Creepy clowns and manics in hockey masks may make some people tremble in fear, but the most terrifying moment I’ve experienced in a movie theatre was while watching the movie “Top Gun.” Maverick and Goose are partying at the bar, then it happens. Carole, Goose’s wife, shouts, “Hey Goose, you big stud — take me to bed or lose me forever!”
Oh my god. She said…what? I froze. I didn’t want to watch. In the split second before he answered, I imagined Carole’s flirty demand being used as a punch line — or worse, ignored. When Goose answered: “Show me the way home, honey,” I started breathing again. I laughed at myself. What straight man would turn down Meg Ryan?
That was in 1986. Carole was played by 25 year old Meg Ryan, the perfect blonde girl next door. Of course she could dare a man to turn down her attention with the ultimate threat. Even though I was roughly her age, I was quite a few pounds heavier, with heavy breasts and chunky thighs. I excelled at ironic sidebars, not flirty come-ons.
That’s how I remember it, at least. I recently found pictures of myself from around that time, and I was surprised by what I saw. My dark hair was glossy, my skin was luminously pale, and there was a sparkle in my eyes that apparently disappeared soon after the picture was taken. The oversized flannel shirt I was wearing caught my attention. I was more buxom than Meg Ryan, but not heavy. Not even chunky. All the raw material was there for me to be as appealing as any of my friends, as any of the girls I envied. All I was lacking was confidence.
As one of the girls who hit puberty earlier than my peers, I grew up self-conscious of my shape, equating my 5th grade C cup bra with being fat, hence undesirable. Throughout my adolescence, I was certain that anyone who looked me over was judging my weight, not appreciating my curves. Wearing boxy shirts, often mens shirts, a size too big was my way of hiding.
In ways, I was lucky. In the article “The Risks of Earlier Puberty,” the American Psychological Association pointed out the potential issues girls face when they develop younger than their peers. I was younger, but not exceedingly so, and I already had an established image as a nerd; while some bullying took place, big shirts and finding a group of church friends who were quite prudish made it easier for me to create a non-sexual identity despite having a build that could have been sexualized when I was too young to understand.
Those factors also made it easier for me to end up in a sexless marriage. My relationship did not start out that way, but within a handful of years, we could go months without even a hug. The longest we went without any intimacy or physical contact was nearly two years. Tthere were years where I was lucky; maybe once every month or two we would trip the light fantastic…for ten minutes or so.
By the time I was in my early-30s, after not losing some baby weight and spending the vast majority of my time as a caretaker, I believed I wasn’t sexy enough or skilled enough to entice my husband to bed. On the rare occasions I tried to initate sexy-time, I was shut down quickly. It was more clear than ever that the Meg Ryans of the world could taunt men that they would be replaced if they didn’t treasure the chance to enjoy playing. I was not from that tribe. I was more the “they also serve who only stand and wait” part of woman-kind. Men fall over themselves for the Daphnes of the world. No one notices the Velmas. I believed the messages, both spoken and unspoken, that I was undesirable.
That is not where the story ends. I stayed in the marriage far longer than I should have, but I did eventually leave, and I dealt with the issues that led me to stay in the marriage so long. I discovered people who found me appealing, even sexy, and encouraged me to explore that. Ironically, even though I was overweight, droopy, and no where near my prime, I discovered men who liked “Velma” types — and that all I had been missing was confidence that I could be accepted and desired.
“Sexy” is a mind game. I needed to learn that. Body image is a mind game, too. Right now, I am physically In better shape than I’ve been in a couple decades, but I am on the far edge of my 50s, heavier than my doctor thinks I should be, and there are days — even weeks — when sexy eludes me.
Curvy women who dress to be noticed catch my eye; even now, I don’t have that kind of confidence. Plus size women unselfconsciously dancing in public are heros to me. I haven’t done that since college, long before I started dating my ex. Despite feeling worlds more confident that I am desirable, the girl who is hiding her curves from the public is still part of me. It’s not the part that holds the power, but it is still there, lurking in the shadows.
Near the end of “Top Gun,” Kelly McGillis teases Tom Cruise with Meg Ryan’s line, but instead of flirty fun, she delivers it smolderingly hot. Even now, I’m not in a relationship where I could confidently challenge my love to “take me to bed or lose me forever” right that moment, but I’ve learned to use my words and state my needs with confidence that I’m desired. Usually… Sometimes. Even though I haven’t mastered Ryan’s flirty yell or McGillis’ smoldering whisper, I have found my voice.