The Consequences of Over-Sexualizing Women’s Bodies

I was ten years old when I started growing breasts, and from minute one, I was ashamed.

I hear stories of girls who wanted to grow breasts, who thought that it made them look grown-up and womanly and all that, but that wasn’t my experience. When I started to grow breasts, I saw them as very sexual things that had suddenly attached themselves to my body, and at ten years old, I didn’t want people to look at me as sexual.

My solution was to start dressing in baggy shirts; lots and lots of baggy shirts, in the hope that my family, my friends, adult strangers who passed me in the street, would not sexualize a ten-year-old body.

As tends to happen to people, I eventually got older, and by the time I was sixteen, I didn’t like the way that baggy shirts looked on me. And so, I switched to tighter-fitting shirts with shorter sleeves and lower necks. There was only one potential problem with this: I had large breasts. And so, naturally, my breasts had this annoying tendency to reveal themselves in the form of cleavage quite often. Not even voluntarily; I could be wearing the most unsuspecting of shirts and – bam, cleavage. It didn’t matter what I did, it didn’t matter how I wore it; so long as I wasn’t wearing a frumpy sweater that was a size too big with a picture of a cat playing with a ball of string across the front, people were gonna see some cleavage.

And for a while, this embarrassed me. Granted, I don’t really remember being called out for what I wore (excluding on one occasion, where a teacher paraded me in front of the class and asked me to prove that my outfit was appropriate for school). But I often found myself noticing when other people’s eyes went to my breasts instead of my face, and I felt guilty for it. I wondered what they thought about me, if I was willing to dress like this. They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.

Nobody ever called me a slut (so far as I know, anyway). Nobody ever accused me of looking for attention (unless I forgot it over time, because I realized that it wouldn’t matter if I did). And yet, I still felt that my body, including the ways in which it naturally developed and the ways that I decorated it, made me a lesser person.

And why?

Because that is the world that we live in. It is downright common to see and hear women’s bodies sexualized and objectified, and this doesn’t come without consequences. And I’m not just talking about the age-old some-men-see-women-only-as-objects consequences; I’m talking consequences regarding the ways that women and (especially) young girls see themselves.

From the time that I was young, I have heard men go on about how a woman’s breasts are sexually appealing, how her eyes are sexual, how her ass is sexual, how the curve of her hip or her neck are sexual, and all of this amounts to girls who grow up feeling like they can’t really have any of these body parts without it being inherently sexual. And, worse, if they reveal to the world that they have these body parts and someone ogles her or touches her inappropriately, then it is her fault, she shouldn’t have worn what she was wearing.

This latter belief is enforced from a very young age with such things like school dress codes.

If a boy in her class cannot focus on his work because the girl in question has shoulders, then that is deemed to be her problem, she is the one who needs to change. I mean, it’s not as though the boy needs to be told to stop being immature and focus on his work, right?

If a male teacher is uncomfortable with the fact that a student in his class isn’t wearing a bra, then clearly, she needs to start wearing a bra for him. It isn’t like he needs to be told that he should act like a professional and stop sexualizing a child’s body when he’s a grown-ass man, right?

And, really, boy’s bodies are not quite sexualized to the same degree. You never hear about girls getting distracted from their work because the boy sitting next to them was wearing a V-neck. You do not hear people going on and on about how pecks are dirty and sexual, and they need to be covered up as much as possible. You never hear about a boy who was assaulted, and the first question he was asked when he tried to come forward was, “well, what were you wearing?”

Simply by having a female body, society sort of sets you up to be distrusted and ashamed.

But you know what? I’m very glad that I had large breasts as a teenager, and that I couldn’t help but to show a little cleavage. And I know that when I say that, the majority of you are probably thinking that I’m saying that because it got me some good attention – but no. That’s not it at all.

Because, you see, when I first started wearing more tight-fitting shirts, when I first saw my peers’ eyes dart to my chest rather than my face during conversations, I felt ashamed and like I was doing something wrong. But, eventually, I came up with an answer to those wonderings I presented before:

They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.

