As If I Needed More Proof That I Am Getting Old, Part Two

I was reading Glamour magazine at the gym this morning. There was an interesting debate between two writers over cleavage and why there is so much of it on view these days.

I found myself thinking the younger writer sounded bratty, her arguments boiling down to "This is how I want to dress. You don't have to look". Any woman who has ever breastfed knows that there are times when the public may see your breasts and you hope no one stares, so I understand the "just look away if it bothers you" argument. However, I also know how hard it is to avoid staring at something on display and when I see the cleavage some women are sporting (and the bras that are sold to get their breasts to look the way they do), it is impossible to deny that breasts are not on display.

The older writer makes the observation "I keep thinking there’s a relationship between the present day, show-it-off aesthetic and the pole dancing being taken up by women of all ages, which I understand is supposed to be fine exercise, limber muscles and so forth, but basically fills me with such feminist despair that I just want to go sit in the dark by myself. Am I overreacting? Or are you all coming of age now convinced that sexuality has to be part of what you present to the world?"

I have asked myself this question as well. What is going on with the young girls today? But the younger writer isn't that much younger than I am. she is closer to me, in age, than the older writer. So what changed in the decade between when I came of age and when she did?

Off the top of my head, I can think of two things that have changed the landscape for girls today. The first is that sexual harassment policies and laws are designed to protect them from unwanted sexual comments and advances. So women and girls feel safer to express themselves in public, believing themselves to be protected. But why has self-expression come to equal self-exposure? Because, and this is the second thing that has changed, pornography won. Instead of becoming a society where people are judged on their merits and not their gender, we live in a society where women are told that being sexy is a requirement for advancement.

Maybe I am so irritated by this because I have always been self-conscious about my breasts and, in most situations, I try not to call attention to them. I can't understand why anyone would want to outside of a social setting--I mean, I understand wanting people to want you (whether you are available or not), but honestly, I don't want to be viewed as a sexual object 24/7. Maybe I am just irritated by this because I see this as further evidence of society's sexualization of the breast which, I feel, is partially responsible for our country's low breastfeeding rates and lack of breastfeeding support. Maybe I am annoyed because this just speaks to how far from equality we women are and how so few women seem to care.

I just can't see how anyone would argue with the following statement:

If you have ambition and intelligence, if you’re intent on being taken seriously in the workplace, what is the deal with the cleavage? It’s not just the well-endowed I’m talking about; it’s as though a frenzy of unbuttoning and unzipping has come over everybody, regardless of breast size and regardless of locale. I thought places like the grocery store and work were ones where we prefer not to have people consider at first glance our possible merits as sex partners.

Do you all mean to be wearing neon signs that spell out “please look here”?
Maybe I am just getting old.


Anonymous said…
The people on TLC's what not to wear would argue that by visually drawing attention to the neckline by wearing shirts that reveal a little more cleavage, draws attention from the waist, hence visually creating a better sihlouette. For those of us who are self-concious of our middles, that's one reason.

Also, a few months ago the editoral in Glamour discussed the pros of being 20, 30 and 40. What interestingly stood out to me was when the author noted that in her 20's she apologized for everything to everyone, including her coffee table, after bumping into it one night. That resonated with me as someone in my 20's who profusely apologizes for everything.

So maybe it's refreshing that the "young" woman makes no apologies for some of her choices.
Anonymous said…
i'm sorry my name ended up in the middle of that comment...see me with the apologies.
Anonymous said…
It just seems that in the last few years, sexuality has become part of the public lexicon-like a new toy everyone needs to play with for awhile.

I liken it to the sexual revolution of the 60's-women taking control and ownership of their bodies. Do i like seeing all that skin? No, but I'm a closet pride. Do I like the idea that my kids can be themselves, whatever self it is that they land on? Yup.

Plus, as you get older, you have less to prove.
alimum said…
a couple of things.

As someone with a larger chest and smaller rib cage/waist, I definitely appreciate the feeling that one has to dress like Pamela Anderson in order to not just look larger than one is. However, I don't usually dress like Pamela Anderson because I am uncomfortable with the image that sort of style projects (not that I don't love Pam). I can't expect everyone to make a disconnect between how I choose to present myself and who I am. Also, there is a difference between clothes which draw the eye away from the middle and clothes which center the viewer's attention at that point where your breasts meet. Finally, oftentimes when I see people showing lots of skin, they look less attractive than they would ine less revealing clothing; unattractive and slutty is hardly the image most people want to convey in the workplace, so I can't quite understand why some people choose to dress the way they do.

As far as apologizing goes, yes, I can't get really excited by someone owning their clothing choices. I thought the younger writer's comments came across as immature, along the lines of a teenager's arguments for why rebel ("This is who I am! It is YOUR problem if YOU CAN'T HANDLE IT!") Saying "you don't have to look" hardly moves the dialogue further or addresses the fact that we live in a society where most people will look, so how does dressing this way play into reality? Also, as far as apologizing goes, I am not ocnvinced that owning one's fashion decisions translates into the rest of one's life. I mean, even at 35, I apologize all the time and I have never been much of a shrinking violet where clothes are concerned.

I am really glad that women today have the freedom to be who they are. However, isn't it disturbing that so many younger women today are choosing to present themselves, clothing wise, as porn stars? Yes, it is their choice, but these choices aren't made in a vacuum and they have ramifications beyond the individual. It just seems like the options for who a girl can be are very limited and I don't see how women choosing to dress like a hookers is a sign of liberation. Yes, she made the choice, but how have years of conditioning and marketed influenced that choice? Why is this highly sexualized, objectified image the only template for attractive that society is presenting women?

Also, and this is more worrisome, how does this porn star culture cause girls to make choices sexually that are damaging to them? There have been quite a lot of articles recently about girls who get drunk and are coerced to "go wild for the cameras" and then they wake up the next morning to find that everyone with internet access has seen them essentially being raped (or raping their friend), except of course, they "chose" to do what they did--just that choices you make under the influence and under pressure aren't necessarily choices. Society is telling a whole generation of girls that they can be anything they want to be, but they also must be sexual objects at all times--is it any wonder that many people only focus on the sexual objects part?

I am so glad I have a boy. It seems like, in this day and age, it is easier to teach a man to respect women than it is to teach a girl to respect herself.

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