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The power of a bare shoulder

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MARCH 21, 2023

I grew up with the mindset that showing skin was bad and if you wanted to be respected, you should avoid it at all costs. In middle school, while I learned about the elements of the periodic table and how to properly write an essay, I also learned the three-finger rule for tank top straps and the appropriate length for a skirt to fall. Suddenly, the strong shoulders that held up my backpack and the knees that endured my cross country phase were expected to be hidden and ignored. I was told that these body parts of mine were “distracting” for the learning environment. In hindsight, it really was just an excuse to degrade girls disguised as concern for children’s learning. 

In high school, it only got worse. As girls grew into young women, their bodies followed suit. Middle school girls wore bras that gave the illusion of having boobs, but in high school, they became less of a fashion statement and more of a necessity. Girls getting sent to the principal’s office for breaking dress code was common and this pattern often occurred with the same type of girl. If she didn’t pass as traditionally “thin,” she was almost guaranteed to get dress-coded, regardless of whether it was fair. The smaller you were, the easier it was to mask the fact that you were a girl with boobs. But most girls weren’t as fortunate, having a developing body they had no control over. 

At the time, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need to show skin to feel confident, but in reality I just didn’t want to be seen as “that kind of girl”. Somewhere between hearing women being called sluts for showing their stomachs and getting catcalled in the hallways, I decided that I didn’t want to be like them. I am ashamed to admit that despite advocating for girls supporting girls, I had become like the kind of man I hated, the type who slutshamed and assumed certain things about girls based on what they wore. 

Fast forward to Jun. 16, 2019: Euphoria aired for the first time. After binge watching the first season in two days, I was left thinking about the character Kat and her journey to confidence. She began the season as an average, shy teenager trying to navigate sex during high school. As a bigger girl, she was always afraid of being seen as fat. It wasn’t until she began video chatting with men when she eventually realized that being fat isn’t a bad thing. There’s a scene where she’s walking through the mall in a red, mesh longsleeve layered with a black harness and red skinny jeans with everyone’s eyes on her. As guys look her up and down with lingering stares and girls watch with open mouths, she says, “There’s nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a f—.” 

Those 13 words made me reevaluate how I saw sex, including those who use it to make money. I used to joke that if I ever dropped out of school and didn’t have a job I could be a stripper, but I didn’t think that could ever truly happen. I thought I could never expose my body like that because I would worry about what people would think about me. There’s so much shame surrounding women in the sex industry and it would be a lie to say that I wasn’t influenced by it. 

Just recently, I listened to an episode of Emily Ratajkowski’s podcast where she had Iggy Azalea on as one of her guests. Azalea began her career as a rapper and has also started posting on OnlyFans. One of her arguments for starting was that with the nature of her job, she was already commodifying her body. Whether it was through posting on social media or working on campaigns with brands, the goal was for someone to collaborate with her to sell a product and by extension, an image. But by starting an OnlyFans, she explained how she wanted to stray away from representing someone else’s image and in turn, focus more on her own. 

What these examples have solidified for me is that the most powerful thing a woman can have is control over her body. What that looks like can vary — there is no right or wrong way. Sometimes it comes in the form of an OnlyFans account. Other times, just a bare shoulder or an inch of an exposed midriff can be equally as empowering. 

I grew up with the idea that to show skin meant you had to surrender your power, but I know now that’s wrong. If anything, revealing your body allows you to reclaim your power and build more confidence. Whether it be in the form of a backless top or posting naked photos, both can inspire confidence. When I put on my favorite pair of baggy jeans and a cropped white tank top I feel the way I imagine Kat did as she walked through the mall — unstoppable.

Maisie French writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

MARCH 21, 2023