And who fucking cares?

If they think I’m a slut, then that’s their problem, not mine. And besides, if they really are the sort of person to look down on someone for how many sexual partners they’ve had or appear to have had, then I’m not sure they’re the sort of influence I want in my life.

If they think I’m looking for attention, then oh-fucking-well. I am looking for attention. We’re all looking for attention; isn’t that the point of life? To be noticed? To stand out? To make a difference in this world, to leave it changed from the way that you entered it? I don’t want to blend into the crowd; I want to lead the crowd, and no, my cleavage won’t necessarily get me that leader position that I’m craving, but it’s not going to stop me either, and while we’re on the subject of looking for attention, why would I deny what we all already know?

And if they think that I’m trying too hard to impress them – I’m not. I’m not trying to impress them. I don’t care about them. I don’t do my make-up for them. I don’t stand in front of my wardrobe and pick out clothes specifically with the intent of making heterosexual men en masse like me. I wear and I do what makes me feel pretty, what makes me comfortable. And sometimes that does mean frumpy, too-big sweaters with cats on the front, but usually that means tight-fitting shirts that show a little bit of skin, because it makes me feel less constrained and more beautiful. And when I feel free and beautiful, I feel more confident, more capable of leading that crowd I mentioned earlier.

And maybe I am risking people sexualizing my body when I don’t want them to, or blaming me for their own wrong-doings and sexist thinking, but end of day, I just don’t care anymore. I’m too old to worry about what people think now, and I’m too comfortable in my skin to change anything for their sake. And if someone ever accuses a woman of being the reason why they acted inappropriately (or, in some cases, even criminally), because she was dressed in a revealing manner, then that person is dangerously, horrendously wrong. They are sexualizing said woman’s body to a gross extent, ignoring her personhood completely and reducing her to little more than an irresistible object.

And that is not okay.

A woman’s body is not responsible for the actions of another. A woman’s body is not inherently sexual, simply by existing. Breasts are just breasts, like a man’s pecks are just pecks. And no ten-year-old girl should ever feel dirty, gross, or sexualized simply because of the way that her body is naturally developing.

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The Purpose of Breasts

Earlier today, I was reading an article about a teenage girl who was told that, because she has large breasts, she needs to be very careful about what clothes she wears to school, lest she become a distraction to the boys in her class.

Now, of course, there’s a lot to unpack in this sentence. I could focus on how harmful high school dress codes are, as they hold teenage girls accountable for their male peers being unable to do their work despite being in close proximity with female bodies. I could focus on the fact that girls with large breasts are sexualized to a ridiculous extent, as it doesn’t matter what shirt they wear – any shirt is considered a ‘distraction’ – merely because the girl has large breasts.’

But these are all issues that people has discussed before, and discussed frequently. So frequently, in fact, that these were many of the comments that were left on the article in question, as well as another comment, which is actually the one that I want to focus on right now:

“People need to stop sexualizing boobs; a woman’s breasts are for feeding children, not sex.”

Now, this statement was made frequently, and it comes a well-intentioned place, I know. All that this statement is supposed to mean is that breasts should be more commonly accepted. Girls and women alike should be allowed to have breasts, to show their cleavage, to be shirtless in public, and it shouldn’t be a big deal because breasts are not inherently sexual organs. And I agree with all of this.

What I don’t agree with is the idea that the entire purpose behind a woman’s breasts is to feed children.

I mean, sure, breasts can be used to feed children. That is certainly a thing that they are capable of, and it is a thing that no woman should be ashamed of or have to do alone, tucked away in the shame corner (also known as the bathroom). It is a thing that we should be allowed to talk about comfortably. I mean, even if you haven’t pushed a human being out of your vagina, chances are you’ve heard people talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, so it’s understandable why people would suggest that that is the purpose for breasts in the first place.

