Striking the right balance between revealing too much skin or being too conservative has long been a dilemma for women when choosing the right outfit for a night out. This has brought along a bucket of criticism, leaving enormous questions in society on how much is too much and also who has the right to decide as to how far one can go.
It is often said, don’t judge a book by its cover. Does what you wear tell the story of who you are or is it merely an expression of how you feel at a particular point in time? And if it is an expression, how far can one go as far is appropriateness is concerned? Where should we draw the line, who draws the line and should there be a line in the first place?
What seems different now is that women are publicly celebrated and villified at the same time, often with equal or greater vigor, and sometimes more by women than men. And so admiration and despise are on the same playing field, and, increasingly, they are on the same team. In a sex crazed society, where people feel their value is premised of physical beauty exclusively, they often go to greater lengths to reveal more in an attempt to be more acceptable. The question : where are we headed?
The Lounge engaged two phenomenal women from direct opposite ideologies when it comes to how women should dress.
Linda Baumann is an outspoken feminist from the Namibia Diverse Women Association and they deal with issues on self identity. She has over the years been known as an advocate for women’s rights and the co-existence of all genders without discrimination.
Her take on the matter clash vehemently with a mother of four girls, image consultant and fashion stylist Hazel Masvanhise. Hazel premises her belief from a traditional and biblical world view saying women are women and should behave as such, which includes how they dress.
Both agree on the reality that women are not a homogenous species and that no two women are the same. While both also agree that there is a certain dressing code for a particular function and environment, Hazel believes that some women have gotten the memo wrong – saying today’s women take fashionable trends to the streets, not understanding how fashion shows work. Fashion designers often design material for a fashion show for branding purposes only and not for a specific catalogue specifically.
“There is a dress code for a party, one for going to church, another one for swimming and for other ceremonies. So when dressing up, people must have the occasion at the back of their mind,” she advises.
What you wear = Identity or Expression?
We all know the sting of implications made about one’s personal worth based upon how they have chosen to explore fashion. Hazel emphahizes that, “dressing is just an indication of who you are” which is what people will see and pin you to a specific personality, something Linda shares an opposite opinion.
“Today’s women have lost a little bit of value to value who they are and the lack of knowledge on what fashion is. We can also add the lack of identity because today you dress like Rihanna today, tomorrow like Beyoncé, the next day like whoever, Who are you at the end of the day?
She adds; “If one values themselves that much, you would hold yourself at high esteem. Why would I want to walk around naked if I value my body? I am comfortable with my femininity. I embrace it and will dress like a woman. So there is a lack of value and respect.”
Linda on the other flank says today’s women look at things from a patriarchal notion that the way they present themself should be as such but the revolution of things has also changed. She says today women are also able to see brands which they want to follow, and as such they should not get criticised just because it is against the norms of society.
“What one wears to a function like the NAMAs does not necessarily describe who the person is. But unfortunately this person who wears exposing clothes is seen as a whore but that doesn’t define her. So I think people should first understand the person’s identity,” said Linda.
She adds; “Why is it that men are allowed to be on stage topless and women are criticized for the same act? Why can’t people express their fashion statements? Firstly, what you see is not what I see because we come from different places. What you define as normal is not what I see as normal.”
Linda is of a strong opinion that women should be left to dress how they feel and not be criticised for merely expressing themselves. She says the judgment mainly stems from a very patriarchal notion where it is about a women’s presentation is supposed to be in a particular way and that is where the problem is.
Where do we draw the line?
For the obvious biological reason that men and women are made different, Hazel feels there should be a line as to how women dress. Linda on the other hand believes that for the sake of the right to express oneself through fashion, there should be no lines at all.
“I do not have boundaries but I have a dress code for certain occasions because I come from a background of non discrimination and consciousness. I don’t have issues with encouraging my child dressing how she feels. If the child loves looking good, we cannot undo that. The people with a problem here are men. Because you (men) would not allow that in your opinion,” said Linda
She adds that the way women are subjected to restrictions and normalization by men creates a judgment line of what is right and wrong, which is not fair in the first place. “We should push for equality. If a man can go run with his hot pants, then I should also be allowed to run with half my shirt. What makes you more normal?”
Hazel shares different sentiments saying there are lines women should not cross adding that the tunes of equality have been abused and stretched too far. “A men can go topless but as a women I cannot because I have breasts to cover. Equality can sometimes be misinterpreted. I think one just needs to respect who they are as a woman and value it. The line should be drawn in the sense that we understand who we are as women. So if you know you are a woman made with certain things that need to be covered up, there should be a certain level of respect for your own body so that other people also respect it.”
As a mother, she says the way some women dress today does not rub off well to the younger generation.
“My girls are not allowed to wear short skirts and anything that exposes themselves. I lead by example. They have their own modest styles. But what I teach them is as a woman there is a certain way you are to respect yourself, your body and who you are.