Crop Tops, Modesty Ponchos & Contradictory Feelings

Thursday 10 May 2018

It's a bank holiday weekend and in an unprecedented turn of events, the sun hasn't decided that she also deserves the time off. She's shown up and she is really putting the hours in.  People across the UK are either taking a bath in sun cream or already heating the bbq up and it's only 10am. A glorious three days off stretch out in front of us and my pasty bare legs do the same.

I pretty much gave up on tights three weeks ago. Not because it's warm enough but because my last pair laddered beyond repair and it seemed pessimistic to invest in another pack of 100 deniers.

Bodies in all shapes and sizes are on display and why shouldn't they be? I mean, I'm not entirely sure the older gent from down the street really needs to do his weekly shop topless but just because I think the freezer section in Tesco (other supermarkets are available) is the coldest place on earth doesn't mean he does.

Am I attracted to every bare arm, leg or torso I see? Of course not. Do one or two judgemental thoughts creep into my mind as I hide my side eyes behind my sunglasses? Yes, but it's something I'm trying really REALLY hard to curb.

Generally speaking, I'm pretty liberal with my views on what should and shouldn't be on show. 

Especially when it comes to women.

I don't believe in mutton dressed as lamb or only wearing black after a certain dress size. Heck, I'm not really sure I believe in dress sizes. I want women of all shapes, sizes, ages, classes, cultures, races and beliefs to dress how they WANT to dress.

A woman or a girl (or anyone else) should not be shamed if they want to cover up, nor should they be shamed if they want to bare practically all.

It's a simple enough belief to hold right? That a woman's body is her own and she shouldn't be shamed for it. That anyone should be able to go out wearing whatever makes them feel happy and fabulous and comfortable. That a high school senior should be able to wear the outfit of their dreams to prom without someone charging towards them with some kind of knitted monstrosity and the command to cover up.

It's a simple belief and one I will defend adamantly.

And yet it's not a simple world to hold these beliefs in.

Fast forward to Sunday evening, and I'm on my way home from a barbeque on a noisy, crowded and slightly smelly tram. Alongside the BO, there's a wave of frivolity in the air. People are drunk on sunshine, gin and good times - or at least I am.

Infront of me is a group of girls that are at that age where they could be 15 dressing 21 or 21 and I'm just so old I think everyone looks 15.

The group is made up of the same makeup most girl groups are. There's the loud ones, the tall ones, the quiet ones, the skinny ones, the curvy ones, the one that is making everyone crack up, and there's the one that remains serious throughout. Then there are the parts of the jigsaw you can't see, which one is clever? Which one is actually really sad? Which one is confused about who she is? This group of girls is the same as every other group of girls because it is different from every other group of girls.

And they are all dressed for one of those days in the sun that leaks into the night. Part picnic part night out chic. They are dressed for the summer and there is a lot of skin on show. And the skin that isn't on show is tightly outlined in lycra.

And despite everything I said at the beginning of this post there is a strong part of me that wants them to cover up.

They are young women - girls maybe - and I'm worried about the way they are dressed. And it confuses me to my core. I want to look away and let them be but I have all these thoughts in my head.

I see old men look at them and I want to jump and act like a screen between them. But would that be any better than giving them a wretched modesty poncho?

I see flesh on show and I think, somewhat judgementally, 'I wouldn't wear that if I were them' and every magazine I ever read like the bible rings in my head.

And I look at the tall girl, in a tight khaki green dress that I would wear as a top and more than anything I feel uncomfortable because, to me, she looks uncomfortable. She looks like she picked that outfit out tried it on and had second thoughts, but then someone said that she looked great, and maybe someone else said that it was sexy, or that that's the kind of thing you're supposed to wear on a night out and she thought 'Ok well, I can't change now.'

Her arm rests across her stomach instinctively, And I know that arm. I know the way to use it as a shield when all you can think about is 'Oh my god you can really see my belly in this.' I see the way she angles her body to stand behind her other friend and I realise that it's great to believe that all women should be able to wear what they want, but in reality, it's often hard to distinguish between what we want and what we think we should want.

There is just so much noise. Magazines, the male gaze, stereotypes, peer pressure... so often when you look in the mirror it's often through a pair of glasses someone else has given you. And it's hard to dress however we want when we know not only is there judgement out there but also danger.

We know that we should teach boys and men not to take a skimpy outfit for granted but we also know that currently, that's not what is happening. We know that we need more body positivity in magazines, but that while it may be happening slowly, so many of us grew up without it, and that it's a slow page to turn.

So I sit there and I watch these girls and I get myself confused. Because I want them to be able to wear whatever they want, but I start to think about what I would do if one of them was my daughter.

I'd want her to be safe, happy and comfortable, and I want to pave the way for a freer generation of women. But how do we teach women and people to know the difference between what they really want to wear and what they maybe think they want to wear? And do it without just adding to the noise, and handing them another pair of glasses to peer through confused. How do we change the belief that a skimpy outfit is a big flashing green light? Do we change our outfits or our society first? And how long will the overlap between the two last?

I'm confused and torn and also, a little bummed out about it all.

Because I don't know the answer, and I'm not sure anyone does.

I want to burn the modesty poncho, and while I don't necessarily want to wear a crop top while I'm doing it I want other people to be able to. I want to use those knitted monstrosities as kindling: once and for all burning every hideous beauty standard and misogynistic belief ever held - but it seems society has done a pretty good job at hiding the matches.

And while all this goes through my head, I watch the girl in khaki, and she begins to smile and loosen up. Her arm comes down, and I realise that maybe she is wearing exactly what she wants after all and I hope I was wrong about everything I projected on to her. That I was simply looking at her through my own lenses, and seeing what I felt. Maybe it's time to take those glasses off and invest in a really clear pair of contacts x

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