But what about mothers who decide not to breastfeed, whether for economic reasons or health issues or personal preference? I mean, these sort of mothers are becoming a bit of a minority as breastfeeding is pushed more and more in our society, but they most certainly do exist, and are they not valid? Are they not using their breasts properly? Do they have breasts for no reason at all?

What about women who are infertile, and cannot conceive a child, let alone give birth to and nurse them? In the United States, it is estimated that 10 percent of women aged fifteen to forty-four have difficulty getting or staying pregnant – and this is not a small amount of women. But these women may never use their breasts to feed a baby, so are their breasts wasted? Do they fail to serve their purpose, because their bodies are not capable of creating life?

What about women like me, women who do not want to conceive a child of their own? In the past, this might not have even been considered an option for women, but more and more are coming forth nowadays and saying “I don’t want kids!” and that’s fine. There are many reasons to decide that you don’t want kids – whether it be because you are dealing with a mental illness that you don’t want to pass down, you don’t want to deal with the absolute living hell that is pregnancy, or you simply don’t see it as a priority and there are other things you want to focus on – this is a valid choice nowadays. But if you don’t get pregnant, then your breasts won’t fill with milk, and you won’t be able to feed any children. So does that mean that, again, you fail in your service as a person with breasts?

What about transgender women who choose to receive breasts surgically? What purpose do these breasts serve? I mean, they can’t feed children (not unless modern day plastic surgery has advanced much more than I realized). And yet, despite the fact that they don’t serve their apparent purpose, transgender women continue to want them and get them, and is this without a point? Are they spending all this money and going under the knife for no reason at all? Are their breasts, again, wasted?

The way that I see it, breasts are the only body part that people will argue about their purpose. You don’t see people demanding that hands be covered up because they can and do get used during sex, while another group argues that hands are perfectly fine and should be accepted because they can be used to tickle children as well. The truth is, breasts are just breasts. They are a body part, and their purpose is to be bags of fat that hang off your chest. I know that that sounds much less romantic than the alternative, but it’s true.

And as I might have hinted at before, their use changes depending on the woman and depending on the circumstance. Sometimes, breasts are a symbol of femininity that make women feel more comfortable in their gender identity. Sometimes, breasts are an annoyance that flop around awkwardly while you run. Sometimes, breasts are used in sexual acts. Sometimes, breasts are used to feed children. Breasts have uses, but they don’t really have a sole, defining purpose.

And the way I see it, it is dismissive and unfair to say that the purpose of breasts is to feed children, just because, for years, we as a society considered the purpose of women to be bearing children, when that just isn’t reality anymore. Women have options. We can choose to conceive our own children, we can choose to adopt our own children, or we can choose to forego the whole business and raise dogs or cats. We cannot consider the sole purpose of our bodies to be creating and sustaining children, because when we do that, we imply that, by not creating and sustaining children, we are failing at something. But that isn’t the case. Your body is not one, big reproductive organ; you are a person, filled with thoughts and feelings and emotions and passions, and the purpose of your body is to carry all of that. I think that society sometimes makes it too easy for us to forget that, with the sort of language that it uses toward women.

So the next time that you want to say, “it’s ridiculous that we tell girls that they need to cover up their breasts when they aren’t even sexual organs”, say that instead. Because there are too many experiences out there that we ignore and belittle by assigning breasts with a singular purpose.

Why My Feminism Includes Trans Women

I am a feminist. I say this proudly and unapologetically, because I don’t think that this is something that anyone should be ashamed or afraid to be.

But that being said, that does not mean that I agree with everything that every feminist has ever said.

There are some feminists, for example, who present the argument that transgender women have no place in mainstream feminism. They say that transgender women are not actually women, that their experiences are very different from a cisgender woman’s and therefore, they are outside of the movement. Some feminists have even made the comment that including transgender women into the discussion is essentially inviting men into women’s spaces, and that doing this will result in higher statistics of rape (because transgender women clearly want to use the women’s bathroom just so that they can rape women), and/or it might force lesbians to accept penis.

