Monday, February 4, 2013

Judging Women by What We Wear

The image above was created by Rosea Lake, a woman at a college here in Vancouver, to explore the preconceptions we have about women based on what they wear. As busty women we are more than familiar with the relationship between our breasts, our clothes and social stereotypes. Rosea's photo could so easily have been about cleavage; the two stereotypes are the same. Something as surface as your skirt length or visible cleavage is loaded with social assumptions.

I wanted to write about this subject because I know a lot of you experience breast bullying and big boob stereotypes in your everyday life from family, friends, colleagues, strangers on the street. Stereotypes are designed to pigeonhole people and limit their possibilities. While this isn't something we can change overnight we can change things by refusing to be pigeonholed by those who would stereotype us. This takes a lot of courage and confidence to do but I know that through the support of other busty women we can begin to change social perceptions.

Related Articles:  I've stopped being ashamed of my chest and Claudia's Story: Ending Breast Shame

We have to remember that our clothes are only as important as the meaning we attach to them. Many people still don't recognize that 'clothes don't make the (wo)man'. Clothes are entirely linked to our societies. Different clothes are perceived differently by different cultures, and for that matter, different eras (I've written before about how the cleavage was a revered and respected feature in the 16th Century).

Women in tribes like the Himba do not wear any clothing above the waist so no judgement can be attached to the exposure or concealment of their breasts. There are other exterior indicators to marital and hierarchical status like hair and beads, but the covering or revealing of body parts does not spark social commentary.

The fact that semi-naked (and indeed naked) communities exist without the threat of condemnation, physical or sexual attack lets us know that clothes only become associated with behaviour or morality when we teach that they do. Something as simple as the length of a skirt only becomes synonymous with intelligence, personality or sexual availability when we are taught that skin exposure equals sexuality and covering up equals an aversion to sexuality.

I see lots of comments from people saying that if you dress in a way that is attractive to other people then you should expect attention. So what exactly is meant by attention? Is it wrong for a man or a woman to notice another man or woman and think they're attractive? Absolutely not, it's essential for the perpetuation of our species. Is it wrong to look at someone and assume you know their availability, sexual expectations and intelligence based on what they look like, or to assume you can do or take what you like? DEFINITELY. No matter what you look like only your words let someone else know what kind of relationship you want with them. It's an old saying but no means no. Period.
The second issue with this argument is that we only ever want to be attractive for other people. I work with women to improve their confidence and self-esteem through better bra fit. The physical effect of this emotional journey is that they look happier, more confident and more beautiful than ever before. Is this for someone else? Absolutely not. This transformation is about the woman and her well-being. Beauty is not just about sexual attraction, it's about happiness, confidence, joy and choice.

I wrote this post because I was sad about a lot of the comments Rosea's photo received but the fact that the photo has been so widely shared and so strongly supported says that change is happening for women. I hope in our own way we are tearing down the stereotypes around breast size and replacing them with confidence and desire to teach new cultural norms like "everyone's body should be respected" and the tried but true "don't judge a book by its cover". xx


  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing. The world has become so cruel that when one shows an attribute that is not commonly seen among others people are likely to treat mistreat him or her. I admire you for your courage and for your effort to inspire others to stand up and embrace their individuality.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Kara. There is a lot of criticism and cruelty out there but I also see a great deal of good and I want to encourage women to feel that positivity and use it to fuel change. There are so many more important things in the world than to spend time criticizing others for how they look. It's a tricky subject but I'll keep coming back to it. xx

  2. Of all of the labels written onto the leg in the photo, the one that bothers me the most is "asking for it." I have worked with rape victims and women that have suffered sexual assault, I assure you that regardless of what they're wearing, they were never asking for it.

    I realize that statement might imply that I think you believe that, and I don't, so sorry. :) I know better... it is so frustrating to me though. I believe that a woman should wear what makes her feel amazing and confident and joyful.

    1. Hi Brooke, your sentiment is exactly what this article is about. That our clothes only mean something when we teach that they do. If we stop teaching people that they can make assumptions about people based on how they look then we would all be a little safer and happier. You should read the whole article because it supports exactly what you're saying xx