Date of Award

5-2014

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Kristin Langellier

Second Committee Member

Eric Peterson

Third Committee Member

Nathan Stormer

Abstract

This work examines young women’s lived experience of sexiness. Embodying sexiness cuts across personal, emotional, relational, societal, and cultural spectrums. Yet, sexiness is often studied quantitatively through investigations of “what it looks like” (to others) and the objectifying ramifications of the potential judgments it carries. In this thesis I assert that such conceptually reductive approaches fortify gender inequalities and trap women’s bodies within the heterosexual matrix. This positioning results in a forced dilemma of muted appeal versus ambivalent danger that detaches this experience from the body and produces both fragmented and ethically questionable findings. As a phenomenological analysis, this research looks at how young women describe their lived experiences of sexiness and is guided by the question: How can the experience of sexiness be studied empirically and critically in such a way as to keep synergistically intact its situated sociality, synchronized in/visibility, agentic potentiality, and embodiment?

Phenomenological descriptions of in-depth interviews with eight young women and one transgendered male revealed thirteen meaning groups, housing twenty-nine themes, which emerge from their discourse. Phenomenological reduction and interpretation (explication) suggest that these persons’ lived experiences of sexiness are partially visual, but also embodied, deeply personal, emotional, and relational. The participants discuss that sexiness is a contingent and conditional experience manifested through fleeting self-expressions that potentially entail dangers at times—but can also induce a pleasurable embodied experience.

My analysis of sexiness attempts to reposition this phenomenon from the flattening superficiality (and stigma) of only visuality to an understanding of sexiness as ongoing acts related to the Foucauldian ethos of self-care that are performed through one’s embodiment and realized through the unity of being. This embodied and performed union addresses both the visual predilection of Western society and the pervasive tendency to assign a gendered conflation of sexuality and identity that doubly troubles the emergence of alternative conceptions.

Final insights suggest that sexiness is experienced both inside and outside of one’s embodiment and so the harmony of embodiment is irreducible to visuality alone. It is offered that sexiness is also a performed system of doings at the mercy of gendered prescriptions and social imperatives that dictate which sorts of women’s sexy performances are acceptable and thus, appropriate. The liminality of young women’s sexy performances is often ephemeral and suitable only in certain contexts—and these are always shifting depending on the surrounding milieu. Consequently, sexiness involves a self-mastery that is responsive to one’s environment, amendable, and may change as a young woman matures and learns to take greater care in her appearance.

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