This type of feminism is sometimes referred to as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism, or TERF. And, personally, I have a big problem with it. Personally, I think that it is important that we include trans women in our feminism, because trans women are women. They are women with lived experiences that are slightly different from cisgender women, but that’s the case with many women. A black woman will experience being a woman differently from a white woman. A lesbian will experience being a woman differently from a straight woman. A wealthy woman will experience being a woman differently from woman living in poverty. But none of these experiences are wrong, and none of these experiences should go ignored when we are talking about the issues that women, en masse, experience.

In my opinion, feminism should include everyone. This type of feminism is sometimes referred to as Intersectional Feminism (and for the record, there are more types of feminism out there than I can list off in this article, so I’m keeping it down to these two for now).

And more than that, the issues that transgender women face (and transgender people in general) are very relevant to our discussion as feminists.

Transgender women face violence at an alarming rate. 2016 saw the highest rate of death for transgender people as a result of violence, and some have speculated that violence against transgender people has only increased with the higher media representation of transgender celebrities, like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner. Thus far, in 2017, eighteen transgender people have been murdered – seventeen of them women and many of them people of colour.

In a 2009 report, 50 percent of people have died as a result of hate violence toward the LGBTQ community were transgender. Seventeen percent of all victims of hate crime violence toward LGBTQ people are transgender, and eleven percent are transgender women.

And fatal violence is not the only sort of violence that transgender people face either. One in two transgender people report being raped at some point in their life, and some reports have even estimated that 66 percent of transgender individuals will face sexual assault at some point in their lives. This suggests that the majority of transgender individuals are rape survivors – and rape, as you may recall, is an important matter of discussion for feminism.

According to one survey, 50 percent of transgender people have been hit by a primary partner after coming out to them.

I recall seeing a post on Facebook that I will not go into lengthy detail quoting, but within this post, the comment was made that “a man’s biggest fear IS that his date turns out to be transgender” and that “I would beat the shit out of my date if that happened”. I wish that I could say that this was an idle threat, but considering the amount of violence that is reported toward the transgender community, I’m afraid it isn’t. And it doesn’t help matters that, especially in the very recent past, transgender women are frequently represented by the media as “tricking” their heterosexual, cisgendered male dates. In the Family Guy episode “Quagmire’s Dad”, Brian is shown as unknowingly sleeping with a transgender woman, and upon finding out about her gender identity, he is horrified to the point of screaming and proceeds to vomit profusely – because that’s the sort of reaction every woman wants to get from her date. And, yes, I know that Family Guy is based around shock humour, but this humour does not come out of nowhere. It plays on something within our society, and in this scenario, it seems to be the straight, cisgendered male’s fear of getting involved with a “disgusting” transgender woman – a fear that is seen again in the dramatic movie The Crying Game, where the trans woman’s gender identity is played as a horrifying plot twist which, again, causes our straight, cisgendered male protagonist to vomit (though, to be fair, The Crying Game is much more sympathetic to Dill than Family Guy ever was to Ida).

Rates of suicide within the transgender community are also staggering to look at as well. In the U.S., 41 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming people have reported making a suicide attempt, compared to 4.6 percent of the overall population. These reports are most prevalent among transgender people aged 18-44. There are many possible reasons for this, and while reasons may differ between individuals, some of the most common include bullying, feelings of being unable to express who they truly are, and feelings of not being accepted among their family and/or community.

And, like cisgender women, transgender women are also subjected to sometimes unrealistic beauty standards. When Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover came out, the majority of comments focused on how beautiful she looked because she “passed” as a convincing cisgender woman, but not every transgender woman can pass quite so easily. They might not have access to hormones early enough, or they might not have access to surgery, and if that’s the case, then they run the risk of being dismissed as “not feminine enough” to be considered beautiful.

