Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perspective Shift?

There are many women who feel that they are liberated when they have the ability to wear a string bikini.  Are they liberated?  Or are they buying in to sexism in an entirely different way? 

Is there a happy medium?  Should we want it?  What does it look like?


Jeff said...

The thing is, I think most women who wear a bikini are celebrating themselves. They like how great they look and their ability to wear a bikini.
The problem is that this doesn't happen in a vacuum, and well... men are pigs.

oink oink

Caitlin said...

Having spent about five months living in a region of the world where a large portion of the women looked like the one on the right, and none of the women looked like the one on the left, my perspective on this is much different than it used to be.

Personally, I found joy in being surrounded by the women on the right. Yes, JOY. At first I was annoyed by wearing long pants or skirts and 3/4 or full-length sleeves and no low-cut tops. I mean, I've always been pretty modest, relatively speaking. But c'mon, it was Egypt. It was hot. A tank top or skirt that hits the knees would have resulted in having to bring significantly fewer sticks of deodorant with me.

But after a while it occurred to me - people looked at my face. They looked into my eyes when I spoke. They commented on my sense of humor and insights rather than on my body. I learned that almost across the board, women I met there covered their hair (or didn't) out of personal choice, not because their male relatives forced them to. Men I met shared that they find covered women more attractive because these women are modest, they understand that beauty doesn't require partial nudity, that "saving yourself for marriage" has an emotional and psychological side to it, more than abstaining from just one specific act.

It was just a different way of looking at the world, or at least the people in it - I had to learn to recognize people by their faces, their voices, their mannerisms, rather than by their hairstyles or body shapes. (Imagine a bustling sea of woman-on-the-right walking around the town square. Now try to pick out the one you called earlier and arranged to meet for coffee . It's not easy until you start training your mind to identify people based on things other than their physical attributes.)

The shift was subtle, until I returned home and had a crisis about whether or not it was morally inappropriate to wear a t-shirt in Tennessee in July. I ultimately decided to wear the t-shirt, but I immediately reverted back to worrying about how pale I was after spending many months covered up, and the fact that this thought even crossed my mind made me a little sick. I still didn't wear shorts for a solid year, or wear a bathing suit. I actually wrote this rant one time about how thighs were not meant for the world to see. Yeah, that happened. The interesting thing was that this was a completely personal thing for me. I didn't care that other people were practically naked most of the time, but I wasn't going to join them.

Those who know me are well aware that I haven't stuck to my nothing-above-the-ankles-and-nothing-above-the-elbows rule in the 2+ years since returning. I wear a bathing suit to swim. I wear a tank top when I exercise. But I do think twice - who am I trying to please? Whose attention am I attracting? What part of me is drawing attention from others: my opinions and values and thoughts, or whatever is falling out of my shirt when I lean over a table?

Missy said...

Caitlin - I love this! Thanks for posting.

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