Why Do Women Wear Revealing Clothes? Part 1

Why Do Women Wear Revealing Clothes? Part 1 June 4, 2016

I’ve been getting some, uh, interesting comments on my posts about setting boundaries as a sex-positive person, about whether acting/dressing sexy means you “deserve it,” and about “mild” sexual harassment.

The gist of those gems is that women who wear revealing clothes, or have sexified names or personas, should expect harassment, and perhaps even deserve it. This is basic rape culture bullshit: namely, blaming and shaming the victim, shifting responsibility to them for the actions of abusers, harassers, and stalkers, and so on.

In this post I’ll describe some of the many reasons why women wear revealing clothes, and in the follow-up post, I’ll talk about why it matters (or doesn’t). As a body art scholar, this stuff is endlessly fascinating to me, and can reveal a lot about a given culture.

So, reasons that women wear revealing clothes include:

  • The weather is hot
  • She’s engaging in exercise
  • She’s engaging in exercise (or coming from/going to that activity) that requires certain parts of the body to be exposed (swimming, running in really humid weather, hot yoga, certain types of aerial or pole dance that require “stick” of the skin, etc.)
  • She’s showing off tattoos, piercings, henna, or other body art
  • She’s soaking up some sun for vitamin D and/or tanning purposes
  • She’s a performer, artist, or model in character/costume (or doing a photoshoot, ahem)
  • She likes certain parts of her body and wants to show them
  • She dislikes certain parts of her body and is trying to get over it by showing them
  • She has an injury that needs to air out rather than be covered (e.g., as a fire spinner, I’ve burned myself on the forearm, and couldn’t wear long sleeves for a time)
  • She’s experiencing hot flashes due to hormones or other medical issues
  • She likes certain styles and cuts of clothes that show some skin
  • She had to leave her home in a hurry and forgot to add a layer
  • She doesn’t equate arbitrary amounts of fabric on her skin with self-worth, self-esteem, or seduction
  • She rejects modesty culture as a falsely binaristic imposition upon women
  • She rejects modesty culture because she’s an atheist and dislikes its heavily moralizing Christian overtones
  • She rejects modesty culture because she’s a pagan, and believes that bodies are sacred, beautiful, and sexy, and reveling in one’s body is a form of worship
  • She likes feeling sexy, and wearing form-fitting or revealing clothes is one way to do so
  • She (or they, or he) might be genderqueer, non-binary, agender, androgynous, or trans, and thus rejects gendered norms, or plays with them, or subverts them
  • She’s trying to model body positivity at any/every size, demonstrating that just because you don’t fit the “ideal” body type doesn’t mean you can’t show any skin

Assumptions no one should make include:

  • That revealing clothing is an invitation
  • That revealing clothing is meant for your appreciation or gaze
  • That revealing clothing is an issue that reflects or impacts one’s morality
  • That revealing clothing is… anything, really. What the hell does “revealing” even mean?
  • That revealing clothing matters on women’s bodies but not men’s

What are your reasons for wearing – or not wearing – revealing clothes? And how do you even begin to define “revealing” clothing? Is there any useful way to go about this, above and beyond legal definitions?

Read part 2 here!

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