where one of her professors is the poet laureate of the state. She’s an aspiring writer who has won several contests for her fiction and hopes to soon conquer journalism as well.