It's 2016, yet some people still can't grasp the concept that what a woman wears isn't typically an indication of how likely she is to have sex with you. Just ask feminist hero Amber Rose, who recently explained consent on an episode of It's Not You, It's Men. During that experience, Rose said, "If I’m laying down with a man — butt-naked — and his condom is on, and I say, ‘You know what? No. I don’t want to do this. I changed my mind,’ that means no. That means f-ing no. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I have on, when I say no, it means no."
As someone who tends to dress pretty revealing because that's the kind of clothing that I like, I am faced with this basic lack of understanding of consent on a constant basis, both online and IRL. I like wearing bras as tops, and that has nothing to do with my sexual appetite insomuch as it's part of my personal style. My clothing gets me far more negative attention and slut shaming than one might expect, but I refuse to change the way I dress simply because of the responses it garners.
I did, however, decide that I wanted to document what happens when I wear revealing clothing both on the Internet and in my day to day. I wondered whether I'd encounter much of a difference, or if revealing clothing would lead to harassment across the board. Here's what happened.
1. Bikini Babes
I know that to some people, a bikini isn't necessarily considered "revealing," but since it does show a lot of skin, I felt it was a fit for this experiment. I wore it IRL to an indoor water park in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. I went with my best friend, who is also plus size and who was also wearing a bikini, and I asked her to take note of any reactions she observed as well. The truth is that even in this extremely crowded venue, no one really had anything to say about our swimwear. I didn't notice any more staring than usual. And we had bigger issues trying to find an inner-tube to use on the lazy river than we did with wearing bikinis in public.
Online, this photo quickly became my most-liked Instagram picture ever, garnering 1,100+ likes and 44 comments. One comment read, "It's great to see more women loving their bodies and being confident," while others wrote, "They rocking them suits." The comments, even the ones I had to plug into Google translate, were mostly all positive. Save for ones that makes me cringe, like, "Wow... looking so sexy my style." I immediately blocked this person, but for the sake of this experiment, left the comment even though reading it still makes me feel uncomfortable.
2. Crop Top Queen
When I wore this outfit IRL, I was going to a networking luncheon for the local LGBT Chamber Of Commerce. My mom sits on the board and she told me to dress professionally, so I wore this. Since my chest was fully covered and my skirt was knee-length, I felt like this outfit was a good compromise. It was still revealing, but everyone I talked to at the event said they could tell I was involved in fashion and were impressed to learn that the crop top was one of my designs. After the event, I went outside to take photos on the streets of Cleveland, and while I was doing so, someone walked by and sarcastically said to the person he was with, "Oh, I have that same look in my closet." I rolled my eyes and kept striking poses.
I was excited to share these photos online because despite that stranger's commentary, I really liked this look. It turns out that people on the Web did, too. Someone wrote, "This may be one of my favorite looks on you recently," while someone else said, "Super cute and sexy at the same time." The word "sexy" coming from a person I trust felt so much different than the previous bikini comment from a strange man who I didn't know. While his felt like entitlement over my body, hers felt like a genuine compliment. The contrast between the two made me think a lot about how much context is necessary for me to process comments like this.
3. Short Skirt
This skirt got shorter and shorter as the day went on. I looked around for people walking by every time I got in and out of my car because there was really no way to do so gracefully. I loved the way it looked in the photos, but wearing it IRL was a challenge. I was very conscious of its length, and it was more out of my comfort zone than showing my stomach. I shot these images under a major highway underpass and there were a lot of cars driving by. I expected to receive cat calls and honks, but I encountered none of that (much to my relief). I went to dinner later that evening at my friend's house whose parents are pretty conservative, and I decided to be safe and borrow a pair of her sweatpants for dinner instead.
Online, this skirt was a hit and no one seemed to notice how short it was. The comments included, "Love this entire outfit," and, "Need that skirt!" None of the remarks made me uncomfortable in the least.
4. Exposed Bra Babeness
For the sake of this experiment, I asked my best friend to also wear a top that showed her bra. IRL, I thought that my knit top with holes in it really highlighted my bra, but my best friend said she didn't feel like it was really that revealing. I wore it all day at my studio as well as to a body positive circle that I attended that evening, and no one really had anything negative to say. My best friend wore it on a date, and her date said that she looked uncomfortable and that her look "sends the wrong message." I kind of wished that had happened to me so I could've used it as an opportunity to educate him about the fact that we need to teach men not to harass women, rather than change how women dress in order to avoid harassment.
Online, this photo didn't get a super detailed reaction compared to some of the other looks. Jessica Kane of Skorch Magazine said, "Exposed babeness," and bra company Curvy Couture Intimates co-signed the look.
