Earlier this week, I experienced real happiness. While I was working at the Central Campus Recreation Building, I was fortunate enough to have a whole workout room for myself. From the comfort of my own space, I worked confidently in my shorts and sports bra. I didn’t think about it. Just as I didn’t think twice when I sheepishly wrapped myself in my T-shirt and crossed my arms as I walked through the door.
As I left the gym, however, I wondered if exposing myself was a mistake. I instinctively covered myself as I walked past a group of people. Did I make everyone around me uncomfortable?
When men wear t-shirts cut off with their full breasts, we don’t think twice about it, so why do we do it with women? This answer goes much further than the gym or double standards. It goes back to our first day of school when we were told we couldn’t wear spaghetti straps, as if this dress code really protects anyone from anything. We’ve internalized that dress code to this day, giving us a dress code in college: whatever society is currently comfortable.
Now at the university, on this campus, there is no real dress code. Yet somehow we’re trained to feel uncomfortable if an outfit is a little too showy as we walk around campus in short shorts or sports bras, knowing that the whistles on a morning run are still all too familiar. After growing up we were told that we cannot show any skin for the sake of others, we sacrifice comfort in our own body.
I blame our education system as a system of favoritism towards men and against the shoulders of women. We have learned that incidences of whistling or even sexual misconduct are the faults of women who do not cover themselves sufficiently rather than men who cannot control themselves. Has anyone ever taught them to resist their urges with the intensity I’ve been told to never expose my thighs beyond the length of a checkered Bermuda shorts?
Women in college don’t want to continue this dress code, they just feel pressured to do so. Maybe to make others around them more comfortable with the standards we’re used to, or to protect ourselves from a stranger looking too closely at them or making comments. The gym needs to be a safe space to accept your body and watch the progress happen, but the looks we get just for taking off a shirt to expose as much skin as the man next to us makes us feel like we are in. ‘being back in high school, moments away from being called to the principals office because our exposed bellies were too distracting for our classmates.
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