Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Now that my 'hotty totty' friend is in her 50s, I no longer have the energy to reassure her that she's the prettiest, sexiest girl in the room

When I was younger, if you were a female of my current age who dressed sexily and seductively, in super-low-cut outfits and "f-me" stilettos, with a theatrical amount of makeup on your face, I would have totally wanted to be your friend. I would have found you daring and exciting, someone whose orbit I wanted to be in. I imagined you as being confident and bold, so much fun to be around, a woman—a feminist, I hoped—secure enough to dress as you wanted. "Co-opting the male gaze," so to speak.

I never bought into the "slut" label. I preferred to believe that you possessed agency, and were "commenting" on conventional tropes of female desirability, facing the world head-on as a 24/7 "sex bomb" because you were in fierce control of your body and sexuality. (I, myself, dressed more modestly—albeit with a bohemian edge—because I wasn't comfortable having so many eyes on me all the time. Or maybe, I thought, it was just because I liked feeling natural and comfortable. Or, maybe, I also thought, I wasn't brave enough when it came to owning my own sexuality.)

In my mid 20s, I grew close to a few women who dressed as I've described, but in particular, I befriended a spiky-haired singer who dressed—not only on stage, but off stage, even while shopping at the supermarket or washing her clothes at the laundromat—in micro-miniskirts, mesh stockings, razor-sharp stilettos, miniscule halter tops with no bra and enough makeup to stock the cosmetic section at Macy's.

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I loved watching her perform on stage—her grace, her powerful voice, her ability to capture and convey authentic emotion. Gradually, though, I began to feel sorry for her off-stage self, her "real" self, because she needed constant reassurance from me (and everyone else she knew) that she was sexy, attractive and appealing to the world around her. Dressing so provocatively, it seemed, in such attention-getting outfits, was less about her truly feeling fierce, sexy and powerful inside, and more about a constant yearning to be desired always, by everyone.

Although I tried to get through to her that her self-worth shouldn't come from the response of others to her superficial "charms," I wasn't successful. I wanted so much for her to become genuinely self-confident and self-aware, someone for whom the gaze of the "other" didn't define her. I wanted to see her sometimes in baggy, stained sweats, no makeup and ripped-up sneakers. I wanted her not to worry about whether others desired her, about whether she was the biggest "hotty totty" (as my grandmother might have put it) in town—or the universe.

By the time we were in our mid-30s, she was calling me 6 or 7 times a day, requesting reassurance about a vast array of things, especially her worth as an aging sex-bomb in a world that doesn't value older women. I empathized with all of her worries. Who among us females doesn't know about the indignities of aging, of which there are so many—among them being told that we're losing our sexual and womanly allure? And yet, I sometimes let her calls go to voicemail. When I did pick up, I was less constant and forthcoming with my reassurances. We remained friendly, but I was no longer "Numero Uno" on her call list, for which I was grateful, because I simply didn't have the energy to endlessly comfort her.

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She and I are still friends (although not besties), and I'd like to think that we always will be. She's now in her 50s, and I love that she's still a sexy knockout in her clothing. However, I wish that by now she felt good enough about herself not to need others to reassure her that she's the prettiest, sexiest girl in the room. That hasn't happened.

In the meantime, with age, I've grown braver and more confident about dressing as the mood strikes me. I know much better who I am—a complex, multifaceted human being, as we all are. At times, it's very exciting for me to feel conventionally sexy in a tight blouse and short skirt, knowing that some heads will turn my way as I enter the room. At other times, I love wearing ratty jeans and an extra-large hoodie, with no makeup and my hair unwashed, and nonetheless feeling good—even sexy—in my own middle-aged, non-hotty totty way.