Warmer weather shifts many of our wardrobes: no need for a thick jacket, more freedom to wear t-shirts and maybe a sundress on the especially warm days.
But sometimes wearing fewer layers and embracing the warmth can have a chilling effect for those — specifically femme individuals — who express themselves in their physical presentation.
Women and femme-presenting individuals have their bodies picked at, critiqued and obsessed over persistently. It does get worse seasonally. When pants become shorts and turtlenecks turn into tank tops, some people think that gives them license to pass judgements on people walking down the street.
Catcalls and verbal harassment on the streets are one harmful aspect, but what is even more sinister is everything that is unsaid: all of the just-too-long glances and the lingering eyes that burn into the back of your head, which results in the constant pulling down of a skirt or the adjusting of a shirt.
Being perceived can make you feel like there are spiders crawling over you — it is the feeling of dozens of eyeballs glued to every piece of exposed skin, and during the long summer months it can be a lot.
Women are always the object: of affection, of interest, of desire, and often without their consent. When femme bodies are ‘on display’ by simply existing, the people who live in those bodies day-to-day deal with the struggles of being constantly interrupted as they try to go about their days.
Existing as a woman includes a lot of checkpoints — each one guarded by people who are not female or femme-presenting. Choices are always going to be met with opinions that undermine the person whose life is affected.
Clothing is a big issue — as far as being open to unwanted criticism — because it is the most visible thing on our bodies. When an outfit can directly link in people’s minds with sex, it corrodes any semblance of humanity and leaves femme individuals to feel like an object meant to parade for others’ pleasure, not their own.
This lack of sovereignty over femme bodies begins far back into childhood. School dress codes and their infamous ‘fingertip rules’ govern the length of a girl’s shorts — because if they stop at your wrists, you risk becoming the top distraction.
From the start of adolescence, femme individuals are told they should cover up and that their bodies are a disturbance to others. This mentality can hinder even the most confident girls — are they expected to police their bodies their whole life? It is an impossible task, and a great deal of people are able to move past — or at least, ignore — the archaic standards by which a femme body should adhere to.
In the summer heat, beach days are an impossible and fruitless mission for femmes: if it is a family trip, there is no way you can wear that new bikini because your father and uncle are going to be there. Or if it is just a group of girlfriends going together, you don’t want to attract too much attention — but why are they staring in the first place, what does it concern them? Is it because society has linked femme bodies to sex and sexuality?
How are women and femme individuals supposed to feel comfortable adorning their bodies in beautiful clothing? Do they sacrifice their creative expression in order to draw less attention — an effort that may be pointless — or accept that people will look and pass internal judgements, but be empowered by embracing individuality? In my opinion, the answer is unclear because femmes cannot be expected to self-regulate nor should men who leer and objectify them.
What needs to be broken is the connection between a femme body and the implication that it serves only a sexual or visually appealing purpose.