Feminism: infamous for its radical views, the unkempt and untrimmed armpits of its members, and the occasional bra-burning. Yet for me, feminism has always been a spiritual experience. In fact, I’ve considered it the closest thing to my own religion for quite some time. I’ve read feminist theory like many read the Bible. I’ve looked up to feminist icons, as if they were my saviors. And I used these feminist standards as a guide to living my life. I made it a personal goal to always empower women, to fight the beauty standard that oppresses us, to never hold men to hyper-masculine expectations, and to actively rebel against gender roles.
And a major part of my “faith,” also included claiming my sexuality as my own. In my own interpretation of these “sacred texts,” to oppose the patriarchy, was to oppose the slut-shaming that prevailed in modern society. So, as an obedient follower might, I stripped down to a crop top, and a short skirt, and openly discussed my sex life—because no one was going to tell me that I couldn’t (or worse, that I would be a slut for it).
With that, I held on to my hyper-sexual, crass, in-your-face, identity—and loved every minute of it. I was the girlfriend who sent sexts at two in the afternoon, and never turned down an opportunity to sneak a quickie in. I wore revealing clothes even when it was bitterly cold outside. And shouted to the world, “LOOK AT ME! I’m sexual, and I’m not a whore for it.” In most people’s terms, I was successful at spreading the message I had hoped for. I wasn’t trashy. I wasn’t promiscuous. I was simply someone who embraced their sexuality.
Yet, I still felt a sense of failure. In my mission of being a social martyr of slut-shaming culture, I had somehow objectified myself. Men, women, and myself alike had now viewed me now as not a slut, not a whore, but someone whose life centered around their sexuality–and what a sad reality that was to accept. Every one of my decisions, from what I wore, to the text messages I sent to my partner, depended on my hyper-sexual identity.
So, one ordinary Tuesday, I decided to make the boldest move of all—I put on a high-neckline top, one with no cleavage, one that didn’t show off my curves, and God, how strangely empowering it was. Looking into the mirror, I took a deep breath, and felt a sense of relief at the idea that today people would be valuing me for my intelligence and my personality, before they valued how great my tits looked in my sweater.
While I, in no way, condone the societal standards that tell women that they cannot be sexual, all whilst being intelligent and respectable individuals—for the first time in a very long time, I felt powerful as a woman, without being sexual: and it was a big deal. I was able to look at myself and feel confident, without being the sex-kitten I had painted myself to be.
And then I realized, being sexual, having big boobs, showing off my stomach, and extenuating my curves was not something I owed to society, to men, or even to myself. I could just be me, in a sweater that covered my “perky boobs” and “flat stomach,” and still be enough. I didn’t need to use these things to get attention, or to impress people; instead, I could focus on my humor, my personality, my intelligence, things that made me, me—and no one else.
I know that I do not have to choose between a charming personality, and a good body. I know that no woman out there has to choose between beauty and intelligence. And I know for damn sure, that society should not notice my breasts, before they notice my character. But, I’ve also come to find, that I do not owe men, or anyone for that matter, my sexuality. I do not have to be sexual in order to be beautiful: and neither do you. Do not put that fiercely dark lipstick on, or slip into a body-con dress, because you feel like you have to in order to impress people. Do it for you. Do it, because YOU love it. Wear what makes you feel pretty and powerful, not what society expects of you. Because in the end, no one has the right to demand modesty or sexuality out of you, not even yourself.