Saturday, December 12, 2009

Better Off Dressed

I could not stop staring at her breasts because they stared at me first. When they walked into the room my mouth hung wide open as I beheld the cleavage bouncing toward me, and I’m a straight girl. Flooded with questions and confusion, my head began twirling with Why? Huh? What? Uggghhh…
Where are we—women and men—headed? Popular culture seems to favor lots of skin and tight clothes that make Saran Wrap look comfortable. But what are our options? Keep up with mainstream culture? Or resist it and dress like nuns and monks in contrast? There must be balance. But I think we’ve lost our purpose in why we get dressed in the morning. Both guys and girls need to be aware of how we are affecting each other.
Day to day I see at least two groups of men around me. One man drools over a “hot” woman walking down the street. Another man looks away wishing she respected herself and others enough to put on more clothes.
I also see two groups of women. One woman dresses provocatively because she believes her purpose in life is to be “pretty.” Another woman dresses more “kindly” because she cares about the men around her, realizes that younger woman are watching and imitating her, and, most importantly, knows she is worth more than her reflection in the mirror.
So girls, what is our goal when we open our closets each morning? Functionality? Shock? Double-takes? Compliments? The envy of all other girls on campus? Really, what goes through our heads when we choose what clothes we put on, because what we pull off the hanger says a lot about who we are and what matters to us.
For example, if we wear stiletto heels, thigh-grazing mini-skirts, and tight, low-cut tank tops revealing most of our chest, most people will assume our goal is attention. Some guys will look and keep looking. Congratulations to us! It’s not hard to know what some guys view as “attractive.” There are other guys who feel sorry for us and won’t be interested because they want something more.
Let’s get to the point: we all like pretty people. Always have, always will. It’s okay that we are attracted to each other. That’s kind of how it’s supposed to work. The problem comes in our varied definitions of the word “pretty,” especially as it refers to women. What does pretty mean? Does it mean a size 2 waist and double D bra? Does pretty mean a size 12, confidence to move a mountain, and wrinkles that tell a story? Does pretty mean tube tops and mini skirts? It depends on who you ask, of course
Unfortunately, there is a certain brand of “pretty” that we all know gets the most attention: skinny, big breasts, tight clothes, short skirts, high heels. Some men drool over these images, and women learn very quickly that this is “what men want.” We see this brand of pretty plastered on billboards and saturating porn films. Oh yes, I said it. Can we talk about this?
I’ve heard it said that “ninety-nine percent of guys are struggling or have struggled with porn, and the other one percent are lying.” There are some guys who are perfectly content looking at pornography and wouldn’t call it a “struggle” because they don’t want to stop. Then, there are the stand-up, quality guys who say, “I want something better. I want something real,” even as they live immersed in temptations . They aren’t oblivious, but they are fighting a battle and sometimes, we girls aren’t helping.
As a woman I could say, “I don’t care. I have the right to wear whatever I want to wear,” and I’d be correct. No one can force us to be intentional about the clothes we put on in the morning. We can pick our wardrobes to attract guys who find us “pretty.” But if all they’re looking for are pretty faces and bodies, why do we want their attention anyway? In a few years we will look older, we will have cellulite, and some guys won’t be interested. So is it worth it? Also, by dressing sexy, we’re not only attracting that one guy in chemistry class, we’re now a temptation to the homeless man on the street, our best-friend’s boyfriend, and even our teacher who is married, with kids. The point is this: our clothes and makeup and demeanor tell a story. Are we sure we’re telling the best one?
Of course, this is not only a woman’s issue. This is not only women’s responsibility. Women dress provocatively because they know they’ll get rewarded for it. If men continue gawking over half-naked women and applauding those whose life goal is “pretty,” woman will continue to honor that. When men reduce women to objects—b reasts, butts, and legs instead of brains, personality, and character—women learn that men value appearance alone. We are all contributing to this problem. We are all accountable for it. We all need to do something about it.
“The compulsion to be desired and desirable undermines self-direction, self-confidence, and self-determination,” says Polly Young-Eisendrath, author of Women and Desire: Beyond Wanting to Be Wanted. She suggests that “wanting to be wanted” comes from finding our power in an image rather than in our actions.
Men’s sexual desires are not solely women’s responsibility. The adage that “boys will be boys” has been used for far too long as an excuse for guys to not use their brains. Men are not animals who “just can’t control themselves.” But they have to be just as intentional as anyone else.
Girls, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve heard this before. I’ve been hearing the “modesty speech” since I was 12 years old. Well, I have too, but I’m only just beginning to see truth in it all. What if we women cared enough to create a safer place for men? What if we chose to dress kindly to help guys in the battle some of them face? What if we chose to dress kindly because we wanted to be good examples to the young girls watching and imitating us? What if we chose to dress kindly because we don’t want to contribute to a culture that says we are only valuable if we look like Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox?
Guys, what if you cared enough to create a safer place for women? We feel enormous pressure to be thin and beautiful by magazine and runway standards. If you were intentional about complimenting us for our character, our humor, our intelligence, maybe we would truly believe that we are worth so much more than our appearance. Be different. Choose wisely the movies you watch and the magazines you read that may be contributing to the mindset that women are merely objects and men merely animals. If they are degrading to women, they are degrading to you.
If we’re just treading circles around our portion of the globe without rhyme or reason, what’s the point? There has to be balance and purpose in what we do. I believe it starts with the little things. It starts when you get dressed in the morning.

(The Clocktower, December 2009)