I find it frustrating that so many people I know are uncomfortable with their own sexuality. This to the point where they cannot say the word; they must supplement with milder terms such as "beauty" or at the very worst "desirable."
This idea was brought home to me once again as I sat in English class this morning. We were learning John Donne, a melancholic religious poet who enjoys using charged euphemisms for sexual ideas throughout his work. One of the girls was clearly uncomfortable with this and said to the teacher in an accusatory voice, "Well, it's clear he has no shame." The teacher was perplexed by this. "Do you mean he ought to?" he asked, surprised. The student found the very mention of sexuality to be somehow problematic, even though this was one of Donne's less melodramatic poems; in fact, one of his sweeter ones, "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning."
Why is this idea so prevalent? Why this instinctive shrinking when sexuality is mentioned; why is it forbidden for the Jewish girl to admit that she too may be beautiful, that sexuality and eroticism are a part of life, and that both of these aspects to life, when sanctified within the bond of marriage, are utterly wondrous? I have had discussions with many people, some of whom have ashamedly admitted to their thoughts about those of the opposite sex or worse, in their eyes, the fact that they fantasize about their future partners. It is worrisome that they feel so guilty and ashamed of thinking in this manner. What would be the better approach? To claim that human beings are not highly sexual creatures, to somehow never think about the physical part of a relationship until the very moment that one finds oneself married? That is unnatural!
It all stems from this obsession with the idea of tzniut. I find it strange that tzniut must now extend to one's entire personality and demeanor. If there are halakhot of tzniut, then yes, one must keep to them. But since when does God mandate that one overthrow one's entire personality, one's entire way of acting, all that makes you you, in favor of this quiet, demure, meek, assumed character? If one happens to be of a milder temperament, that is one thing. But to return from seminary having been taught that one actually has to change one's personality in order to be accepted by God- what is this? Do you honestly think that God requires you to present a false front in order to keep his mitzvot? Do you truly believe that God desires you to quench your natural fire or curiosity in favor of this retiring Fanny Price?
Where did you get this from? Have you looked at our women in Tanakh? I honestly think that these women haven't read Tanakh! Every single one of our Patriarchs were married to absolutely gorgeous women. Tell me, if physicality doesn't matter, if one's physical attributes and beauty is irrelevant, then what need had they to be married to the most striking women of their generation, women desired by kings? Or go back to the very beginning, to our own Eve! Eve persuades Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit, according to the midrash, having told him what it truly was! And how did she do this? Through her own power, her own ability, her own beauty and sadness and playacting.
Do you see the women in Tanakh? All of them are strong, charismatic personalities! Consider Tamar, who dons a harlot's disguise in order to entice Judah, then brazenly presents him with the tokens that he gave her when he thinks that he will burn her. Consider Jael, who sleeps with Sisra in order to kill him and thereby save the Jewish people. Consider the wiles and wisdom of women of Tanakh, whether it be the Wise Woman of Tekoah or the peerless Queen of Sheba! Consider Tzipporah, performing milah upon her son while her husband is being swallowed alive by a threatening snake. Consider Delilah, following Eve's footsteps in ruling her husband. Consider On's wife, who saved him by letting down her long tresses and combing them before the tent!
Who were all these women? Strong women! Strong women with strong personalities and most importantly, women who not only admitted for their sexuality but used it as a weapon. Eve, Tamar, Jael, On's wife and so many others- this is the way in which they achieved their ends! Consider the wives of the Jews in Egypt, who donned beautiful garments and used cosmetics in order to beautify themselves for their husbands, then seducing them in order to ensure the continuation of the Jewish nation. Consider Esther, or outside of the canon, Judith! All of these women were sexual beings who used what was theirs in order to achieve their ends. And certainly there are women in Tanakh who use their beauty for evil ends- consider Zelicha, Potiphar's wife- but there are also those who accomplish so much good because of it! Like everything else that God has given us, this too must be channeled in the appropriate way in order to accomplish good.
Every single character trait, personality trait or ability we have can be channeled toward a positive or negative goal. But one cannot deny one's very nature! One cannot simply pretend that one isn't a human being, that one's wants and desires do not exist, cannot completely block off or destroy an entire part of their makeup. And why would you want to? Why should girls be taught that their innate sexuality is somehow ugly or distorted; why would we introduce Christianity into Judaism? Sexuality does not mean acting in a manner which is promiscuous or forward; it is simply an attribute of a woman and one that she ought to have. A woman is a woman and she does not belong dressed in a burlap sack!
So why this fear? Why this discomfort with the idea that you as a woman are meant to be a beautiful, physically attractive person who has the power of your own sexuality? Why the desire to alienate this completely, to pretend this does not exist, to somehow see this as something flawed or wrong or off limits? If it's yours, then own it. You don't have to be dressed in a provocative manner or act uncharacteristically in order to own your sexuality. You simply have to accept that it exists, that you have this innate quality and it is yours. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and part of that comfort lies in accepting all parts of you, including your own sexuality.
If you're not comfortable in your own skin, it suggests that you are somehow under the impression that something that has to do with you is wrong, dirty, shameful or otherwise problematic- and why would you want to think that about yourself?! That's a harmful and terrible way to think about yourself! How can you be you if you want to utterly cut out a part of yourself, a part of yourself which was given to you as a tool, which the strong women of Tanakh have used as a tool countless times in order to advance the Jewish nation?
You're sexy, you're beautiful, you're Jewish: now own it!