Bra Shaming and Slut Shaming

We live in a world in which wearing a bra is a given. You hit puberty, someone takes you to get your first bra.

I understand why my not wearing a bra would be considered questionable. I don’t not wear a bra specifically as a show of feminist activism or to piss off the patriarchy, but I will say that the feminist within me is revved up about constantly being judged for it. 

When I was in seventh grade, I hated the way my first real bra from Victoria’s Secret —  a chunky thing with tan straps — looked slinking out of my tops. I used to feel like I was just waiting or that moment of freedom, that gasp of fresh air, when I finally returned home and could peel the thing off from under my shirt. 

So, at a certain point, I stopped caring and never wore a bra again. If it didn’t feel good, why wear it?

My chest was a modest C in high school, but I honestly just felt better in my clothes and skin without the restraints of bra straps and underwire. Now, in college, I go to class in sweats half the time and haven’t owned a bra in years. I’m still the same type-A, perfectionist girl who’s good with parents and teachers — just bra-less. Nevertheless, people always seem to be making assumptions about why I’ve made this stylistic choice. 

Other times, when people ask why I have so little regard for bras and my now D cup chest being exposed at all times, there is a lingering whiff of judgement; there’s an underlying tone that questions my womanly integrity and wants to label me as a slut. 

Historically, the womanly figure was regarded as a sort of siren-esque temptation in which women only served to distract and corrupt righteous men. Kristen Houghton noted for the Huffington Post how breasts have, more often than not, been either hyper-sexualized or regarded as sinful and dirty. Historically art has greatly accentuated and sexually appraised curvaceous, feminine bodies and ample breasts. Houghton points out how, in the nineteenth century, society shifted back to its prior, more biblical views of shame and discomfort towards female nakedness.

Today, however, it seems as though a woman’s body (namely her breasts) are always compartmentalized into one of these two views. Why is there no middle ground of indifference?

This is not to say that breasts don’t have their rightful place in sexual attraction, but the ways in which this sexualization follows a woman outside of the bedroom teaches her to be embarrassed and ashamed of her assets. This attitude also creates environments in which women’s intelligence and abilities are undermined by her physical appearance. UK professor and author Sarah Churchwell calls this the “Monroe Syndrome.” A phenomenon in which a woman’s identity in the workplace and the merits of her career tend to be overshadowed by their level of sex appeal. Named for Marilyn Monroe, whose reputation and work was always contextualized based on her physical appearance.

Churchwell also notes that while male biographers, even men who identified as gay, consistently discussed and applauded Monroe’s implicit sex appeal, female biographers seemed to “condescend her from a great height”, patronize, and even pity her. Again, here we see the two polar plains on which women’s bodies are judged: either through sexual appeal or on the basis of condescension and disgust. 

Even as my body has grown into womanhood along with — well, me — I haven’t felt particularly different or more vulnerable by not wearing a bra. There is no deeply rooted, anti-patriarchy-fueled reasoning behind this decision — I simply just don’t feel like it. 

I am not offended by a culture that normalizes and romanticizes bra-wearing, nor do I judge or think less of the millions of women who wear bras to feel more comfortable (or even sexier) in their skin. I am, however, offended by others’ need to assert the reasons why my not wearing one offends them.

Their feelings about my body are superficially fueled: I haven’t demonstrated any inappropriate actions or spoken of anything disrespectful, and there isn’t some glaring character flaw that I have that causes them to glare and be distracted by the outline of my breasts in a T-shirt. It is the idea of my physical body, staring them in the face, that makes them wholly unsettled and unable to think of me as anything more than this body that I live in. Because of my lack of coverage and obvious ignorance to their discomfort, I am no longer seen as a dignified adult with class, manners, or self respect. Even if I’m wearing seemingly appropriate or “conservative” clothes with no cleavage bared, the mere outline of my breasts are enough to marginalize who I am and categorize me as distasteful. 

