When I visit countries like Sri Lanka and India, the trip is often soured by men staring at women like me.
Well, there could be many reasons for it.
But often, I believe it’s because I choose to wear clothes that are different to what society expects there.
I choose to wear what makes me feel happy.
Sometimes, the women will stare too. And I actually find that worse.
It pains me to witness women judging other women for having the courage to wear what they like in public.
Especially since I know they either learned to view my appearance as “slutty”, or they wish they had the freedom to dress the same.
As an Asian woman, I find this beyond backwards, and heartbreaking. It’s a picture of a broken society and it desperately needs to change.
These cultural “norms” are only holding these countries back, in an attempt to control women and keep them down and away from their power.
When will we finally stop shaming women for what they wear?
The fashion options for young women in Asian countries like Sri Lanka are dire. They export huge volumes of clothing for big brands in the UK and the US, yet no one seems to care about what people are wearing here.
That, or there simply isn’t the demand for anything else because women feel like they aren’t allowed to wear it, regardless of how much they want to.
Part of me is desperate to dive back into my fashion design roots, and start a business in these countries. And sell nothing but gorgeous mini skirts, crop tops, bikinis, and sexy lingerie; and tell the patriarchy to go fuck themselves.
Temperatures hit 30+ degrees in these countries every day, and it’s humid as hell. How are women walking around in jeans, and heavy skirts that always fall below the knee?
On the rare occasions when they dip into the beautiful oceans here, they still cover up in t-shirts and knee length shorts.
Because men are free to walk down the street bare chested, in nothing but a – sometimes very – short sarong here.
Yet if a woman was to walk down the street in a bikini?
There would be absolute mayhem.
That’s the patriarchal society that we live in at work for you.
I often wonder, don’t these women get bored wearing the same dreary, shapeless clothes every day?
Don’t they get frustrated seeing tourists like me stripping off at the beach, and loving life in a bikini?
Don’t they get tired of going into old fashioned clothing stores with their mum, and having to buy the same dull and shapeless things every time they need or want new clothes?
I’m sure they do.
But I get it.
I understand that the society they are born into, and the families they come from look down on girls and women wearing “skimpy” clothing.
Women – like me – are made to feel dirty, cheap, and shamed if they dare to expose too much skin.
Even though I was born and raised in the UK, I grew up with similar opinions in my household.
I have always been into fashion, and enjoy pushing the boundaries when it comes to my wardrobe choices. I love my body, and I adorn it however I want to each day. What I choose to wear each day is for me, and nobody else.
But while living with my parents in my late teens and early twenties, I constantly faced a backlash of judgement like, “you’ll attract the wrong kind of men wearing that,” and, “you look cheap.”
Comments like these tell us our worth as women is determined solely by how we look. Something which our patriarchal society teaches us from birth.
I don’t doubt for a second that my parents love me; yet they held a belief that what they were saying was the truth, and in my best interest to hear.
Except it wasn’t.
All those opinions did was perpetuate the shaming and blaming of girls and women.
It’s those same opinions that continue to feed rape culture. Women who have faced the ordeal of sexual assault come up against degrading questions like, “what were you wearing?”
By dressing myself however I desired, I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong. And no matter which choice I made, I would always lose.
If I chose to listen to them and change my outfit, I was signing up to the belief that my female body and sexuality should be covered up, because it’s dangerous and dirty.
If I ignored them – which, most of the time I did because, fuck them – the damage was already done.
I now felt cheap, no matter how much I disagreed with what they said. And I had to live in fear of attracting the attention of some creep, because that seed they planted in my head would tell me I had attracted it.
And this is why if we are ever sexually assaulted, so many of us make excuses, and somehow believe it was our own fault. Not his, but ours. Because we are taught to by our own parents, and the society we live in.
It’s time to stop shaming women for what they wear.
I don’t know whether I’ll have kids yet or not. But I’ve made a promise to myself that if I ever have a daughter, I’m going to allow her to be free in making decisions about the clothes she wears.
Because when we tell little girls that they shouldn’t wear something, out of fear of them being objectified; we only end up further contributing to the objectification of girls and women.
And I will teach her that if people choose to stare or whisper, it’s because they are trapped in archaic, patriarchal conditioning. They are yet to know any better.
But we do know better.
I refuse to cover up my body, in an attempt to prevent a man from thinking about his sexual desires.
I refuse to accept any blame or shame for men being unable to control themselves.
That is not our responsibility as women – it is theirs.
We need to stop shaming women for what they wear.
My wardrobe choices are not, and never will be, up for discussion.
If my skin, my body, or my clothes offend you or give you a boner; that’s your problem, not mine.
If I want to wear a crop top and a pair of shorts as I walk down the street, I will. And I’ll own it.
I think it’s on us to pave the way forward for girls and women in these countries, and show them that it’s okay to wear clothes that your parents or grandparents tell you not to wear.
It’s your right to wear whatever you want. And that doesn’t make you easy, or slutty, or cheap.
Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re doing something wrong by embracing your sexual energy, and adorning your beautiful body.
And to begin with, people will stare.
They always stare at the rebel children. The ones who push and prod the boundaries, and make their own rules.
But soon enough they’ll get bored, because they’ll be used to it.
By standing up for our right to wear what we want, we’ll teach them we cannot be controlled or silenced.
And by speaking about this, in time, they will learn that women’s bodies do not exist on this earth for men’s pleasure.
Collectively, we have the power to shift things.
We have the power, as men and women, to stop shaming women for what they wear. To stop controlling them, and help them reclaim their freedom. To honour and celebrate the divine feminine within us all.
Praise for Bloom by Shani Jay
“I read Bloom in one night. I started feeling hopeless and pushed down. Shani picked me up, dusted me off, and guided me to self-love in a few short hours with only print. Truly inspiring” – Rebecca Barnoff