Okay Julia, boobs or butt today? This was the internal conversation I used to have with myself as I looked in the mirror every morning before high school. Do I wear a low-cut, form-fitting top and relax on the bottom with some casual jeans? Or do I sport a tight mini skirt and give myself some room to breathe with a flowy top? I knew I wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable in either combination, but at least half of my body could hide while I “flaunted” the rest.
Sighing, I grab a rumpled mini skirt from my basket, then I check the weather. Oh… 38 degrees out. Too late – I already chose butt. Better grin and bear it!
When I get to school, I take steps that are measured and close together in the hallway. With barely so much as a sausage casing covering my butt, there is no room for error. I sit in class with my legs pressed close together so no one can see between my legs, by the end of class having to peel my stiff, sweaty legs off the bottom of the chair and shuffle off to my next class.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I feel male staff members and classmates at my school look me up and down. I walk away as fast as I can when the construction workers across the street bark at me for sexual favors. I shimmy my skirt down a bit, swallow, and remind myself that this is how I am supposed to dress.
I tell myself, Julia, it’s fine. But it’s not.
Even at only 15 years old, I have implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) been told that my appearance directly correlates to the way people think about me. As a woman, I am reminded that my “assets,” are what people will judge me on, even as a less than average-endowed self-conscious teenager. My worth = boobs, butt, or ideally both. Without even really realizing it, I had accepted a set of standards that I applied to the way I dressed without fail almost every day in high school.
As a woman, I am reminded that my “assets,” are what people will judge me on
While barely old enough to have a real romantic relationship, I am nonetheless lead to believe that as a young woman, the only facet of me that was inherently valuable is my body and what it could offer to men. While also surrounded by hyper-sexualized imagery in TV shows I watched, commercials I saw, and magazines I read, I thought that if I had any chance of “keeping up,” or even just being noticed that I had to subscribe to that. I could feel depreciation in my self worth when I covered myself up.
Then, there was a mindset shift. I’m more than my “assets.”
One day as I was going through outfit options in the mirror my sister plopped down on the bed behind me.
“Why do you dress the way you do, Juj?” She asked inquisitively, calling me the nickname she’d given me when we were little.
“I don’t know,” I said sharply, rolling my eyes. “’Cause that’s how they say you should dress, I guess.”
“Why is it them and not you?” She asked, confused and crestfallen.
“Hmn,” I grunted, started to actually wonder the same thing.
“Do you at least feel comfortable in what you wear? ‘Cause that’s really what it’s about. Do you feel good, Juj?” She pushed me.
“…No,” I said. “No, I don’t.”
I spun around, looking at the clothes strewn around my room. Did I actually buy any of this for the real me? I thought, panicked. If I hated showing off my legs, and I felt self-conscious bearing cleavage that didn’t even exist, then why was I doing it?
“Clothes are like the skin we can choose, and I like comfy skin,” my sister said, smiling as she snuggled up in her baggy green sweater.
I faltered, looking for a response. But I didn’t have one. Why was I choosing a skin that I didn’t feel comfortable in? Why did I live every day not knowing if the only reason people paid attention to me was because I just inherently mattered or because I had turned my 15-year-old body into a sexualized object?
At the end of the day it was more about my “assets” than my grades, or my drive, or even my character.
I felt ashamed and empty.
Sort of like that moment when a little kid finds out that something they always believed to be true, like Santa Claus, couldn’t be farther from the truth. My whole life I had been fed a fallacy by the media, by my peers, even by family, that my self worth was rooted in what I had to offer as eye-candy for onlookers. I had been told that at the end of the day it was more about my “assets” than my grades, or my drive, or even my character.
Turning back towards the mirror, my face fell as I realized I had wasted a whole lot of time undercutting my own value. I thought of all my girlfriends who felt the same way too. Waking up each morning and reducing myself to “boobs or butt” had steadily chipped away at my confidence, self-worth, and overall outlook on what I had to offer to the world.
Now, when I wear a baggy old t-shirt underneath my striped Dickies overalls I don’t feel worthless, and I don’t feel guilty either. It’s my choice how, when, or if I show off my body. And if someone comes to the conclusion that I’m less valuable to have around because of that choice, then it says a whole lot more about their worth than it does about mine.
I still wear tight skirts and low-cut tops too, because I believe anyone should be able to dress however they want – but this time around it’s different. I wear those clothes for me. They don’t define who I am, what I want from anyone, or how much I’m worth- they’re just the skin I chose for that day, and that feels good.
Also published on Medium.