How Staying Inside Helped Me Unlearn the Male Gaze 

Sometimes absence just really does not make the heart grow fonder…


( Taylor Swift // "You Need to Calm Down" Music Video )

Underneath the calloused thumb of the male gaze is where I and many other young adults—particularly, those identifying as women—have resided since, well since forever. For those who might not know, the male gaze constructs a tantalizing consideration of how one's image will present itself for the consumption of the man. There's a miniature man planted in the subconscious of every young girl, one that follows most of us into adulthood. His voice lingers throughout our transformative years, and he is both the judge and the court. When we look in the mirror and ask ourselves, "Will he slurp me down like a sultry slice of cherry pie, or will he deem me unworthy?" we breathe life into the prurient male collective.

I did not become enlightened to this burdening concept until I took my first Women's Studies course at the University of Florida, WST2612, which was regretfully too late to save my high school self—the one who never felt quite secure in her image. 

TW: Body Image

Even after learning the concept, I continued to put pressure on my appearance throughout the entirety of my first year of college. If there was even the smallest possibility my clothing choice would divert the male gaze from me, then it was not an outfit I gave even the slightest consideration. I often found myself wearing the first black, slimming Forever 21 crop-top I could get my hands on and pairing it with skin-tight dark-wash American Eagle jeans. Besides the wardrobe, I took to the gym at least four times a week, spending an hour on the elliptical, matched with a diet of coffee in the morning and as little as possible throughout the day—particularly on Saturdays. 

End TW

My silver-lining of quarantine was realizing how unhealthy the patterns I had accustomed myself to throughout tweendom and my freshman year had become. Now I look back and understand how problematic my routine was, but I still sometimes wonder: Had I not returned home for a year, would I have spiraled down a rabbit hole that I wouldn’t have known how to claw my way out of?  

I attribute my newfound ability to unlearn my toxic tendencies to the lack of male interaction I had while COVID-19 forced me inside. There was no more prioritizing the patriarchy’s expectations of me. In that time away from the male gaze, I was then able to comprehend that I did not need the attention of a man to feel valuable and wanted. 

Through the help of self-love TikTok, “Euphoria Special Episode Part 2: Jules,” and my own heightened understanding, I came to the conclusion that if you accept yourself that is what is most important and will make you feel whole. You should not have to alter yourself to appease the desires of the male. If you are changing who you are for anyone else, then you are choosing to settle for a version of yourself that is not in its truest form, and a partner who could never accept you for the magic of who you genuinely are.

The desire to accept yourself too easily blurs into the want to be desired by others. Not to mention, the approval of the penetrating patriarchy only provides a temporary fulfillment, because its standards are ever changing. By allowing room to get to know yourself without the presence of the insistent male gaze, you begin to develop an untainted and evolved sense of desire; one where your image is curated to your own liking and involves a prideful acceptance of who you are within. Without the inherently sexualized view from the man, we can exhale and say, “This is who I am, and this is okay. And this is okay because I say it is.”

There was a time when I refused to step foot outside of my house without some sort of makeup on my face. A few weeks ago, I did my makeup and ended up feeling so uncomfortable with how I looked that day, that I grabbed a makeup wipe from my dresser drawer and cleaned it off. I once stepped on the scale with a beating heart, anxious to know if the number would appear smaller than the time before, and an overwhelming joy if it had shrunk, but a gut punch if it had grown. I now refuse to touch the scale. Instead, I nourish my body with the food it desires and the words of affirmation it deserves. This would have been unheard of behavior from the girl I was in high school.  

Out of quarantine, I no longer seek validation from the voyeuristic peering of him, but from the loving, understanding eyes of myself.