Dressing for the Body You Have

The Body You HaveThis sign was posted on the window of a Social Services office.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, awesome activist Crystal Vasquez e-mailed to inquire as to just what the sam hill they were thinking, and received this treasure of a response (posted with her permission, of course)

Ms Vasquez, Thank you so much for your correspondence. I am truly sorry if you were offended and/or inferred that a sign encouraging people to dress appropriately was directed at a particular group, or individual, in any way. I assure you it was not, nor do we want any client to dress in less clothing (“skinny” or “fat”) than another for any reason. We want all who visit our agency to feel welcome. Our concern is as much for underdressed individuals, no matter what size or shape, as it is for those who are subjected to the inappropriate (sometimes grossly, i.e. – bra and/or panties) attire they’re wearing. While we do not necessarily expect visitors to dress modestly, we do hope they’ll adhere to most societal norms of acceptable attire and not degrade and/or embarrass themselves and/or others by doing otherwise. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and we do try and find ways to address these situations, hopefully without being offensive. I’ve attached a sign that was the catalyst in an effort to do so with a seemingly humorous approach. I’m sorry it’s so easily misconstrued and do appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I’ve forwarded you an email sent to staff (below) regarding this matter. I did not reference fat shaming, nor skinny or fat clients, (since the intent of the sign was to have all visitors appropriately attired, not any particular group or individual) and hope you won’t mind the use of larger people in describing the offended. I did not want anyone aggrieved by the use of “skinny, fat, shaming” anymore than I would want anyone offended by the sign. I find those terms offensive and unacceptable myself and I did not use them. Many people struggle with underweight issues, as well as overweight and/or eating disorders. Every effort should be made to avoid offending anyone, which is what we strive for. Again, I’m sorry that wasn’t your experience. We will continue to make our agency an inclusive, safe, and non-offensive place for one and all. Again, thank you for your correspondence and concern regarding this matter. Sincerely, Melissa Stokely

Huh. Well, I guess this is a step above using the Shaggy song “It Wasn’t Me” as a damage control strategy, but it’s not exactly Olivia Pope either. A lot of this note has that “talking points in a blender” feel, but let’s look at some of the greatest hits:

I am truly sorry if you were offended and/or inferred that a sign encouraging people to dress appropriately was directed at a particular group, or individual, in any way.

Oops, this is not an apology.  An apology occurs when you say that you are sorry for your bad choices, not when you say that you are sorry that other people had appropriate reactions to your bad choices.  And the sign suggested that clothes that are appropriate for some bodies are not appropriate for others, so the idea that this wasn’t “directed at a particular group, or individual” seems to be, at best, the message that she WANTS to convey, not the message that she HAS conveyed.

Our concern is as much for underdressed individuals, no matter what size or shape, as it is for those who are subjected to the inappropriate (sometimes grossly, i.e. – bra and/or panties) attire they’re wearing.

Their concern would be touching were it not wrapped up in big ball of shaming with absolutely no attempt to assist the people about whom they are so concerned. This is an office that deals with people who are struggling with poverty. If we are to believe that they weren’t trying to be shaming, then we must point out that they are aware the people are living in poverty such that they may not have access to a mirror (per the bottom line of the sign there are mirrors available in the bathrooms for those who don’t have them at home – because of course It’s totally easy for people dealing with poverty to come to the Social Services office, check their reflection in the mirror, then go home, change clothes and come back.)

So it wouldn’t be, you know, totally beyond the realm of possibility that people don’t have access to a “7 Pieces You Can’t Live Without” Marie Claire wardrobe at home. People may have to come to this office to get the assistance they need regardless of the clothing that is available to them and they should expect to be able to do so without being shamed.

This sign would be inappropriate anywhere, but it is wildly inappropriate in an office that claims to provide support to people who are dealing with poverty and the classism and oppression (and often shame) that comes with that.  Melissa and her sign making-team need to pull their shit together and I mean right damn now.

While we do not necessarily expect visitors to dress modestly, we do hope they’ll adhere to most societal norms of acceptable attire and not degrade and/or embarrass themselves and/or others by doing otherwise.

