Polly Vernon: 'Being Fancied And Fancying People Is One Of The Purest Pleasures I Know'
The Debrief: Why is openly admitting we want someone to fancy us a cardinal sin? We ask author and journalist Polly Vernon, whose new book explores this very subject
Dressing ‘sexily’ is still something that comes with a stigma. See a celeb on the red carpet wearing a dress slit to her crotch and the reaction is ‘hmm’. See a girl on Facebook posting an entire album of bikini shots and you’ll get a similar response. The problem? It’s because we assume the girl in question is committing the cardinal sin – wearing something, or acting in a certain way, to make people fancy her. But why is wanting to be fancied so bad anyway?
It’s exactly the reaction mentioned above that sometimes makes me think twice about what I wear. My friends are forever asking me whether something they’re wearing is ‘a bit booby’ or ‘too short’ before a night out and we’ve all spent an evening uncomfortably pulling down the short dress our friends have already told us we look great in.
And sure, revealing clothing isn’t to everyone’s personal sartorial taste but, it’s all relative; a small ‘sexy’ tweak to what others would deem a conservative outfit is all it takes to make me feel like I should have covered up more.
It’s the fear that wearing a short dress will get me that same ‘hmm’ that Rita Ora got after wearing this at the Billboard Awards earlier this month, or that Kendall Jenner got after wearing this at last year’s MuchMusic Video Awards.
And it’s not as if my friends and I are shy retiring wallflowers: I’ve seen them go after guys with all the verocity of Regina George running down the lacrosse pitch and yet still, they worry about being percieved as someone who wants people to fancy them.
‘I think it would be mad if women didn’t want to be fancied!’ says Polly Vernon, journalist and author of Hot Feminist, a new book that aims to put to bed any last remaining notions about how a feminist ‘should’ think, feel and act. ‘Being fancied and fancying people is one of the purest pleasures I know.’
But the idea that we ‘shouldn't’ actively go out of our way to be fancied or seem desirable is a hard one to shake off. My personal issue with wearing revealing clothing (and, the last time I wore anything that was remotely of this ilk was probably the summer of 2004 when I thought jeans with ripped waistbands and exposed thongs was peak chic) is because I assume people will think I’m not dressing for myself.
‘I think as long as you’re not in the zone of compromising your style completely it’s fine,’ says Polly. ‘I certainly make tweaks to my outfit depending on whether there’s an ex-boyfriend that I want to show how much he’s missing or if I’m going to interview somebody. If I’m going to interview a man and I think he’s going to be susceptible to a bit of flirting then I will dress accordingly.’
Ideally though, attraction would surely stem solely from our (obviously excellent) personalities? ‘I think the two things are completely indistinguishable,’ says Polly. ‘I mean, you are what you look like and you are the person inside. It’s as ridiculous to say, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” as it is to say, “It’s what’s on the outside that does”. Those two things are incredibly interconnected. You will always fancy somebody yeah, for the way they talk and the things they say, but also for the way they look.’
Being fancied by friends and boyfriends is one thing but there’s also the other (hugely prescient) issue of being fancied by passers-by in the street and, whether they choose to express their attraction to you in a vocal manner. Is it ever OK to enjoy wolf whistling and cat calling?
‘There are definitely days when you feel more validated by that kind of attention than others. I think it’s really important that you’re honest with yourself about the fact that sometimes you like that some bloke you don’t know and you have no intentions of speaking to has checked you out and that’s got a lot to do with how confident you’re feeling or not feeling,’ says Polly.
Obviously catcalling is not the ideal manner for someone to express their attraction to you and it is (depressingly) one of the things that stops me from wearing things that I’d like to sometimes wear.
‘I know there’s been an awful lot of chat about this,’ continues Polly. ‘I think the Everyday Sexism Project has done some brilliant work on it and there are an awful lot of young women who feel incredibly intimidated by wolf whistling and I can completely respect that.
‘However, my experience of wolf whistling is different and I’m not ashamed to say it’s different. If I were to lie and say I hate it every time a man wolf whistles at me I would be lying and that’s dishonest and dishonesty doesn’t really get us anywhere. Sometimes I will be tensing myself because I think it’s about to happen and then it doesn’t and I’m like, “Oh why?”’
But then again, Polly’s experienced first-hand what happens when catcalling goes right: ‘There was a time when I was really young and I remember this guy wolf whistling and chucking peanuts at the back of my head in a pub and I was so annoyed but I turned around and we fucking fell in love when our eyes met. We went out for two years.’
So, perhaps this is something I need to stop worrying about then? ‘I think if you’re dressing with a view to getting attention from every single man that passes you you’re probably feeling a bit sad and you need to check your self-esteem levels,’ Polly says.
‘Remember, it’s not about pleasing men. It’s about pleasing yourself. And being fancied is pleasing.’
Polly’s book Hot Feminist is out now on Hodder & Stoughton.
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons
Picture: Eugenia Loli
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating