Dear Others, Stop Telling Me What to Wear: “My Little Black Dress Doesn’t Mean Yes.”

by: Catherine Zhang

Dear Mom,

When you pulled me aside yesterday as I left for school and told me that my V-neck sweater was too low, you spoke to me that my identity only existed in the sphere of how much I displayed my body. You, who told me everyday of my life how perfect I am in every way, implied that “in every way” only consisted of one way: when I covered myself up.

Dear Teacher,

When you stopped me in the hallways and told me that I needed to change because my skirt was too high, you spoke to me that you prioritized what I was wearing over my education. I wondered what you would have said if I asked you what exactly was so distracting about the extra two inches of my thighs?

Dear Stranger,

When you posted online that victims of sexual assault “deserved it because look at what they were wearing,” you spoke to me that a violation of a woman’s body can cruelly be justified because she dared to show it in a way that you interpreted as sexual. You criminalized her body parts, ignoring the crime which was committed onto them.

Dear All of You,

When you tell a woman or perhaps even a girl that what she is wearing is wrong because it presents herself in a “bad light,” ask yourself where is that light shining from? Why do we look at a woman’s body, a body not so different from our own, and automatically sexualize it? From breasts to thighs, the biological functions of women’s body parts are always seemingly overlooked for their fantastical “sexualized” nature. Despite a woman’s breasts and thighs playing no role in the physical act of sex, you choose to see it as only being associated with that act.

You shame us women for showing off our bodies, kicking down our confidence and instead calling it “slutty.” Yet, in the same breath, you will hover over us and beg in front of us to see them and touch them and despite the lack of consent that comes from our lips, you force yourself onto us anyway. Then, in a disgusting act of betrayal, you tell us that it was our fault because we were “asking for it” despite the silence from our mouths. This cycle, when written out, contradicts itself over and over again in a circle of hypocrisy but yet it continues.

And when the bodies of women do not fit our beauty standard? You ridicule and shame her for showing it but instead of calling her a slut you call her a fool for thinking that she is “allowed” to show her body as if a body needs to satisfy a requirement to be shown. And when you violate her? You gaslight her into thinking that she must be grateful to even experience that as if violating someone could ever be seen as praising them. Even in degrading women for showing off their bodies, you somehow manage to degrade some of them even more. Is it possible to reach that much of a low and still go below it?

We cannot keep policing and criminalizing and sexualizing women’s bodies simply for existing. In sexualizing a woman’s body, you put the blame on her for showing it instead of yourself for sexualizing it. Women showing their body does not equal and will not ever equal consent. Challenge yourself as I will challenge myself to view women’s bodies as only one thing: their body. Do so to such an extent that a woman could walk in front of any one of us without a single thread of clothing and you will see her as nothing but a woman without clothing.

Love,

Catherine Zhang

“My Little Black Dress Doesn’t Mean Yes.”

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