Well aren’t we just splashing around in a pool of self-righteous judgment.  “Degrade and/or embarrass themselves”?  Every social worker I know is ridiculously overworked, so I’m thinking that if these folks have extra time on their hands, there’s probably work to be done helping people rather than caring about how they are dressed, and making body shaming signs.

We do try and find ways to address these situations, hopefully without being offensive.

The phrase that you are looking for is “Epic Fail.”  If this is truly a problem, how about addressing it by keeping a box of clothes (big t-shirts, etc.) that people could borrow or be given, and offering help on a individual basis, quietly and with dignity (and without a heaping helping of body shaming.)

Every effort should be made to avoid offending anyone, which is what we strive for.

You may be striving Melissa, but I don’t think this one’s got the distance.  Suggesting that the body people have isn’t the one that they want is offensive.  Suggesting that some clothing is only for some bodies is offensive.  Trying to use ridiculous “won’t somebody think of the children” hand-wringing to justify body shaming and manipulating adults to dress in ways of which you approve is offensive.

Hey, wait y’all … I just had a scathingly brilliant idea!  If we don’t like what someone is wearing, we could…wait for it… look at something else.  Or, hey, even better – we could get the fuck over ourselves.  We can do it, I believe in us!

For me, the body I have is the body I want and I dress accordingly (which is to say, however I damn well please) but regardless, I’m just a big fan of dressing however the hell you want. Now, I understand that they’ve taken the sign down. But still, I try never to criticize without offering solutions, so I’ve taken the liberty of redesigning the sign, let’s see if they take me up on it:

The Body You Have Dances With Fat Edit

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52 thoughts on “Dressing for the Body You Have

  1. I thought it was disrespectful how she put “overweight and/or eating disorders” together. This isn’t always the case…..shame on those who sit on their pedestal and judge others based on themselves.

    Date: Thu, 21 May 2015 13:05:01 +0000 To: littlecherysh@hotmail.com

  2. Gee… I come to Social Services for help, and the first thing I see is a notice assuring me I’m probably dressed inappropriately to be helped.

    And she’s sorry if I am offended by her carefully worded sign that tells me my body sucks, and I’m deliberately dressing to embarrass myself and others.

    How fucking dare I be offended by that?????

  3. The problem with her playing disingenuous now is that she really didn’t make just one statement with her original sign; she made two. By comparing two different body types, she didn’t just say that fat people shouldn’t dress a certain way — she also explicitly okayed wearing very little if you have, in her opinion, an appropriate body type.

    If she really meant she didn’t want to see that much of *anybody* (which is still kind of crappy when trying to help people who may or may not be able to afford clothes appropriate for a business office), she had every opportunity to say so. But instead, she made the conscious choice to state that under-dressing is only okay if you have a particular body.

    And considering how well she can string words together whilst being disingenuous and evasive, I have to believe that she can use language well enough that we can take her original statement at face value.

  4. And there is slut-shaming in there. She specifically highlights bras and panties (typically worn by females) and associates lack of clothing with morality “degrade and/or embarrass themselves and/or others”. Her apology may be more rage-inducing.

    1. What’s the difference between “bras and panties” and a bikini swimming suit? The material used to make it. That’s it.

      Speaking of swimming suits and underwear, I used to work in a temple, and patrons would come in, and change out of their street clothes into white temple clothes. If they did not bring their own, they could rent some for a couple of bucks (as cheap as possible to cover the cost of the clothes and laundry – it was totally non-profit). Since this temple was in a sub-tropical area that got a lot of tourists, people would show up completely unprepared, because they’d arrive at their destination, and find out that there was a temple there, and decide to visit, spur of the moment, especially if they lived far away from a temple. We were just opening this location, and a lot of church members really didn’t know we existed, until they arrived in town.

      The temple president told us that he did not care if they showed up in swimming suits, because once they changed into temple clothes, they’d be suitably attired, and no one, NO ONE, was to make anyone feel bad for how they were dressed when they showed up.

      And if some local was poor, and was wearing whatever they had, then they’d be alright, too. If someone couldn’t afford the couple of bucks for clothes rental, odds were that someone would be happy enough to pay for them, if they asked. There was a lot of generosity there, and we were just happy to see the people come. I saw a lot of sharing there. Additionally, there were some options for activities that required non-rented (we just lent them out, free of charge) specialty clothes, instead, so if you could get there, even if you were stoney-broke, you could still participate.

