Body Talk

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness has seemed to progress to understand that such shaming of young girls is wrong. But we haven’t yet evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family was specifically calling out old pictures from parties early in college. She was frustrated at this, saying that she had been a “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Here lies the problem. When we sexualize women, we’ve also as a society connected that to their intelligence. We say things like “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that they receive, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here) Further, and I can admit my own bias here, on social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence.

This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society serves to reinforce traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I saw play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who was intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as “inappropriate” and “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed, and I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience and maintain current power structures we have in place. But, we also cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!

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