To Beyonce or not to Beyonce - a little ditty on why Mrs. Carter should be able to wear what she wants.
I took my girls shopping a few weeks back. They both had growth spurts over the winter, and both needed some new summer clothes. As I was helping my six year old pick out some shorts, my eleven year old called out to me from a few aisles over.
“Hey, Mom, I think it’s time I got some of these.”
I looked over, and she was holding up a set of training bras.
“Why?” I asked, puzzled, as the eleven year old is quite slight and in no way needs a bra yet. She shrugged.
“Well, my friends are starting to wear them.”
“Yeah, but,” I countered, “some of your friends are starting to get boobs. You’re not.”
She shrugged again.
“I still think it would be good for me to get used to them.”
I tried explaining to her, a busty gal to a girl who will never be thus, that bras aren’t all that awesome. Sure, they are necessary to not kill my back, but they’re hot. They’re itchy. They shift. They’re a pain in the ass to wash. They’re expensive if you want a good one to contain anything over a B-cup. I implored my girl to enjoy her bra free days while she could. But, in her own quiet, stubborn way, she held her ground, and so the bras went in the cart, and I had a mini little freak out in my head that my girl could possibly be old enough to be thinking about bras.
And as I was waiting in the incredibly long line-up to pay, I got to thinking. I remember vividly the day that my mother came to 11 year old me, took me aside privately, and told me she thought it was time I got a training bra. I remember feeling like I wanted to throw up. I remember feeling absolutely mortified. And honestly, looking back on the situation, I’m sure my Mom felt the exact same way.
And so, that Saturday, we trundled on down to Kindersley to go to Zellers, I the whole time praying that no one I knew would be there. And as Mom browsed the selection, I stood guard, about ten feet away (so that I could deny knowing her if anyone saw that she was buying a training bra), making sure that no one saw what was going on.
I remember being almost catatonic with fright the first day I wore the bra to school. I had picked a shirt with as high a collar as I could, so that no one could see the bra strap. In my memories, I spent entire days at school, not learning, but being careful to in no way move my body in a way that might reveal my secret. Even a smidgen of a millimetre of strap showing would have meant certain death by humiliation.
Gym was a particular hell for me in those days, because when you run or do physical activity, clothing shifts, and you walk a fine line between staying incognito and brining attention to yourself by constantly pulling your collar closer to your neck. One day, as we were doing sit-ups, I happened to glance over at the girl next to me, and thought I saw the faint outline of a bra beneath her shirt as the fabric strained against her. On the walk back to class, I sidled up to her.
“Are you wearing a bra?” I whispered. Her head shot around, and she nailed me with a glare that was equal parts death and fear.
“That is none of your business,” she informed me hotly.
“Oh,” I said, blushing. I was a shy kid, and didn’t do confrontation very well. “It’s just that I wear one, too, and I thought I was the only one.”
At that, relief washed over her face, and she admitted that yes, she had one too. We swore to keep each other’s secret, and made a pact to always find some subtle way to notify each other if our bra straps were showing. It wasn’t until probably grade 8 or 9 where I got to the point where my bra showing was not the end of the world.
So, as I stood in the incredibly long line-up to pay, I thought about how un-ashamedly my daughter had informed me, out loud and in public where other people could and likely did hear, of her need. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “times sure have changed.” And I was proud of my girl, and happy to think she was growing up in a more enlightened time than I did.
So. Apparently, there is an online community called Chime For Change, and they tout themselves as “a community of people working to promote Education, Health and Justice for every girl, every woman, everywhere.” Good stuff, right? On June 1st, the organization held a concert, featuring acts like Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Florence and the Machine, John Legend, and a bunch of other groups I am too old to listen to, with the “goal of a global concert event to put girls' and women's issues on the world’s stage”. Again, I nod along and think “yep, good idea.”
Well, today is the day after this concert, and people are talking, oh boy are they ever. But are they talking about girls’ and women’s issues? Not so much. What I am seeing all over the interwebs and The Twitter is a lot of “did you see what Beyonce and JLo were wearing?” scoffing. To sum up, there seems to be a consensus out there that neither of these two talented, powerful, women should dare call themselves a feminist if they are wearing heels and skimpy outfits. And I am befuddled. Like, what should they have been wearing? Would people have been happier if all of the female performers wore burkas? Do they need to be wearing three piece suits to be taken seriously by other women? Jeans and a t-shirt? Someone help me out here.