      One of my favorite clothing stories from there was when a woman was going into the chapel, and the elastic on her panties snapped. They fell right down, and she simply stepped out of them, picked them up and put them in her pocket, and went on with the worship. She had such grace and aplomb. It was great! No one gave her any hassle about it, or told her to go back to the changing room to fix it, but the story went around, about how smooth and cool she was.

  5. I typically support most of the posts here but this one was grasping at straws. As your underpants rule allows, you or anyone can be offended at anything. However this is just being offended for the sake of nothing better to get offended over.

    I don’t want to see boobs or chesticles hanging out in public, as many would agree. That was this signs purpose. As far as being offended over the eating disorder connection, again straws. It’s underpants-straws, but straws never the less.

    I guess maybe I’m just not the activist I used to be.

    1. I’m not trying to pick a fight with you or anything, but you really don’t think the double standard stated outright on the sign is a problem? I don’t see where she ever specifically addressed covering up, but I do see where she specifically addressed her idea that appropriate dress exists on a sliding scale based on body type.

    2. First of all, if you don’t want to see body parts hanging out from wherever, you might look at something else.
      Secondly, I am offended by people who don’t use apostrophes correctly. This does not mean that I should put out a sign shaming them. i may either address what I see as a problem quietly and help them improve their use of apostrophes, or I may say nothing and go on to something else.

      It is not a question of activism. It is a question of tolerance.

    3. Places are entitled to have dress codes; the problem is picking on certain people for the bodies they do or don’t have.

    4. This did not simply provide a basic dress code though, but specifically suggested that proper dress differs based on the type of body one has. As I stated in my email to the director “I understand the need to have some requirements for appropriate level of dress, but those standards should be the same for all bodies, regardless of size, race, class, or disability. To suggest that some bodies should have different standards of appropriate dress in hot weather than others is offensive.”
      I understand if they do not want people coming in in bras and panties, but a better way of addressing that would be a sign asking that all individuals wear a shirt, pants/shorts/skirt, and shoes, and even bettet yet, as Ragen suggested, have and note that there are donations available for anyone who does not have these, so they can comply with that dress code.

      Though in terms of boobs “hanging out” i really think people should get over the sight of breasts, there is nothing inherently harmful about breasts. As a society I think we really need to get over out hangup about breasts, and stop treating a natural body part as if it is inherently shameful.

      1. In some municipalities, even here in USA, it is legal for a woman to go completely topless. Oh, sure, people fuss about it, but it’s legal. I think the more places it becomes legal, the better. Also, I’m all for public nursing of babies.

        But then again, I spent a lot of years in Europe, and they just don’t freak out over it, like we do in USA. For a decadent country, we’re awfully prudish.

        1. It is in mine. People don’t often use the “privilege” in crowded areas, but they do occasionally. The breasts-as-shameful taboo is one of the many double standards I could do without: there are times/places where it’s inappropriate to be topless, but when it’s ok (at the beach, at a park, on the street) anybody’s breasts ought to be ok—male, female, large or small.

          We have a famous festival in Oregon (Oregon Country Fair) where a lot of women go topless, and I have often heard the very bigoted comment that “the ones who go topless are the ones who shouldn’t, huh huh huh,” which makes me livid. It’s just as hot if you’re fat!

          This is the basic situation with this sign—it suggests that there is a right and a wrong body type for summer clothes, based on mainstream consensus of what’s “attractive,” which is not okay anywhere, and doubly not for a government office.

    5. Hi Julia,

      I just wanted to say how very disappointed I am in your response. I, personally, find body shaming, with layers of classism and sexism, done in a way that is likely to hurt people who are already dealing with poverty and oppression, worth getting offended over, and talking about. And the way that you know that, is that I took my time to write about it in detail.

      If you don’t think that’s worth being offended over, of course that’s your right. If you have a problem with the human body (chesticles?) and can’t make the “look at something else” solution work for you, if you support signs that use body shaming as a dress code in spaces that are created to support people already dealing with oppression, then fine, that’s your choice.