So when feminists talk about body positivity and making sure that every woman feels beautiful, no matter how she looks, we need to make sure we’re including transgender women in this as well.

Many of these issues, in fact, are issues that feminism frequently discusses. Feminism is a massive movement that covers a broad range of topics, and there should be enough room in it for transgender women as well. There should be room enough for all women.

When you exclude trans women from the conversation, then you overlook the issues that they face, and trans women should not have to fight these battles alone. We should be there for them, helping them, trying to create a safer world for them. Because the way that trans women are treated right now is not okay, and we have the means to change that – or at least start to. All we have to do is include them in the conversation.

Why You Need to Do More Than Tell Others to Love Themselves

Social media is absolutely filled with people telling you to love yourself.

People who tell you that your stretch marks are tiger stripes. Your body weight is natural, you are a real woman and therefore you are not expected to look like the women on the covers of magazines.

Maybe you even tell other people the same thing. Maybe you respond to every proclamation of “I’m so fat!” by telling them, “so what? A person’s beauty is not correlated to their weight”, and then you turn around and judging your own image in the mirror.

I know I do.

Logically speaking, I know that there is more than one correct way of being a person in this world. I know that the things we think of as physical flaws are not flaws at all – they’re just parts of us, parts that society tells us that we should be ashamed of, but why? What’s wrong with them, really? Why are we always so hard on ourselves? Why can’t we just learn to accept the parts of ourselves that come naturally, the parts that aren’t hurting anybody, the parts that are not wrong, they’re just different and character-building? What’s wrong with them?

I know all this logically, but accepting that is another matter.

We tend to hold ourselves to a different standard than we do other people. We think that it’s important for other people to love themselves, but it doesn’t matter so much for ourselves. We would hate the idea of someone else staring into the mirror and agonizing over their appearance, wishing that they could change this or that, and yet we do it to ourselves all the time. And of course we do. We live in a society that constantly tells us that we should second-guess ourselves. That we aren’t enough, that we’ll never be enough. We still need to go out there and buy that mascara to make our lashes longer, that lipstick to make our lips larger, do that exercise to make our tummies toned. It’s never enough. The to-do list grows longer and longer with every new advertisement.

But when it comes to body positivity, we need to practice what we preach.

It is one thing to tell people that they are beautiful, that they should love themselves despite how society tells them they should feel. This is a very wonderful thing, because this is a message that we should be spreading. But at the same time, we deserve to know how it feels to truly love ourselves. To look in the mirror and accept all that you see. To know, without any semblance of doubt, that there is no love that we don’t deserve, that we don’t have to settle or hide ourselves, because there is nothing wrong with us. We deserve confidence, and honest confidence – not the sort of confidence that tears other people down, but the sort that builds them up, that makes them look at you and think, “wow, I’d love to be that comfortable in my skin”.

We all deserve that, no matter who you are or how you look.

So start taking the steps toward loving yourself, rather than simply telling other people that they should love themselves. And maybe part of taking those steps is, quite simply, pretending to love yourself. Not necessarily in front of other people – you might do that already, telling them that you love yourself just to prove a point, to pretend to be an example, but when it really counts is when you’re alone. When no one else can hear you, and you have to force yourself to change the language that you use to describe yourself. When you catch yourself thinking something like “ugh, I’m so gross”, change that around to be something positive, something like “I’m really cute today”. Because when you force yourself to think that way, eventually you won’t be forcing yourself anymore – you’ll just start to think that way.

And you should. You are beautiful. You are loveable and unique and amazing and strong. You come complete with so much experience that nobody else has but you – because nobody has lived their lives in quite the same way that you have. You deserve so much more than you think you do, and you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. So allow yourself. And don’t do it for me, and don’t do it to prove to others that it is possible to love yourself; do it for yourself. Do it selfishly. Do it because you are amazing, and because it will make you even better. Do it because the world is filled with more than enough hypocrites, telling you to love yourself while simultaneously judging themselves, and you shouldn’t have to be that.

