That Time You Were Inappropriate--What’s really objectified when we body shame

2/4/2020

A.D.S.

Fiona owns a pink crop top. I have no idea where she got it. One day it just appeared on her torso. She came downstairs and boom! Belly button, bare midsection, and me blurting out, “That’s inappropriate!”


Like the crop top that came out of thin air, “inappropriate” just sort of came out of me. I’d never uttered those words to her before. So when Fiona asked why it was inappropriate, I was stumped.


“Um...because you’ll...show your belly.”


“So?”


We both just stood there.


“What’s the matter with my belly?”


There’s nothing wrong with her belly, I thought to myself, but I also knew there had to be something wrong for me to so quickly outlaw the use of a crop top. The seconds ticked by as my mind drifted to kneeling in Spanish class so my teacher could measure the distance between the hem of my skirt and the tip of my knee, camisoles under blouses, and the straps my mother had sewn onto my wedding dress so that it wouldn’t be sleeveless.


“Mom?”


I needed a minute...and maybe a cup of tea...with whiskey. So I just said what parents have said since the dawn of time when they don’t know why they need things done their way but they just know they need them done.


“Because I said so. Now go change.”


Fiona stomped upstairs, muttering how unfair I was and I slumped back onto the couch, wondering if she was right.


I came of age in the 80s, which was so vastly different from the 2020s it might as well have been biblical times. When I was a kid, there was no question about what was and wasn’t appropriate. For special occasions and church, girls wore dresses and boys wore pants - end of discussion. Bikinis were for high school if your parents were cool or if you snuck it behind their backs if they weren’t. Heels were a right of passage, as was makeup, and pierced ears. We were to stay girlish and innocent for as long as biologically possible. I didn’t fight this system and neither did my friends.


I also grew up when the word “sex” was whispered--at least in my conservative home, community, and school. The overall sentiment seemed to be that if sex wasn’t mentioned, it wouldn’t happen. On the occasion that sex was discussed, it was in such a way that sex was inarguably shocking, lewd, risky, and for those willing to live with sin, that is of course unless you were married. Then you could have as much sex as you wanted.


But the sex discussion was rarely about the act itself. It began with our bodies: “No, you may not wear that dress because it shows too much leg. That would be inappropriate.”


We knew why it was inappropriate. Showing too much of anything meant we were inviting boys to view us sexually. Showing skin could lead to two things: feeling sexy, which would then lead to sex. And, sex before marriage was the worst sin in the world. That sounds outlandish, but it isn’t an exaggeration. We could talk about murder, why someone would strangle and cut up bodies, with more comfortability than we could talk about sex. Sex was taboo. Sex was scandalous. Sex was dirty. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that by the time I was in high school, I was scared to death of sex. But just like above, it wasn’t the act that scared me most of all. What made my knees weak and sucked every ounce of courage out of me was the intimidation of what leading up to sex would require of me. I’d have to be confident in my own skin--my skin, but skin was naughty, right?


It’s no wonder I never put on a crop top, let alone asked if I could.


Sunday night, I hollered from the couch to Fiona just as the halftime show was starting, “Hey, Fifi! Come watch JLo with me.”


Fiona loves dancing. Fiona loves singing. Fiona loves singing and dancing and any female entertainer who can do both with sass--from Dolly Parton to Lizzo. So even though she didn’t know who the hell JLo or Shakira were, I knew my It Girl would love watching these big It Girls.


“Oooh! I like her boots!” -- her first comment about Shakira.


“Wow! She’s 50?” That was about JLo. “Mom, if she can dance like that when she’s 50, imagine how many books you’ll have published by the time you’re 50.”


Thanks, kid.


“I really want to go dancing, like right now,” I said.


“Yeah, me too.”


Neither of us could sit still.


“Aww. Fifi, that’s her little girl up there singing.”


“Cool! I could do that.”


“Of course you could.”


She snuggled a little closer to me.


Then, we both cheered when it was over. She ran back to her room and I poured a glass of rosé.


It wasn’t until I went to bed and read reviews that I realized the empowering experience Fiona and I shared wasn’t the case in every living room in America. Apparently, the halftime show was too fleshy for some--too burlesque, too raunchy, too sexual, and unquestionably inappropriate.


Well crap. I’d just watched it with my eight-year-old daughter. How bad could it have been?


According to many, very bad--so bad that it set women back.


Set women back? They seemed to be pretty up-front to me. So I read on.


It seems that the booty shaking, crotch shots, and pole sliding sexualized women to such a degree that it objectified them. In other words, by violating the appropriate dress code and dance floor rules, JLo and Shakira made women look like all they wanted and were good for was sex. I put my head in my hands and screamed a muffled “argh” because four decades later, we still don’t get it and the worst offenders aren’t even men. The misassumptions are coming from within.


The real reason I never considered wearing a crop top wasn’t because I was afraid a boy would want to have sex with me. I didn’t wear crop tops because crop tops, tube tops, and Daisy Duke shorts required complete body confidence, something I began to lose before I had a chance to even have it. Each time we were told to cover up and hide our bodies from the opposite sex, what we were really told was that our bodies were only there for sex. When you’re 13 and you haven’t even kissed a boy, that messaging is altogether terrifying. If I lacked the confidence to walk up to a boy and tell him that I liked him, I certainly didn’t have the confidence to do it while wearing a crop top because according to popular opinion my belly button was an invitation for sex!


But is that all the hypothetical crop top was asking? No one bothered to ask, least of all me decades later when my daughter bounded down the stairs wearing one.


In the television series “Sex in the City," the character Samantha Jones states, “Who we are in bed is who we are in life.” Thus, if you take command of the bedroom, chances are you take command outside it. If you just lie there like a statue, chances are you’re boring in other areas. To be the bedroom authority, you need confidence, self-assurance, and above all, to embrace sex. And this singular fact is what stopped me and so many other girls with whom I grew up dead in our tracks. For me, it was my ultimate setback in becoming a woman. In order to enjoy sex and be powerful, I needed to enjoy my body and not be ashamed of it once and for all.


When you tell a girl to cover up, the message she might receive is that she is a sexual object. When you place all the emphasis on what her body does to the opposite sex--how a bra strap, an exposed shoulder, or a flashed belly button might distract a male--she may blame herself for the behavior of boys instead of expecting better of them. When you shame a girl into hiding her legs and curves, you insinuate there is a problem with her legs and curves. More than anything, when done in the name of protecting girls and women from sexual objectification, all that’s actually protected is the image of girls and women as objects of obedience.


Now that’s a setback—of biblical proportion.


I know enough to know that JLo and Shakira were absolutely and purposefully sexy in the halftime show, and it wasn’t an invitation for sex. It was the female body displayed as a hip shaking, boot kicking, pole sliding vessel of confidence, charisma, art, femininity, and freedom. And if seeing it in lights on a stadium stage is too much for some people, then their reaction likely explains a whole myriad of insecurities elsewhere in their lives. They were likely covered up at some point, too, and never learned that sexy doesn't equate sex. It is just body confidence and confidence isn’t for anyone else’s purpose but our own—sort of like a crop top. Skin is nothing more than a barrier to who we really are inside and the real objectification we should worry about with our girls and later as they become women isn’t if we’re showing too much skin, but rather if what we’re putting out there is who we really are or just the part we're playing—a part we’ve been told is best for everybody.


Today Fiona went to school in yoga pants and a t-shirt that exposes her stomach when she raises her arms. She didn’t ask if she could wear it and I didn’t stop her. She has a beautiful little belly and an even cuter belly button. The second anyone shames it, I’m turning on the halftime show.


JLo and Shakira can remind her just how shameless her body is.


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