I have rarely ever been catcalled. While I have mainly felt relieved, I have sometimes feared that this reflects my level of attractiveness. However, my clothing choices have been greatly influenced by my fear of receiving, well, unsolicited advances. Thanks to the size of my chest, I have feared being seen as simply a pair of tits, and it was up to my clothing choices to diminish this possibility.
As many New Yorkers can attest to, Manhattan in the summer challenges even New Orleans’ humidity. So naturally, the other day I slipped on a tank top in hopes of remaining as cool as possible. Maybe that was a stupid choice, or maybe I was stupid to pick a tank top that was so damn tight. Or maybe I secretly wanted to be noticed, to be seen as a sexual being. Nevertheless, this was the shirt I wore as I walked through Central Park sipping my iced Starbucks. And dammit, I felt hot. And yes, I do mean both senses of the word.
I turned a corner, passing by a pair of gregarious young men who were noticing the group ahead of me. I kept walking, my eyes straight ahead, as their attention turned to me. “The size of those…” he remarked. My teeth gripped each other as my fingers clamped shut around the straw, twisting it into a knot as hard as I could. That was it, my worst fear realized: only being seen as a rack with cleavage. Was this what I had wanted when I put on that tank top that morning? Is this what it means to feel sexy and comfortable in my own body?
I later confided in a friend, feeling embarrassed and ashamed. She looked sympathetic and said, “I’m sure he thought he was being complimentary.” I instantly tensed up; who cares if he thought his comment was complimentary – he made me feel awful. Then I realized what my friend was thinking: she was afraid that I was feeling self-conscious and unattractive, as if the man was saying that my size was unappealing.
I realized that for the first time, I wasn’t worrying about what the guy thought about my appearance. In fact, I had assumed that the comment was intended as praise. And yet I felt awful and belittled. My discomfort had nothing to do with whether or not the guy found me attractive. I was ashamed that I had put myself on display, offering myself up to be objectified. I had screwed up, wearing something that asked for that kind of attention.
As I threw away my coffee in disgust, it suddenly hit me: I had wanted to wear this shirt, and I had enjoyed wearing it. I had felt great embracing my body for all its curves and folds. I didn’t want to let some jerk ruin that empowering feeling. Yes, I wanted to look sexy and attractive. Yes, I had wanted to call attention to my body. And what the hell is wrong with that?
That guy had no right to make lewd comments to me, no matter how “complimentary” he may have intended them to be. Yes, I was enjoying my attractiveness, pretty much for the first time. And that is my right. Of course, our society trains us to expect comments and catcalls when we make certain clothing choices, but that doesn’t make it right. Derogatory comments are never justified. I should be able to enjoy how I look and share that with the world without being reduced to someone’s narrow gaze.