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“You can’t let other people determine your self worth”.

I did a Google search to find out who said that. Turns out a lot of people have. I’m not sure who first planted the seed, but the idea has blossomed and spread like kudzu across blogs, websites, magazines and self-help books, especially those aimed at women.

Wiser people than I have written extensively on the idea of self-esteem and how to fuel it from within. The prevailing philosophy, as I understand it, can be nutshelled thusly: You must believe in your own awesomeness. Only then, will you be truly awesome.

The same theory is often applied to feeling sexy. In order to be sexy, you have to see yourself as such. I’m down with the notion that authentic sexiness and self-esteem in general has a certain sustainable authenticity when it comes from within. I also agree that handing over all your power to other people and letting them decide how you should feel about yourself isn’t the best idea. But speaking for myself, I’m pretty comfortable letting people influence my perception of myself as sexy, especially in a positive way.

Once upon a time, an ex-boyfriend of mine looked me in the eye and said to me “You’re beautiful”. This was at time in my life when my self-esteem was pretty low. I did not think of myself as pretty or cute or anything even resembling beautiful. But when this person, who was my first true love, said the words, I believed that he truly saw me as beautiful, even though I didn’t see myself that way.

It made me realize that other people weren’t looking at me with the same hyper-critical lens that I did. And it made me realize that generally speaking, the people who love and care for me will often see the best in me.

And as for that harsh inner-critic…

I think people, women especially, have to be careful about validating self-deprication of our appearance and how it relates to our sexual desirability, I also think it’s normal to get critical with ourselves from time to time. We’re with ourselves. All. The time. Think of the person you love most in the world. Now imagine spending literally every second of your life with them. There would certainly be times that that wonderful person would irritate the crap out of you. There would be times that they would irrate, annoy, anger, embarrass and humiliate you and you’d just want them to go away.

Sometimes I can’t imbue my spirit with inner sexiness. Sometimes I’m just not that into myself. And on those days, if The Man of Mans comes home and the look of lust in his eyes, I will happily let his opinion boost my self-esteem.

I’m also a human in a body that has off days. Some days, I’ve eaten something weird or I haven’t had enough sleep or I’m fighting a cold and I don’t feel entirely comfortable in my skin. I might be hormonal, menstrual or some other thing that makes it hard to look in the mirror and say “Day-um, woman! You’re a BRICK HOUSE!” I was feeling decidedly off-kilter prior to my last burlesque performance. But when I got on stage and a supportive crowd cheered for my body, that external validation felt hella-good!

There are days that I do feel lovely and desirable. There are days that I absolutely don’t. But I can borrow a cup of good feelings from a fliratious exchange with a trusted friend or respectful stranger; from A heartfelt compliment from a friend or the salacious overtures of my partner.

All of these experiences remind me that others can see us as desirable, wonderful, sexy creatures even when we don’t see ourselves that way. And while I don’t let other people determine my self-worth, I will let them influence it in a positive way. And I’m okay with that.