      But I think, especially since you consider yourself to be an activist, it’s such a shame that you would use your time and energy to come to an activist space and discourage activism. I’m leaving your comment up because of the excellent responses to it – I think that this discussion can help others to understand what I, and many others, think is the truly problematic – definitely worth talking about – nature of the sign.


      1. Female breasts. I don’t know for sure why womens’ breasts are the equivalent to mens’ testicles. Perhaps because both sort of stick out from the rest of the body. Or maybe because getting an impact in the boobs for a woman can be about as much fun as getting an impact in the balls is for men given the sensitivity of these particularly body parts.

    6. I am so confused right now. I completely agree this is grasping at straws. It’s to the point where you can’t even post a sign asking for appropriate dress…that’s what they were doing, just in a humorous way. I’m confuses bc all these words are being thrown around- sexism, racism, etc and I dont see a shred of a that anywhere. Why are you assuming dressing for the body you have not he one you want is aimed at women? Or fat people? And yes, it’s easy to look away but not so easy for my 8 year old son to look away. I think this is common sense (dressing appropriate) verses picking a fight where there isn’t one.

      1. Have you ever heard a man told to dress for the body he has rather than the body he wants? I haven’t. And the sign assumes that what is appropriate on one body is obscene on another.

        Common sense might consist of asking people to follow some minimal dress code that is clearly stated, such as the old favorite ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service’. Of course, in a social services office – as several commenters have pointed out – that becomes problematic in itself because of how many potential clients may not even be able to acquire even those minimal items without assistance.

        For instance, the only new clothes I have had in the past three years are a couple pairs of shoes. Most of my clothes are now either stretched out of shape, badly stained, or wearing through. I’m already miserable that this is the state I find myself in. Seeing a sign informing me that my ill-fitting clothes are inappropriate in a social services office might make me just leave and not bother trying to get the help I need.

        Telling people their bodies are shameful and that what clothes they happen to be able to get make them even moreso is not my idea of humorous or appropriate.

        And by the time I was eight, my parents had taught me the gentle arts both of looking away and of not assuming everyone has the same resources.

      2. I don’t mean this as testy as it probably sounds, but I’m terribly confused as to exactly what sign you read. I read one that never mentioned appropriate clothing for the environment. Not anywhere. Instead, it went out of it’s way to say that any given piece of clothing might or might not be appropriate for that environment based on the wearer’s body size.

        I am honestly and sincerely interested to know what you think they meant by “dress for the body you have, not the body you want” if it *wasn’t* about size.

  6. I hope the clearly clueless Ms. Stokely gets off her high horse of privilege and reads this post.

    Ragen, your suggestion of a clothing-to-lend-or give box in the office is an excellent one. Problem solved, possibly with no loss of dignity if — big IF — handled appropriately.

    1. “your suggestion of a clothing-to-lend-or give box in the office is an excellent one”

      I can see this might be more of a problem in that “space” – as clearly they have different ideas of what is appropriate dress that changes from body type to body type. I can see, in an environment like that, larger people being singled out and asked to cover up and wear something from the “clothing to lend” box, while thin people wearing the exact same type of thing being given a pass.

      That would be a double slap in the face – first being asked to wear something from a donation box of clothes, second seeing other people sitting near you wearing the same thing and yet because of their body type, not asked to change their clothes.

  7. How scummy! If they were actually worried about improper dress on anyone, they wouldn’t have used “dress for the body you have” language now would they? What a weaselly, lying response.

  8. When I write a ‘sorry not sorry’ I try to use fewer buzzwords and don’t blather on so. Writing fail as well as courtesy fail.

  9. Well most of the people who work there are probably not social workers and I can’t find anything online about whether or not Melissa Stokely is (though the fact that it doesn’t say LMSW or whatever her state’s equivalent is after her name anywhere has me thinking she probably isn’t either).
    The director of the social service agency should be a social worker (imo), but sadly those positions are often filled by people with no social work background.

  10. Taking the “dress as you are, not as you want to be” thing a step further, if most of the clientele are poor or homeless, then it means “dress as a schlub or homeless bum, not as a rich person with nice clothes, we have to identify you on sight”.

