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Body Shaming Women

Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

First of all, whhhhyyyy? I read this ridiculousness recently when award-winning lifestyle blogger, food writer and TV chef Alejandra Ramos, was subjected to body shaming feedback from mostly women after appearing on a segment of the TODAY show, March 11th. Her "crime"? Wearing a colorful dress with a v-plunge neckline, while showing America some tips on how to make a couple of her delicious breakfast recipes. The things women have to go through. March had Latinas up against some microaggression, dios mio, as I wrote in last week's post "Microaggressions: Making Fun of Councilwoman Navarro's Accent." Just when you think you might have a handle at what you can "safely" wear at work, then something like this happens. When I write "safely," I mean safe from the male gaze and their supportive brain-washed women counter parts who help perpetuate this insanity in the workplace. In her 2016 opinion piece for Newsweek, writer Emma Bell talks about the incredible push-pull women continue to face in the workplace around high heels, wearing a "too bright dress," or "too sexy" clothing, the need for "blending in," and how it is all based on implicitly white male ideologies on what is considered appropriate. Ramos, who has been working on TV for a decade, and for the TODAY show for 6 years, was subjected to this sexist otherness by those brave-behind-the-keyboard "opinionators" who said on Twitter:

“You are not working in Spanish television where women’s fashion is more revealing than American.” “Kids are watching!” “Suggest you wear more appropriate attire next time you appear on a U.S. channel." “Do we have to look at your body?” “I’m going to write and report you to the Today Show.”

Ramos, who is Puerto Rican, did not mince words with her response: "My producers are all thrilled with my work as they always are. My dress is beautiful. My body is beautiful. The only ugly inappropriate thing here is your racism, your harassment & the negativity you bring into this world." In her TODAY show online response to the attacks, she writes:

"The real issue was that, as a vibrant, curvy, Latina woman, I was thriving and being celebrated in a space that rarely makes room for people who look like me. And I was doing it not playing by rules designed for someone else, but rather on my own, authentic terms."

Why is a woman's attire and her body so threatening to people? Why do women shoulder the burden of the male gaze? Where's the male responsibility to check himself? The father to check his son? Why do women viciously participate and raise other women to also participate in this idiocy? Even though I'm not curvaceous compared to Ramos, as a Latina, I've had more than my fair share of sexualization based on my woman-ness, una mujer poderosa, juxtaposed against mostly male fetishizing of the sexual Latina fantasy. I've tried to block it out to be honest. Even my dad was on my case about what I was wearing, should be wearing, and the all-confusing, what I shouldn't be wearing: "That's too tight!" "Wear the prettier blouse!" "You look like a boy!" "Brush your eyebrows--they're messy!" "Stand up straight, with your chest out, and your shoulders back!" "You're too young to shave your legs--wear this skirt!" Message relayed to a young teen? Well, confused. I learned from a young age that being sexy was bad, yet you must attract a husband by being feminine, but you don't need to do that too soon! Don't be sexy! But be beautiful! Emphasize your best features! (Oh, the misogyny.) But don't be androgynous! What are you, una lesbiana?? No como un "gay"! Not in his house under his rules. When I say it almost came to blows over my long hair, my "best feature", I'm not kidding. My dad stopped speaking to me for a while when I had it cut from just above my butt to just at my shoulders. My "best feature" according to him, a source of great Ecuadorian pride. Mí mejor rasgo. I cried with joy at the burden released from being forced into a feminine mold dictated by him that day. I spent 25 years with short hair until COVID happened. I completely identified with Betty, la fea or Ugly Betty. I too, nervously and shyly tried to navigate what was physically expected of me. And failed. It was too much for me. I just wanted to be left alone. Eventually, my dad declared me a "disaster" and couldn't figure out what to do about me. No sex before marriage, no boyfriends before I finished my university education, and live at home chastely… Fun, right? Why do we do the things we do? Janet Ainsworth takes a deep dive in her chapter of "Law, Culture and Visual Studies: What’s Wrong with Pink Pearls and Cornrow Braids? Employee Dress Codes and the Semiotic Performance of Race and Gender in the Workplace." Here, she references several workplace situations, the psychology, semiotics, gender, and racial identities at play behind dress codes. She cites three main cases (although there are more): Rogers v. American Airlines, 527 F.Supp. 229 (S.D. N.Y. 1981), Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Co., 444 F.3d 1104 (9th Cir. 2006), and Doe v. Boeing Corporation, 823 P.2d 1159, rev’d, 846 P.2d 531 (Wash. 1993). All three cases ruled in favor of the employer, effectively upholding those norms of white, middle-class male ideas of appropriate workplace conformities. In Rogers, an African American woman isn't allowed to wear her hair in cornrows; in Jespersen, a long-time employee is forced to wear makeup; in Doe, a transgender woman is forced to dress androgynously, and denied "feminizing" herself with a strand of pearls until the completion of her gender re-assignment surgery. I wish I could say I was making this stuff up. These outcomes completely ignored how each person had their legal rights violated, their gender, cultural, and race negated as legitimate reasons for non-conforming. Ainsworth concludes:

"As the discussion of these case studies has demonstrated, dress codes regulating employee appearance occur at the crossroads of power and meaning in the workplace. Far from being about trivial matters of personal taste and style, conflict between employers and employees over dress codes serves both as an arena for worker resistance to employer assertions of control over the construction and performance of their authentic selves and as a prime site for cultural contests over the meaning and instantiation of race and gender identities more generally in the modern world."

Judged by 2021 standards, we can see through Alejandra Ramos' subjugation just a few weeks ago by the court of popular online (white) opinion. The needle continues to move ever so slowly on the concept of "appropriateness". Why it would bother another woman to know that a fellow woman has breasts, hips, and a butt is beyond me. How this shaming would be an affront to children (who don't care at all until adults make a big deal) is something else indeed-- in fact it's about normalizing different types of bodies as beautiful. The funny part is that calling on Ramos to go back home to the likes of Telemundo (as she rightfully points out is an American broadcast… just in the Spanish language), and to please take her scandalous dress to those oversexualized Latino broadcasters. The situation turns into a bunch of laughs as seen in her interview by Noticias Telemundo Mediodía. Ai dios mio, mi gente. Support Ramos by checking out her blog, Always Order Dessert.

© Isabel Alvear, April 2021 For more information on this topic and more, please "click" on the highlighted links. Drop a comment below, like, and share.

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