I will never forget May 10, 2013.
I had spent the winter doggedly heading to my college’s gym in between every class so I would look my best by springtime, and now that May was here, not only was I looking great, but my English tutoring business was booming ahead of finals week. I was 21, had a bunch of cash, and was in the best shape of my entire life. I decided to treat myself.
I headed to the beauty supply store and bought a few wefts of long, brown hair, then went to the apartment of a girl I’d found on Twitter who told me she could sew them under my hair for $10 a track. After the installation, it was impossible to see the undercut that I had been awkwardly growing out and my hair looked long, full, and gorgeous.
When I walked outside, it felt warm for the first time all spring. Everything just kept going my way! I felt so free, so cute, and so happy with my job and my body! I took off my jacket and walked back to school in my a white crop top and khaki shorts, adjusting and readjusting my gigantic mane of hair. It was the first time I’d ever worn either item of clothing.
Out of nowhere, a man yanked one of my earbuds out, and the upbeat pop music I was listening to was replaced with his voice, which was much too close to me.
“What are you doing, dressing like that?” he asked.
I was so surprised. I just stared at him.
“You shouldn’t be wearing things like that,” he told me. “Have some respect for yourself. It isn’t even that nice out and you’re already showing off everything you have to offer.”
A million thoughts ran through my head. I had so much more to offer that he had no clue about. I had 15 students who were going to get A’s in English because of me. I had amazing friends, I had my own apartment, and I had three credits left until I could graduate early. None of that had anything to do with my white crop top or my khaki shorts and, moreover, he had no idea how hard I had worked out to be able to wear them!
I still didn’t say anything.
“Someone is going to see that outfit and take you up on the offer,” he said ominously. “There are a lot of guys out there who are creepy. You should cover up.”
He let go of my earbud and I asked him if he realized he was the real creep. As you might expect, he called me a bitch and, fearing escalation, I ran off in the direction of my school.
I’m older now. I like to think that I would have something smarter to say if that happened to me tomorrow. I like to think that I would have told him that nothing about my outfit was an “offer” and that my body belongs to me and only me. I like to think I would grab my earbud out of his hand and keep walking. I don’t know, though. Confrontations like that are terrifying; they’re designed by the perpetrators to be.
What I do know is that in the summer, I have the right to wear what I want, and so do you. So does everyone. It doesn’t matter if you worked out all winter or if you have a whole new wardrobe. It doesn’t matter if it’s “not even that nice out” yet. What matters is that how you dress is not open to interpretation from anyone who wants to use it to justify threatening or harming you, hell, or even judging you.
It’s going to get hot outside and we deserve to wear clothing that makes us comfortable. We deserve to wear clothing that makes us feel cute! We all deserve to feel exactly how I felt the day I walked out of that girl’s apartment with my long hair and short shorts. If covering your hair and body makes you feel that way, awesome! If shaving your head and wearing pasties makes you feel that way, awesome! The point is, the way I felt that day, prior to being stopped by that creep, was indescribable. I was so happy and so proud of everything about myself. I want that for you. I want that for everyone. And I want you and everyone else to know that there is no coded message in any clothing choice, other than a proclamation to the world that you are happy with yourself and you are in control of your own body.
Know your worth, know that you’re beautiful, and know that no one has the right to tell you how to express either of those things. Now get out there and shine!