[Eleanor] On Summer Fashion and Feminism

It is, arguably, almost always summer in Brisbane – and I have the great fortune of being born and raised in a city that is within comfortable driving distance of some of the finest beaches Australia has to offer. But with summer weather comes summer fashion, an unnerving combination of societal expectation, judgement, and passive aggression. How much skin should you show – how much is too much, and if you cover up all over, does that mean you’re a prude? At the same time, it’s bloody warm, especially in the height of summer, and you don’t want to be giving yourself heatstroke. Add to that the commentary surrounding the very existence of body hair and you have yourself a complete summer package.

I was brought up in a conservative household. That meant covered shoulders, not even a hint of boobage, and I could forget about ever buying or wearing a bikini. My parents told me that too much skin would entice unwanted attention, and that could only end badly. They scrutinised every piece of clothing I wore before I left the house – to the point where I would take to hiding an alternate outfit in my bag so I could actually wear what I wanted to wear. These ideals have been so wholly ingrained into me that even now, years after I’ve moved out of home and out from under my parents’ eyes, I still can’t stand to wear a crop top in public.

For me, “summer fashion” is all about dresses. They’re easy to whip on and off, and there’s no time wasted in matching your top half with your bottom half. In reality, there’s no such thing as summer fashion. There are just pieces of clothing you wear when it’s warm, and other pieces of clothing you wear when it’s cold. You can wear singlets and board shorts in winter if you want to, and long sleeved shirts and jeans in summer. Sadly, this is not a belief shared by many.

It is not the fault of any particular group, but of society in general. God knows I’ve caught myself with similar thoughts – I’ve just not been rash enough to verbalise them in any form. However, I’ve been told, “women fought for our right to wear pants so you should wear pants. You’re not a feminist if you wear dresses or skirts”. I’ve had sales assistants look down at my legs, before grimacing visibly. And if shopping malls are bad, the beach is arguably miles worse.

The beach is a minefield, and it is one that only seems to expand the older you get. It doesn’t matter where you are – whether you’re on the quieter Noosa shores, or the busier beaches along Surfers Paradise – it is hard not to feel like everyone is staring. It is hard, especially if you already feel like you don’t fit into the mould society has created for you, or if you have been told, over and over, that you don’t have the right body. We have a wretched history of mainstream print media to thank for this, in addition to an ever-updating world of social media. We are surrounded by images of people who present themselves in a particular way, and for whatever reason, we aspire to be like them too. So-called “women’s magazines” tout the perfect beach body, telling us what sort of swimwear you should get for your type of figure. Ironically, these magazines will also have feature articles spruiking feminist ideals, and whatever catchphrase is popular at the time.

This has gone on for far too long. The tide is slowly turning – slowly. But not quickly enough for younger women, or indeed, women of all ages, to realise that the perfect body is a myth. It is a myth concocted by those who want to take advantage of your beliefs once they’re well and truly ingrained. But here’s a secret. You don’t need them, and you don’t need their ideals.

We shouldn’t be shamed for wearing “too much”, and we shouldn’t be shamed for wearing too little. But we are. And worst of all – there is no perfect outfit that will allow us to escape scrutiny. So this summer, wear whatever you want. Do whatever you want with your leg hair. Screw summer fashion. Just wear something that makes you happy. Wear something that makes you feel like you.

This piece was first published on Eleanor in September 2016. Read the original piece here.

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