No Short Shorts Order: An Examination of the Inherent Differences Between Male and Female Expectations in Fashion

That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” – John Green, Paper Towns

In my women’s health lecture the other day, our professor asked each of us (in a section made up almost entirely of female third-year students) to write a reflection on the inspiring women in our lives. There were many common themes: the strength of overcoming hardship, the perseverance demanded of motherhood, the challenges of breaking through stereotypes or glass ceilings and the loyalty of a best friend. Not once, however, were any of these women praised for their physical attributes. It was a wonderful, heartwarming experience, but it was definitely not the norm.

American society heavily values female beauty. In particular, an emphasis is placed on public display of sexuality. While female sexuality isn’t shameful, it’s not our most important trait. However, there’s implicit pressure for young women to constantly appear alluring — and it’s often more subtle than we realize. A YouTube video titled “The Skin Gap” illuminates this issue. In under a minute, creator Allison Josephs satirizes the typical discrepancy between male and female fashion in terms of how much skin is exposed. “Gender equality is demanded everywhere else,” Josephs states, “Why not here?”

There’s no denying that women’s fashion places a disproportionate emphasis on showing skin than does most men’s fashion. This is particularly notable with many common college trends. For example, most women’s shorts are proportionally much shorter than the shorts most popular among male students — even after taking height into consideration. On top of this, it’s common for girls to walk around campus with “oversized” t-shirts that leave the shorts barely peeking out from the bottom hem. It’s a little ridiculous when you think about it, and I say this as someone who’s bought into the idea myself. Why should we be wandering into class looking like we forgot to wear pants?

When I’ve worn these tiny shorts and gigantic shirts to the lecture hall, I didn’t intend to look promiscuous or attract attention. I wore them because they were comfortable and reminded me of a relaxing Saturday morning. While I don’t feel we necessarily need to look professional or fully put-together on the average school day (and I know there are some who wholeheartedly disagree), I think there’s something to be said for the fact that only female students are the ones wandering around like pantless toddlers. Whenever male students wear shorts, they’ll typically opt for a knee-length pair. When my boyfriend wanders through Turlington, picks up coffee at the Hub or crams for exams in Marston, it’s always clear that he’s wearing pants. So, why should my shorts expose so much more than his?

It’s clear that the so-called “male gaze” is lingering in our closets, whether we intend for it to or not. Think back to high school. It doesn’t matter which one you attended, but it is more likely than not that the girls were “dress coded” disproportionately more often than the boys. But here’s the little secret most of us don’t immediately realize: It’s not the dress codes that are sexist — it’s the fashion.

In a typical high school, there will be a rule against baring shoulders. While we all knew of the one basketball jock that argued with the teacher about his favorite jersey, we more often saw girls “targeted” for their spaghetti straps. The truth is that while both boys and girls are barred from wearing tank tops, the clothing options most popularly marketed to girls are more likely to accentuate their shoulders than what’s marketed to boys. The problem here isn’t about female students “asking for attention.” The problem is that society is constantly, even if subtly, demanding us of that attention. Society generally wants us to display our bodies — although our 10th grade chemistry teacher might have chided otherwise. After all, we’re young, unmarried and fertile. Why shouldn’t our fashion revolve around baring our bodies to the public?

As people, we deserve respect. We deserve to have our ideas heard, to be taken seriously and to shatter plenty of glass ceilings in our days. As women, we can simultaneously view another female as both physically beautiful and brilliantly intellectual. However, while we want to be valued as whole pictures, society unfortunately hasn't fully caught up to this view. Sometimes, trying to prove ourselves as simultaneously "bright and talented" and "sexually attractive" within a single context can feel as futile as explaining Crayola hues to the colorblind.

It’s not because we’re dressing for the men. However, as long as we’re trying to successfully break through a predominantly patriarchal society, we must remain aware of how our image plays into things. If we want our accomplishments and personal traits to be valued, we don’t need to downplay our femininity, but we need to make sure our sexual allure doesn’t steal the spotlight when we don’t particularly want it to.

Additionally, we must not succumb to the idea that we must always be physically appealing. Yep, not even at the beach.

In 1946, a French automobile engineer named Louis Réard introduced the bikini — aptly named for an earth-shattering atomic bomb. Réard faced a great deal of difficulty finding a professional model to display the new design, finally turning to an exotic dancer named Micheline Bernardini. It was only a woman who typically posed in the nude who was willing to wear it, yet Bernardini supposedly received over 50,000 fan letters in response.

Today, it’s considered unusual for young women to wear swimsuit designs other than the bikini. Unlike with male swim trunks, which are long and loose fitting (and significantly more common than those tight little Speedos), women are expected to wear pieces that display the curves of their breasts and buttocks, sculpted legs and full views of their stomachs.

Naturally, this has led to insecurity. Almost no women will list “swimsuit shopping” as a fun thing to do. Body dissatisfaction is rampant. And according to the National Eating Disorder Association, the incidence of anorexia in women ages 15 through 19 has risen in each decade since 1930. Sad as it is to say, this is hardly a surprise.

In 1983, Princess Leia of the Star Wars franchise was forced to wear a metal bikini. The late Carrie Fisher once referred to it as her “slave outfit.” When a father asked her how to explain the costume choice to his kid, Fisher replied, “Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.”

Like Fisher, it’s time that we question the ways in which our societal fashion norms might be enslaving us. Baring our skin is a choice, and not inherently a shameful one — but it should not be our expectation. So, if Victoria wants to switch her lacy bralette from “secret” to “shown off at the next fraternity party,” that’s her prerogative. But I’d urge her to think twice, and consider why the brothers are so excited about her bared breasts while their shirts remain adequately buttoned.

Personally, I only want my naked body to be in the hands of someone who, as one popular Internet quote puts it, “is in love with my naked soul,” and I don’t care if the latest racks at Forever 21 are trying to suggest to me otherwise.

 

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