The Right to Bare Arms… and Stomachs and Thighs

BY SOPHIA LOLA

I’ve long been exposed to the idea that a woman’s interest in sex determines her status as a slut or a prude, and that both are unacceptable. But I don’t like to be called names, and I especially don’t like that wearing revealing clothing paints me as a horrible woman who has sex with everybody.

I’m tired of my parents' naggy and insinuating comments about my clothes and makeup, and tired of feeling ashamed when I don’t listen to them. I should be allowed to wear what I want without criticism. When asked if it’s okay for someone to act and dress promiscuously, Diana Mendez, 16, answered, “Of course. Anybody has the right to express their sexuality, as long as it’s not harmful to themselves or others.” A person’s body is theirs, and they should decide what they do with it; that’s what people need to realize. It bothers me that these labels, based on clothing of all things, get in the way of my self-love and self-expression, but how can they not?

I greatly dislike my body sometimes, and other people don’t like it much either. I’ve had plenty of remarks about my weight from family members and classmates-- even people I barely know. I’m told to cover up because no one wants to see my body unless I lose weight. It makes me feel terrible, like I don’t deserve to be happy the way I am. And sometimes my happiness depends on me feeling pretty, cute, or attractive, and those feelings come from wearing the clothes that I like. There are so many other people who feel like this too. During a dress code check, Gabby Sunderland, 17, was told by a high school faculty member that “bigger girls” shouldn’t wear short shorts, and was incredibly offended by the staff member’s remark. Diana says she feels hurt and angry when her parents comment about her weight and how some clothes emphasize certain body parts, pressuring her to dress modestly. “I would often think negatively about myself following their comments,” she says.

What Diana faces, automatic sexualization, is a big part of the problem too. When asked if one’s physical appearance affects the presumptions others make about them, Brennen Cordero, 15, answered, “I think it does affect the presumptions that people make about them because people are always making judgements on others, whether they realize it or not.” There are many factors, both physical and behavioral, that affect one’s judgement, but a person’s outfit is one of the most influential. In a way, it makes sense that clothing causes so much judgement; it’s something we wear as a form of self-expression, but that judgement often crosses a line. It’s when people assume that girls dress to please others, and then think it’s okay to make sexual or critical comments about their bodies, that it’s unacceptable. I personally find that it makes me feel unsafe and self-conscious, whether I’m wearing something as simple as jeans and a sweater, or a short skirt and crop top. Diana said about wearing makeup and dressing up, “It wasn't so much as outward appeal, as it was me being satisfied with how I looked,” and that’s how I feel, and how I think a lot of other people also feel. If people find my outfit unstylish, or think that I’m looking for attention, they’re wrong. It’s not their place to be affected by what I’m wearing, but if they feel like giving a compliment, then that’s great, and very kind. And if someone feels like dressing up for someone else, then that’s totally their choice.

However, there are also people who are criticized for dressing too modestly, rather than for dressing too skimpily. Ivy Trocco, 15, is often told by her parents that she should wear something “cuter” or “more girly” than her usual t-shirts, which express her love for things like Doctor Who and Harry Potter. She doesn’t identify as being particularly “girly”, but her parents want her to. Monia Saleh, 14, has faced major hostility for her religious garb, a headscarf and a Buraka, which looks like a long dress.

“I dress modestly all the time,” she told me, “I'm covered head to toe and I prefer to wear black, even in the summers. It's my choice! I am not forced to do that, as most people would conclude (which is very ignorant).... I have been pressured to change my outfit -- I never acted upon it, but they are people who I considered friends who told me to change what I wear. To them, freedom was wearing whatever they want, short, long, whatever it was, and wearing makeup all the time. To me, freedom is covering myself….  I hated that they wanted me to change what I wear based on what they think is freedom. I especially hated the looks of pity I got…. [but] I honestly don't give a damn about what they think or what other people think. I wear those things for me! To protect myself and to show people what I stand for. The headscarf is a symbol of what I believe -- what I wear shows people who I am in the outside and inside…. People have said [rude] comments to me -- most of the time behind my back. I don't take offense to them at all, mostly because they are pathetic. I've been called a terrorist, Osama bin Laden (even though I am a female, which shows how stupid those boys are). It was always the boys that would say those things; the girls would look at me with pity…. I would like to say [these experiences] didn't [affect my self-esteem], but they did. From 6th to 7th grade (a very short period) I hated myself, more specifically what I wore. But then in 8th grade I realized that I am different than most girls. I shouldn't try to change what I wear and impress them. It took a lot of crying and sadness, but I figured it out. My self-esteem is slowly going up.”

Monia’s approach to dealing with this judgement is one many people take. Bryant Garcia, 15, and Brennen both said that they don’t let what other people say impact them because they’re okay with who they are, and they know that it’s petty. It’s something I try to do too, because who are those people to make me feel bad? Ugly? Objectified? Offended? Unsafe? Guilty? I ask myself this repeatedly, but I can’t say it always works. Ridicule for my clothes and my body is a constant presence in my life, and it doesn’t just roll off all the time. The only way to truly stop it is to teach people not to do it, and I think that’s true for other issues too. For example, I’ve always heard that I shouldn’t give into peer pressure when it comes to things like drugs and alcohol, but I have never been told not to pressure my peers. We teach people how to protect themselves from all kinds of things, but why don’t we teach them not to attack in the first place? Why is it acceptable to be hurtful, but unacceptable to feel hurt?

 


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