Body shaming and the sexualization of the mundane

Bondage Heart by Tara McPherson

Bondage Heart by Tara McPherson

This week I read a really disturbing piece of news about a teenager who was denied entrance to her prom because her dress showed too much cleavage. She was later admitted after agreeing to wear a shawl over her shoulders and chest, but left soon after because (GET THIS!) they had managed to convince her that everyone would be looking at her! While schools can and many times do have dress codes for their functions, this story really touched me. Firstly because the girl in question was wearing a long and strapless prom dress, like many other girls at her school probably did. But mostly, because she had something probably none of the other girls in the strapless glamorous dresses did: a larger chest.


As a fellow busty lady, I felt for her. Hell, I’ve been her! I never got turned away at a school function but I cannot possibly begin to recount all of the times that some adult felt the need to address the way I was dressed as a teen (and even pre-teen!) simply because I developed early and maybe wasn’t willing to wear polo necks every day of my fucking life. Taking one look at the picture of this girl (right), I recognized the probably difficult journey that she had had in finding that dress and feeling good about herself. I knew that these assholes at her school had managed to fast-forward the time to the rest of her adult life where she would be made to feel “unprofessional” for not wearing a fucking burqa when she goes out in public. I recognized a confidence in her picture that came from knowing these people were in the wrong. But having been her, I know first-hand how body shaming works to destroy a young girl’s self-image by convincing her she should be ashamed of her body. That wanting to dress however she wants to and displaying confidence is very often mistaken for exhibitionism and inviting sexual attention. That people fail to see that, to her, showing cleavage is an almost inevitable consequence of wearing, you know, clothes! And that, to her and every other fucking woman on the planet with boobs of all sizes:


Someone posted a link to this story on a closed Facebook group I am a part of. I commented something about how in the original link women and men alike were suggesting that she should have gone to a seamstress to alter the dress, or that she should have known that was not appropriate and how that saddened me because the message to this girl was that she should find a way to conform to some unrealistic expectation for people with her body type or hide away. What followed was story upon story of women living in different parts of the world who had lived similar situations as teenagers. Some had been told to change out of their clothes while their friends with a smaller chest or hips had been wearing the exact same thing. Some had been sexually harassed daily. Others were advised not to look ‘trashy’ for an upcoming school prom. The stories were never ending. It became clear to me that this girl’s and mine were not isolated cases. The control over young women’s bodies in society is ever present and just so damaging. Here we were, some of us more than ten years after the fact, and we were still talking about things that happened in school that made us feel like crap about ourselves.

I remember my secondary school teacher talking to a class of 11 year olds in all seriousness about how girls who dressed “like tarts in summer” (he was British, hence the word tart) were a real problem at our school and how he hoped we wouldn’t do that when we were older. Seeing as I’d had boobs since I was 10, I knew the “older” he was talking about did not apply to me. I also remember a very conservative Greek headmistress in the same school going around the field on a hot summer day and telling girls if they dressed like that again tomorrow she would call their mothers – to which one particularly lippy girl said “this top is my mother’s!” and of course it wasn’t, but she knew how to handle the absurdity of the situation while girls like me didn’t. Some of us are thicker-skinned. But teenagers are notoriously sensitive and impressionable. Most teenagers internalize criticism because guess what? Before you are a teenager, random people in your life aside from maybe family don’t spend all of their time criticizing you. You are just starting to develop into a full individual. Growing up hurts enough as it is. Why wouldn’t adults spare teens this kind of judgment? I never fucking understood that. Feedback about certain behavior – like uhm… I don’t know, bullying, slut-and-body-shaming maybe? – should absolutely be addressed by adults. But actually being the ones to body shame young girls? I call bullshit on the whole thing. Fucking inexcusable.

And with this kind of mentality apparently being so universal among educators, is it any wonder that the world we live in is so often such a sexist hell-hole for women?

(That was a rhetorical question.)

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