I had a dress code until I was 28 years old.
What was physically forced on me then became my choice, as it was forced within my psyche.
A year and a half ago, at 31 years old, I told myself I was beautiful, and I actually believed it for the very first time.
After reflecting on my thoughts, the words of my partner, and photos, I realized I had body dysmorphia.
My whole life my body has been scrutinized.
I’ve been told I was “pretty for a Black girl.”
I’ve been made to feel less than in intelligence and looks by those in “white spaces”
and then forced to endure the oppression and humiliation from my own people loudly & publicly discussing my body
In elementary school my butt was the town’s talk.
It made me very insecure and I was always trying to hide it–to detract attention from it.
I didn’t understand guys teased me for it because they desired it, and girls teased me for the very same reason.
My mom was always full of encouragement, but the narrative of many peers can drown out the truth.
It makes an impact.
I often think about the literal fool that claimed, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We all know the truth now that we’re older, and healing or struggling through the false narratives foisted upon us in an impressionable age.
It was the 90s, so some 70s fashion was in. We had platforms shoes, shorter tops and skin tight pants in bold colors. I went to the mall with my mom and sister and got the cutest silky baby blue top with dark blue and white flowers. Deep cobalt blue skin tight pants that flared at the ankles completed the look. I loved how I looked but was concerned about wearing a shirt that didn’t cover my butt. My mom encouraged me that I looked amazing and uttered similar words the following day on the way to school; still I was questioning. So I wore the outfit with confidence.
During one of the breaks, I remember this agitator who was a grade younger, came up to me and told me I looked like a prostitute.
My 7th-12th grade years were spent at the same school, a Jr. Sr. combo. Cool to be with your friends 6 years, (or longer as many of us attended some of the same elementary schools) but not so cool to be stuck with the same mean-spirited teachers. One of the parents turned faculty that followed and bullied me the last 8 years at LBBES was becoming staff at the Jr.Sr. high as well. Fun.
In one of my initial LFWW posts I mentioned being 1 out of about 15 Black kids in a majority white school of 500.
This matters for many reasons, but particularly in this situation because of the racial dynamics. And because we had a strict dress code. And I had an ass.
I was targeted and harassed by the white female staff members for dress code for 6 years. Because of my figure I was personally banned from wearing shorts and skirts. My slender and long legged sister had also been banned from wearing shorts years earlier. Certain items of my clothing were told to never be worn again, despite some of my classmates owning the very same attire.
My favorite formfitting white dress pants with thin black pinstripes were flattering and chic. They were pocketless and they were fantastic.
By 10th grade I was starting to become less insecure about my butt, and these pants were so amazing that I strived to get over it for fashion’s sake!
Mrs. Edmundson, yes I’m calling her out. All transparency here. We all need to be held accountable for the injustices we create and contribute to.
So like most days, Mrs. Edmundson was on the war path for me. If she couldn’t harass me about dress code, she’d try to find a way to exert control over me somehow or make a snarky remark.
So I’m wearing my favorite white and black pinstripe pants with my baby pink fitted shirt and matching suede belt with a silver buckle. Of course I had on pink shoes to match, and I might have had a pale pink ribbon in my hair as a headband, it was my thing.
I can just see her disgruntled face now, scrunched up with hate for me as she marched across the lawn. “You can’t wear those pants again!”
Part of her distaste for me was that I always stood up for myself, and respectfully, though she knew I didn’t like her. My mother always gave me reasons when a question was posed to her, and I saw no reason why everyone else shouldn’t be just as honest and open. Especially if you’re bossing me around.
Her face contorted as she spoke forcefully, “Because they’re too tight!”
“But that’s not against dress code.”
“You look provocative. Don’t wear them again!”
My poem “Plantation Wife” covers this sort of woman, and the interactions between white females and Black females today, that reflects the past of jealousy-linked oppression.
I never wore those pants to school again, and had to watch my slender white classmate where the very same ones whenever she so chose.
In college I was free!
But then I wasn’t. Because it was a Christian college and so that meant certain unspoken rules and snide judgey comments from other girls.
My second tattoo, Psalms 119:2, my favorite chapter in the whole Bible and a passage of Scripture that is just so me & God, is very special to me. I got it tattooed in Aramaic on my lower back, the perfect space to hold such length and also be hidden if I desired.