Real Women Have Curves (As Opposed to Fake Women?)

Model and actress Karrueche Tran recently posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini to social media. As you might have already guessed, the response to this was…varied, as it usually is whenever a woman reveals to the world that she has a body. Because, let’s face it, whenever a woman does this, everyone and their dog feels entitled to giving their opinion on how she looks.

Probably most notably, rapper Ralo told Tran that she “looked better” with her clothes on, and while this is problematic, as he had absolutely no right to objectify and police Tran’s body like this, the comments that I want to focus on are the comments that were not made by celebrities, comments like “she look like a 10 yr old girl” and, even more interesting, “she look like a boy in his early stages of transitioning into a woman”.

There are a few reasons why I find these comments interesting. One of them is the obvious transphobia, especially in the latter comment, as this person is likening a cis-gendered woman to a transgendered woman, presumably as a method of undermining and insulting her, as though there is something wrong with being transgender (and, yes, I am acutely aware of the fact that this commenter used a male pronoun to refer to a transgender woman). But another reason why I find this response interesting is this idea of failing to live up to the image of “woman” through the simple act of having a body – even a genetically female body. Tran is described as looking like a child, or as though she was not born in a female body – she is described as being distinctly un-womanly, simply because she has smaller breasts.

And maybe I’d be able to forgive this as an isolated incidence if it isn’t something that I’ve seen before. There’s this idea that gets passed around, frequently on social media, that “real women have curves”. Sometimes this is used as a way to defend plus-sized women, because let’s not deny it: plus-sized women have a very difficult time having a body in our society. They are deemed less beautiful than thinner women, they are frequently and publicly shamed, by both the media and the people around them, sometimes even by complete strangers. So in an attempt to take some power back, some of them will make comments about how a woman should look in order to be “real”. But sometimes comments like these don’t have reasons so deep: sometimes they’re just meant to uphold the status quo, to say that women with breasts and hips and ass are hot.

But what about women who don’t have curves? Aren’t they real women? After all, they identify as women. They live as women. They get treated like women do in our society, they get objectified and picked apart just the same. So why do we keep using this language?

The strange thing about referring to specific people as ‘real women’ is that it implies that the opposite exists – that there are fake women. But there aren’t. You cannot fail to live up to the image of a woman, because there is no one specific way that a woman should look. Society may have made up a few phony ways for you to fail, but they aren’t real.

Because here’s how a real woman looks: any which way she wants. A real woman has curves, and a real woman doesn’t. A real woman can have large breasts or small breasts or none at all. Hell, there are some real women out there who have beards or penises, and that doesn’t make them any less real. The only qualification to count as a ‘real woman’ is to identify as a woman. As long as that is so, then congratulations – you’re a real woman.

And, people: let’s stop policing the way that women look. Let’s stop shaming every last woman, celebrity or not celebrity, for having a body and letting people see it. Because at the end of the day, we’re never satisfied as a society. There has never been a woman who posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini on social media, and the general consensus was simply “yeah, great picture”. Karrueche Tran might have been deemed not curvy enough to be beautiful, but singer Rihanna was recently deemed too curvy to be beautiful, one blogger even going so far as to make the comment that her “high key thiccness” would lead to “a world of ladies shaped like the Hindenburg.” We as a society are never satisfied with a woman as just having a body – we are constantly finding ways to pick it apart, to make it not live up to our expectations, even if they do align with our society’s definition of beauty.

And, yes, making these comments are policing – they tell women that, if they would just get breast implants, or eat more, or eat less, or do this, or do that, or go get that surgery, or whatever, then they would suddenly become more beautiful. When the truth is that they won’t. Society en masse is never satisfied with the way that women look, because society en masse is never satisfied with the presence of women to begin with. No matter what you change, there will always be someone out there who will pick you apart, so please, don’t change for them. If you want to change, change for yourself, because you are the only person who has to be satisfied with how you look at the end of the day.