About a year ago, a woman named Rebecca Walden wrote an article for Huffington Post called “Ladies of the SEC, Cover It Up.” (I would link it here, but HuffPo has since removed the article from its site.) If you’re unfamiliar, AL.com wrote a summary.
Her article (and the numerous, furious op-eds it inspired) left me with a lot of unresolved confusion about my own stance on a woman’s right to dress the way she wants to.
On one hand, I’m definitely no stranger to crop tops and short hemlines. I work out a lot—and, frankly, I don’t want to cover up a body I’m proud of.
On the other hand, I completely saw this woman’s point. Even I’ve been uncomfortable with some of the outfits I’d see on SEC game day, wondering why anyone felt it was appropriate or necessary to wear a plunging neckline at noon on a Saturday around fifth graders and their parents at a football game.
I was so conflicted and preoccupied by my own vacillation that I wrote my own “op-ed” in which I took a little bit of each side.
The topic was being discussed with such fervor and emotion on social media that I never posted the draft, for fear of being too inflammatory or being accused of being “anti-feminist.”
It wasn’t until recently, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelation and larger discussion about sexual exploitation in coercive power structures, that my opinion came more into focus.
Mayim Bialik, best known for her childhood role as Blossom Russo on “Blossom” and her adulthood role as Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory,” is not a traditionally beautiful woman by Hollywood standards.
She jokes that she constantly auditions for the “frumpy friend”-type roles, and as a result, was overlooked by the powerful, wealthy, and exploitative men of Hollywood. Put simply, she wasn’t sexually harassed because people didn’t see her as a sexual object. (What a disgustingly sad commentary on the state of our society.)
Mayim wrote an incredible article for The New York Times called "Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World." I encourage you to read the piece for yourself, but the sentiment that stuck with me most powerfully was in the comments section. A woman, self-disclosing she was born in the 70s, wrote:
“My generation rejected the clothing that made our sexuality the first and loudest statement about ourselves.”
The first and loudest statement about ourselves.
And because I realize I’m drawing an exceptionally messy, fragile tie between two very sensitive topics, I’d like to be pedantically clear: I am in no way insinuating or suggesting that the way a woman dresses invites sexual assault. I have seen the countless exhibits that display rape victims’ baggy clothing to dispel the “What were you wearing?” myth.
The Weinstein case was merely the catalyst for Mayim speaking out, and her piece (and the conversation it incited) prompted me to rethink the way I present myself and ask, Am I contributing to this larger societal problem in which men view women as sexual objects? Am I objectifying myself for easy, cheap, fleeting attention?
In my original blog draft reacting to Rebecca Walden’s piece and the fiery op-ed, I had written, “I don’t wear skintight clothes because I think it’s going to inspire young men to want to know more about my professional aspirations, respect me as a human being, or view me as an equal.”
That’s a brutally honest admission to make, but it’s true. I can’t speak for all young women, but when I dress not-so-conservatively, it’s because of one thing, and one thing only: attention.
I’ve partaken in that chorus of, “I do it for me! I dress this way for me!” plenty of times, but let’s get real. No young woman would prefer tugging at a too-tight, uncomfortable skirt over wearing clothes that fit comfortably and don’t need constant adjusting and monitoring. It’s distracting and implicitly communicates, “I am here first and foremost to be looked at, and will sacrifice my own comfort for your viewing pleasure.”
Game day just happens to be the quintessence of the most wildly impractical, bizarre time to opt for revealing, uncomfortable clothes. It exposes how utterly ludicrous it is—wearing a body con dress and heels to watch a football game in 98-degree weather next to a boy in a jersey, khaki shorts, and New Balances.
Nothing more strikingly epitomizes the self-objectification we endure, tolerate, and even promote—nay, defend as empowering—quite like an SEC game day.
I feel entitled to share this opinion for a few reasons, even though I know there will be inevitable backlash.
One: I have been that girl. Many times. More times than I’d like to admit. And more recently, too.
Two: I’m tired of defending provocative, loud displays of sexuality that are intended to garner cheap male approval and attention as “empowering.” What would be more empowering is being valued for something beyond the way I look in jean shorts.
Three: There’s a difference between expecting people to dress appropriately for the occasion and slut-shaming. If someone walked into a job interview in a bikini, you’d probably dub it horrifically inappropriate. There’s a time and a place.
The ugly truth is that if women, as a collective whole, want men to stop diluting our worth to nothing more than the way we look, we have to stop sexualizing ourselves first.
Mayim writes, “In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want. But our world isn’t perfect. Nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women. But we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in.”
I was unsure if I was just an especially shallow and self-obsessed 22-year-old, but then I posted a piece about comparing myself to other girls on Instagram and something incredible happened.
The post got nearly 11,000 unique hits, and countless other young women (and even a few concerned boyfriends, bless y’all’s hearts) reached out to commiserate in the most mind-blowing display of solidarity and insecurity I’ve ever experienced.
I realized that almost ALL young women (and probably the older ones, too) feel this intense, relentless pressure to look a certain way and live up to a certain standard. To be hot enough, sexy enough, unattainable enough. And we all contribute to this collective bank of self-doubt every time we parade around like baubles on display.
You know who isn't constantly obsessing over how they look or if they're pretty enough? Literally every single man you've ever met.
His mind is free to worry about his career, his passions, and his talents, because he's not obsessing over whether or not his waist looks small enough in his new romper.
Honestly, I'm just tired of it. I'm exhausted from voluntarily putting myself on this hamster wheel. Maybe you're a young woman and you have no idea what I'm talking about, but I'd be willing to bet you do—even if it makes you a little uncomfortable to acknowledge.
I will close with Mayim's parting words:
"And if — like me — you’re not a perfect 10, know that there are people out there who will find you stunning, irresistible and worthy of attention, respect and love."