There is always something we are showing, someone getting bothered, getting uncomfortable, feeling ashamed on our behalf and making choices about us without our contribution. There’s still someone saying what the female body should or should not be, dictating what we can and cannot show. Someone interpreting what our skin and curves mean, what our expression implies about our character and what consequences we must be subjected to because we dared to be in our bodies.
I have always been aware of myself as a sexual body from as early as five years old. It was in the way we were asked to dress and how we were taught to sit, especially in public. As I grew older, this simply intensified
“Don’t wear revealing clothing, your bringing attention to yourself” “Cover-up, you are showing too much skin” was the type of statements I grew up with, they became my fashion pillar points.
I had to find a way to dress without showing to much skin because when you show too much skin terrible things can happen to you and it’s partially your fault.
Puberty hit me like a sandstorm. In what felt like a fortnight, I moved from wearing Tshirts at peace to thinking about my cup size and how not to show my now cleavaged chest. I felt mandated to hide my skin, legs and the curves that were carving themselves on my surface like a tapestry. They were symbols of my sexual body, parts of me that needed to be put away because they would determine how the world would receive me. This constant worry developed into a body consciousness that would stalk me for years to come. I found myself in a space where I was subconsciously body-shaming and slut-shaming myself and other women and girls for daring to flaunt their bodies. It felt irresponsible and immoral to allow myself to be seen. In the few occasions when the teenager in me would rebel, I would have days of dealing with the shame of what I had done.
I wanted to be a boy so badly. I wanted the freedom my male friends had that they didn’t have to be conscious of their bodies being sexualized. They did not have to think of whether their bodies would lead to them being harassed, disrespected or disregarded. I just wanted to wear shorts when it was hot and sit in the most comfortable position while watching a movie. I wanted the chance to choose when I was sexy and when I was going about my daily routine without any fear, guilt or shame.
Women all over the world have been raised to know ourselves as sexual bodies, and this sexuality is shameful and not intended for us. We are expected to cover up, conceal or remove attention from our faces, legs, hands, backs, necks, hair and to some extent parts of our identity. Young girls grow up with a severe identity crisis and shame associated with their bodies, continually seeking ways to be less ‘provocative’ even in the privacy of their own presence. This same shame allows women to be hateful to each other and to discriminate themselves based on their dressing because they have been led to believe that anything outside the ‘moral dress code’ is to be shunned. All this is said to be a protective measure to keep women from passing the ‘wrong’ messages with how we dress and to shield us from different forms of violation.
Unfortunately, there is some truth in this because due to the sexualization of the female body, women are violated and assaulted under the weak justification of their bodies presentation being provocative. Escalating the matter to greater heights is the fact that women are also disempowered on their own sexuality allowing unfair standards of beauty and sex appeal to be determined by men. This creates an awkward paradox where women are cautioned against expressing their bodies because it makes them vulnerable to men yet the only way for a woman’s beauty to be acceptable is through adapting to the beauty standards set by men.
In my case, I was lucky that my rebellious personality allowed me to dare to be in my body unapologetically. This decision came with the cost of continually fighting being slut-shamed, cat-called, and defending my right to be in spaces. Today, I have to consciously put effort to be proud of every inch of my skin-curves and all. This has been my journey, but other young women shouldn’t have to fight this fight. We need to re-think how we are raising our children. Instead of teaching girls to dress appropriately to be safe, we should be teaching boys that the female body is not a sexual object. We should teach them that there is no justification for cat-calling, slut-shamming and any form of harassment or violence against women.
What are your thoughts on dress code culture towards women? Do you have any ideas on how we can reshape the culture around sexualizing female bodies?
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