Through my life, my general attire has been the same. Jeans and a T-shirt with sneakers. In 6th grade, I switched jeans out for sweat pants because I could not stop growing, and therefore I could not find a pair of jeans that would comfortably fit me without me growing out of them two weeks later. I was rarely seen in a dress or skirt because I was uncomfortable in them as well as not confident in them.
In high school, I would see these girls with shorts and shirts and skirts and dresses that didn’t meet the dress code, and I generally resented them. Really, it was more because they wouldn’t get called out on breaking dress code because of who they were, and what major they were affiliated with, but other girls would. (My friend Sara got yelled at one day for wearing a tank top without a cardigan to cover her shoulders when other girls would walk around in tank tops and short-shorts all day without a word spoken to them.)
And I told myself I hated the way they dressed, that they looked like whores and sluts, that certainly they could dress more modestly, and with less makeup, to boot. A lot of my friends agreed, even guy friends. But stepping back from those moments, I realize that some of the things they wore were things I would have loved to wear if I had the confidence. The shirts, the skirts, the dresses, most of them were really cute. Their eyeliner was always even and their lipstick was kick ass. And I’m angry and jealous that I wasn’t brave enough to try and pull it off.
But the people I’ve been in contact with a lot lately have a different idea than that. “No,” they say, “no, they’re still just sluts and whores who need to cover up. You’re different, Senna. You’re modest, and no-makeup natural. You’re not a perfect hourglass. Not like those other girls.” And that got me thinking. If I were to wear those things – not to be provocative, or because I wanted anyone’s approval, but because I wanted to wear them – would these people still hold the same opinion of me? Would I lose their respect simply for wearing something that wasn’t finger-tip length, or that showed my stomach, or that exposed my back? Is embracing and playing up a body figure really that horrible? Were these really people I wanted to associate myself with if they thought this way?
The issue here, is what society likes to call “slut shaming” (which, really, can’t we come up with a better term?). If you’re unfamiliar with this idea, it’s basically when you call someone a slut, whore, hooker, what have you, simply because they’re wearing something “immodest” that you don’t approve of, because it’s “distracting” or “inappropriate.” You know what our ancestors wouldn’t approve of? Showing our ankles. Or our knees. And what do we do almost every day when the weather is nice? Show both. I don’t see anyone going off about that, do you? It’s one thing to print “SEX” on a shirt and wear it to school or work (which, by the way, I’ve seen instances like this go unchecked more often than not), but being told “your shirt is showing your midriff, you’re going to give boys the wrong idea” boggles my mind. The wrong idea? That what, I have a stomach? That I don’t have cotton surgically attached to it? That I have legs, that I have shoulders, that I have a back? Covered in skin? What a concept, who knew?
The idea that men can’t keep it in their pants or pay attention because a girl is wearing a skirt is an idea that demotes men to beings that have no willpower. (This idea also is why rape culture is a thing; “she was dressed like that/drunk/passed out, how could he not rape her?”)
It’s also the idea that a woman will dress to sexually distress a man. Which, in certain cases might be true, but by and large, is a ridiculous idea. Unless I’m in my work uniform, I dress for me. I dress so I can feel good about myself. “Well, can’t you do that without dressing so scantily?” the masses of men ask. Can’t you think about anything other than getting into a woman’s pants depending on what she’s wearing? If the answer is “no” or “yes, but…” I’m not the problem. You are.
And this idea has followed me beyond high school. It still haunts me today, with people continually telling me that I’m “better” than other girls because I dress and look different from them. And it makes me look at things I want to wear, makes me try them on, and then sadly put them back on the rack because the people around me wouldn’t approve of them. It was my sister fearlessly wearing whatever she wanted to wear, and my mother’s acceptance of it, that finally made me realize that I could put on whatever I wanted as long as I felt good in it.
“Modesty is hot.” Yeah, that might be true, in some cases. But you know what else is hot? Me in a strapless red dress that doesn’t meet the fingertip test and thigh-highs and winged eyeliner and silver eye shadow and bright red lipstick. You know what’s not hot? Your idea that I need to dress the way you think I should.