This post is hard because it will reveal a thought process that probably goes against the grain and will more than likely characterize me in a way that I will more than likely not deserve! I will try very hard not to overstate the characteristics or stereotypes of the mostly low-income women of color I am focusing on for this post. If at all possible, I will try to be fair to both sides of this debate that I am having with myself and inviting this audience to be a part of.
First I would like to offer my opinion and observation. In my opinion, women dress in the manner that makes them feel most comfortable. I believe that, in order of importance, women first and foremost want to look and feel beautiful. Sometimes that look is purely for comfort and sometimes it’s a fantastic look that is not comfortable at all. Some women also dress to be admired. Others are so into their own being that all that matters is their own opinion. I try hard not to judge because I would not want to be judged either, for any reason – fashion, beliefs or politics. That said, I feel that this post is mainly for therapeutic purposes; used as a space to put these thoughts out into the universe. I listen to the opinion of many others on the topic and most have valid points, but part of me always feels that there are obvious, more societally general points to be made on the subject.
I am going to be honest about the fact that women who have very shapely figures often times look good in their outdoor shape-wear clothing, which I assume may be their reason for wearing it. Nonetheless, the new phenomenon for predominately shape-wear clothing has gone overboard. I find it disturbing on many levels. For one, the little girls are watching, learning and mimicking – earlier and earlier. This is especially prevalent in low-income communities where it is becoming the uniform for casual dressing. Some women even dress up their yoga pants with shoes and sheer blouses. To use the analogy of R&B music, that sensual songs with explicit lyrics have been around for probably half a century, if not more, however, the argument has been made that there was a balance. There was just as much good music as there was distasteful. The current R&B radio rotation is, in my opinion, often lyrics about the same type of “girl I want you bad so I can do things to you” music. I feel this is because the good meaningful songs do not get the same amount of time and attention. We music lovers have to find our music on alternative sources. Back to the point, there have always been women who have dressed in a “sexy” manner, but it wasn’t everywhere. There was a balance. Mostly this fashion was reserved for women who worked at night. I’d be hard pressed now to see women of color in poor neighborhoods dress any other way. I could attribute this to the fact that stretch pants (aka yoga pants) are cheaper to buy or that “skinny jeans” are all that you can find in the clothing stores in urban neighborhoods, but I don’t actually buy that excuse, not that there actually has to be one. Besides the skinny jeans, there is also the spandex dress and the cropped or shape-wear tops. I have done a small amount of research on the topic to see if there were any scholarly articles or other op-ed pieces, but there were not many I could find. One day, I saw a post from Michael Baisden Live’s Facebook page on the subject. It was called “Sexy is Not Enough” and it spoke about how black women were sexy but that they need to bring more to the table than visual appeal. The post also touched on the competition between them. I believe that we will never have (and I’m fairly confident about this) an honest discussion about the hyper-sexualization of the black female body because speaking truth to the power of our vulnerability is too much for sisters to bear. I think that there’s plenty of baggage there and a need for healing within ourselves and our families that would make it too hard to know where to even begin. Consequently, things are just continuing to get worse in this highly sexualized culture that we live in. Our bodies have been exploited and on display for hundreds of years. And back then, we didn’t have a choice. The fact that we now choose to exploit ourselves in this way is disturbing to me.
Fashion at the intersections of the exploitation, reproductive injustice, crime and domestic abuse are just a few of the reasons why we need to have this discussion in order to try and save the young women and girls coming of age in this environment. Cheap clothing of a very specific type floods our neighborhoods, black women in video, pornography, music videos and billboards all point to the growing phenomenon of the objectification of our bodies as women, broadly, but in particularly, black women because we have a very different history and we need to begin to put into context the true nature of how we have become more of a shape than a person. The danger of “sex sells” illuminates a deeper issue about how the body is portrayed as a product for sale.
In my search I found a few sites touching on the topic and I’m hoping for more. I am posting links mostly to validate my concerns and to know that I am not alone in my thinking. Happy reading!
This article, written by a white woman, points out how comfortable the pants are and talks about how to choose the right one to “show off your shapeliness.” Another post, written from a Christian perspective, goes quite a bit further than I would, but still makes a few good points, if taken in at the macro level (although most people only look at things on the micro level so that they can pick apart every detail), another discusses body image in advertising.
There are others, but for now I will continue to research to better speak intelligently on both sides of this argument. A woman’s right to wear what she wants as well as how what women wear impact and or play into the hyper-sexualization of the black female body.