Sure, the outfits were racy, but who cares? I look at both of these women and what they wear and think “these women own their sexuality.” And, for that, more power to them. Beyonce, especially, seems to get a lot of flack from other women, and there is a constant argument as to if she is truly a feminist or not. And again, I am befuddled. I’m not quite sure what it is that pisses other women off about her. Sure, she refers to herself as Mrs. Carter at times, and yes, she wears sexy clothing and dances in a way that could be considered provocative. But isn’t that her choice to do so? I somehow don’t imagine that she is a woman who is easily told what to do. What I do see from her is a woman who knows who she is, who owns who she is, and who isn’t ashamed of who she is. She is not going to conform herself to fit to someone else’s standards, and she commands respect. At a concert the other night, while wearing one of her skimpy outfits, a male audience member smacked her butt. Did this stop her from wearing what she wears? No. She had his ass thrown out of the concert and continued on. She did not let his notions about her or his preconceptions about her clothing change who she is or what she does. She owned her body, she owned her space, and good for her. The fact that she was wearing tight leather and stiletto heels did not somehow flip a switch in her brain that said “I deserve what I get when I wear this outfit.” And I think, if you look at the history of clothing and how the layers and corsets and shifts and crinolines and stockings and aprons and hair coverings all worked together to oppress women, then Beyonce wearing a short, tight leather outfit and putting herself out there like that is incredibly freeing and empowering. She is saying “here I am, world. Deal with me or get out of my way.” I don’t think she’d be embarrassed to death if her bra strap showed, or feel shame in any way at having breasts.
My personal definition of feminism is where each woman gets to choose for herself. I might not like her choice, but it is her choice. I respect her right to that choice, just as I would expect she would respect mine. It is as simple as that.
There has been a lot of discussion about rape culture lately. This is good. This dialogue is desperately needed. And one of the points that keeps coming up, that women keep telling men, is “wearing skimpy clothes doesn’t mean we’re asking for it.” Absolutely true. This is an idea that needs to become ingrained in society. But I humbly suggest that this is going to be hard to accomplish when women attack other women for what they are wearing. We can’t have it both ways. And how are men supposed to internalize that idea if we are the first ones to judge another woman’s outfit? How are we supposed to move forward as women, and as a society, if after a global platform for women’s issues is presented, the first thing we do is criticize what the female performers wore? We, as a gender, don’t do ourselves any favours with this behaviour, and are hypocritical as hell if we act like this after we ask men to judge us by our character and not by our outfit.
I am not saying I would ever wear any of those outfits, because I wouldn’t, but not because I think they are bad or have negative connotations. Heels and me do not, and never will, mix well, and I have far too many negative body self-image issues to wear something that tight. I can’t really help my daughters with the heels thing – they’ll figure out on their own if they are as non-graceful as me – but I am grateful to women like Beyonce who are not ashamed of their bodies or of their sexuality while at the same time commanding respect for their talent, their business sense, and their charity work. I am as thankful to these women for setting an example of self-confidence for my girls as I am for female doctors or stay-at-home moms who show that women have many different choices. I want my girls to know that the world ahead of them is wide open and full of opportunity. And I want their choices, whatever they may be, to be respected and supported by other women as well as men, just as I want them to support their female friends and family in whatever life decisions they make. Most importantly, I want them to know with certainty that the choice is theirs, that their life is theirs and that they have that right to do, or to wear, what they want and to feel good about that.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a strong belief in there being age-appropriate outfits. I am not going to allow my eleven year old out into the world in a Beyonce outfit. She’s not going to show her belly or wear shorts that are too short, because she is too young. But when she is an adult, I would like to think that she will be able to wear what she wants and have people – male or female - not make assumptions about her because of it.
I like to think that the fact we could so easily discuss her getting a bra, in a public place without either of us feeling anxious about it, is a start.