“Tell me what you like about my body,” came a shy voice from behind me. I mulled that sentence over for a moment. It seemed like such a strange request considering I already thought the guy was sexy enough to lay next to in my birthday suit. Not to sound like a Christina Aguilera video here, but I couldn’t stop touching this man and the post-activity head spins weren’t adequately allowing me to sum up how much I enjoyed his company. And bluntly, would saying how attractive I found him really change how he felt about himself?
A few days later I had time to reflect on this jarring moment. It was the first of its kind for me, and I haven’t experienced anything like it since. Of course men have these questions of body image, but I’ve never been with someone who felt so comfortable (or maybe uncomfortable) as to ask what their partner preferred about their physical appearance. Being a nerd who refuses to live in the real world, I couldn’t help but compare this real slice of life with a film that for all intents and purposes hasn’t really stayed in the minds of many viewers.
In 2002 I had the biggest crush on Jake Gyllenhaal, which meant I watched any and every film he appeared in. I could list each one off for you, dear reader, but I’m sure you already know where I’m going with this. That fall when Lovely & Amazing was released to light critical buzz, I was there opening night when it finally opened in Dallas. Nothing, not even the rage-inducing Catherine Keener, was going to keep me from my man. While I don’t remember being particularly fond of Nicole Holofcener’s family drama, I do remember awkwardly squirming in my seat during some of the more invasive scenes. This in a way solidifies how the bland drama stays with me almost a decade later.
During my own moment of naked confessions, Lovely & Amazing was the first movie to pop in my head. Struggling actress Elizabeth Marks (Emily Mortimer) doesn’t seem to have much going for her. Her beauty makes her neurotic, and her floundering career only intensifies her own self-hatred. She’s not particularly close to her mother and sister, but that’s why she started acting in the first place. Early into the film, she makes love with her B-list boyfriend Kevin McCabe (Dermot Mulroney), even though she seems completely disinterested in physical connections. After feeling hindered by her own body’s imperfections, she jumps out of bed demanding Kevin tell her what is “wrong” with her. Kevin, being more absorbed with himself than Elizabeth, initially refuses to answer the question. Eventually, with more pleading and promises not to take his responses personally, Elizabeth convinces him to fess up as it affects her career’s potential.
This is when the whole thing gets weird. With Elizabeth standing proudly in front of him, Kevin begins to list every negative thing about her body that he can muster. He starts off with softballs, pointing out the flaws in her facial features, then drifts down to her torso and knobby knees, and ends by focusing directly on the fullness of her pubic hair. He verbally pulls her apart, and she takes the whole thing in while trying to fight the tears from streaming down her face.
Elizabeth is a woman so consumed by her own fear of aging and loss of beauty that she has allowed, even encouraged, a man who supposedly loves her to dissect every one of her physical flaws. Although initially he may have reluctantly offered his opinions, he easily embraces the power tearing down a woman provides. Kevin feeds into the critical nature of his assignment, while Elizabeth is left not only crestfallen but more tragically, orgasmless. That pesky human desire for pleasure causes our heroine to feel anything but, while Kevin represents the stereotype of a self-centered man satisfied in two jobs well done.
This scene shook me to my core and affected the way I view bedroom vulnerability to this day. As I matured, I often used these two characters as examples of the men I didn’t want in my bed and the woman I never wanted to become. I have slipped up, just as any insecure person would, but following that naked confession I vowed to never make a lover feel he wasn’t sexy or appreciated in his most intimate of states. Insecurities are a fact of life, but I am committed to never be Elizabeth Marks to someone’s Kevin McCabe.