Earlier this week, I experienced true bliss. While working out at the Central Campus Recreation Building, I was lucky enough to have an entire workout room to myself. In the comfort of my own space, I confidently worked out in my shorts and sports bra. I didn’t think anything of it. Just like I didn’t think twice when I sheepishly wrapped myself in my T-shirt and crossed my arms as I walked out the door.
Leaving the gym, however, I questioned if exposing myself was a mistake. I instinctually covered myself walking past a group of people. Did I make everyone around me uncomfortable?
When men wear cut-off t-shirts with their entire chest showing we don’t think twice about it, so why do we with women? This answer goes much deeper than the gym or double standards. This goes back to our first day of school when we were told we could not wear spaghetti straps, as if that dress code really protected anyone from anything. We have internalized this dress code to this day, giving us a dress code in college: whatever society is currently comfortable with.
Now in college, on this campus, there is no actual dress code. Yet somehow, we are trained to feel uncomfortable if an outfit is a little too showy when walking around campus in short shorts or a sports bra, knowing catcalling on a morning run is still all too familiar. After growing up being told we can’t show any skin for the sake of others’ comfortability, we sacrifice comfortability in our own bodies.
I blame our education system — a system ridden with favoritism toward men and against women’s shoulders. We’re taught that incidences of catcalling or even sexual misconduct are the faults of women who don’t cover themselves up enough rather than the men who can’t control themselves. Did anyone ever teach them to resist their urges with the intensity that I was told to never expose my thighs past the length of plaid Bermuda shorts?
Women in college don’t want to continue this dress code — they just feel as though they have to. Perhaps in order to make others around them more ‘comfortable’ with the standards we are used to, or to protect themselves from a stranger looking at them too closely or making comments. The gym should be a safe space to accept one’s body and watch progress occur, but the looks we receive for simply taking off a shirt to expose as much skin as the man next to us make us feel as though we are back in high school, moments away from being called down to the principal’s office because our exposed midriffs were too distracting to our classmates.
This problem all starts with the education system. It starts with young girls having their bodies sexualized before they’re even old enough to know what that word means. It starts when we are told to “watch out for older men; don’t talk to strangers; wear leggings under your skirt; a tank top needs to be three fingers wide; your shorts need to be longer than the length of where your fingertips hit your thighs.”
But it ends with us now. It ends with us educating men first to not stare, to not make comments and to think a girl showing an equal amount of skin in the weight room next to them is acceptable. It ends with not letting our eyes linger on the girl running past us with just a sports bra on. It ends with us deciding to let women be comfortable in their own bodies and not make decisions based on other people’s comfort. So if you see a woman in a sports bra and spandex, don’t look and don’t whistle. The days of having a dress code are past us; let’s stop continuing it for girls around us.
Dimitra Colovos is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.