I remember being in an all-girls school first meant you have to learn to cover up. Socks above the ankle, skirts below the knee, white camis underneath the blouse. It was all okay as it was part of safeguarding the innocence of kids and adolescents. It was also part of imbibing the school’s identity.
But following an all-girls Catholic school dress code along with the usual conservative tenants of “being a woman” also unconsciously teaches you that women’s bodies are meant to be shamed and covered. We taught women to cover up rather than teaching men not to stare or look.
It also unknowingly imparted the sense of righteousness over other women who dared to pose nude in magazines or gasp when they post a photo of themselves in bikinis. In that twisted trap of how women have been trained to go after other women, being clothed and “properly dressed” exemplified your superiority over girls who showed off their bodies or “sluts.” For this, I have Miley Cyrus to thank for summing up what being in clothes can sometimes mean. “I see a lot of clothes on and their as*holes…when you got your tits out you can’t be an as*hole…”
In college, I learned to appreciate my own body. It wasn’t perfect but it was “acceptable”: thin but with (relatively) big breasts and butt. I posted a photo of myself in a bikini the first time and I remember what an ego trip the Likes I got gave me.
But then I learned how a few men would still think you weren’t enough. One guy commented he wished I was taller. “If only that body were on a 5′ 5″ frame” was how I remembered it. The same guy would then later ask me if I could just sleep with him because so he can get over his apparently years worth of feelings for me. I blocked him and never spoke to him after that. It still grosses me out whenever I think about it.
In the years in between and up to now, I learned women’s bodies were worth putting on display only when they pleased a man’s gaze. And men were entitled to look at women and comment what they found imperfect about it with the tone that it should be corrected immediately. They were censored if otherwise.
Body shaming became a buzzword and it meant both men (and some women) can only dictate what bodies should be shown for public consumption and for what-which was usually sexual satisfaction. You only show your body to please the othe party.
And as much as we have plus-sized models, the conversations on body positivity and similar causes the mentality that a woman’s body can only be on display if it pleases the male gaze is prevalent. Look at how Instagram bans photos with nipples showing, while men can be shirtless in bilboards all the want. We think taking a photo series on women with bloodied panties is groundbreaking. It is because it’s never been done before. But women’s bodies do bleed every month, but men don’t want to hear that because it doesn’t please them. Heck, we even have to censor the word vagina with cutesy names because it’s expected for women to be more discreet. And yet every other vandalized wall or public propety bear the drawing of a penis.
It’s why I had a sudden surge of admiration for Amber Rose. By showing off her unshaved vagina, she proved women can show off their bodies anyway they want. And the reaction from Instagram taking it down to the Internet taking it to hilarious posts via the #amberrosechallenge to #bringbackthebush show just how ridiculous the standards we impose on women. They can’t display their bush? They can’t dictate what happens to their nether regions without being shamed? They can only show off their bodies for the sake of a man’s approval? Well, click on any of the tags to see how women (and even some men) have fought back on that notion.
There will be many more instances of how women should and shouldn’t display their bodies, of how we’ll always tell women that certain bodies are only for bikinis. Women’s bodies will continously be censored to preserve men’s fragile ego. But I am hoping that for every single one of those times, there’s going to be a hashtag to prove them wrong at least. Remember before how we wanted to #freethenipple?
I’m hoping we learn to teach women that clothed or otherwise, they deserve respect. Women should be taught agency over their bodies rather than letting men tell them what to do with it. They say that “clothes make the man”? Well, let them know that clothes neither make nor break the woman.
Photo courtesy of Amber Rose’s Twitter account