I spent some time with a friend and her boyfriend last night, and he said something that struck me as odd. I've been mulling it over since, and I haven't really been able to find any satisfying conclusions.
To set the scene, my friend, L, is vibrant, ebullient, gorgeous, and has pretty much no filter for anything she says or does. She's perfectly comfortable doin' her bathroom thing with the door wide open so as not to interrupt the flow of conversation. She has described to me, in detail, the texture of the skin on her labia (only because I politely declined her offer to show me). Once we were talking about Curb Your Enthusiasm and she casually popped out a tit and started playing with her nipple. Not in a sexual way - it was like how some girls twirl their hair around their fingers. She didn't even notice she was doing it until I said, "Uh....." She is a unique and wonderful soul, and can be a bit of a handful, but I love her dearly and cherish our friendship.
Her boyfriend is great, but a little more reserved. He's not the type to whip out his genitals and start doing the helicopter during lulls in conversation; his boundaries and privacy expectations are closer to what appears to be the societal norm. It's clear that he loves L and finds her openness charming but shocking, which it is. He was surprised the first time she changed clothes in front of both of us, concerned that maybe she'd forgotten I was there. She hadn't. He's since decided to write it off as ladyfriend closeness. It is.
A fourth (male) friend was coming over to drop something off. L was in a thin cotton t-shirt and no bra. She has a rack on her, and the shirt did very little to cover it up.
Boyfriend: "Uhhh, did you maybe want to put on a sweater?"
He asked it kindly and genuinely; his tone betrayed an unspoken, "And I hope it's something you would have done anyway? Without my asking?"
It's a free country; we're a free people; wear what you want in your own house. BUT, I didn't disagree with him. The fourth friend is also in a relationship, and I think it potentially could have put him in an uncomfortable position. You couldn't not look at L's chest in the shirt - it was distracting, even for me. Not that fourth friend isn't capable of controlling himself, but a sweater seemed an easy way to guarantee less awkwardness for everyone.
She put on a sweater. She wasn't mad - she seemed flattered by his protectiveness, but dismissive of his concerns.
L: Oh, pfffft, he's seen me like that tons of times. Honestly? He wouldn't care.
Boyfriend: Yeah, but I'm here, and you guys are wearing all that makeup...
That's where he lost me. Just for fun, we'd painted our faces up with "Welcome To My Home" like restraint before going out that night. I used six kinds of eyeshadow. Six. Another reason L and I are such close friends is because our idea of "dressing up" is throwing a belt over our perma-uniform of a giant t-shirt and yoga pants. The glam thing was out of character for us, and we looked amazing. Like a fine-ass pair of Kabuki theatre actresses.
It seemed like the subtext of his statement was that by dolling ourselves up, we were blatantly inviting sexual desire. That simply by wearing makeup, we were giving the wrong impression. I bristled at that. It seemed unfair that anyone would make that assumption. I thought back to when she was helping me with my eyeliner. It was all so much fun. We were laughing and pouting at the mirror, marvelling at the china-doll faces peering back. We test drove our newly accented features with ridiculous facial expressions that slowly melted into genuine attempts to be sexy when we thought the other wasn't looking. It's amazing how much more smoldering your gaze appears from beneath five millimeters of black liquid liner, your spider-leg lashes fanned out like an inverted umbrella. The "sexy" was innocent and silly, and we were doing it more for ourselves than anyone else.
But then I thought about it some more. How is anyone else supposed to know why I decided to wear makeup? I have done up my face in the past with the intention of soliciting sexual desire. Not entirely, but it was a motivator, and I was pleased when it worked. How can anyone tell just by looking at me if I'm wearing my just-for-fun makeup or my just-for-"fun"-makeup wink wink? I don't always wear makeup to try and look sexy, but when I try to look sexy, I always wear makeup. I can see how that's confusing.
On the one hand, I feel ridiculous typing any of that. It's irrelevant. I should be able to dress and look however I'd like and receive the same respect from people regardless. People should be able to feel whatever sexual desire they'd like as long as they keep it to themselves unless it's explicitly invited. It's so mind-numbingly simple; it's so perfectly black and white, and yet here I am, confused out of my skull.
Why did I agree with L's boyfriend about the sweater, but not the makeup? Why is putting on a ton of makeup, so much so that I literally and lazily joked about my "hooker face," "fun"? I am probably making a mountain out of her molehills, but I keep shaking my head like I expect to dislodge the social conditioning and find my right answer. Should you consider how other people will perceive and respond to you when you dress/present yourself, and how much? Is it even possible not to?
Later that night we ate popcorn. It was delicious. I'm not morally conflicted about that at all!