When Life Stops Being About The Male Gaze, It’s Kinda Wonderful

As a card-carrying feminist, I don’t like to admit that certain insecurities of mine have been shaped by men or what we perceive to be the male gaze.

To clarify, the latter is based around what men perceive to be beautiful and desirable. Men are perfectly entitled to have opinions on what is beautiful and desirable, but when it becomes insidious is a) when their opinions are shaped because they are only being presented with very specific, narrow standards of beauty (and ergo think something is beautiful without even realising they are being manipulated) and b) women alter themselves around these ideals because they think that’s the only way they are going to be attractive to men.

I remember it starting as young as my early teens when despite a lot of praying to Buddha, Jesus and Ganesh, my boobs were woefully insignificant. All around me were girls cultivating fecking Galia melons on their chests and mine stubbornly refused to play ball. And why did I want big boobs? Because that’s what I thought boys wanted and there was no way they’d be interested in me if I didn’t have them.

What got me thinking about all of this was shopping in Superdry before I left for my travels, which I am now currently on, typing this from a house in Kolkata.

Packing for several months of travel forces you to be economical with your wardrobe in terms of size, and I had to figure out what kind of underwear I wanted to take with me. I had done an inventory of my underwear drawer and realised there were a fair few pieces in there that I realised I hadn’t worn very much because they were uncomfortable, but I’d purchased anyway because they looked ‘sexy’.

Superdry do AMAZING underwear – they are soft and the most comfortable I have ever owned (sorry M&S). At £8.99 a pop they aren’t cheap but I think they are worth it. However, they only do one cut – briefs – and being 100% cotton, they are a snappy design but they certainly are not sexy.

Image: Superdry

I had a moment of doubt when I thought ‘but you know, what happens if I meet a guy on my travels and all I have are these stripey undies?’ And then I thought you know what, nope. I’m done with this.

Underwear, especially, should not be about the male gaze. It has become so for a number of reasons – one of which of course is the strong association in films of guys buying girls underwear, or a girl getting ready for a date and busting out with lacy whatnots.

I realised I had spent far too long debating in shops about whether this bra was sexy, that pair of underwear was flattering, or shopping for new underwear ahead of a date. And for what?

When it comes to something covering my arse, the only person’s opinion that matters is mine.

What I realised, is that one of the wonderful thing about your 30s is that you begin the process of sloughing off some of these weird hangups and emotional baggage you developed in your teens and 20s.

I’m not saying my underwear drawer needs to be ugly – and I’m a firm believer that I need to love every piece in there, and it needs to be in good condition – but I’m saying that it needs to be based on MY requirements, not what I think a man wants or finds attractive.

Similarly I’m pretty happy with my boobs – they finally grew larger than a mosquito bite (but still sadly smaller than a pair of melons) and I have zero complaints.

And the reality in my experience, is that most men don’t care about that kind of stuff anyway so second-guessing what they do and don’t find attractive is a pointless exercise. And any guy who does care and makes you feel bad about it, is a trash bag, so you’re infinitely better off with a comfortable, decent pair of undies than someone like that.

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