Mirror, Mirror: I’m Always Checking Out Other Women

Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.

I am always checking out other women. I can’t help it. They look good. It’s not a secret. They look better than men.

Women wear bright, interesting colors in creative combinations. They wear catchy jewelry and have fantastic, innovative hair. They do bold, playful things with makeup. They have cool shoes. They stand out. So I want to look at them. And then I feel awkward, because maybe I’m being weird. Maybe I’m just as bad as the annoying guys who are always staring hungrily at young women on the F train, when those women are just trying to read their damn book, thank you very much.

I feel just like a gross guy, because it seems like one gaze isn’t that much different than the other. And I don’t know what the rules really are. Or what they should be, for straight women checking out other women.

“Checking out” is the right phrase, I think, because I don’t want to just glance casually. I want to see the whole outfit, from the slightly scuffed heels to the ironic bow on the headband. More of a confession: I am curious about the body in between. I notice when a woman has amazing boobs. I’m half jealous, half awed. I automatically compare myself to her, in a nanosecond flash, and want to know what it’s like to be her and not me. Not in a “I want to cut off your skin and wear it” kind of way. Just in … a way.

I want to admire her. I notice everything. The way her jeans fit, the line of her shoulders, her jaw, her ears. I am into her beauty. That’s probably the best way to put it. Without it sounding sexual, I am into her beauty.

I think checking out is generally associated with sex in some way. There’s the friendly glance, which is like, “Hey! What’s up?” and there’s the quick smile which is like, “You look cool!” and there’s the measuring look leveled at the hot pink tutu skirt she’s managing to rock that says, “I’m interested in how you’re pulling this off. Very clever of you.” And then there’s the long, lingering stare that says, “I want to lick your delicious face, you thrilling creature … the lines of your body are like the interwoven melodies of an exquisite symphony. And also I’m really horny.”

I mean, I feel like my look says that sometimes. And I really don’t want to give the impression that I am thinking that. It’s really not like that.

When I was 15 a gorgeous girl somehow liked me and I was incredibly flattered and I turned her down for this twitchy boy who carried a mechanical pencil around at all times in case he needed to do some quick calculations on a napkin or something. So yeah.

But women are beautiful.

And subway rides are crowded and boring.

And the Brooklyn girls are so brilliant with their outfits.

In Fort Greene recently, I walked by a tan, lithe 20-something wearing a fluid maxi skirt and a simple black bikini top. Her dark, wild hair spilled around her shoulders. She was standing at the foot of the wide steps of a brownstone, curved forward slightly in that way that very tall, delicate women have, talking to a friend. I fought with all my might not to stare.

I was dying of curiosity. But it was a bikini top! I didn’t want to be creepy.

Well, she put the bikini top on, I thought. And we’re not exactly next to a beach here. C’mon … she’s kinda asking for it. 

And then, No! No! That’s the language of creepy guys! Creepy is practically the worst thing a person can be!  

I didn’t stare. I just walked by. Like a normal girl would do. There, see? I can be appropriate and normal. I felt sort of proud of myself. And still really, really curious about that bikini girl.

And then the other day, on the train, of course, I felt eyes on me. I glanced up from my book. There was this girl, maybe 22, looking at me. I could tell she’d been looking for longer than a second. I went back to reading, and when I glanced up again, she was still staring.

She looked suddenly awkward and apologetic. And then she went a step farther. She said, by way of explanation, “I really like your outfit!”

I said, “Thanks!”

“And your hair,” she added sheepishly and then looked mortified.

“Hey, thanks! That’s really nice of you.”

And really, it was. I grinned into my book. She had nothing to be embarrassed about. Being checked out by another woman makes my day. I felt abruptly awesome. I felt like I understand style, maybe. Or at least something had gone accidentally right that morning. I felt like I’d made the right decision with my hair cut. I felt attractive and cool and like it totally didn’t really matter that I will probably never be able to suck my belly in to the point of flatness ever again.

Maybe we don’t have the right terms for it yet. Maybe our very sexed up world doesn’t give us much space to blatantly admire other people’s bodies without it seeming like we wish we could be naked in bed with them. But maybe we should keep admiring anyway.

Because who can help it? Women are friggin’ beautiful.