Most people close to me don’t even notice it at this point. To them, I am just as I always am. Meanwhile, others have implied that those who don’t know me personally may get the wrong first impression and assume that I am unprofessional or inappropriate. I would argue that maybe they shouldn’t have been focusing on my chest in the first place.

I’d like to note that yes, I recognize that others are completely entitled to feeling uncomfortable by being exposed to a young woman’s more intimate body parts. It’s no surprise that centuries of breast coverage and the sexualization of women’s chests have wired us to gawk and grow unsettled by these regions being exposed. Further, my future employers, older family members, friends’ parents, and other people who I may address more formally are all folks that I would always choose to dress more conservatively in front of as a sign of respect and self-preservation. I would never go into a job interview or to dinner with my boyfriend’s parents with my nipples staring daggers at everyone in the room. Because yes — I am also capable of recognizing that these are settings in which their comfort matters just a little more than mine. 

This all being said, is it not time to redefine how we, as a society, view women’s breasts?

For the time being, I can respect others’ boundaries in more formal settings and cover myself up to avoid any distractions or discomfort. On the other hand, why should my not wearing a bra automatically connote a lack of class or self respect? Am I less qualified for a job, less capable of making sound and mature decisions, or less intelligent for having this particular body part outlined under my clothing? Does my choice to not wear a bra mean that I am a “slut”? That I am concertedly making this choice to feed into my own sexualization and attract male or female attention? Social narratives and norms would argue so. 

I am not trying to impose how I feel on anyone else; everyone is entitled to dress and wear clothing in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable in their skin. For me, I won’t be wearing bras simply because I don’t feel like it. To me, a boob is a boob. An areola is an areola. It is a region of my body that I don’t feel like dropping hundreds of dollars on to uncomfortably cover up.

To those who love to buy new bras and feel more confident in a sexy lingerie set, who wear bras to help with back pain or need extra breast support, or those who wear bras because they feel better in their clothes with one — I salute you. 

And for those who are uncomfortable with my choice, I would suggest you keep your eyes away from my chest and look me in the face when we encounter each other. If someone wants to judge my intelligence, my choices, or my level of self respect based on my appearance or this choice to not wear a bra, then I’m not sure they even have the capacity to judge me fairly as a person to begin with. 

 

Photo via Giphy.com 

The Hidden Price of Sugaring

“I like your lips. And your eyes and your arms around me. I feel like we connect.”

This is what he whispered in my ear as we kissed in my parked car outside his apartment. He held my face away from his and looked into my eyes. An hour before we had met at a bar. It was our second date. He greeted me when I walked in with a friendly hug but immediately averted eye contact. “Want a drink?” 

I could tell he had already been drinking. He was more talkative than the first time we met, where I spoke almost the entire time, enjoying the way he laughed at my half-hearted attempts at jokes to ease the tension. Tonight, he was more open, his words coming out less forced. I tried to make more of an effort to smile, ask questions, widen my eyes at his stories. 

I was here because I needed money. 

But I was also here because I wanted to know why they were here. The answer turned out to be a lot more complicated than I thought. To have one reason for why people use sugaring sites would be to create a single story, a generalization. What I found instead was that sugaring is only one part, or rather one consequence of the complex socio-economic and political capitalist web we all find ourselves within. 

Of course in an ideal world, intimacy wouldn’t be transactional. It wouldn’t be a question asked and a wad of cash exchanged from one closed palm to an outstretched one. Ideally, it would be motivated by that magnetic pull we cannot see but believe to exist because we feel it to. Relationships are not, as the founder of the website SeekingArrangement claims, superficial arrangements that we engage in to get what we want. Although services are indeed exchanged in personal relationships, there is not always an unspoken “arrangement” that we are conscious of in the giving; rather, these exchanges come from something far more emotional and instinctive than calculated. 

But here human contact, physical or verbal, is a service provided. It is an arrangement written out in contract. And they are here because the alternative – to never touch or be touched – seems. worse. 

