There's a reason Valentine's Day and lingerie are seen as the perfect couple: Lacy bras and panties are clothing items women are supposed to wear to attract someone else.
One look at the Victoria's Secret Valentine's Day section illustrates this mentality, with "Love Me" and "Won't You Be Mine" splashed in big print across the photos. Lingerie is about looking sexy for someone else, the ads all tell us. (And sometimes that's the case.)
But the best reason to buy lingerie, on Valentine's Day or any other day of the year, has nothing to do with impressing someone else. Lingerie can be an empowering way for women to make themselves feel beautiful — and to define what's "sexy" on their own terms.
Lingerie is sold as something women wear for someone else — usually men. It's not just Victoria's Secret that treats lingerie as something women wear for their partners. The media consistently reinforces the message, such as Cosmopolitan's "Lingerie That Is Guaranteed to Get You Laid" and "Lingerie Men Find the Sexiest" (which promises to walk you through "what men think when they see your lingerie").
Women shouldn't be faulted for their curiosity; if you're trying to turn your partner on, there's nothing wrong with exploring the best options (sartorial and otherwise).
But billing lingerie as a mere service that women can use for pleasing their partners makes shopping for bras, corsets and thongs incredibly intimidating. It also ignores the benefit women get from wearing something special for themselves.
Wearing something beautiful can be an act of self-love. Even if a woman is planning on having a partner see her in that lingerie later, she isn't necessarily wearing it for them. Lingerie can make women feel more confident and sexy, turning them on for the encounter to come. Tonya Leigh summarized the experience of wearing lingerie on her website, writing: "Investing in beautiful lingerie is about a lifelong love affair for yourself."
That's the reason plenty of women buy lingerie in the first place. "Doing something like putting on lingerie is just a way for me to respect my body and treat it with love. Who says when you dress up it has to be for someone?" Laura, a 20-something living in the San Francisco area, told Mic. "I just like standing in front of the mirror and saying, 'Hey, I look good today.' Lingerie helps me do that."
Similarly, Lynn, who is in her 20s and living in the Los Angeles area, says she sees lingerie as a secret just for her. "It's like a superman suit underneath your normal clothes," Lynn told Mic. "I'm the only one who knows the secret of how sexy I look, and I love it."
That empowering feeling of self-love is rooted in science. Wearing clothes that make you feel beautiful has been shown to have real cognitive effects. A 2012 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that clothing influences psychological processes, giving certain items the power to change how the wearer acted. Another study, from 2007, found that clothing affected an individual's self-perception, including how competent, trustworthy or creative they felt.
While the studies focused on work attire, the power of "embodied cognition" rings true: What we wear impacts how we view ourselves, which means sexy lingerie has the potential to make a woman feel more attractive, turned-on and confident.
Choosing lingerie for yourself lets you define what's sexy. Choosing lingerie for yourself means recognizing and embracing your own tastes, not a partner's. Chelsea Summers wrote for Adult Mag that while she does wear more classic lingerie pieces on dates with men, her favorite lingerie is totally different. Instead of the lacy pieces one typically imagines, she likes bright colors, neoprene fabric and patterns not typically thought to fit straight men's most basic tastes.
"Each set is something I chose for me because it's badass and so am I. ... Underneath it all, these little bits of fabric and fancy, of boning and lace, sing paeans about a woman's relationship with herself," Summers said.
Most importantly, choosing your own vision of sexiness means confidently abandoning the body standards that society equates with sex appeal. Feeling beautiful in lingerie isn't about having the body of a Victoria's Secret model; it's about making the body you have feel as beautiful as you want. That's why brands like Curvy Girl Lingerie, a plus-size intimates brand, exist.
"All women are sexy and beautiful, and all women deserve to have clothes that give them that confidence," Curvy Girl Lingerie founder Chrystal Bougon wrote. Which is why lingerie is one of the best gifts women can give themselves — on Valentine's Day and the other 364 days a year.