Maryann White, a mother with four sons—apparently some of which attend Notre Dame—wrote a letter to the editor of the Observer, the school’s student newspaper, imploring young women not to wear the clingy, spandex leggings that are so popular with women (and have been for a long time).
What’s the Big Deal
You can read her letter for yourself, but it seems to me that her chief concerns are for:
—her sons and men in general who can’t not see women in front of them dressed provocatively and
—for women who continue to be treated as objects instead of people.
Now, you can be sure that I agree with this Catholic mom, concerned for her sons and for young women who could use some good motherly advice about modesty. However, I have a slightly different concern.
The Nude Beach Myth
Don’t anybody jump to conclusions here—I’ve never been to a nude beach, although when my family and I first moved to Long Island from Gun Barrel City, Texas (almost thirteen years ago), we almost walked onto one by accident while visiting Robert Moses beach.
The myth of the nude beach—which one might expect to find in all its glory in the minds of adolescent young men—is that a nude beach is a place where beautiful people lounge freely, sans clothing. However, it seems to me that one might also expect to see middle-aged or elderly people there as well, sporting bulges and bumps and wrinkles an inch deep and skin so stuffed full of the last forty years worth of pizza and Ding Dongs that you wonder how they made it to the beach and people who just like to be naked and not because someone said they look good that way. I’m just saying! Why do we imagine that only beautiful people show up at nude beaches when maybe none of them do? This brings me to my point.
Not Every Woman’s Body is Made for Leggings!
I’m not trying to be critical or hurt any woman’s feelings. Truly! Maryann White, the Notre Dame mom, worries about women being objectified and men being placed in situations where they can’t not ogle women dressed immodestly. But the flip-side of the argument is that not every woman—not most women—who wear leggings are creating rooms filled with sexual tension! Is anybody smelling what I’m cooking? Is anyone picking up what I’m laying down? Do I have to say it?! Ladies, the leggings are not flattering your bodies! You better believe that if I decided to wear a speedo to the city pool or the beach there are plenty of people in my life who would advise me to reconsider. (In my case, I suspect pure strangers would find the courage to tell me as well!) No amount of “comfort” could get me to go out in public that way. But if I did, should I be surprised that people might say something?
Rights Versus Reason
Look, in the end, you can do what you want. And you can blame it on men and say they should look the other direction. But you open yourselves up to either ogling or criticism when you decide to enter the public square wearing the near equivalent to pantyhose.
Here’s my challenge:
1. Take a picture of yourself wearing your favorites leggings “get-up” so that you have a realistic frame of reference.
2. Google pics of women wearing leggings.
3. Google “epic leggings fails.”
Now, assess where you are on the spectrum between provocative and the other thing, and take responsibility for what you wear in public.
One Last Word
This is not about the need to conform to cultural demands placed upon women to look perfect. It is about not letting the ones you love open themselves up either to improper sexual objectification or (in the case of the other thing), ridicule.