I had two experiences over the past few days that have brought something that I’ve been thinking about into sharp relief.
The first was that my dance team competed in our first international competition. We danced pretty well – especially for the first time that we were putting the routine on the floor. We had great crowd appeal and people really liked us. As part of the routine, the three girls start off with a black jacket which they take off to reveal gorgeous sparkling shirts. The guys (who are playing a “Dick Tracy-esque character) keep their big yellow jackets on the entire time. After the competition we got the chance to get feedback from the judges. One of the judges spent 2/3 of our time telling me that we should have shown more skin. He actually used the words “When I saw the black jackets I thought it was going to be a strip tease…I want to see the top of a tramp stamp or maybe bend forward and shimmy toward the audience. Why didn’t the guys take off their jackets? Your name is Body Positive Dance but I didn’t feel like you were very body positive not showing any skin.” Now, this is wrong on a whole bunch of levels and because I have respect for the position of “judge” I sat quietly and thanked him for his time. I’ll address this in a second but first:
Jezebel.com picked up my article about how to stop obsessing and enjoy being in a swimsuit. It includes tips to be happy with your body as well as alternate suggestions (such as swimsuits with more coverage or cover ups). I got some comments from people who basically said that they were disappointed that I had suggested something other than just body love and that mentioning options like modesty suits and cover ups seemed to be backing up from my point.
Here’s what I think about all of that:
Having good body image means that you have good body image – not that you necessarily want to show a lot of skin. Thin people have wide and varied looks (think preppy vs. corset over miniskirt with thigh high fishnets) and so do fat people. The fact that a person of size doesn’t want to show a ton of skin may or may not have anything to do with the way they feel about their body.
As a dancer I actively reject the idea that we have to show a ton of skin to be respected as artists (thank you Dancing with the Stars).
If this is how you enjoy dressing, then knock yourself out. But it shouldn’t be expected or required.
I also think that sometimes we in the Size Positive community try to make our size positivity experience everyone’s size positivity experience. I think a much better idea would be to respect everyone’s experience and choices. Just because you felt liberated when you first rocked a bikini doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t want to wear a bikini is suffering from the body image issues you used to have. We are not the boss of other people’s underpants and I think that the best thing that we can do is support everyone in their experience and not assume that what was true for us is true for them. There’s room at the water park for all sizes of people in all kinds of outfits!