Issue 3 out now!

Do we still live in an age of dress code bias? How do you feel about going transparent and baring it all?

By Naomi Barling.

Before lockdown set in, the streets and the (fashion) seasons saw sheer clothing and lingerie trend hard. With Christopher Kane, Dior and Nensi Dojaka all having gone full-frontal, the question is, would you wear a sheer blouse or dress – in a leaving little to the imagination sense?

Is it an inevitable dilemma of womanhood that we are destined to fret every day about what to wear and how we look? Our sense of self seems to be defined by our perceptions of how others see, and possibly, (or do I mean probably), judge us, especially when it comes to trends that leave us questioning, am I showing too much skin?

There are strong currents around the world whereby women from different walks of life are inundated with an obsession with female appearance. Often defined by unrealistic beauty standards, bias, and even racial discrimination. In a world that readily polices ‘undesirable’ bodies, when it comes to ‘revealing clothes’ or ‘the sheer trend,’ there is an open question of how you wear it, and it seems to be the case that only certain looks pass the test – as either fashionable or appropriate.

Let’s be frank, we women are held to impossibly high standards with regards to what body shape is acceptable and who conforms to said notions. Yes, ladies, we are far more likely to be shamed, bullied, and victimized because of our style choices. How many get-togethers end with reflections on body shape, self-esteem, and wellbeing?

The female body is made up of natural contours that are variably glorified and vilified, depending on society’s current idealized standard and the visual vocabulary deployed to glamorize said standard. In the 90’s it was heroin chic. Now it’s curvaceous, yet skinny, large lips and impossibly big behinds, regardless of your genetic make-up and ethnic background. Body dysmorphia? Are we really surprised?

So, when it comes to wearing revealing clothing and showing skin, certain standards kick in. Thin and conventionally ‘pretty’ packages, pass. Now just imagine the response to a woman with plentiful natural curves. Author Naomi Wolf writes in her book ‘The Beauty Myth,’ that beauty is the last belief system that keeps male dominance intact. She asks us to reflect on the fact that, “somehow we’ve been flogged the idea that to be beautiful (which we must, or else no one will love us) we have to look a certain way: thin, youthful, smooth-skinned, small-nosed, silky-haired, etc. Hey presto: your average woman feels ugly her entire life, and old, too, for most of it. What better way of keeping her in her place?”

Today’s fashionable and fetishized body – let’s not beat around the bush, is toned, waxed, shaved, sculpted, curvaceous, tight, childish, boyish. To what end? Ensuring one is hyper-sexualized? Your style choices can be seen as fashionable, sexual, an objet d’art, or conversely, judged as unacceptable depending on your size, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Once we acknowledge that not all bodies are viewed equally and that some come with a huge amount of cultural stigma, then we can move forward in changing the conversation. The question is, “how do we get to a place where no matter your size, ethnicity, gender or identity, there’s a place in popular culture for you to be recognized as beautiful and fashionable?”

We now have a generation of millennial women who feel empowered to analyse and criticize cultural standards and define their style, beauty, and sexuality on their own terms. Redefining the female gaze and what it means to us. Instead of undermining ourselves mentally and physically, we need to continue to free ourselves from the expectations of others. Body positive activists like @naomishimada, @charlihoward, and @emmabreschi continue to question body image and empower women with teachings of self-love.

When we restrict ourselves to a society which only accepts an aesthetic that caters to traditional notions of beauty and clothing, we risk limiting ourselves to someone else’s idea of femininity, sexuality, womanhood, and worth. We forfeit the aspects of our bodies and identities that make us interesting and unique. Whether we’re in a sheer blouse, short skirt, bra, or no bra, skin showing or hidden, we can easily forget that we are multifaceted, talented, beautiful, nuanced, layered, and worthy of respect. We are more than what we wear and the skin we decide to show or cover.

Photo credit, homepage: Christopher Kane