Fabienne: I was looking at myself in the mirror.
Fabienne: I wish I had a pot.
Butch: You were lookin' in the mirror and you wish you had some pot?
Fabienne: A pot. A pot belly. Pot bellies are sexy.
Butch: Well you should be happy, 'cause you do.
Fabienne: Shut up, Fatso! I don't have a pot! I have a bit of a tummy, like Madonna when she did "Lucky Star," it's not the same thing.
Butch: I didn't realize there was a difference between a tummy and a pot belly.
Fabienne: The difference is huge.
Butch: You want me to have a pot?
Fabienne: No. Pot bellies make a man look either oafish, or like a gorilla. But on a woman, a pot belly is very sexy. The rest of you is normal. Normal face, normal legs, normal hips, normal ass, but with a big, perfectly round pot belly. If I had one, I'd wear a tee-shirt two sizes too small to accentuate it.
Butch: You think guys would find that attractive?
Fabienne: I don't give a damn what men find attractive. It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.
There are a lot of quotes from a good many Quentin Tarantino films that I genuinely love but none quite so much as the above quote from Pulp Fiction. It is an exchange between lovers Butch (Bruce Willis) and Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) on a hotel bed. It’s this beautiful little moment of light banter between them before things go sideways and Marsellus Wallus, the story of the watch, and a gimp get involved in all hell breaking loose. But at the moment of the exchange all is well between Butch and Fabienne. Sort of. Butch is on the run for winning a fight he was supposed to throw but other than that, the lovers are sweetly entwined in nothing but each other and their musings on what is sexy.
Maria de Medeiros is a gorgeous and nuanced actress. She is not cookie cutter Hollywood gorgeous. She gloriously stands alone. She is individual and unforgettable. She is the possessor of a somehow celestial round face, dark eyes that seem to consume most of it, and limbs made of soft marble. She memorably played erotic diarist Anaïs Nin in the film Henry and June and absolutely devastated the screen with her sensuality. Bruce Willis is, you know, Bruce Willis. He is both frustratingly Bruce Willis and deliciously Bruce Willis at all times. Wrapped around Maria de Medeiros he seems somehow more accessibly gentle and irrevocably rough-edged simultaneously. She brings out the best and most brutish in his physique in much the same way that Fabienne brings out the best and most brutish of Butch’s personality. This is important to note because Fabienne’s declarative condemnation on not giving a damn about what men find attractive is believable from someone who has not been pushed, prodded, and moulded into the Hollywood cast. There is a sameness to many actresses gracing Hollywood screens that is lamentable because it is always in singularity and assuredness that women find their greatest beauty. I am reminded of this quote by the inimitable (and utterly divine) Anjelica Huston: “There were times when I hated my nose. But you grow up and you start to recognize that maybe it wasn't a bad thing that you weren't born Barbie.”
If you consider that much of what sells cosmetics, clothing, accessories, and even lifestyles to women is the idea that it will, either overtly or subtly, make them more attractive and sexier then the very next question that must be asked is “more attractive to who?” and “sexier to who?” Well to men, of course. Advertising has always been distinctly hetero-normative and founded very blatantly on the idea that both men and women crave luxury and the ability to attract one another without equal. If women remove the desire to attract men from the equation, we are left with something else entirely. We are left with making up our faces (or not) to please ourselves and dressing in clothes that make us feel our most powerful and beautiful. We are left, on a visual level at least, with doing for ourselves that which pleases and fulfills us personally rather than some misguided notion that what we are doing will please some unspecified swath of the male population who are, it must be said, not in agreement about what pleases them anyway. Which is why when Butch asks Fabienne if she thinks men would find a pot belly attractive, her response is absolutely glorious. “I don’t give a damn what men find attractive.” I unabashedly love that. Why should I mash myself into some rigid ideal for the purposes of pleasing a supposedly inflexible male population? The unspoken argument, of course, is that by doing what she finds sexy for herself and not compromising her personal best, Fabienne will become irresistible to men because confidence is undeniably sexy. And she is of course telling this to Butch. So on another level she is telling him she really doesn’t give a damn if he thinks her aspirational pot belly is sexy or not. She will grow it if she can and his thoughts won’t alter her appearance. Which, for a man like Butch, is really hard to resist. The idea that he isn’t in control of every aspect of his life (and by extension, hers) is fascinating and consuming. He’s hooked. And therein lies the beauty of the quote. Realization of and assurance in self is always the most alluring face one can put on for another.
There’s a further declaration made, though, and it resonates just as deeply. “It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.” Have you ever run your hands over your lover’s body with your eyes closed? Isn’t it a divine pleasure? The undulating curves, the softness of the less exposed flesh, the grizzled jawline of a man, the sighing nape of a woman, the hard angles of elbows, the rippling of ribs... it’s delicious how bodies look to our fingertips. And how they feel is not always the same as how they look. When did we decide that the visual presentation was the only one that counts? When did it become the goal of humankind to appear appealing without actually worrying about feeling appealing on multiple levels? At what point do we strive to reconcile the distance between what feels sexy, what is sexy, and what looks sexy? Because they aren’t aligned right now. What looks irresistible to blind fingertips and what looks irresistible to open eyes should be very nearly one. Because love, sex, and intimacy are multi-sensory experiences. To only engage sight is to negate the vital importance of smell, of touch, of taste, and of course of sound. You must fall into another person with all senses ablaze in order to fully experience them. It really is deeply unfortunate that what we find pleasing to the touch is so seldom what we are instructed to find pleasing to the eye.
I suppose there are a good many things Quentin Tarantino gets as wrong as he gets right. He’s not a sleepily easy-to-digest filmmaker, certainly. No matter what he does, he does it declaratively. So when he writes an exchange that works, it is a thing of unparalleled delight. This was a beautifully raw moment in my world and I want to thank Tarantino for it. For having the balls to write a woman who doesn’t care what a man finds sexy and is unbearably appealing both because and regardless of it.
- Corinne Simpson