Last week I met a man at a Starbucks. We sat at a table outside that he said looked discreet. Almost immediately, he told me that he experienced mood swings that his therapist attributed to loneliness. I was surprised by his candor; he had at first seemed so confident and self-assured, but now a new layer appeared in his body, exposing his nervousness, eyes flicking back and forth. “Why are you so calm?” He asked me. 

He told me he had never done this before. I told him I had. He confessed that he hadn’t been with a woman in two years. “But I don’t want a relationship,” he told me, “just intimacy.” 

He reported in a business-like manner that he would pay me each time we were intimate, a word that suddenly struck me as odd in our current context. In this moment a discomfort, or maybe even a sadness was beginning to form in the pit of my stomach, perhaps inspired by the absurdity of our current situation: an older man and a 22-year-old woman sitting across from one another at a Starbucks discussing the price of intimacy. I was lost for words, attempting to conceptualize an intimacy that exists isolated from a relationship: an intimacy that is performed. I wanted to tell him that this was delusional, that dissociating intimacy from a relationship was forgetting that every time you authentically express intimacy, a relationship of some kind is formed. If intimacy is a service provided, is it intimacy at all? But I didn’t tell him any of that. 

At a hotel room, close to work, we met for an hour. I gave him my mind and my body and he gave me five hundred dollars in cash; to him it was a traditional relationship stripped to its bare bones, without any superfluous time spent or energy expended. Only the minimal requirements, an experience that offered a cathartic mental and physical release, then abruptly ended.

By most who engage in it, it is not considered sex work. I don’t know if it is or not, and I don’t think it makes a difference either way. There’s nothing wrong with sex work for people who are fulfilled by doing it. But the fact remains that he was not only paying for sex, because he could do that a lot more cheaply and easily. What he paid me for is the creation and maintenance of a specific illusion, namely, the illusion of intimacy. He pays to be able to control how much time we spend together, when and where we spend our time, and the nature of the time spent. He pays to curate the experience of intimacy he wants. 

As I made my way back to my car from the hotel room, a voice in my head was saying something isn’t right, and this voice stayed with me as I drove away clutching the cash close to my body. Something wasn’t right and this something wasn’t simply the fact that I was selling my body for sex. I expected to feel uncomfortable from that and in some ways don’t have too much of a problem with the idea of having sex for money. What wasn’t right to me was something more personal, more political, and ultimately more surprising than my distaste for the transactional sex. 

We grow up convinced that our personal value is determined by how much money we make, because money is the dominant societal indicator of value. I know this is true because of the inferiority I feel at making less money than most of my friends and family, like I am somehow worth less as a person. The men, on the other hand, come here because they have enough money to pay for anything they want, including “intimacy.” 

However, at its core, our capitalist economic and political system continues to exist because of the hidden consequences of our economic system. These consequences remain on the far periphery of our minds as long as no one says a word. Think environmental destruction alongside economic growth, or a minimum wage that is far too low in most places to ensure a quality standard of living. 

It is an avoidance of truth, an avoidance practiced so habitually in our daily lives that it comes easily. As long as the price paid is swept under the rug, we will continue to avert our eyes and look at what is put in front of us. We will continue to seek out the illusion no matter the cost because the alternative, to question and demand and live differently is far too daunting.  

And I was willing to play along. Inflating their ego and returning home with cash made it worth it — almost. But what was swept under the rug? What line was crossed? Was it seeing that the monetary and transactional values that characterize our capitalist system had seeped into the practice of intimacy, one of the last things that I truly believed defies the power of capitalism? Definitely. Because of their wealth, these men can attempt to manipulate intimacy into something under their control. But it was also more than that. 

After he pressed the cash into my hand at the hotel room, I felt a rush. I felt a rush because having money made me feel powerful. But when I left the taste of him was in my mouth, the smell of him on my clothes. It’s hard to explain what that feels like. It’s hard to explain how intimacy with someone I don’t feel intimate with makes me feel, or if I can even begin to describe what intimacy is here. 

