My bare skin is never the elephant in a room; it is the pink flamingo. It was something about the feeling of air swirling beneath my skirt--my bare stomach exposed to the wind. I never understood why it was okay for boys to strip down on the streets while girls needed a stage to do so.
Why could men run half naked in the summer’s air on basketball courts while women only had the chance to show skin at the beach or for the viewing pleasure of a man? Any woman who walked around in public with the nerve and confidence played out on screen was far too often shunned as conceited or assumed to be slutty.
It is evident that I was fond of midriff baring tops and sheer clothes from my earliest childhood photographs. In 6th grade, I was ridiculed for an outfit that seemed to me to be the be all and end all of my wardrobe: a denim corset and skort combo. I wore this outfit to a friend’s birthday party and my classmates picked on me mercilessly, calling me a stripper and a slut. Why did I have to be a stripper to show skin? What does being a slut even mean to a sixth grader?
I’ve always had a strong flare for rebellion, probably in response to the overbearing rigidity of the Catholic schools I attended for thirteen years of my youth. I felt a strong need to denounce the plaid jumper and tights I spent most of my time tugging at and suffocating in.
We weren’t even allowed to wear tank tops or skirts on dress down days, meanwhile our uniform skirts exposed more than enough skin and had us feeling like easy targets for the unwelcomed attention of construction workers and neighborhood assholes. There were more than enough men with school girl fetishes to provoke discomfort walking around town with knee highs.
I resented how silent it all made me feel. What I craved was the freedom to express myself--to take bold risks. Isn’t it what everyone in the public eye was allowed to do? I felt liberation watching women strut with conviction on the television screen, embracing the sexuality the rest of us seemed to be discouraged to take control of.
As time passed, it became a personal duty to push harder and harder against judgmental and/or leering eyes of the everyday. It became a mission of mine to see how far I could get away with the skin I showed. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, it seemed. So why not shed the layers holding me back?
It was something about the sting of eyes on me that I grew to crave. To say I wasn’t seeking attention would be a lie, but to pigeonhole it as such would be equally irresponsible. It was more than a desperate cry; more reminiscent of a need to risk discomfort in response to the times I was forced into wearing a costume that just didn’t fit. I made a promise to myself to jump at any opportunity to express myself unabashedly. I dedicated myself to gathering strength for the conviction to be barely clothed in public places.
I still recall walking home from school with heat stinging my face, as I could feel eyes on me. I remember the rising anger that burned my skin as unwanted glares seared onto it and men of all ages felt free to comment lewdly, while I pretended I didn’t hear them.
Trying to cover up in the humid heat of an inner city summer made me miserable, yet it was the only way to endure the day without feeling violated. Drawing from the strength of a few on-screen fashion icons, I kept telling myself I would be unwavering in how I chose to carry myself.
In college, I finally felt the freedom to run wild. Within the confines of our campus bubble-like community and surrounded by the natural landscape I was never exposed to growing up in the city, I finally felt it was my chance to embrace the open space.
Of course even in this environment it took some time before I was ready to go out dressed as myself, battling the sour taste of judgment and the lingering rush of shame. But with the inspiration and support of my brazen friends and a commitment to a “myself” I was still struggling to articulate, I continued to wear what I pleased and pushed even further than I had before.
So why is this on my mind lately? Recently after coming home from a music festival in the heat of desert summer, I overheard a male acquaintance commenting on the scantily clad women he witnessed there. He wasn’t complaining, but criticizing the females he felt took things too far.
This was my chance to defend these women who felt free to bare their skin for the music. So I ask you what I asked him, why isn’t it “okay” for a female to want to feel the breeze on her naked breasts? Because are incapable of controlling themselves? Because we’ve sexualized the female body so much so that it’s more of a crime for her to show herself than for a male to? He never thought of it that way, he said. So maybe no one’s saying it.
As they do say, it’s a double edged sword.
So I say we grab it by the blade--daring to dress as we please, when we please to build other women up who have the courage to step out instead of sinking beneath the layers of muck that smother female expression. The wrong message can only be sent to ignorant interpreters of the open expression of female sexuality.
And while we must protect ourselves from the perverted reactions of passerby, we must also wear our skin with pride--letting it out to mingle with the wild air.
Of course it’s an ongoing challenge--a process of never ending trial and error--but it makes me feel alive to personally combat the fear. Succumbing to the gender norms sexist men mandated is an option I am no longer willing to entertain.
With that I say make your own attempts—even failures—and fly in the liberation of your own successes before you submit to allowing yourself to be silenced. And for those who beg, “Leave something to the imagination,” believe me, there’s plenty to be left to imagine beyond the naked body we ALL wear beneath our jumpers.
I challenge you to grab the double edged sword and feel the pain yourself before you submit, allowing either side of the blade to pierce your expression.
Alyssa Aparicio | Elite Daily
Photo Credit: Eduardo García Fernández