I was walking around campus enjoying the nice weather in a short top, when the best friend duo who were slightly obnoxious girls (always fought for center of attention and overlaughed–loudly), stopped me for conversation. They asked about my tattoo and I spoke of the significance it held for me. They responded, “Why would you get a bible verse above your ass?” “Ya, a tramp stamp.”
My first real boyfriend.
A year and a half of neglect and emotional abuse.
At 20 I was still a waiting-for-marriage virgin and pretty conservative.
Sometimes eyeing me, he once told me he didn’t like me wearing certain outfits if I wasn’t with him–or at all.
Yet when I came to him horrified, and told him how his five year old (highly manipulative and stubborn) brother had been hiding under the bed in my boyfriend’s room, and had only come out once I’d finished lotioning my entire body after coming from the shower; he didn’t chastise him or comfort me, he high-fived and laughed with the boy.
A few had said I looked like a prostitute, but this boyfriend actually treated me like one. I was for grabbing, using, abusing. Knowing my anxiety when having to walk past groups of men that usually aggressively shouted sexually explicit comments about my figure,(It’s an LA thing) I’d stick close to him when we went clubbing. And yet he would purposefully walk slowly or stop so I would be left to walk alone in front of him, on display to approving males at the club. No matter how many times I confronted him about this, it would always happen again. He loved to see guys hit on me and/or leer. I was to be admired. I was his trophy.
Victoria Secret. Macys. CSC (security).
At Victoria secret the mean female boss took me off the schedule for 2 weeks, because I wore my new leopard print skirt with a black blouse, blazer and heels. We were only allowed to wear black on our lower half she said.
A Macy’s manager said my outfit wasn’t acceptable and I would have to go home or buy something at the store. As I purchased a new outfit I couldn’t afford, I tried to understand why a long top paired with a long & fitted vest over black leggings with black boots wasn’t ok to sell shoes. How was that “inappropriate.” Finding clothes that fit my shape, looked professional, and were comfortable enough to handle an 8-hr shift on cement floors bearing the gift of shoes left and right to demanding people like f-ing santa, was a challenge. My manager was a full-figured Black woman, so I was let down twice.
Working security was HARD. Despite having to be people’s buzzkill at concerts, and dealing with drunken attitudes and behaviors, the majority of the staff was male. Knowing my figure often drew too much attention, I purposefully purchased over large mens clothing and disgusting old man velcro shoes. It wasn’t a deterrent in the least, and the sexual harassment didn’t end the higher up positions ran.
One chief supervisor commented that my pants were too big. I wore my suit pants with my security shirt/jacket, and he said my pants were too tight, after noticing his and others’ reactions.
Coworkers hollered or made comments about my body, while supervisors stayed with me on my post (I couldn’t walk away from) and continuously asked me out while suggestively complimenting me.
A male coworker I later lamented to about a persistent drunk man repeatedly trying to kiss me while I was stuck on post, said that he’d seen it but I was smiling and looked like I was enjoying myself so he didn’t bother. He failed to realized I was grinning and bearing it the best I could under the circumstances.
Long story short, this is the job where I met the man who raped me, and who was then protected by the company from me once I decided not to press charges. Oh and I had to work with him 4 times after he raped me.
At one event he was even promoted to supervisor for the day.
POEM– “Under Siege”
My body has been under siege–
Under scrutiny since I was a child,
Under attack until I reached my 30s.
My passed judgement for what other women chose to wear,
was a bitter and jealous unrealized reaction, because I desired their freedom-
To not believe that they were “responsible for keeping their Christian brothers from temptation.”
I wondered how it would feel to wear leggings with a crop top
To be able to wear something because you enjoyed it,
and you didn’t have to consider if it made you look provocative or “like a prostitute”
Questions I’d use as measuring sticks against my outfits before stepping out
Phrases I’d forgotten had long ago been fed to me
I only allowed a “sexier” version of myself to appear for clubbing or Halloween-freedom days;
The words spoken by teasing boys, jealous girls, hateful women, abusive boyfriends, ignorant guys hollering from streets and cars—tormenting me, constricting me from being fully me
My body is not shameful.
My body is not temptation.
My body is not provocative unless I desire.
My body is not free for grabbing.
My body is not free for using.
My body is not free for taking.
My body is beautiful,
And my body is my own.
ASL | 2.20.2020
A Woke Woman