I acknowledge that I am in a place of privilege. Although sleeping with men for money would make my life a lot more comfortable at this point in my life, I am not in a desperate situation. Not yet, at least. But sugaring is not empowering for me anymore because it requires me to avoid the truth that I am engaging in a system I cannot ethically support. Sugaring, in encouraging the creation of transactional relationships, also encourages a practice of “intimacy” that ultimately benefits men. Other forms of sex work don’t necessarily aim to construct such a controlled illusion of intimacy; they are straightforward about the service and the reward. 

But here I do not know what I am supposed to offer, and I do not know if it will ever be enough, even after I am stripped of my clothes and my sense of autonomy in the face of being literally paid to perform intimacy for them. I resent playing a part in a system that supports men in the belief that they can pay for emotional and physical intimacy, and use their money to buy control over every aspect of a personal relationship. I even more strongly resent that I gain any source of validation from this part that I play. 

Sugaring gives power to exactly the system, namely capitalism, that fails to value my moral code, my mental and physical health, my gender, and the marginalized identities of other humans living in this world. It supports a capitalistic way of viewing relationships, and one that benefits the men that engage in it far more than the women. 

I want to be asking myself how I can radically challenge the structures of capitalism rather than trying to benefit from it, and by doing so, also support the people who benefit the most from it.

 

 Photo by Daniela Guevara

 

So I’m Not a Virgin Anymore

I don’t even know what song was playing. If you read my previous article you know that that was kind of a big deal for me.

He didn’t love me and I didn’t love him so for the sake of protecting my feelings I lowered all expectations. It was naïve of me to expect the fictional fireworks, but I’d be lying if I denied part of me wanted that.  We had hooked up before and I had shut down his advances because I was nervous, scared even.

I keep on wondering what made this time different. Maybe it was because of the hug he gave me when he walked into my room. Maybe it was the jokes that he cracked while I laid my head on his chest. Or maybe it was the promises he made of all of the Pinterest worthy things we would do after.

Regardless, it happened.

There wasn’t any dedicated foreplay, whispers of sweet nothings, or really any indication that he felt anything for me, but I wanted him so badly in that moment that it didn’t matter. Initially, the sex felt great until my mind convinced me otherwise. He’s using you, circled around in my head — but I ignored it and tried to re-focus on the way that he held my hand. We went for a few rounds and he finished each time and each time the voice in my head grew louder. I silenced it, distracting myself with the way he traced lines over my skin and played with my hair.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am clueless on a Cher Horowitz level when it comes to intimacy, so I took these as signs that he had to care about me. That even though virginity is a construct, he acknowledged what I had “given” to him. At least, I chose to believe this as I lay awake, my mind too chaotic to sleep as he snored beside me, his arm wrapped around my body. I forced myself to believe this until even the morning when I realized he had left without saying goodbye. 

I finally started to stop believing it when he Snapchatted me a random picture that had nothing to do with our night. When I saw her stumbling to his room with another girl the day later, I realized how childish I had actually been.

I grew up Catholic, therefore the guilt of premarital sex hung above my head. I allowed the shame I was taught in church to steal away my appetite and interrupt my sleep.

Things got a little better when the dam of emotions broke and I finally gave a tearful confession to my less religious mother who assured me that I hadn’t done anything wrong. That what I did with him was natural. I was an adult, after all. Something I sometimes forget.

For the sake of complete transparency, I will admit that I am not sure if I regret it or not. I turn it over and over in my head and I can’t decipher the emotions that come along with the thoughts. I do wish that I would’ve taken more time to get to know who he genuinely was so that I could have spared myself the feelings of disappointment.

And though this retelling of events was a total bummer, it’s true what they say… you never forget your first anything.

 

Photo courtesy of the STAA Collective