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What is sexy today?

The crisis of sex between hyper-sexualization and cultural appeasement

What is sexy today? The crisis of sex between hyper-sexualization and cultural appeasement
Miu Miu SS22
@chloé
Statue by Hajime Sorayama
Statue by Hajime Sorayama
Richard Quinn AW21
Richard Quinn AW21
Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe
Bottega Veneta campaign SS19
Bottega Veneta campaign SS19
Fendace SS22
Blumarine SS22
Blumarine SS22
Balmain SS22

“My Blumarine is dirtier, bitchier, sexier” - commented Nicola Brognano in reference to the latest Blumarine collection. The rebirth of SS22 Y2K fashion, carried on by brands such as Blumarine, Versace, KNWLS, Fendi, Eckhaus Latta and Chanel has been considered as the great return of sexyness to the catwalks. After twenty years in which designers have struggled to approach the female body, often hiding it with oversized shapes and dressing it with masculine garments, perhaps to hide their inability to formulate a new aesthetic symbolism of power that does not need to draw on the male world, throughout the fashion month magazines celebrated the re-emergence of the naked body as if bare skin were a new trend pattern. Low rise trousers, belly out and mini skirts were celebrated with titles like “NYFW: The new american sexy”, “London Fashion Week is back! And it's sexier than ever”. The trend of the latest catwalks seems more like an empty reinterpretation of what was considered sexy in other years and today is re-proposed in an almost intellectual key, like a well-executed homework instead of really looking for - or creating - a new concept of what can be considered sexy today. What is lacking is precisely the aesthetic force that fashion has had over the years in the imposition of a common beauty canon. In the era of the post #metoo, of the conquest of rights by the LGBTQ community, of the genderless and genderfluid limelight, do we really think that a miniskirt is still synonymous with sexy? It is difficult to give substance to a concept that in the last twenty years has been synonymous with male chauvinism, discrimination or cultural appropriation. Sensuality is a subjective concept and manifests itself more in the eye of the beholder than in the body being looked at, despite this, it is important to have canons, cultural references that reflect as effectively possible the concept of post-pandemic sexiness, instead of taking refuge in an idealized nostalgia or, even worse, in self-censorship.

Miu Miu SS22
Balmain SS22
Blumarine SS22
Blumarine SS22
Fendace SS22

It is not only in fashion that it is difficult to find a new definition of sexiness, porn, music, cinema live the same dilemma. With OnlyFans and the hyper sexualization of pop culture, skin on display no longer necessarily equates to desire: in fact, according to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, libido levels have dropped by 20% since the Y2K era and less than the half of the world's population has sex once a week, perhaps confirming the fear that the pandemic would make people even less able and willing to relate to others and the hot summer of the vax has not reversed the trend. According to some data collected by the Washington Post and reported by Il Post, there is less sex in life and also on the screen. The BBC website wrote: "While society becomes more sexually open, in films for the general public there are fewer and fewer sex scenes". The sexiness has to do with the limit of social norms, the hem of the skirt that gets a little shorter every decade or the hipster meme which says "This is sexy" referring to an "unconsciously" charming girl who reads Proust in the subway, in contrast to her peers who are at a rave at the same time. It is a balancing act between explicit eroticism - which mostly has to do with flesh and body - and the social context in which it is located: sexy is an evolving concept according to time and place. 

Richard Quinn AW21
Richard Quinn AW21
Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe
Statue by Hajime Sorayama
Statue by Hajime Sorayama

Today, however, partly due to pandemic aphasia and partly due to the desire to avoid conflict at all costs, the new social norms in terms of sexuality are too weak or too monolithic to create the sexy effect. Maybe because there is no longer any rule to force? In any case, not even the most extreme subversion lasts more than 24 hours in the digital culture, which takes place mainly online, reproducing everything you like best on the feed in an infinite loop. Fashion, it would seem, is no longer "a reflection of society", but of the algorithm - the result of a flattened, eroticized and deeply capitalist culture in which sexual attraction is channeled for purely commercial purposes, almost as if the desire for the body had been replaced by the desire for objects. The crisis of the bodies is accompanied by the crisis of sensuality and sexuality.

@chloé
Bottega Veneta campaign SS19
Bottega Veneta campaign SS19

That of the body, in the most empirical and carnal terms, is becoming a topic at the center of the debate both for neo feminism and for society in general, often becoming part of a broader discourse on gender fluidity and sexuality. Addressed in first person by nss magazine on the occasion of the digital cover number n05 in a film written and directed by Tommaso Ottomano, in which through the vision of 5 characters, taken first dressed and then naked, the flesh is interpreted as the first tool we use to build the relationship with the Other, becoming at the same time a temple and a prison, a source of pleasure and suffering. A central theme also in the first book by Emily Ratajkowski which traces the success achieved thanks to her body since the beginning. In 2013, three girls danced and licked ice cream cones almost completely naked, with foam hands and baby lambs in their arms, in the Blurred Lines music clip, as they rubbed against three entirely dressed men, Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I.

While watching it 8 years later it seems absurd that such a senseless video could have been such a success, but above all to observe how the definition of what is sexy has changed so radically from the image of three bodies swaying absently alongside dominant males. Perhaps for a generation like Gen Z that utopically hopes to overcome all differences and categorization, there can no longer be a generally recognized ideal of sexiness. Making women look and feel sexy is one of fashion's enduring goals, but it needs to be presented as something that empowers the wearer, no longer for male gaze gratification. Having overcome the stereotypes of a heteronormative and patriarchal society, what can be defined as truly sexy today?