If you’ve spent a lifetime hating your thighs, wearing shorts can be an affirmation that body image doesn’t determine self-worth.
One commenter suggested that a reason women wear things that might be perceived by others as revealing is therapeutic: as in, working through an eating disorder or related condition might be helped by wearing clothes that show some of your body (in a legal/appropriate fashion)… and realizing that your body is okay the way it is. It can have both an external and internal focus: going out in public and having the experience of people not ridiculing you to your face for what you thought was an irreparable flaw, and also beginning to feel confident in your own skin by virtue of getting accustomed to being in a sleeveless top, or shorts, or whatever.
I read that comment and though, oh cool, that’s a thing people do. Three days later I’m still thinking about it – which is when it hit me that this is a thing *I* do.
Now, I don’t have an eating disorder. Considering that I grew up in Los Angeles, don’t have the “typical” L.A. body type, and have a psychological profile that lends itself to anorexia (Type A, perfectionist, neurotic, anxious, workaholic), this is something of a surprise. In fact, I have a pretty healthy relationship with my body, something I attribute in part to the sex-positive household my parents cultivated while I was growing up.
However, I’ve always hated my thighs. It’s where my body stores any excess fat, and as a result, to my eye they always seem bigger than they “should” be in relation to the rest of my body. I know that it’s mostly in my head. I’ve always been a healthy eater at a more or less normal weight. You can see some of my reflections on healthy eating here (prompted by having done a Whole30/paleo-style month of eating), followed by somewhat more personal thoughts on my body image here.
Anyway, for the purposes of this post, all you really need to know is that despite being a pretty fit person, I have a not-so-great relationship with my thighs. And this is where the whole “why do women wear revealing clothing?” topic comes in.
Obviously I don’t wear very short skirts in professional contexts, unless I’ve also got on leggings or tights or pants underneath (I’m bothered that this still apparently matters in how one is perceived as a professional, but some changes are slow to come, right?). I’m fortunate enough to have chosen a style of belly dance – American Tribal Style® Belly Dance – wherein we wear 25-yard skirts over pantaloons, not the trumpet skirts and slitted circle skirts that other belly dance styles (such as cabaret) have as costumes. So on a day-to-day basis, I don’t actually show much thigh or worry about wearing outfits that emphasize my legs very often.
But in the context of fitness, I’ve been doing some subtle poking at my body image issues, and I didn’t even realize it until recently. I love taking all kinds of movement classes, at dance and fitness studios: zumba, aerial dance, pole dance, hot yoga, and so on. For some of these classes, it just makes sense to need to be in skintight leggings or tiny shorts. And every time I look at my self in a mirror in one of these outfits that might seem “revealing” to someone else, and I manage to think “yep that’s my body” or “hey these pants/shorts look cute on me” instead of “ick” or “ew, my thighs” … I’m that much closer to accepting that this is a body I live in, it’s a fairly normal body, and there’s no sense in hating one part of it.
(for what it’s worth, the belly dance outfit that got the police called on me showed zero thigh… and the kinds of work-out outfits I’m talking about in this post are becoming increasingly common as casual hang-out and run-around-town-doing-errands attire as well)
So does subtle body-image self-work count as a legitimate reason for women to wear “revealing” clothing? In my world, yes, yes it does. If someone sees me going to or from an exercise class, clearly not having showered yet (because I like to shower after sweating my butt off, thank you very much), probably in no makeup and sunglasses and with my hair all messy, either wearing shorts or skintight leggings with a T-shirt or something, and assumes that I’m in it for sexual attention? That’s your problem, not mine.
Turns out women are people too, and just like men, we have a lot of reasons for why we adorn our bodies and how that fits into the overall context of our daily lives. I don’t get into personal feelings on this blog as often as I engage in scholarly or political topics, but I thought this was worth sharing. And it’s a good reminder of the feminist motto that the personal is political, too: body shame follows cultural patterns, and so any time we’re having these conversations, we’re doing good work in the world. I’ll admit to some discomfort with my body image for that cause!