Imagine sitting at a restaurant, eating lunch with your family, and having your waitress walk up to you and say, "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but that man over there is uncomfortable with the amount of skin you're showing. If you have a sweater, please put it on, or we'll have to ask you to finish your meal in the bathroom."
Shock. Disgust. Indignation.
Who is this stranger who feels he has the right to tell you how to dress? Why is your tank top so offensive to this random person that he'd ruin your meal, just because he doesn't like your clothing choices?
Or let's consider the opposite ... what if the waitress walked up and said you needed to undo the top buttons of your shirt because you weren't fitting the dress code? That you needed to show more skin?
It's no one else's decision to tell you how to dress, and Annie from PhD in Parenting has made a beautiful video about the issue ... how telling a woman to cover up is a feminist issue.
Every culture considers different levels of bare skin acceptable, decent, or appropriate. Different settings, different ages, even different body types all create wide ranges of opinions on clothing that is considered appropriate or isn't.
In some cultures, women may not show their faces or arms, even in very hot weather. In America, asking a woman to wear a long-sleeve shirt in the middle of the summer seems ridiculous, right? Unless, of course, the woman chooses to do so of her own accord.
There are other cultures where nudity at a beach is totally acceptable, and the idea of asking a woman to put on some clothes or "cover up" would be considered rude, arrogant, invasive, and socially unacceptable.
With such a wide variety of acceptable ranges, we come across one truth: There IS no "right amount" of skin. There is no "acceptable" amount for any woman to show. There is no situation in which it is appropriate for a stranger to interfere and tell a woman she should cover up more ... or less.
I think Annie says it best in this great video (thanks Annie):
Other than local laws, there is no guideline whatsoever that says women must dress a certain way, so it's up to each woman to make up her own mind and decide how much or how little skin she is comfortable showing. (Remember as well that nursing in public is specifically excluded from indecent exposure laws in many states.) I would no sooner walk up to a woman and tell her to cover herself as I would walk up to a woman and tell her to uncover herself, and I would expect that no one would do the same to me. And no, women are not "asking for it" by being more comfortable with more skin, just as a woman is not "asking" to be raped by wearing a tank top and short skirt in the summer.
And as Annie pointed out in another post, the definition of discreet is thus:
Having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech: PRUDENT; especially: capable of preserving prudent silence.
So, it could easily be said that the people who are not being discreet are those who feel that they have the right to tell a stranger what she should do with her own body.
Do you feel people have a right to tell other people how to dress?
Image via jeff.snodgrass/Flickr