When I was just two and three years old, I frequently had full-on standoffs with my parents over what clothes I would wear. Feisty and determined, I didn’t throw fits necessarily as much as I just coldly and stubbornly stood my ground. My mom recalls many a winter day with me outside in a lace dress and no coat, because she was just too exhausted to fight the battle anymore.
My teen years were no different but instead of lace dresses I insisted on wearing tube tops, instead of frilly sleeves it was pants too tight to even bend over in. Once again, my parents tried to lay down some ground rules but I would shrug them off and just change when I left the house. By the time I left home at age 18 there was almost nothing too risqué for my taste.
But on the way to a concert one afternoon, something changed. I was at a gas station loading up on snacks with my best friend; I was wearing a see-through midriff shirt and she had on jeans cut so low that when she dropped her bag of chips I had to do the bending to pick them up for her. We thought it was hilarious. That was when an older man, looking at us lustfully, said something suggestive. We kind of ignored him in the moment but as we made our way out to the car a few minutes later, we were freaking out.
“Can you believe that creep? Eeeeew. He was like 30 years older than us!”
“The way he was looking at me makes me want to take a shower. What a skeeze!”
And, embarrassingly enough, I remember having the specific thought of: Obviously we’re not dressed like this for him, we’re dressed for the hot young guys we actually like!
That’s when it dawned on me that I didn’t get to pick and choose. If a cute 19 year old guy was going to be attracted to be based on my (lack of) clothes alone, then so was a 50 year old man.
Now don’t get me wrong, the way I was dressed doesn’t excuse the man in the gas station for being creepy and presumptuous. No one is entitled to make another human being feel sexually harassed. But what I realized was that I was actually a hypocrite: I was trying to draw attention to my body, but only wanting SOME people to offer their attention.
And it didn’t happen overnight, but slowly I began to change the way I dressed. I still liked clothes. I liked the art of fashion, I liked watching trends, and I especially liked creatively expressing myself through what I wear. I didn’t go over the top, I didn’t start wearing muumuus, I simply started dressing to receive the kind of respect I wanted to be treated with. And being able to pick up something I dropped was a huge plus too.