By featuring a snippet of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s influential TED Talk (“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings, in the way that boys are…”) in her cult-favorite song Flawless***, Beyoncé highlights how women in contemporary society are scorned for personal expressions of sexuality. This message impacted me immensely; from a young age we are trained and taught that in order to be taken seriously, we must always dress conservatively. Female rape victims are blamed for their assaults because of they were wearing “short skirts” and dress codes in schools enforce girls to “cover up as to not distract the boys.” Thankfully I have never been the victim of such a horrific sexual assault and I personally have no regard for my own school’s dress code; however constraining society may be, I find dressing sexually to be intensely empowering.
American society is fixated on appearances. Although we don’t disgrace women for showing their ankles or their arms, as other cultures might, we do make judgments and assumptions about females based on the way they dress. Women who wear more scandalous clothing and even women who choose to dress orthodoxly do not escape America’s critical tongue. For instance, contrast Miley Cyrus and Hillary Clinton. Miley dons pasties and hot pants onstage and is branded a reckless wild child that threatens the morality of her young fans, while Hilary Clinton chooses to wear pantsuits. Hillary is an amazing politician and doesn’t want her abilities to be discredited for wearing something more feminine, yet through her decades on the political scene commenters have poked fun at her allegedly “dreary” dressing. Our society seems to be teaching in order to be leaders, we have to tone down our femininity… but not too much otherwise we are not attractive. When did this become acceptable? When can women win?
To some women, rocking a pantsuit can make them feel powerful and sexy. To others, a tight dress or a low cut shirt can equate that same self-assurance. When I wake up in the morning I don’t think, Which outfit will catch boys’ attention today? Instead, I think, Which outfit is going to make me feel confident and beautiful? Indeed some days the answer is an oversized sweater and a cozy pair of sweatpants, but other days I choose to dress in a sensual backless shirt and a pair of skinny jeans that clearly make my butt look great. There is nothing wrong with expressing yourself in various ways through the way you dress – confidence is what matters most in the long run, so why shouldn’t we enjoy our powerful, gorgeous selves however we want to?
Women have breasts, women have curves, and women have butts. We shouldn’t have to apologize for our bodies. There’s absolutely no reason we can’t express ourselves through fashion, whether with “scandalous” or with conservative clothing, yet the mess thickens when we add girl-on-girl conflict into the mix. We get jealous if we see a girl pulling off a pencil skirt better than us. We get jealous if our skin isn’t as tan as another girl. We get jealous about everything! Females are holding each other down in the same way males are holding women down – when I hear girls describing other girls as “hoes” and “sluts” I get infuriated; we need to stick together. Despite societal pressure there is no need to pit ourselves against each other; competing and feeling threatened based on attractiveness will get us no where. When we see a girl strutting her stuff in a sexy body-con dress, we need to say “Damn! She is confident and has an awesome body! Look at her go!” instead of saying “What is she wearing? That’s way too tight. What is she thinking?” Once we stop shaming each other for fashion choices, we can start to appreciate the beautiful curves each of us obtains.
I hope that tomorrow when you wake up and decide to wear a lacey black bra under a see-through white shirt, you own that outfit because nobody can tell you that you can’t show off more than usual. You’re a woman! You don’t need to confine yourself to the rules of this MAN-made society. Empower yourself by wearing a pair of over the knee boots with a leather mini-skirt. Show off some extra leg, maybe a little more collar bone. Or, wear a pantsuit. Who is going to stop you? Wearing one or the other doesn’t make you a “slut” nor does it make you responsible for anyone else’s actions. And it definitely doesn’t compromise your credibility.
Article written by Nicole Kerman and edited by Molly Mintz. Image courtesy of US Magazine.