“Lingerie is not about seducing men. It’s about embracing womanhood.” – Dita Von Teese
When my marriage was running on fumes, my ex-husband would send me to Victoria’s Secret with instructions to pick out something to his liking. “Red,” he would say. Or “animal print.” Or, finally, in desperation: “anything you want,” which at that point was nothing that might lead to sex, the sex that was between two people with wildly incompatible desires and personas.
When we separated, I downsized from a 3000-square-foot house to a 1300-square-foot apartment with my two kids. Lingerie wasn’t exactly in my budget, but I bought some anyway. I found myself, once again, acquiring lingerie for the delight of a man, the first man I dated. He liked blue, and sparkles, so I selected a jewel-studded matching royal blue bra and g-string set. When that brief relationship ended, I stuffed the overwrought lingerie in the back of the drawer. It had been his taste, not mine.
I made this mistake one more time. Another man I dated wanted to see me in a pearl thong. He went out of the country on business, and I decided to surprise him upon his return. Good pearl thongs are not all that easy to come by — in case you were wondering — but I eventually found a beautiful one online that came in a discreet, slim box. He came back, and the relationship instantly evaporated. I folded the black lace band and two strands of pearls inside the box, and shoved it to the back of the drawer.
Since I was a teenager, I’d convinced myself that I should want what boyfriends wanted. I did this so much I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know that I didn’t need permission to be who I was, that I was entitled to have my own opinion, even if it meant pissing someone off. And here I was at 50; I was not about to spend my golden years trying to make a man happy at my own expense.
So I decided to stop buying lingerie for men, and to start buying it for myself. I said yes to underwires and no to g-strings. Thumbs-up to thigh highs, thumbs-down to garter belts and stockings. Crotchless? Never again. Black panties? Can’t have too many: polka dots, bows, lace, criss-crossed pink ribbon, delicate swaths of mesh, leopard-print piping.
Rarely have I met a black panty, thong, or boy short I didn’t want to take home and slip into.
My 12-year-old daughter is both fascinated and horrified by the contents of my lingerie drawer.
“When do you wear this?” she asked recently, wrinkling her nose as she held up my black rubber corset with the tips of her fingers.
She doesn’t approve of my thongs either, and thinks I should wear proper panties. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for her, growing up with a single mother who has become increasingly sexually empowered. I worry at times that it’s embarrassing — although virtually anything I do at this stage in her life is fodder for embarrassment.
I remember my own mother walking around in a white Playtex girdle. I never had a sense of her as a sexual being. I did, however, have a sense of her craving attention and validation — for what, I’m not sure. But eventually that craving eroded into resignation.
What I’ve learned, at 52, is that searching outside yourself for validation is one long, lonely, meandering journey. If you’re unfortunate, it ends at desperation. If you’re fortunate, you arrive back at your own door, which you can choose to finally call home.
I’d like to get off the carousel of dating. I’d like to have the experience of showing up as myself with the same man, year after year. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I do know this:
Wearing sexy lingerie of my own choosing is something I do for myself. If a man sees it, likes it, and is happy to remove it, fine. But I won’t be wearing it just for him. I’ll be wearing it for me, to celebrate growing out of being a girl and into being a woman.
I’ll be wearing sexy lingerie everyday, for the rest of my life.
Photography by Nick Holmes