On The (Fraught) Glory Of Being Objectified

Modified from Flickr / Benoît Meunier

I think I’ve always been into myself. Sexually that is. It’s funny the incredible amount of assumptions one carries around, all the bits hidden within the shadows of our own viscera; the parts we never analyze any closer than we do our own toes or tufts of pubic hair.

I learned this week about autosexualism — which diluted for brevity essentially means you find yourself erotic — and while I still do not feel it is appropriate to don this moniker or identity, it made me pause. I thought that everyone who enjoys sex solo or otherwise — on some level — caught a glimpse of themselves naked in the mirror from time to time and was like, oh hell yes.

I genuinely look forward to being alone with my own body. My mind can be such a cruel place. Perhaps I’ve learned to self-objectify — rendering myself something to crawl within, project upon, and bruise my knees kneeling before — as a means of remembering a more whole self, a self that is not sacrificed on the daily altar of self-doubt and derision.

When I see myself — though not as myself, not exactly — as an entity entirely separate from the one I actively inhabit, I can be whomever, whatever I want. Such is the glory of self-imposed artifice; sometimes this manifests in my clothing — in pearls and pastels I’m a very sweet (tasting) but a very shy thing. In leather and an old t-shirt I’m straddling your face and I’m frightening; I’m howling for your cock.

But most of the time it’s not the donning of a costume that allows this transformation from human to object; it’s simply observing myself, and I find it to be a beautiful dissociation.

Such is the glory of the human body. I cannot shed my mind, but I can remake myself again and again and again with my visage.

I cannot shed my mind, but I can remake myself again and again and again with my visage.

I look to the second definition of “objectify” to glean insight into why it feels so right to objectify myself:

“to give expression to (as an abstract notion, feeling, or ideal) in a form that can be experienced by others…”

There is nothing there but flesh. Two pink areolas, bristling in the air. Burgundy lips surrounded by the softest ruffles of salmon, soft as peony petals; knuckled fingers and toes, heels so rough with dirt you can hear them scrape on the sheets; there is a forest of tiny black hairs silhouetted against bright-white thighs; there are cuticles wet with nervous saliva.

I objectify myself to try and understand my essence and then attempt to translate it to someone else. How can I possibly know how to convey what I need, how I want to celebrated — or denigrated — if I can’t see myself?

I realize objectification is part and parcel with some of the worst functions of misogyny; it has been made synonymous with degradation, disrespect, an active deterioration of a woman’s humanity. It is to strip her of autonomy, her agency, her subjectivity.

It is to reduce someone to — Kant was big on exploring the nature of objectification — “a thing on which another satisfies his appetite.”

Kant has a lot to say on all this, but a particular piece of his overall too moralistic, reductive, and heteronormative stance on sex particularly stung me in his Lectures on Ethics:

“…as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry. … as soon as a person becomes an Object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by everyone.”

Firstly, how ridiculous to imagine that someone orgasming in me, on me, or near me transforms me into a old, sucked-dry lemon! To continue with this unfortunate fruit metaphor…if someone was “satiated” to the point of disinterest at best and disgust at worst, they clearly don’t have a palette for my particular fruit. Best they move on to other jungles.

Secondly, craving an object of appetite — an object of desire, something to be consumed — should not be made synonymous with amorality. A person’s erotic desire — their admittedly fraught projection — onto my corporeal self does not negate their “goodness”; they have not violated me or the world’s ineffable system of right and wrong.

Rather, I believe they’ve successfully interpreted the very alchemy — the temporary negation of self — I painstakingly underwent to render myself anew; they are craving my body and the story it’s telling.

They are pitiful sailors lashed to a mast and my song is snapping. each. rope. to the rhythm of my blood. I’m an idol on the shore; I’m rendered in alabaster, in clay — or is it sand? — and how they pine to worship at every crevice. They’ll swim leagues to get to me.

Where are your favorite places to be touched?

Bite the back of my neck. Drag your teeth from my nape to the top of my spine. Drag your tongue so softly—so softly I’m not sure you’re there—where my legs meet my hips, right at the branch of me. Lick me like a tiger where my tail should be; take your tongue and in broad strokes lick off all my fur until I’m a gleaming tiger too.

