I Want You To Lick Me
On food and beauty and womanhood and Jessica Simpson Dessert Treats edible body spray.
It was the era of flip phones and ephedra pills, of skinny brows and straightened bangs, of low-rise jeans and 5 for $25 thongs from Victoria’s Secret PINK. Celebrities baked in cancer beds and told us this was beauty. A Harvard nerd built a hot-or-not site and told us this was connection. It was the season of Juicy sweats and glossy lips, of deep clavicles and deeper cleavage, of pop princesses dropping the veil of virginity. Britney was pregnant, Christina was “Dirty,” and if you met me with your eyes closed, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was a cone of orange-vanilla soft serve.
Such was the effect of Jessica Simpson’s Dessert Treats Body Mist Perfume in Creamsicle, which I purchased for $16.99 at the Claire’s across from the Auntie Anne’s in the Brunswick Square Mall in 2005. It smelled like citrus-soaked marshmallows, or cream-covered oranges. Grocery store sorbet with an artificial food coloring finish. Top notes of melted plastic, Stevia, and stomachache. It was heavy and sticky and sickly sweet in a way that tricked your salivary glands into salivating. It wasn’t a perfume as much as a promise: You will be licked.
The entire Jessica Simpson Dessert Treats line was edible.
I was 15, a sophomore at a Catholic high school in suburban New Jersey, with no sexual experience to speak of. Did I want to be licked? Not particularly. But I wanted someone to want to lick me. I wanted, as the Dessert Treats ad copy put it, “to be completely smoochable and delectable.” I wanted to be eaten up, eaten away. Consumable, consumed. Slurped, swallowed, metabolized into some boy’s body, the food of me there to fuel his existence.
I wanted to be a woman.
I am trying to remember my Creamsicle years.
I finally had tits, so that was something. A few guys at school called me “D.C.,” because one was a D and one was a C. I told them to stop but lapped up their attention like milk. I was a year away from an exercise obsession so severe I’d eventually need back surgery, all because a boy broke up with me and I was gonna show him, man. I was a singer, a songwriter, a performer, always on. I did musical theater. My friend Kim taught me how to give a hand job on a hairbrush backstage during “Damn Yankees.” I tried it on my boyfriend a week later. It all felt the same to me; plastic or penis, the member didn’t matter as much as the mechanics.
Most of my memories are empty like that, actually. I’m asking myself, How did the body mist feel on my skin? How did it feel to be felt up? Fingered? But there’s nothing visceral there, only the desire to be desired and varying degrees of validation.
It didn’t occur to me that my body could be about me. What woman’s was?
Mary gave it up to God.
My mother, my grandmothers, my aunts — theirs belonged to husbands and children.
Jessica Simpson had saved herself for marriage, but that was for her father, her pastor. Maybe her PR team.
Britney and Christina wore sex in a way they swore was agency, but aligned with what men wanted from them in the first place. Establishment or empowerment, the point remained — to be a woman like candy, like a creamsicle: all pleasure, no substance.
Magazines helped me become more palatable. You can shop your way to womanhood, they said, and gave me the grocery list.
Pear shaped? No.
Big melons? Yes.
Apple bottom? First, no. Later, yes.
Cottage cheese thighs? No.
Noodle arms? Yes. (Nicole Richie finally had skinny little spaghetti arms and no one made fun of her anymore.)
Pizza face? No.
Cherry lips? Yes.
You can be anything you want, they told me. A total peach or a piece of meat!
All I had to do was buy it, apply it, become it: Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers and Apricot Scrub and Hard Candy eyeshadow and Lancôme Smoothie Juicy Tubes and Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palette and Butterscotch Toffee Body Wash. So much flesh turned to so much food. Products to make me the ultimate product. A commodity made up of meta-commodities.
Fifteen years later, my ex-husband would eat me alive anyway.
(He spit me out. I was bitter by then.)
It’s tempting to pretend that things have changed; that when we reckoned with how we objectified our pop stars, we reckoned with how we objectify ourselves. But they haven’t, and we didn’t. We only updated the menu.
Now it’s glazed donut skin and dumpling skin and jello skin, all preserved in a layer of Saran Wrap skin. It’s strawberry legs (no) and brownie glazed lips (yes) and Velveeta nails. It’s E.l.f. x Dunkin’ and Sally Hansen x Sour Patch Kids and Applebee’s lip gloss. It’s vending machines stocked with lipsticks and lashes. It’s Sweet Tooth Eau de Parfum — “mouths will water; just sweet enough to feel a bit naughty” — and whipped cream sunscreen for dessert.
We consume to become consumable, our own wants subsumed into the wants of someone or something else — a man, a social media following, a cosmetic corporation, a culture.
It doesn’t stop at the surface.
I want you to see me becomes I want you to approve of me becomes I want you to validate me, I want you to repost me, I want you to share me, I want you to tell me what to do and who to be and how to look and I need everyone to believe I do this all for me and then suddenly you’re 30, you’re lost, you’re gone, you don’t know how you want to fuck or what you want to wear or where you want to go for goddamn dinner.
“In interviews and in my psychotherapy practice with young women, I have found them to be more confused than ever about not only how to get what they want, but what they want,” writes Leslie C. Bell in Hard to Get: Twenty-Something and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom.
There’s nothing visceral there, only the desire to be desired.
I want you to want me.
I want you to love me.
For me, it all started with I want you to lick me.