As a woman (within most cultures), you pretty much have two choices: either be modest/respectable/classy or racy/sexy/flamboyant as it pertains to self presentation and attire. A hard line separates the two and seemingly whichever you choose is a direct reflection of not only your character, but self worth.
When I transferred from private to catholic school in 5th grade, I will never forget when a nun forcibly yanked down on my plaid jumper in the hallway, proclaiming that it was too short. In front of my peers, girls and boys I might add, the elderly woman made me hold my hands straight as a board at my sides and said, “As a woman your skirts, dresses, or shorts should never come any higher than the longest finger on your hand.” The word, “never”, spat out of her mouth and stuck to my thoughts for years like discarded gum on the bottom of a shoe. No matter my persistence in trying to scrape or peel it off, its pink residue clung.
Never. Never. Never.
That was my first lesson in What a Respectable Woman Looks Like 101.
From lessons at school, church and even home, I was taught what a woman who “respected herself” looked like, and that always aligned with modesty. Women who wore less and flaunted their bodies were loose, lacked morals, and couldn’t be leaders or anyone to look up to. These sort of women were at fault for the gazes and unwanted gropes from men; blamed for their sexual assaults and told, “you were asking for it, dressed like that.”
For years I internally battled these toxic messages, especially so as I began to increase my involvement with pageantry and public appearances/speaking. Increased visibility and recognition, in addition to being coined a role model for children, I was that much more cautious of my outward presentation, whether online or in person.
The only place for sexy was behind closed doors and I while I saw other women confidently flaunt their bodies; arched backs, bare shoulders, legs exposed, rears caressed, black lace that danced across their midsection, and breasts uncovered. I battled the aforementioned choice of what type of woman I wanted to be. There appeared to be no intersection or overlapping of these two “types” of women, as once a decision was made and put out there, I had to commit and ultimately deal with the consequences of other viewing me in a differing light.
I’d spend a great deal of time each morning looking up and down at my nude body, feeling its softness, growing more ashamed with each passing day. Feeling conflicted in loving my body, but knowing that if I showed more of it I would be deemed as less than. So, I carefully piled on layers, and shopped for attire that was never too revealing, hiding aspects of me that they world couldn’t see. I chose my role and I played it. I struggled with this balance in romantic relationships as well, because I wanted to be sexy for my partner, but couldn’t in certain spaces because I was Devin. Whether wearing a short dress, or dancing provocatively at a party, I feared judgment from others and how that may not make me, “wifey type”.
Don’t even get me started on the double standards set by men when considering attire/respect/women..
I felt trapped and hated that I had to hide my body (and more so the free expression of it). I wanted to be able to share aspects of myself that I loved with others, such as the way my hips spread, the fullness of my lips, how my breasts sat upon my chest, or the arch in my foot when I pointed my toes. More than that, I felt incredibly hypocritical sharing messages of self love to others, yet having underlying caveats to it.. “Love yourself, but..”
If you’ve been following my blog or social media, you may be aware of the immense amount of changes that have occurred in my life in the last 2-3 months. As a result, I made a decision to be purposeful in my happiness and self love. Doing things that made me happy without the fear of what others would think. One of my first focuses was to love my body.
On Sunday I had my first boudoir photoshoot and laugh if you want, but it was probably the most adventurous thing I have done in awhile (and I recently jumped into the ocean off of a moving boat!) I picked each set of lingerie and paired it with a loose/comfortable piece of clothing to mix the two aspects of my personality I rarely get to display. It took some time to get comfortable in front of the camera, but with each reassuring exhale I reminded myself to just have fun and embrace the moment. Once the photographer sent me a few of the test shots later that evening, I was so glad I stuck with my decision. The four images she sent were the first in.. well, forever I guess to really capture the Devin I wanted to others to know. Wild hair, a goofy smile, comfortable clothes.. and most importantly sexy.
I’m done choosing which type of woman I want to be and living a life by guidelines put in place by others. If my validity as a leader is put into question in displaying my authentic self, so be it. We will never be able to control the perceptions of others, but we can choose to be true to ourselves and intentional in our happiness. Never forget that.
Never. Never. Never.