It’s summer. It’s been summer for a while. This has allowed a reappearance of summer fashion. To be honest, as disappointing as this might be to Lagerfeld and co, I don’t really feel it’s changed much in the past few years – you expect to see gladiator sandals, aviator sunglasses, floral prints…oh, and a few other things you expect to see. Bra straps. Stomachs. Thighs. Thongs. Cleavage. It must be summer!
Let’s get this out of the way: I love fashion. I don’t walk around in knee socks with sandals and turtle neck orange jumpers/sweaters (although, might that be considered vintage and cool? I digress…). I am a girly girl and I like to have fun with what I wear. But this is my blog so I get to be honest… I never fail to be shocked at what I see other girls wearing. I can’t get desensitised to girls and women parading around in what a 60 year old male friend called ‘not even enough clothes to wear to bed’. And that’s part of my definition of hypersexualised dressing. I’m referring in this post to dressing that promotes sexuality above anything else and that suggests, frankly, that we’re not much more than that.
Objectionable (in my view) dressing seems to reach girls and women from all kinds of backgrounds and in all walks of life: school girls, doctors, University students, sales assistants, research fellows, teachers, musicians, mums, daughters, grandmothers, businesswomen, hairdressers, charity workers, writers, scientists, beauty therapists, athletes…the list could go on.
This post has been a long time coming. I have refrained several times from writing it on the back of being at various events (music festivals seem to be a particularly good source of concentrated problematic dressing) and simply responding to what I saw in raw frustration. I’ve discussed with many friends what their differing views on the subject are, and have heard from people via social media in their responses to a few feelers I put out (thanks to you all). I’ve researched for a long time the sexualisation of women in the media and have allowed the topic of hypersexualised dressing to marinate in my thoughts because I do not want to single anyone out, I don’t want to blame anyone who shouldn’t be blamed, and I don’t want to alienate anyone.
I do, however, think that sexualised dressing is a widespread issue that is potently degrading and dangerous to us as women, and so it deserves to be discussed. What exactly is the problem? Do we not have the right to dress as we like? If the way we dress causes men to lust and not know where to look, is that not their issue? Is our sexual power not ours to own and use as we please?
The Slutwalk movement that has taken place in recent months arose after a comment by Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, who suggested that in order to remain safe from sexually violent crimes, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” Women worldwide responded to this with Slutwalk, protests and workshops which asserted our right to be safe whatever we wear, and object to our sexuality being defined by men’s view of us. I am 100% behind the truth that there is NEVER, ever a rightful reason for rape and that indeed, we should not be defined by how we are seen by men. No one should ever be blamed for being raped. No means no, and cleavage is NOT consent.
As readers, you know that I am passionately against the sexualisation of women and girls by the media or by society, and that my heart is broken over sexual exploitation and violence. At the heart of my passion concerning this is the knowledge that women and girls have the right to safety, to respect and to opportunity, the knowledge that we are so much more than sex.
Where I take issue is when women and girls hypersexualise ourselves through the way we dress without wanting others to sexualise us. We can’t object to the media using pornographic images to sell us toothpaste when we walk around dressed like ads for porn. It’s hypocritical. And, although I tread a dangerously thin line and don’t wish to be misunderstood, we need to lead the way for men by not allowing them to reduce us to sex or behave towards us in unwelcome sexual manners, by not putting that part of ourselves at the forefront of our personal presentation. Let’s stop making it an ‘us and them’ thing and team with men, setting the tone ourselves. (Again, I am not excusing rape or unwelcome sexual behaviour towards us from men, and in referring to sexualised dressing being ‘dangerous’, I am referring to it being dangerous to the threat we cause ourselves, which is discussed below. That is as far as I will go: we should suggest to them respect by our example. We are never responsible, however, for their actions towards us.)
It can’t be put down to just following fashion, or not having an alternative. I know it’s difficult for women with limited budgets, and it’s difficult for women with body parts of varying sizes. But we are not at the mercy of the clothing designers and companies. We are brains. We are creativity…we are MORE than what they tell us we are.
And rather than relating this to how men (and this doesn’t relate to all men) see us, how the media portray us, or how the clothing companies dictate to us what we should wear, I want to suggest that we should dress differently as a gift to ourselves, for our own benefit, because…
we are MORE than sex. We are NOT sexual objects. That is not to say we are assexual prudes, either. Sex is good. But we are not defined by our sexuality. We are more than how men see us and we are more than what Abercrombie, Topshop and co. tell us we are. We are brains. We are talent. We are creativity. We are achievement. We are art. We are success. We are hard work. We are wonder. We are activism. We are science. We are strong character. We are respect. We are loving kindness. We are words. We are charity. We are changing the world. We are enough, and we are more.
I know there is a lack of respect for us as more than sex. We are seen as sexual objects in the eyes of many, and it’s hard to not put those glasses on ourselves, too. It’s hard when we feel reduced to that. It’s hard when we know we get more attention when we hypersexualise ourselves. But we have to fight it. We have to remind the world that we are more. And a really obvious way to do that is in how we dress. I choose to reject the idea that I am a sexual object. The idea that I am what the media suggests I am. The idea that I will blindly buy what clothing companies sell me.
Again, I am not suggesting that we all dress in super unstylish, ridiculously awful outfits. I’m looking forward to wearing this autumn’s new trends. We don’t need to dress like little girls (although, these days, that means in hot pants with ‘JUICY’ written on the back…) either. Have fun. Be fashionable. But (oh, how I wish this was an ‘and’) dress to reflect the fact that YOU are so much. You are valuable. You are not a sexual object. Because some don’t seem to be getting it, we need to lead the way.
It would be silly to suggest a list of ‘rules’ for dressing modestly. I know many do and I don’t think it’s awfully useful or effective. It is better to think about what we are, to realise our potential and to acknowledge the limits we may place on ourselves through our dressing. We need to catch the heart of it rather than meet a set of centimetre by centimetre, body part by body part, guidelines.
That said, I don’t want to see your underwear. Nor do I want to see your boobs, thighs, stomach, butt, or anything else around there. (And no, this post does NOT only relate to summer fashion). I want to see your brains. I want to see you run. I want to hear you sing. I want to read your work. I want to see you achieve. I want to know your character.
You are more. And mothers with young daughters: they are more, too.