Make no mistake, the title of this piece is a full and complete sentence.
I vividly remember the first time I felt body shamed. It was “spirit week” in middle school, and it was hat day. I was excited to wear a hat in school. I had a trendy 2001 limited edition orange adidas visor on, and an orange shirt likely taken from my mom’s closet. I had the shirt tied up in the back with a hair tie. It was long on me, hot in school, and I probably just felt like showing off my midriff. There I was, 13 year old me, shaking things up in 8th grade history class.
The middle school teacher asked to see me in the hallway. She pulled me outside, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “what is the matter with you? I mean do you have any respect for yourself?” As a nervous reaction I just laughed, but I was probably in the middle of having my first panic attack in that moment. I couldn’t tell you one single thing I learned in middle school, but I remember that. As a teacher, I try to always remind myself that what I say matters. It can do good and it can do harm, so I need to choose wisely. I’m sure this particular teacher thought she was choosing wisely, that she was doing a good thing, and that she was “saving” me from a life of sexual promiscuity. But she needed to sit down and mind her damn business. An appropriate response would have been, “that is against school dress code.” Her suggesting that a midriff revealing shirt was somehow wrong or a reflection of my level of self-respect was very bizarre and hurtful to young me. I never told my parents about that interaction. In fact, this is probably my mothers’ first time hearing about this, and she’s likely flaming pissed because she would have said something to said teacher. It’s all good mom, I survived.
Truthfully, middle school was absolutely terrible for me. It’s such an awkward age. You start having sexual interests, you want to fit in, and EVERYONE is insecure. Oh, and how could I forget to mention how MEAN girls are at this age. It was not a fun time, and thinking back on this moment is painful for so many reasons.
Flash forward to after high school. A former boyfriend told me I was “being a slut.” Because I was dressed like a sexy cat for Halloween. Meowwwww. I can partially laugh about this now, but I’ve never forgotten it. That comment completely blew my mind. I know people say things they don’t mean when they’re hurt or angry. Lord knows I have… but that stuck with me all these years.
This is a PSA for all humans everywhere: you don’t get to comment on someone else’s appearance. Ever. Unless they ask you for your opinion. You don’t get to tell them they’re a slut. That word should never be used to describe someone’s appearance in a derogatory way. Ever. This is my body and I’m going to dress it any way I want to. If that makes you uncomfortable, look the other way.
Flash forward to turning 30. At this point, after years of loving my body, hating my body, being angry at it, calorie counting, chip eating, comparison and so on, I finally felt like I was developing a great relationship with my little temple. In the middle of the night aka during my creative office hours, I had an idea. A dancing in my underwear photo shoot done once every decade. My hope is that it will be a beautiful keep sake for my daughter one day when I’m gone. My friend and photographer, Jaimee, loved the idea, and we made it happen. The pictures were far better than anything I could have hoped for. She made my vision come to life, and I was and am so grateful to her.
I shared a handful of these pictures on my personal social media accounts. As we all know, there’s always one in every crowd. One person who cannot see something they disagree with and just move along. A self-ordained Facebook righteous warrior decided to share their opinion with me. I needed to put some clothes on. I’m a wife and mother and a “predator” was going to find me because of those pictures. I’m not going to get into the “what were they wearing” conversation, but I will say that google is a beautiful tool. Use it and educate yourself. Women (and men) have the right to wear what they want, and women (and men) have a responsibility to respect one another. PERIOD.
Body image is such an odd thing. I go through days where I feel really good about myself and my body, and then I go through days where I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed for things I’ve worn, I feel ashamed for things I’ve done with my body, I feel ashamed because of things other people have said, and that’s really sad to me. No one should have to feel that way. Why do we put people down over how they look or what they wear? If you feel confident and beautiful in your skin, I think you should be able to celebrate that without commentary from naysayers.
As I always say… LIFE is too darn short to be modest.
I plan to continue to wear what I want. I plan to continue to share photos where I feel beautiful, without needing the validation or approval of a n y o n e. I plan to continue to teach my daughter to celebrate her body however she would like to. I hope you plan to begin or continue to celebrate and love your body as well. Be kind to it, nourish it, and most of all, do not base it’s worth or beauty off of the opinion of anyone other than yourself.
Here’s a link to MORE OF Jaimee’s beautiful work: jmansfieldphoto.com