I came back from Burning Man feeling completely unattractive.
Which was the opposite of what I'd expected. I'd read and heard that people felt at their most attractive at Burning Man. That, surrounded by the knowledge that it is ok to wear what you want, be who you want, and not be judged, people are sexier than ever, more confident than ever, and that it's that very self-confidence and personal expression that makes them their most attractive self.
I'd thought I'd come home feeling like I hadn't cared how I looked. That it was ok to not care about what I wore, and that I would feel like it didn't matter.
I remember, before I left, talking to my co-worker who'd been and he asked me what costumes I was planning on taking. I told him I'm not a costume person and that I really wasn't worried about it. I was just planning on wearing normal clothes. Or maybe a tutu on "Tutu Tuesday".
He mentioned that he thought I might feel a little left out, or maybe out of place if I didn't have a costume, but I told him I wasn't worried about it. I had some rubber duckie silk pyjamas that I was planning on wearing to keep the sun off and that I was happy enough with that.
Because, really, I'm not a costume person. Particularly. I love to act a part, and if you hand me a costume for a costume party I'll totally wear it and ham it up, but I'm not someone who spends months putting together a kick-ass Halloween costume. I'll usually throw on an orange shirt and some pumpkin socks and call it a day.... now gimme candy!
When I got to Burning Man, all my plans about what I'd wear sort of fell apart. Those first few days the things I'd brought that I thought would work in the hot weather, I just sweated in. And felt like I was going to die in. At home, when it's hot, I wrap myself in a sarong and I'm good. Naked, but covered. I'd sewed velcro into a sarong so I could do the same at Burning Man and not have to worry about it coming undone.
The sarong was too hot.
Being naked, I still would have been too hot, but still.
I remember seeing my camp mates wearing shorts and bikinis and I thought, yes... bikini, that. So I ended up putting on my bikini, and at that point I didn't give a (swear word) how I looked, because I was just focussing on surviving the heat.
Our second day, it was Tutu Tuesday (unofficially of course) so I threw a tutu on over my bikini when I went to meet my friend and then again, when we went to get ice. (Oh right, and then I overheated myself and, yet again, didn't give two hoots what I was wearing because I just wanted to not be so hot.
I did manage to head out that night and I didn't wear anything more than my bikini and tutu. And I was still too hot, but at least I felt like the tutu was in the spirit of things... If slightly itchy against my over-heated, red skin.
The next day, when I decided I had to get out and about no matter the heat, and I went to see if I could find Jay where he'd said he was volunteering, I threw my rubber duckie pyjama top on to keep the sun off.
And I felt stupid.
People loved the duckies. "Duckies!" "So cute" "Rubber Duckie!" But I felt frumpy.
Frumpy and unattractive and stupid.
But I was still struggling with heat, so I figured it was better to have some protection. When I was out that night, I had the top on and it was kind of neat because it helped some people recognize me. "Hey, Canada!" and I'd look and it would be the guy we'd met earlier, who only knew it was us because of the pyjamas.
But, feeling frumpy and unattractive when you're at Burning Man really sucks. It sucks more than feeling this way at home because you're surrounded by young, fit, firm, toned, half-naked gorgeous women.
And you're surrounded by these completely attractive women and you see the men looking at them. Appreciating them. Liking how they look.
You don't see them liking how I looked.
Sure, I did have one guy approach me to talk to me and it was probably more about me making eye contact and smiling than it was about how I looked sitting in my tutu, bikini top and duckie pyjamas, but this isn't about what was actually happening, this is about how I felt. How I perceived things. And how I perceived things is that I was one of the least attractive women there.
I did not have interesting makeup. Unless you could the two days that Mark's wife did my makeup and gave me sparkles and shine. And whether it was me feeling more confident in those moments, or me looking more attractive or interesting in those moments, those are the times I saw guys looking my way, smiling. Or a guy or two at least. More accurately.
I did not have an interesting outfit.
Other than the (I'm sorry to put it this way, but this is how it felt) creepy older men who told me that my breasts had turned them on, no one noticed me. I wasn't interesting to look at and I wasn't attractive enough to look at.
I knew I didn't look good, and I didn't like feeling that way.
Was it Wednesday, or Thursday that I set out on my own for the morning? And I knew I wanted to do something about what I was wearing, or not wearing, so I went to one of the camps that were giving away clothes and costumes. I found a dress that I liked, long, simple, black, and a shirt that I liked, white, cut off sleeves, cotton, and a bandana I could use to keep the dust out (my professional dust mask I'd bought was, ironically, too hot to wear in a dust storm.)
I put on the new clothes and I felt a little better. Still hot, but that wasn't going to change.
The skirt, it turned out, was hard to ride in. And the top was still a bit on the warm side during the day, but I felt like I was more comfortable with how I looked.
As the week went on I ended up with some random things wrapped around my wrist. Wristbands, a necklace gift, and some string I'd rescued from the ground. These things, too, made me feel like I was looking a bit more how I felt, somewhere inside.
There are a million different styles of dress to be seen at Burning Man, but in my mind I broke it down into a few categories. The Mad Max leather and dust look, the Sparkles and Fur raver look, the Not Quite A Hippy flower child with a twist look, the I'm Wearing What Works for me and I'll Wear It At Home too look, the I'm Cute and so are my Boobs naked look, and the I'm a Sexy Woman without having to be a slut look. Among others.
I'm at heart on the flower child side. I'm, at heart, attracted to the Mad Max men. I would love to be a Sexy Woman, but I'm not.
And that's what ended up hurting.
The morning of the last day, Jay and I went to find the gal he'd travelled with.
She was adorable. This pert, perky little thing with the cutest breasts, bare and matching her personality. A short little school girl's kilt and a workman's belt. Short dark hair and pretty eyes. Who wouldn't want to sleep with her?
We biked away and Jay asked me why I'd gone all "jealous and quiet."
I wasn't jealous at all. And I told him so.
"I'm not jealous, I just feel so unattractive here, and meeting her just solidified all that for me. I'm not jealous at all, I'm sad."
And I started to cry.
At Burning Man, I'm ugly.
My body is fat.
My legs are fat and short and stumpy.
My breasts are large, but floppy and they overwhelm my figure.
I have jowls under my neck, and my face is round.
I'm not 20.
I'm not toned.
I'm not perky, or petite, or adorably cute.
I have cellulite on my thighs.
My stomach isn't flat anymore.
When you take me out of clothes and put me in a bikini, it's not anything anyone would want to look at.
And, yes, it's been hard seeing the pictures taken of me there.
Even with clothes, at Burning Man, I'm not anything anyone would want to look at.
Jay was attractive. Jay looked hot. Sexy. Had I not known him, I would still have thought so.
Jay was also the only man to show any interest in me in a physical way. And Jay has always been good at complimenting me when I look good. And Jay didn't compliment me at Burning Man.
Sure, I felt attractive with him. Attractive to him, obviously, or we wouldn't have smooched, but I left Burning Man feeling really really unattractive, and it was a hard thing to face.
I still felt sexual... Jay was the reason for that. But attractive? Not at all. The very opposite. I felt horrible about how I look, and I still do.