My preteen-aged cousin was going through the bag of clothes I had given to her, laughing excitedly as she tried everything on. Giving us all a fashion show with the tangible representations of my past, we all smiled at how the little things can make people so happy. She sat down on the bed next to me to take a break, wearing a tank that showed no sign of cleavage but was tight enough to display the obvious growth of womanhood. Boobs. My preteen cousin had boobs. And they were bigger than mine. Nobody cared though. A body is a body is a body and all is natural to open-minded people like myself. Too bad 2016, as has been proven by recent critical events, isn’t as evolved as we would like it to be.
“Put those away,” our aunt said to her. “Nobody needs to see those.”
I sat up straighter in immediate response and spat, “She can wear whatever she wants to wear.”
“No, she can’t. She is a young lady and young ladies shouldn’t be dressing like prostitutes around young boys.”
First of all, when was a thick strapped work out tank considered prostitute attire? Did I miss the memo along with the moment in time when women lost the rights they fought so hard for? “She’s right,” my cousin said. “I should cover up more.”
“How about instead of telling females what they shouldn’t be wearing, we teach people not to oversexualize or sexually abuse women.” To that, her mother nodded her head in agreement. It was nice to have someone on my side but it wasn’t going to change anything. The sight of a young girl’s shoulders is apparently just too much for a boy to handle without feeling the need to rape her. So with that believed by an entire generation, the rules of confinement commenced.
You would think it gets better with time; that as a girl turns into a young woman who turns into a hard-working adult, she would have more freedom to express herself through her style. But you would be wrong.
For the past four summers of my life, I have worked with youth ages 12-18 as a camp counsellor and youth leader. It is one of my favorite things in the world because I have not once hidden who I am to impress anyone, and that has inspired many others to do the same. Feeling safe in the open-minded arms of my home campground, the campers and I have always been free to express ourselves in whichever way we feel necessary. We are allowed to wear whatever we want as long as it isn’t too scandalous or offensive. We can wear two-piece bathing suits when we go swimming in extremely hot and humid weather, and it is encouraged that men and women be seen as equals instead of sexual objects specifically created for the pleasure of someone else’s mind. But it wasn’t the same everywhere I went.
Because of my experience in my home campground with the progressive views on self-expression, I wasn’t prepared for the scrutiny I received at the last camp I worked at in a very different location. It was the first full day of this intensive senior high camp with close to 1200 campers and it was hot and humid as some would call hell. Coming from a summer in Canada that really should have been labeled as fall, I didn’t know how to dress for hot weather without exposing myself slightly. I was excited to see sun like that for what would be the only time all summer. I put on a tank with an open back and a pair of shorts that well covered all my “offensive” body parts. I walked around outside feeling great as the sun touched my back. Not once did anyone come up to me to say that what I wore that day insulted anyone. It wasn’t until the very end of the day that an older camp leader pulled me aside and started an awkward conversation. She said that at an important staff meeting earlier in the day, it had been brought up in front of many people that my inappropriate choice of clothing was offensive because it made me a horrible influence on the girls at the camp.
“You have to start taking your role more seriously and act like a leader,” she said to me. “And that means dressing like one too.”
How horrible of me to not realize what I had done. I completely forgot about the deadly consequences that affect others by showing skin. Did you know that if you stare at a white girl’s back for longer than three seconds, you have an 85% chance of going blind?
I pretended to understand but my instant shock made it obvious I didn’t want to change. I wanted to run outside naked with my middle fingers to the sky. I wanted to book a flight home and never return to those precious youth I’d known for so many summers because I couldn’t stand to be in a place where the older generation leaders judged so greatly. And these are the people who call themselves loving and accepting “Christians.”
I’ve struggled a lot with religion over the past few years but I do know that if a greater being exists, this isn’t how He would have wanted us to treat each other.
He wouldn’t look down on us and judge for what we wore or who we loved, because the job of this specific religion is to love and accept everyone no matter what: the ones who some deem unlovable, the ones who make mistakes, and the ones who wear open-back tank tops in 100 degree weather. Love and acceptance: that’s honestly all it is. If someone had come up to me personally and expressed their genuine concern to my face, then I would have changed no problem as I wouldn’t have wanted to make the older generation uncomfortable with my modern “controversial” style choices. Instead of going behind my back like children to talk about how I didn’t deserve to be there because I dressed like a whore, they should have respected me enough to handle the situation differently.
Judgment of any kind to any human being is intolerable. Just because a female has an “offensive” body type and dresses it in less clothing for the summer, doesn’t mean she is a horrible addition to society. Can we please stop focusing so much on this shallow aspect of human nature? Because that’s not all we are. Just because a woman shows a bit of her back in the summer, doesn’t mean she’s trying to get hit on by a pool of teenage boys. And just because she has a big butt, doesn’t mean that’s what she wants you to look at when she leads a group of people. It’s hot as Satan’s balls outside, let me wear my summer shorts in peace!
With the oversexualization of women in this matter, people are only focusing on what a woman wears instead of how her brain operates. This is problematic for more than just the small world of camp counseling. It’s a disaster for the entire universe. The clothes I choose to wear shouldn’t discredit my abilities as a great leader, but society tells us differently.
I understand that it isn’t just at camps that this happens. I also realize how lucky I am to live in a country where I even get to express myself freely at all as a woman. I just really wish people would stop viewing our bodies as something that is offensive and only for sexual purposes. Because our bodies are so much more than that. They are a protection for our fragile souls, they carry humanity’s future life, and create a safe place for a mind that will change the world through inspiring ideas.
As the horrible leader and terrible influence I am, there is something I would like to say to all genders alike: Love yourself. Love your mind. But also love your body. Your body is beautiful and you can show it off in whatever way you like or that makes YOU comfortable and happy. Don’t let anyone tell you how to dress, how to speak, or how to live the life you want. You are beautiful, we are all beautiful, and we are all worthy no matter what judgmental people like to tell us.