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Greg

If you define sexiness as not just looking good, but looking good naked or in a bikini, middle-aged women are always going to be less sexy than a 20 year old. I've seen some sexy older women in my day, but their sexiness came from their personality and to the extent their sexiness was based on their looks, it had more to do with how their looks reflected their personality than whether their boobs were firm.

grasshopper

Of course I agree with Greg and Lance, and with everyone else who's gotten into this business about naked bodies.
My point is: Not all 19-year-olds are beautiful. And some who are, will never know it. They are so stymied by what they fear the world's reaction will be that they truly believe pixie ears or freckles make them hideous. They, more than anyone else, compare themselves with the 19-year-old idols. Five pounds more than the cover girl turns them into a hippo.
And others, have just given up. Beauty is a gift they didn't get, like singing on key or a thorough understanding of non-Euclidean Geometry. So they'll concentrate on something else.
Often these girls' bodies have developed over the summer, or as it seems to them, overnight. And suddenly their moher, father, some guy driving past--everyone!--feels free to comment. "My you've filled out since last time we got together." This fixation really can grease the slide to eating disorders.
By the time a woman is 30, 40, whatever she knows what's beautiful about herself, the self she loves, and what is not. Some young women--I know them--have grown up valuing their wit and intelligence, their playfulnes and even "their music" far more than their beauty. If they happen to be stunningly beautiful no matter how they dress, with mesmerizing skin and eyes, make-up or not, they are well aware that they happened to get extremely lucky. What if they'd inherited that acne that blossomed into full size carbuncles all over their brothers'face? Phew!
But their wild beauty just doesn't matter as much as lots of other things. If men start drooling over them, these girls, who still may fear their new-formed naked selves, and hide behind curtains dressing and undressing--are more likely to ask the guy if he has a problem with his salivary glands than if it's she who is making him pant like a thirsty dog.

Andrew

Today is a day of synchronicity it seems: (via Ezra Klein)

Profile of "Girls Gone Wild" founder, Joe Francis

'Francis returns from his dance-floor foray. He's hyper, like a kid on sugar, talking fast. He says he's discovered the ultimate quarry: a girl who says she will be 17 for just a few more hours and who wants to get wild for the cameras the minute she's legal. "Girls Gone Wild" crew members can receive a bonus of $1,000 if they discover such a treasure, he shouts happily.

I follow Francis and his bodyguard through the crowd to find Kaitlyn Bultema. She's dancing on a podium and leaps off at the sight of Francis. She's wearing a skirt-and-shirt ensemble that exposes her stomach, most of her breasts and much of her bottom. I ask her why she wants to appear on "Girls Gone Wild" and she looks me in the eye and says, "I want everybody to see me because I'm hot."'

This struck me as apropos because of the narcissism and mirror imagery you brought up. Without having made a careful study of what being attractive means, I'd still say that it seems the "hippie"-ishness that Dr. B points out-being "perfectly comfortable" with one's body-is a less important component of feeling attractive than is the confirmation of being ogled or seeing a match between yourself in the mirror and what's in the media.

To the detriment of social relations, people who are attractive and simply comfortable with their bodies seem to be a much smaller minority than ever before. Without actually relating to these people, it seems that many (most?) young, good looking strangers I encounter who find themselves attractive do so because they have it externally confirmed. It also strikes me that because their attractiveness is externally confirmed, they carry a certain unapproachable attitude--almost a sense of entitlement.

The sad part is that they're so unreflective that they can't see that their attractiveness makes them co-dependent on their spectators.

Juno

This is so interesting. I'm a woman in her late 30s and I remember so vividly how I retreated from sexuality when I developed young and could not in any way handle the attention of men who looked at my breasts and body rather than my face, who never noticed that I was still really a little girl.

The sickest part of it is that at 12 or so if I was whistled at or harassed on the street this fact was treated - by the adult women in my life - as a reward, a proof of my sexual value.

It took me years and years and years to understand what was cockeyed about this and to stop seeing the male gaze as what made me sexy...or not. I like my face now more -with the expression that life has given it, not the kind of formless prettiness of 17 or 22 and even my body now, because though it is far from perfect it is mine in a way that my young body never was.

I really appreciated the way Dr. B described inhabiting herself. That's extraordinary and beautiful.


coturnix

I finally managed to respond to this. Too long for the comments section....

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