My Clothes Are Not a Prison

Summer is my favorite season. The sun commandeers the bulk of the day, bringing with her the warmth I’ve longed for since Christmas. Long, lazy days meander into nights punctuated with fireflies, crickets, and campfires. Best of all, I no longer have to bundle up like Charlie Brown each time I leave the house. This is the season of sundresses, shorts, and swimsuits.

But the summer season is also accompanied by one of my least favorite activities: self-deprecation. Case in point: One recent hot day, I was discussing work-related dress codes with female colleagues. As a new employee, I inquired as to the acceptability of the sleeveless dress I wore under my sweater. I slipped my sweater down my arm and asked, “Is this okay, or should I keep my sweater on?”

“No, that’s fine,” replied one of the women. “I don’t have to worry about that. I always wear sleeves because I hate my arms.”

“Please!” I snorted. “I’m not gonna be hot because of my chubby arms. If people don’t like it, they can look away!”

As the room echoed with guffaws, I’m not sure my colleagues realized that I was dead serious! I live in a climate of extremes. While winter can bring temperatures below zero, during summer we can endure heat that reaches 100 degrees, accompanied by oppressive humidity. To say the least, our summers can be pretty hot. Which brings me to the issue at hand. Many of my fellow women are under the impression that it is their duty to conceal any body part that does not fit some acceptable standard, though nobody seems to have any clue what that standard is or where it came from. My guess is it comes from within.

Here are samples of the summer dialogue of which I have grown so weary:

“I can’t go sleeveless because my arms are fat.”

“You won’t see my fat ass in a bathing suit!”

“I only wear capris because of my cellulite.”

And my personal favorite: “I can’t wear shorts (or dresses) because my legs are too white.” Your legs are too white? Really? What does that even mean? What is too white? You were born that way—it’s the way God created you and you feel as though you need to cover that up? I am a blonde-haired, fair-skinned, freckle-faced woman. As soon as the jury was in on the relationship between the sun and melanoma, my tanning days were over. I wear my alabaster skin proudly. I consider it a sign of intelligence, for I realize that a tan is nothing more than scarring from a second-degree burn!

Ladies, your clothes are supposed to provide you protection and comfort from the elements. They are not a prison to be used to lock away your perceived imperfections so the rest of the world won’t see them.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a woman’s choice to dress modestly if that is part of her value system. I love the old adage, “If it doesn’t look good, don’t put it on the front porch.” I myself am a grandmother who’s carrying a few (ahem) extra pounds, so you won’t see me cavorting on the beach in a string bikini. On the other hand, I’m not going through my day uncomfortable and drenched in sweat just because I’m not Gisele Bundchen!

I’m an active woman. I like to swim, ride my bicycle, and hit the beach on occasion. I have the right to be comfortable. My clothes are not a prison, and while I won’t be sporting a bikini, I will choose a swimsuit that is cool and comfy, regardless of the fact that the general public may be subjected to my “too white” legs or chubby arms. Can you imagine a man in a seaside locker room whining to his buddies, “Does this Speedo make my butt look big?”

We don’t even realize how it sounds to others when we body-shame ourselves. I was the queen of self-shaming and deprecation until one day last summer. At a lakeside family gathering, I was lamenting about my latest weight gain when a dear family member called me out. “You keep talking about your weight, but nobody else notices or cares. It’s only you!” Talk about a reality check! But she was right.

So be warned, my summer sisters: I am prepared to pay it forward and call you out on any self-deprecating reason you have for using your clothes as a prison. And the next time you’re tempted to body-shame yourself, please remember, our little girls are watching.

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About the Author | Caron Wunderlich

Caron Wunderlich is a teacher, journalist, and future novelist. A true-blue New Englander, she is happiest riding her bicycle along the winding hills of her farm town. Her dog, Remi, and cat, Cash, share their home way back in the woods with her, her husband, their daughter, and two teenage grandsons. She is currently working on a memoir about being rescued by dogs.

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