'Modest is hottest' is a common phrase thrown around the bible belt. For most of my life, I have worried and feared that what I was wearing would attract the wrong kind of attention. Even when we wore uniforms in high school I thought the unwanted sexual attention directed towards me was my own fault. After my first year in college, I wasn't so sure that dressing modestly was the problem.
Her shorts were not that short, but they were short enough to draw unwanted attention. Walking past a group of guys they yelled and hollered. The look in their eyes was similar to the way someone famished would look at a Big Mac. Another friend I was walking with pulled me aside and asked if we should tell her that her shorts are too short. They are attracting too much attention, she said.
Mulling this over, I understood the hidden meaning in my friend's words.
What she really meant is that the male gaze is a result of a woman's choice. Truth is the sun was blazing hot and I don't blame anyone wanting to wear shorts. Truthfully, a girl could be wearing a potato sack and still attract the same attention.
So what should women do?
When I see another girl walking around in a super body revealing outfit I immediately love it. I think 'Yes, rock it, girl'. Unfortunately, this is not the reaction society has. In cases of sexual assaults and other acts of disrespecting a woman's body, many choose to justify actions of criminals based on the tightness of a skirt. It saddens me that clothing, an outward way of expression, must be mandated by the male gaze.
A woman's body is incredible, and it should be displayed however the owner sees fit. Society does not have a say in what a woman puts on her body.
No matter how confident I feel in the clothes I choose I always freeze up out of fear whenever the whistling and cat-calling starts. Getting unwanted sexual attention from men is a degrading activity woman constantly have to endure. It happens in grocery stores, walking to class, or even driving a car. It has happened to me in fancy slim dresses and baggy sweatpants.
If I get yelled at in both joggers and a body-con, clothing does dictate how a woman is treated. The problem is not women wearing more or less clothing, the problem is that men still don't respect women.
When a woman wears a bikini it doesn't make her a whore, slut, or any other degrading thing you can call her, it means she is confident with her body. Too often we tell women that if they experience undesired advances it is because of their clothing choices. No, these attitudes go far deeper than a flimsy piece of fabric. These ideals go back hundreds of years of men believing the fallacy that they are superior to women.
Though I believe girls should wear whatever desire, modesty is a way women combat the male gaze. Covering up is a way we can equalize ourselves. Some days I just don't want to be looked at. If giving a presentation or speech I choose to be very conservative. As disheartening as it is, women just are not taken seriously in immodest attire. (Seriously there are psychological studies about this)
It shouldn't be this way. Dressing modestly can be very powerful. It is a way of not allowing others to look at me in an inappropriate way. While I would never say it was wrong for women to dress modestly if it makes them feel good about themselves, I recognize that modesty is only seen as good because of men over-sexualizing a woman's body. It shouldn't be our fault.
While getting dressed I shouldn't have to consider my physical safety.
Both modest and revealing clothing can be ways in which women can feel happy in their own skin.
At the end of it all, wear whatever you want. One day we will live in a world where women won't be disrespected, overly sexualized, or concerned about their safety based on the attire they are wearing.