It has more to do with their confidence.
It all started when I was an awkward, mercilessly ugly 12-year-old. I had braces and those poofy late-80s bangs. My nose was too big for my face, my chest too flat for my frame, and my ass entered the room three feet behind me.
So while the other girls were blossoming and growing into their bodies, I was the dork in the corner with the unibrow and granny panties.
And then I discovered what would drastically alter the direction of my life: a stack of Playboys in my step-grandfather's closet. The women on those glossy pages intrigued me — they wielded power; they were highly acclaimed objects of lust and envy.
I wanted the same. And despite the fact that, appearance-wise, I was far from Playmate material, I realized that some of the things those women were doing were attainable. I could master the art of the smoldering stare. I could pout my lips and trail my finger across my chest. I could arch my back and simulate oral sex on phallus-shaped objects to attract male attention (and, in turn, female envy).
I could do this! That day, a flirt was born. I immediately incorporated Playboy-Model Practice Hour into my daily repertoire, locking my bedroom door so I could writhe on the floor, mimicking the women's provocative poses and alluring facial expressions.
From there, things evolved rapidly. One day I was wearing overalls (one strap up and one strap down, of course), and the next I was wearing my mom's lace teddy over my clothes in an attempt to channel Madonna. And while she wouldn't let me wear said ensemble to school, she did let me wear it for Halloween — the first of many Halloweens where I'd dress like a low-rent prostitute.
By high school, I'd begun to cast a wider net. Growing bored with the boys (and girls) my own age, I began flirting with grown men. While the other girls came to sleepovers with boxer shorts and T-shirts, I'd show up in my mom's lingerie sleep set and silk robe.
I'd go upstairs "for a diet coke" and corner the hostess's father or older brother in the kitchen, leaning seductively against the counter, winding a lock of hair around my finger. When out in public, I'd blow kisses to passersby, wantonly stare at men until they looked away and sometimes let the wind "accidentally" blow up my skirt.
By my senior year, I had become a full-grown exhibitionist. One time, I rounded up a group of a dozen students during an after-school event so they could watch me do a choreographed strip tease on the school track. I'd gotten down to my underwear and Steve Madden platform shoes when the appointed lookout screamed that a chaperone was coming.
Over time, my flirting just became me. People expected me to be salacious and outrageous. They knew better than to bring their fathers, boyfriends or girlfriends around me — not because I'd steal them, but because my flirtatious behavior garnered their attention, attention that should have been focused on them, not me. Thankfully, by the time my peers had grown tired of the person I'd become, I was off to college.
The people I'm close to now — my friends, coworkers, grad school professors, even my editors — know me as I have grown to know myself: as a harmless flirt. I address people as "beauty" and "gorgeous" and "daddy" and "sugar." I drop sexual innuendos without restraint, wink a lot and lift my shirt to show my "cute new bra" to the masses.
I poll everyone I know (and people I don't know so well) before purchasing a new sex toy in order to determine its effectiveness. I regularly discuss masturbatory techniques with guy friends. None of my friends takes it personally; everyone knows it's just who I am.
Women who don't know me well, however, often hate me. Many find me obnoxious; others (I have learned by way of their boyfriends) feel threatened by me. The irony is that I'm the one who is secretly threatened by them.
They are the women who have gotten though life — and successfully attracted male attention — by being their authentic selves. They can get the boys without trying too hard, without the desperate, clichéd flirting tactics. (Oops! I dropped my pencil. I'd better bend over and pick it up. Good thing I'm wearing this short skirt!)
Being myself was something I could never do and I repressed that girl, purging her from existence. Who I have become, and the only me everyone knows, is Jenn the Flirt. Sure I'm more secure than I've ever been, but even at 30 years old I still have those days where I'm the ugly duckling searching for immediate male validation in order to feel valued.
Strangers of the male persuasion, however, regularly misinterpret my flirting, assuming that I want to sleep with them. And that's just not true.
Think about it: we flirts are usually aggressive, assertive and comfortable with our sexuality (if not secure all around). Thus, if we wanted to sleep with you, I wouldn't passively lure your pants off by making sexual puns while batting my bedroom eyes. Flirty women are forward; if we want you, we'll let you know without beating around the bush, so to speak.
Now that I'm married, I flirt a little bit less, though there are still those times when I'm oblivious and someone has to shake me into reality (usually my husband, who squeezes my hand and whispers a stern "That's enough"). Ultimately, if I ever have a daughter, I'll tell her that while a wink and a smile are harmless and might win her some admirers, the most gratifying attention will come from just being herself.