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Amber Paulen

Sex in Italy

Last week Simon’s dad took us for lunch at the café in the centro storico of Formello. The lunch was tasty; I had a pasta fredda. To follow we had an espresso at the counter. It was there she accosted me, trying to sell me some fancy American type coffee with her prominent cardboard breasts. Coffee? Those don’t look like coffee to me. On our way out Simon’s dad told us that Odilla (Simon’s mom) had asked why they don’t remove that advertisement—advertisement, even, is a questionable word.

“I know,” the young girl replied. “She looks like a cow.”

Earlier that week at the post office, four cardboard breasts tried to convince me to buy something I don’t need. Their smiles were like conmen’s smiles and I wondered as I waited, who else could see through their lies.

Lie #1: Those bodies and faces are real bodies and faces.

Lie #2: I need what cardboard is trying to sell.

Deeper than the lies, more potent, rises anger. An anger I have felt for a lot of my conscious life, an anger that often feels like shame and because of that I have let it eat away at me. Shame because I am always conscious of the caricature, the joke, being played out on the female body.

For whose body is that cardboard figure’s? The model’s? Barely: she has sold it, a commodity. Once sold then disfigured and transformed by clicks of a mouse under the influence of prominent cultural “norms.” My body? Hardly. A parody of my body, yes; but not my body for I have the audacity to believe that my body is a personal thing. Women’s bodies in general? Maybe now I’m getting hotter. Even more than a woman’s body it is a VALUE. A VALUE that doesn’t have to be advertised to be sold for it is pressed onto one day-in, day-out. A VALUE to be impressed on all women, all men and all children who pass life-size cardboard by.

That’s not cardboard anymore.

That VALUE inflicts me with the ridiculous caricature of how I should be.

Some may think it’s as easy as averting the eyes or being more intelligent to avoid such ploys of “advertising.” But it’s not. I can no more avoid that VALUE being pressed down on me as I can no more avoid the eyes that press that VALUE onto me in the street. All I can do is be conscious of it: know that it hurts.

Why is that advertisement there, or anywhere, when at least most of half of the population is made to hurt by it? I’m sure that if you explained it rationally enough, men too would agree—besides those guys so enamored by their imagined-to-be-potent masculinity.

Which brings me to my title: Sex in Italy. This was a poster Simon and I saw while walking near Circo Massimo in Rome. Sex in Italy as defined by this poster: two full breasts for each butt-ugly man. Sex in Italy defined by those veline TV shows: young and naive girls glorifying the objectification of their bodies through choreographed song and dance. Women! Ha! Where are the women? Am I not looking close enough? I’ve always thought women to be people of agency, not puppets on imaginary strings. It’s as if Italy refuses to acknowledge that women exist.

Italy, the only country that had a porn star in parliment and an embellished female terrorist (read: womanizer) as its prime minister. Now I’m not even sure if sex exists in Italy; in Italy all they’ve got is caricature.


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