5. Lingerie As Outerwear
I previously experimented with wearing lingerie as outerwear, so I felt like I was pretty prepared for whatever might happen when I wore this longline bra set from FullBeauty as a top. Personally, I thought it really looked like a shirt, but my bestie assured me that it looked like a bra. I felt really confident in this look, though, and even when I wore it to a super small town in the middle of nowhere Ohio, no one had anything negative to say. I took these photos in front of a storage locker because in the small town, it was either that or corn fields. Later that day, my best friend took some pictures of the bra being worn as lingerie just for contrast's sake. Since she takes a lot of my photos, I felt pretty comfortable. But I was conscious that while this lingerie was an expression of my personal style, it wouldn't likely be interpreted that way online. I wrote about that in more detail for my blog.
Online, this lingerie set got a lot of comments as I expected. They were mostly things like "gorgeous" and "freaking adorbs!!!" But there were comments from men that made me uncomfortable: "Sexxxxxy" and "damn!!!!" were among the ones that had me cringing.
6. The Dress That Was See-Through IRL
When I first tried on this dress from the Gwynnie Bee Shop, my mom's initial comments were that it was "too tight" and "too see-through," and she added, "Like all of your clothes," in true Italian mom style. When I wore this out for the first time, it was to a men's streetwear tradeshow in Las Vegas, and I was definitely dressed more feminine than most people there.
I quickly realized that I couldn't tell if people were interested in talking to me because they were curious to learn more about my brand or because of my outfit. At one point, a man approached me and said, "I like your dress." Totally fine; I said thank you. But then he said, "I like the way your dress fits on you," and I felt like it was online harassment brought to life. He handed me his card and told me to come to his booth. I almost vomited.
Later that day, I was feeling pretty defeated as I went to grab lunch. I was quickly greeted with a compliment from one of the plus size women working the counter who said she loved my dress. And I instantly felt better.
You could clearly see my black bra and high-waisted shorts underneath this dress IRL, but it didn't photograph that way when I posted the image online. It looks far less revealing on the Internet than it really was, but the comments were all really great nonetheless. "Love the dress, it's fab," one read. Another commenter wrote, "This look is EVERYTHING."
7. The Mesh Top & The Worst Reaction Of All
On the second day of the menswear trade show, I wore the FullBeauty longline bra again, but this time with a mesh top over it. The reactions from the people at the show were totally different than the day before. I felt like I fit in more, and I was feeling pretty confident as I left the show to go meet a friend who also happened to be visiting Vegas. She and I made plans to meet at a restaurant we found online and I was following walking directions on my phone when a club promoter stopped me on the street. He asked if I was going to the party that was being put on by the trade show I had attended, and I replied that I was still thinking about it.
He got pushier and in my face, so I started to walk away. Then he grabbed my arm and said, "If you don't want to party, you shouldn't get naked." I immediately went into survival mode and started walking as fast as possible. As someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, I'm easily triggered by comments like this and I don't feel safe.
He yelled after me, "I can tell you're wild." I walked faster. Of course, I had put the wrong address into my GPS and I ended up having to walk by my harasser again. Thankfully, I had met up with my friend, so I wasn't alone. I warned her about what he had said and she told me that he had said something to her as well. This time he told us, "You're making the biggest mistake of your life not talking to me," and my friend and I walked by as quickly as we could. I turned to her and said something about the level of entitlement of his comments, but I felt safer just having her there to walk with me. Still, I was uneasy throughout the rest of the day.
Online, this photo got zero comments, which could be because it didn't look as see-through in the image as it was IRL, or simply because it just didn't garner a strong reaction from people. After the IRL experience when wearing this outfit, I was grateful that there were no reactions at all online.
What Did I Learn?
Wearing revealing clothing online and IRL still garners harassment, just as I predicted it would. No matter how many times I have communicated my boundaries and blocked certain commenters who make me uncomfortable, my personal page is still a place where I have to worry about being triggered. I don't know how to combat this other than to be prepared for it to happen while continuing to communicate my boundaries despite it sometimes feeling futile.
I experienced a lot more street harassment when I lived in Chicago than I do living in Ohio, which probably has to do with the fact that I physically walked to more places when I didn't have a car. Being back in Vegas reminded me how scary just walking down the sidewalk during the middle of the day can feel, though. I wish I wasn't as afraid in these situations, but I know what people are capable of when they feel entitled to your body, and that stops me from really standing up to these people in the way I wish I could. I wish I had a better method for coping with it all. But for now, writing about these issues and speaking about my experience seems like the best way.