Since entering the world of Ethical Non Monogamy (ENM) with my husband, I have heard many people bantering around the idea of being your authentic self. It’s a beautiful idea, the concept that when you open your mind and your marriage to other people and ideas, you become more free to explore and express yourself than is accepted in mainstream culture.
In many ways, ENM has helped me explore my authentic self and I’ve found it to be quite liberating. I’ve discovered things about myself that I didn’t know before. However, there are some very real pressures in this world of couples-dating.
I am not the sort of woman who stops traffic. I am neither so stunning nor so frightful that folks stop to stare. I know that I am a moderately attractive woman with a little more in the tummy and a little less in the brasserie than I would like. But all in all I’m content. I am happily married, after all. Who do I need to impress?
Well, after beginning a journey of non monogamy, I found the need to impress a lot of people. If we want to find dates and find play partners, I need to be attractive. And this is where the pressure comes in, and, in my opinion, the opportunity to become a forgery rather than the masterpiece you alone can be.
We know the world has unrealistic ideals for the female body, which are often driven by filters and photoshop, instead of reality. We can tell ourselves this all day. But the reality is, we are now in a competitive market. We are once again dating, this time as a couple.
In many ways this pressure to be attractive is good: it has encouraged my husband and I to lose weight and stay healthy. We also pay more attention to fashions and trends.
However, in some ways, the pressure to stay attractive can be a trap to conform and lose our unique identifies. The pressure to look like the other women, dress like them, buy certain outfits and shoes is definitely one part. Am I being my authentic self, showing off the Masterpiece that I am, if I’m choosing outfits not because I like them but because they are what all the women are wearing?
Another aspect of the identity sucker is trying to conform to a standard of beauty or sexiness that you do not actually find attractive.
My husband, for example, has never been attracted to super thin women with no curves and I have never been attracted to super thin men with big muscles and no fluff. But now the pressure to become those very things can rear its head. And we must be constantly aware of our desires so that we may remain authentic to ourselves and not become a mere forgery of someone else’s masterpiece.
There are many people in the Lifestyle (another term for ENM) who are likewise attracted to women with curves and men with a little fluff. We have found many people at our local club who have real, amazing, human bodies. Beautiful people with wonderful personalities and perfectly imperfect bodies. And there is no better way to feel sexy than to be scantily clad and have strangers compliment you.
Despite the many wonderful, accepting people, there is still very much an undercurrent of pressure to conform to a picture of attractiveness that may or may not actually be your own standards. It is, after all, a world where you are looking for people you find sexually attractive. You aren’t dating to find a new spouse, you are looking for certain things that rev up your sexual urges, turn you on, make you feel excited. Naturally that is going to mean judging people’s attractiveness. I certainly am not saying we choose to play with folks we do not find attractive. And I am not saying that anyone should.
The trick is in learning the line of being what you feel is an attractive version of yourself. A happy, healthy version. And being that authentically, unabashedly and wholeheartedly.
I want to look good. I want to be healthy. But if I trade my mental health for a standard of beauty that is not mine but imposed by others, I am not being authentic to myself. I’m becoming a forgery. Only when I can love myself, my perfectly imperfect body, can I be authentically myself, regardless of whether I’m in the Lifestyle or not.
Please join my perfectly imperfect body positivity campaign on Twitter @mrs_p_hartley and help spread the idea that we must learn to love our imperfections to be our authentic selves.