    1. Wow. I hadn’t even considered that. That’s creepier and more hostile than I gave it credit for in the first place.

      1. I was mostly taking this as a mental exercise, by follow the logic they used and just going the rest of the way. I’m glad it got others thinking, too.

  11. I worked for years with a nonprofit that provided clothing, food, and financial assistance to people in the community. The women who worked directly with clients had been poor themselves, and the executive director had at one time been a client. They understood how important it is to treat everyone with compassion (not pity). Anyone who put up a sign like this would be on the fast track out the door.

  12. If the sign was REALLY about clothing. Couldn’t they have just put something to the affect:

    Summer is coming
    The temp is going up
    But there are kids present
    So keep it covered up?

    Something that conveys the cover up message, & that kids are there, but doesn’t mentions bodies!

    I also don’t think the assistance office means for anyone to show up in business attire!

    1. THAT would have been so much better than the one they put up. Your comment made me wish this site has like buttons for the comments.

        1. Maybe we could suggest it to them. If they put it up it would go quite a ways towards their argument that they were targeting every BODY to be dressed appropriately not just the larger bodies that they implied that no one would/should want.

  13. I have no respect for anyone who issues a non-apology, sorry if you were offended type of remark. It’s cowardly. Either have the guts to own your statement or be a human being and issue a real apology.

  14. Hooray! Ragen, you said everything I wish I had thought of when I contacted Ms. Stokely. ~Jenny

  15. I like the part about “we have children here.” So how about a sign saying, “Please don’t show your private parts. If, for some reason, you are naked, we have emergency clothes for you to wear. After all, we have children here.”

    Now, most businesses wouldn’t need to post such a sign, but then again, Social Services isn’t most businesses, and if you’ve been robbed and stripped, and have nowhere else to go, seeing that there is a place that will give you emergency clothes is comforting.

    As for the “please don’t show your private parts,” what other reason could anyone have for posting a sign about how to dress? I mean, really. She said she didn’t want to get into “modesty,” but then what possible purpose could such a sign have, other than to enforce the bare minimum of local modesty standards. So, unless you’re in a location where the local laws allow for public nudity, covering your private parts is the bare minimum. Anything above and beyond the bare minimum is ABOVE AND BEYOND, and not something for anyone to complain about, especially when dealing with poor people, who may be struggling to even reach the minimum.

    In other words, what the heck?! Why tell anyone how to dress? Almost everyone knows what the minimum standards of public dress are in their culture, and if they aren’t aware, or aren’t able to meet those minimum standards, then they have far more urgent issues to deal with. Telling them that the minimum isn’t enough is just plain silly and hurtful.

    Or was this supposed to be about “flattering”? Ugh

    Yeah, this really boggles my brain.

    1. Regarding the bare minimum, I worked at a McD’s in 1999, and they still have the same sign out, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”. I kept wondering what would happen if a man came in with only shirt and shoes. It never happened when I was there, and I don’t think it happened since then, it would’ve been on the news.

      1. I’ve often wondered about that, myself. It’s a common sign, and yet, one would think that “no pants/skirt/loincloth” would be a better thing to specify. Just sayin’.

  16. I don’t have an issue with my kids seeing nudity anyway. When they were young enough for me to protect them from things, I was more keen to protect them from body-shaming and other things that could damage either their own relationship with their body or their future chances of a healthy relationship with a partner.

    So if we are going to “think about the children” this parent/educator says take the offensive sign down. Bodies are bodies but this sort of bigotry is toxic

  17. Melissa Stokely is delusional if she thinks for a minute that the sign WASN’T targeting any one with a larger body size that’s she deems acceptable

      1. I wish I lived where that office is, I would be so tempted to waltz in there in a bikini top and at most a pair of Daisy Dukes just to see what happened. No matter what Ms. Stokely claims in her “apology”, why do I suspect that not a bad word would be said to me about my attire, seeing as how the size tags on the attire in question are the smallest numbers and letters female clothes come in. Seeing as how those sizes give the the body that Ms. Stokely so obviously assumes every one wants. Yup, and I’m equally sure that I would be treated with scorn and contempt in the same clothes if I was wearing to fit my equally awesome body had the largest numbers and letters clothes come in

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