Monday, May 16, 2016

The Bikini Challenge: For Men

Now, I know what you're probably thinking. A bikini challenge? For men? Is this girl for real?

Yes, dear reader, bear with me. Ladies, I know there are already a thousand and one fitness and beauty challenges for you this time a year. That's why I'm aiming this one at the men, though it probably isn't what you might think. Even still, there's something for my girls in here, too, so throw on your sunglasses, strap on your sandals, and we'll tackle summer together with this post.

The Goal for Women: Know that you are not alone; that whether you feel comfortable in a swimsuit or not, all of us have experienced body shaming and objectification.

The Challenge for Men:Don't close the article when you start to feel convicted.

Simple enough, right? Good. Let's get started.

It's that time of year again... The cat-calling, body-scanning, overly-objectifying three months that make all hormone-driven men fall in love with summer. Bikini season, the most treasured season for boys and most feared season for girls, has arrived once more.

Let's face it ladies: we didn't meet our goal. We ate those extra twinkies and we never gave up that soda. We went to the gym three times in the five months we were supposed to go every day. We miserably failed at hot yoga. And we aren't going to talk about how much money we wasted on CrossFit. But if you're like me, none of this seems to matter because bikini season is the most dreaded time of year, not because we're unhappy with our body, but because other men seem to be too happy with it. And we wish they weren't.

Don't get me wrong. I have just as many physical insecurities as the next gal. Sometimes I wish my hips were smaller. Sometimes I wish my waist was thinner. And then there's what I like to call my "french fry thighs," where all the salt, sodium, and fat I've ever consumed decides to settle and call home. But I get it. The figure I wish was smaller is very appealing to others. The waist I wish was thinner is still very attractive. And those thighs that carry my potato obsession really aren't as big as I think they are. I'm a woman with a pin-up 50's figure, and therefore, I am desired.


Brace yourself friends... I'm about to say two things no woman is allowed to say in this society.

1) I'm pretty.

And 2) Sometimes, I wish I wasn't.

Because I was walking down the street the other day, heading to class, minding my own business when a guy hung out the window of his truck to wave at me and wink, as if he was doing me a favor for noticing me. Because the next day I was walking down the same street when a guy rolled down the window on his fancy sports car and shouted, "Nice a**, babydoll!" as if that would be taken as a compliment. What was I supposed to say? "Thanks?" "I know?"

How about, "Awww, aren't you sweet! You act like you're the only man who's ever told me that."

Here's the deal, guys. If you feel so influenced by our body that you feel compelled to hang out your window and holler like an idiot, you probably aren't the only guy who's ever told us we're attractive. And here's the thing about girls like me. We are completely confident in ourselves. We own a mirror. We know what we look like. And we don't need you taking the precious time out of your day to save us from our insecurity. That's what God is for. It would be different if you knew us; if you were complimenting us on a talent we possessed, on a skill we finally mastered, or even an outfit you'd never seen before. But you don't know us. You can't tell us our name, or our favorite color, or anything about us aside from what we look like. This, in its rawest form, is objectification; literally defined as presented as an object.

When we were little girls, we noticed guys picking on us. We were told it was just because "that's the way boys are;" that they just thought we were pretty. Which is cool I guess, but we still didn't like them picking on us.

When we began to develop into feminine adolescents, we noticed guys approaching us, scanning us from our feet to our face because that's the order of priority on a woman, after all. Body first; humanity second. And we were told it was just because "that's the way boys are;" that they just thought we were pretty. Which is cool I guess, but we still didn't like being degraded from woman to object.

And now we're young women, who have been taught to cross the street when a man approaches us so that we don't have to deal with the winks, the looks, the comments, or worse, because momma always said that if you were ever uncomfortable, avoid the situation. Because "that's the way boys are." They just think you're pretty. Which is cool I guess, until you don't even feel safe or comfortable going about your daily routine because you've always been called pretty before you were called anything else.

I'm all for teaching girls self-defense. Despite how much awareness we bring to sexual harassment, there will always be psychos doing it and it is naive of us to assume that speaking out will end it and keep our daughters (and sons) safe. But we've made excuses for these psychos for too long. Because the rapists who are now behind bars started out as boys who picked on little girls, that grew into adolescents who scanned us from our feet to our face, that grew into men who decided it wasn't enough just to look anymore. But it's okay. Because "that's the way boys are."

How long until we realize that's not the way boys are? At least, that's not the way they have to be.

I know this is an extreme scenario, and that not all arrogant, hormone-driven college guys will grow up to be abusers, kidnappers, and rapists. Thank goodness. But they shouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt either. They shouldn't believe it's okay to degrade a woman to the basis of her appearance just because they'd never hit her, and they shouldn't believe that their comments don't affect her just because there are other men out there who are "so much worse." And we make excuses for them every day. Their intentions may be golden, but the effects on women certainly are not.

The day the guy in the truck winked at me, I was wearing shorts. The day the guy yelled at me from his sports car, I was in a tank top. Those fashion choices were not open invitations to comment on my body. They were not a display of physical insecurity to be saved by prince charming. It was summer. It was hot. Sue me.

Why are we so focused on teaching our daughters to dress modestly, but less dedicated to teaching our sons to respect her even if she doesn't? Why are we so focused on teaching girls the difference between men who flatter her and men who compliment her, but less dedicated to teaching our sons how to be the latter? It's no wonder we live in the "rape culture" that exists today. We have created it.

We have all been told to "never judge a book by its cover." And we remember this piece of advice when we know we should sit with that girl who never appears to have any friends or that guy who seems too weird to have anything in common with us, but somehow we forget when it comes to judging a woman's body. Don't judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, don't define a pearl by its oyster shell.

Men, I'll stop ruthlessly accusing you (for the moment). I know there's a huge population of women who are insecure about their body and feed off of your compliments and cat-calls. I know that with that piece of information in mind, you feel like you're helping. You feel like you're doing us a favor. But I will tell you with blatant honesty, you're not.

When you define a woman by what she looks like, you are neglecting to see the human heart behind the body. When you tell her she's pretty before you compliment her on anything else, you are telling her that what she looks like and the body she has (an element that she was born with that she cannot control) is more important and valued and desired than the person she fought to become. And though it makes her feel worthless, it doesn't diminish her worth at all. It diminishes yours.

So when you see that girl in a bikini this summer, take a moment to think. She's probably not wearing it to gain your attention. She's probably wearing it because it's summer, it's a swimsuit, and she wanted to go swimming. Believe it or not, not everything we do is a ploy for your attention. Sometimes, the things we wear are a lot less about you, and a lot more about us; the things we feel confident and beautiful and stunning in. So, take it from a girl who wants you to be the best man you can be... Get over yourself. Take it from the girl who can rock a bikini and a good pair of sweatpants in the same day: I am far more likely to go for the guy who compliments me in the sweatpants.

We feel most beautiful when you target our core rather than our shell, and it makes you one heck of a strong man in comparison to all the shallow guys we come in contact with on a regular basis. So this summer, I'm challenging the awesome men in my life to their own bikini challenge with one simple request:

Get to know the girl inside of it.

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