The Big Cover Up

nunThe talks started in third grade when I got boobs and went from the little undershirts with the flower on the chest to full-fledged bras and became more frequent with the appearance of more curves on my body. Most girls and women know about the talks. They’re the ones during which my mom told me I needed “something to go under, over, or with” my outfit because whatever I was wearing showed too much skin. I am sure I’m not the only one who knows about this. While getting dressed for school, church, an outing with friends, etc…, your mom notices what your body is becoming or has become and she starts the process of prepping you to hide all those assets for the hormonal benefit and relief of young boys and men everywhere. It isn’t totally our mom’s fault though. They simply perpetuate a school of thought passed down through generations.

It’s in office dress codes, campus handbooks, and even various church doctrines – women are fully expected to be modest in appearance and in some cases, they are to cover everything but their eyes because no self-respecting woman who loves herself, her man, or her god would a) want anyone other than her husband to see any part of her body and b) not want to distract boys and men from their daily lives with the tempting sights of her flesh. Whether it’s religious, cultural, or just a matter of manipulation and control, girls and women learn far too early they cannot be left to their own devices when it comes to clothing styles and body shapes because someone has to be around to look out for the boys and men. For most, it’s probably dismissed as general decency or religious observance, but I think there is far more to it than that.

It is partly a power play. Any time someone implores another to stifle herself in any way for the benefit of others, it’s usually an attempt to diminish her power and lessen the appearance of other’s vulnerability. How many times have you been told your skirt is too short, you need to wear longer sleeves, your neckline needs to be raised, or a cami needs to go under your shirt? Rarely is it simply a matter of dressing appropriately for a particular occasion. These admonishments usually happen because the one delivering the message thinks a girl or woman is a distraction to the boys and men around her.  I’ve heard it all my life and as a forty year old woman, I still get it from time to time. My main problem with this is the belief I’m guilty of something because of the way my body looks and the fact some men like it and that I should remedy what I haven’t done wrong by covering it up. So from early on in life, girls are being told their bodies are something that should generate shame.

I believe another issue is boy’s and men’s lack of interest to acknowledge and accept female sexuality. Their attraction to us is presented as tantamount in this society and our ability to smother it in the interest of making life easier for them is recommended and suggested to women as the only valid option.  To draw attention away from the weakness society fosters in boys and men by telling them the way they gawk, drool, cat call, and are driven to distraction for focus on girl’s and women’s bodies is natural, we are asked to hide ourselves instead of them being taught to learn to see without staring or to appreciate without aggravating. Apparently, it’s simpler to convince us we are doing something. ©

2 thoughts on “The Big Cover Up

  1. Well stated as usual, M. To this day I feel a responsibility to put a cami underneath a v-neck top, and assess the length of a dress for “appropriateness” so as not to “give the wrong message” about who I am. It can be exhausting.

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