Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The Power of Baggy Tee-shirts
Case in point, here is picture from my high school prom. Now can anyone tell me which of these dresses is not like the others? (And the nonexistent prize goes to anyone who can identify Erica in the photo!). (Not really - we don't want to acquire internet stalkers).
But let me tell you why I'm prudish. It's not so much about me or about respecting my body as it is about warding off leering stares from creepy men. The kind of looks I get from grungy old men who hang out at grocery stores smoking and who stare at me a little too long. And it's about warding off catcalls. But I've usually found that it doesn't matter what I wear. If a carload of freshman boys is driving by, they'll still holler out the window, and if I'm wearing knee-length shorts some random guy will still shout, "Fi-ine!" as he bicycles by. No, that last one is not hypothetical.
And then, last week, I had an epiphany. I had been cleaning my apartment in a big, baggy t-shirt. The kind of t-shirt you get for free but which is several sizes too large because the men who ordered the t-shirts forgot that a Medium "Adult" size is really a Medium men's size, and that it therefore won't fit a woman who wears size small.
So, I was wearing this baggy, unflattering t-shirt. It was so long it could have been a dress, and it prevented anyone from glimpsing the shape of my torso or derrière. But for once I didn't change before going to the store. And you know that? I got no catcalls. I had no men leering at me. And I was shocked to realize that I hadn't even noticed how vulnerable I feel in my usual (modest) clothing. But this t-shirt was like a shield, and suddenly I understood how uncomfortable I had been, all this time. And despite the popular notion that women gain the most power when they embrace their own sexual objectification - I felt incredibly powerful.
At the same time, I wonder how much of my discomfort is justified. Do creepy men really leer at me, or do I simply interpret their behavior that way when I know I'm wearing clothing that shows I have a figure. Either way, I'm disturbed to realize that my femininity leaves me feeling uncomfortable. And I'm extra disturbed to realize that the very reason my femininity makes me so uncomfortable is because I live in a culture that so often considers femininity and sexuality to be one and the same.
And now I find myself wondering how appropriate the baggy t-shirt response is. While it might initially make me feel more comfortable, it turns all my clothing decisions into defensive moves. Plus, as a woman it's difficult to dress professionally while wearing unusually loose clothing. Even pant suits are designed to accentuate small waists and show off a few curves.