Hold my head to the pillow—your hands tangled with a fistful of my hair—and kiss my entire my face except my mouth until my mouth is throbbing in time with the wet heat between my legs and I think they might be speaking in tongues to one another.

Sometimes I crave the promise of touch exponentially more than the touch itself. I want to feel his eyes on me. I want my body—the shift of it in sunlight and shadow, the crossing of my legs, a slender calf now exposed, the rolling of my neck, the cracking of my fingers, the heat of my body radiating like a sun-baked garden; I want to feel like a spell. I want him to ache for my warmth, not because he loves me, but because my body is a promise of pleasure.

I think many would (and do) decry my desire to be objectified — by myself or others — as an unfortunate but obvious internalization of misogyny; indeed much of feminist thought is predicated on systematically de-objectifying ourselves.

In “Feminist Perspectives on Objectification” by Evangelia Papadaki and Edward N. Zalta, they discuss the lengthy and complicated legacy of anti-porn activists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who treated pornography — arguably the height of objectification — as a map for women’s oppression:

They argue that,

“even if women consent to their being used as mere means for men’s sexual purposes, this is not sufficient to make such use permissible…women in the pornographic industry consent to be used as objects simply out of lack of options available to them within our patriarchal society. Women’s consent, therefore, is not true consent.”

In short? I have been so steeped in shit, I’ve not only grown unable to recognize it as shit, but have developed a profound delusion that said shit is a delicious creation of my own desire.

But I don’t believe my desire to be objectified is merely a bastardization of society’s hatred of women and femininity that now I am enacting upon myself.

Philosopher Martha Naussbaum has a fascinating essay entitled — what else — “Objectification,and she meticulously outlays seven ways one objectifies another and the potential dangers said objectification poses.

There’s about 9,000 ways I’d like to analyze this but, in lieu of that diatribe I give you this:

  1. I think that when two — or five! — people are having sex (even when I’m enjoying my blissed out solitude) you are using yourself or other bodies as a vehicle, a tool, for your own pleasure…and I just don’t believe that using myself or another body as a tool for joy is bad.
  2. Sometimes I do want to suspend my autonomy and self-determination. Tell me where to put my mouth. Tell me what you’re going to do. I have to run my life, and my mouth, all day; it’s nice to suspend all that pesky decision making for an hour. I’m choosing—consenting, ah the glory of uttering ‘yes’—to be objectified.
  3. See above.
  4. Never when I seek out objectification do I conceive of myself as being interchangeable. Even if I have reduced myself to my breasts (your teeth are pricking their flesh and I am reminded of being eaten by small fish) or my rising white ass (he’s drawn my underwear so tight between my cheeks I’m begging for him) — they’re ever and always mine, and so is the pleasure I am gleaning from them.
  5. In this surrendering of my bodily self, part of my consent is that you can permeate me. I dissolve my boundaries in your arms. Break me apart. I trust you.
  6. I don’t know how everyone else conceives of monogamy—but for me, I believe that ownership, proprietary rights to everything under someone else’s kit, yours and only yours for the touching, etc. etc. ad nauseam, is part of the deal. My sexual monogamy means that I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that at least physically, my sexuality belongs to someone else other than me. [Again, this is just my brain and loins working through my shit; I imagine that lots of poly folks feel this way too and lots of monogamous folks don’t feel like relinquishing fuck all. Such is the kaleidoscope of experience.]
  7. OK, fuck #7 as it seems utterly absent of consent and I don’t fuck with that. Somehow this one is dangerously close to #2 or #3, but I can’t put my weight behind it.

This is all to say, my sex, my sense of sexuality, my being a woman in this world who wants to be wanted — is wrapped up in being objectified. But I think this is a beautiful — if fraught — conundrum.

Consider these three stanzas from Sylvia Plath’s poem — Fever 103°:

“…I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern
My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.
Does not my heat astound you! And my light!
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush…”

She begins with this notion of purity, of likening herself to a god, inviolable, but also fragile. The body imposed upon her own being — but specifically not her body — hurts her as the “world hurts God.” I think of this as the desire that I — a physical object in the world — have set into motion.

Just as the world God created harms him—his creation is not as he intended—so too does my body and the desire it sets into motion, defy me.

But does my light, my heat, not astound you?

Am I not an exquisite object?

Like what you read? Give Katie Tandy a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.