Unbearably Sexy

Black and white photograph of Michael Fassbender for Vogue issue April 2012 for Unbearably Sexy post by Malin James

Michael Fassbender & Natalia Vodianova for Vogue, April 2012

I should preface this by saying that this isn’t what I’d call a proper post. It’s more of a message from my id…. Carry on.

Yesterday, I stumbled over this photograph of Michael Fassbender and Natalia Vodianova from the April 2012 issue of Vogue. It’s gorgeous, dramatic and ambiguous – just the sort of thing I love. But “gorgeous, dramatic and ambiguous” makes it sound like my response to it was  dreamy and appreciative in a purely aesthetic way.

It wasn’t.

My response was an immediate shot of violent arousal. It’s the sort of feral jolt I don’t usually get unless the source of my arousal is either very personal or touchably in front of me.

In the wake of this fantastically primal response, I tweeted the photo with the caption “This is unbearably sexy” because that’s exactly how it felt – unbearably sexy. This image is so sexy that it was literally difficult for me to bear. For some reason, it taps into every dark, delicious, predatory instinct I have. Even as I type this, I feel sharp and edgy.

I ended up DM’ing a bit later with a couple of women who had similar reactions – similar, but not quite the same. While we all got that holy hell, FUCK ME shot of arousal, the women I chatted with were pretty open about the fact that it was because they identified with, or wanted to be, Natalia Vodianova.

This is very much in keeping with what I assume to be the intention of the image given that it’s part of that issue’s cover feature on Michael Fassbender. Of course, the female reader is meant to identify with Vodianova. Who wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of Fassbender’s sleek concentration?

That’s what underpins the image’s visible cues – his control and her softness, the way he’s holding her still, her pretty glove on his sleeve, the precision of his hand vs. the carelessness of his writing…. I see all of those things and feel the pull of the same response – the one I should be having:

Let it be my hand on his sleeve and my temple he’s writing on. 

But it’s not. I’m reacting to something else – something I’ve manufactured in response to the image. Yes, it’s fed by his apparent control but it’s not because I want to be the lovely, pliant recipient of that attention. I don’t want to be the woman he’s doing it to, I want to be the woman he’s doing it for. I want to watch him while he does it and know that I’m under his skin.

Despite how that probably sounds, that desire doesn’t come from a place of dominance. It comes from the fact that I love power and confidence and force of will. I love prowess, and I love watching my partners exercise their prowess. It’s intensely exciting to me because equality is exciting to me – there is nothing as intimately hot as knowing that I am with someone whose will is as strong as mine, someone who can meet me step for step wherever we happen to go, especially when he trusts me to take the lead.

This photograph is not an image of that equality – it’s of a magnetic man exercising his prowess. Fassbender’s control, his focus, intensity and aloofness, the way he makes an object of her…it’s beautiful in the way a painting is beautiful. And so is the softness of her compliance. They are the picture of a dynamic that I would love to watch unfold…and, more importantly, that I would love to control.

So, where would I be in this picture?

Under his skin and in the back of his mind. In the pressure of the quill and his furrowed brow. In the drop of his shoulder and his barely parted lips.

He would bring me the taste of her perfume, like a token or a gift. He would bring me smudges of India ink, and I would lick the ink from his fingers and the perfume from his skin. I don’t own him. I wouldn’t want to. I love that he can’t be owned. But I’m in him; and in the ink; and in his impulse to write – by choice as much as will. And were I in his place, he would be in me too.


  1. You know something Malin – the image doesn’t do it for me the way it does for you – however – you’re engagement and description of your response has me gone – I’m gone. YOU make this unbearably sexy for me.

  2. You know, I look like him. Just kidding.

    Not sure I entirely get where you’re coming from, but it intrigues the hell out of me. Getting under the skin of emotions like this is exactly what compels me to write — to understand. I’m going to try to make a story out of your confession.

    But what a great picture. Both of them are perfect. Looks like it could have come out of a 1940’s spy thriller — which I suppose, partly, the aesthetic they were aiming for.

    1. Getting under the skin and digging into emotions and compulsions is one of the biggest reasons I write too. Everyone is different and I’m just incredibly curious about what makes different people tick. In the end, I want to understand, possibly even more than I want to be understood 🙂

      As for why this image makes me tick, that 40’s spy aesthetic you mentioned definitely up’s the effect. I’m a sucker for those films and that period. Going a bit deeper, the prowess thing has always been hard to pin down. In the end, it has to do with a certain kind of loneliness (not a tragic, lonely loneliness, but more like the loneliness of some kind of endangered species) and a craving for affinity. I wrote a story called A Good Love that paints an implicit portrait of that. As always, I’d be very curious to read your take on it.

  3. One of the reason’s I love your posts is your passion for writing about what is on your mind but also, what triggers a reaction for you to write about. A photo, a painting, a favorite author, a past memory. You have the gift of taking that reaction and putting it into a story. Your comments about first seeking to understand is rare. The fact that your read other people’s work to learn, understand, and find ways of improving your craft is admirable. Personally, reading your work has taught me many new ideas on how people think, react, and has given me another perspective on love and relationships.

    To me, when I see this photo, the look in his eyes says “I am done with you, I am writing you off and drawing on your face out of disrespect”. He is steady, confident, and unattached. She is longing for him, will do anything for him, wants him near her, and trusts him (even tilts her head a bit to allow him to write on her).

    Love it. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Glen – your comment made my evening. I love writing and I love that I have the luxury of writing on subjects that are vital and important to me. That you take such wonderful care in how you’ve read some of my posts is massively flattering and I appreciate it more than I can say. Also, I like your reading of the picture – I can very much see all of that in it. It’s a marvelous image 🙂

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