An interesting thing happens every fall quarter around campus: People get dressed up and go out because they still miraculously have the energy to do so. It’s a quasi-celebration every weekend because somehow, inexplicably, we’ve survived another week with enough energy to celebrate that survival. I suppose there really is some magic wafting about the UChicago campus: Through a miracle of divine intervention, we, the members of the student population, manage to wedge our hills of flesh into our spandex.
And yes—we’ve been noticed.
Eliora Katz successfully struck a nerve when she declared, “My Lips Are Sealed” (11/8/13). About a week ago, I was sitting at lunch and was distracted from my very carefully scheduled period of sitting and doing nothing by a growing murmur regarding Katz’s article: from men in various states of confusion, and women looking simultaneously disgusted and concerned.
Let’s press pause for a moment: Pause the demeaning imagery, and pause the barefaced judgment that her article seems to indulge. Can we as a community take a hot second to discuss the disturbing mindset creeping into our dialogue? Can we address the lack of productive discussion plaguing our peers? Can we simply stand up on our chairs and proudly declare, “Don’t you dare tell me what I can and cannot wear!”?
The strength to stick to one’s commitments with the intensity that radiates from Katz’s Viewpoints piece is commendable and should be praised. I’m more than happy to do that. Grappling with one’s morality and tenets in a college environment is an experience shared by many, and not just in a to-drink-or-not-to-drink context. Freedom to reinvent yourself can be liberating, but it can also make it a little too easy to lose sight of the things you care most about. Reconciling Orthodoxy, morality, or even just academic priorities with the collegiate culture of “I can do whatever I want” is something with which so many people (myself included) struggle. So big ups, Eliora; your conviction is inspiring. But don’t let that conviction extend to anybody else based on your observations of our lifestyle.
Zoom out with me here. Across our campus, there’s a spectrum of intolerance: the conventional and assumed pressure to go just a little bit harder on one end, and “hills of flesh covered by revealing spandex beg me to notice them” on the other. First of all, I prefer “curvy” to having my body called a “hill of flesh,” but maybe that’s just a personal preference. Moving right along and back to the big picture, when did my decision to dress however I want start impacting anyone in a real, tangible way? Other than you witnessing the fact that I’m “packed into [my] tight trousers like two generous scoops of ice cream” (thank you, for that, by the way…), and perhaps disapproving of my choice of fit, what impact are my skin-tight jeans really having on your existence? Perhaps the most important bit and the one I’m most concerned about: Isn’t this judgment pressure for me to cover up and conform to a traditional set of morals just as insidious and prejudiced as the pressure for you to show some skin?
At the end of the day, this whole debate is about choices, both yours and mine, and our right to make them on our own.
Everybody has a right to choose their beliefs, what they wear, and when to leave a frat party. Or not leave. Or not believe. And that’s totally fine. Recognizing that a situation is not in accordance with your own morality and having the courage to pull yourself out of it are hugely commendable. But condemning me for not sharing that view and for wearing spandex? That’s not commendable. That’s judgmental and intolerant and a huge part of the reason we as a community have such a hard time having a real discussion about real issues facing our population. Efforts to combat rape culture are swamped by this negative view of other students and religious radicalism grows out of this intolerance. A toxic environment is developing and I don’t want to be a part of it.
Let me take a moment and place a caveat on this whole diatribe: This is in no way meant to excuse genuinely offensive behavior. There’s no place for prejudice and hatred. Things that do have a tangible effect and violate a person’s right to choose her own lifestyle are exempt from the rant in which I’m engaging. That type of behavior violates the contract of mutual respect for which I’m vouching. Why is my body suddenly a political arena, even when there isn’t an externality to my choice of leggings? In this respect I agree with Katz’s point: We all experience that feeling at some point. And it’s absurd. But doesn’t condemning and judging the spandex-rocking population in her article only exacerbate the issue?
Respect my right to wear spandex and hook up and I’ll respect your right to wear a more conservative skirt. Allow me to make my choices. No one has to participate with me, but I must be given the opportunity to choose my own lifestyle. This is a community that fosters open discourse and discussion—there’s no room for condemnation of a lifestyle choice that inflicts no harm on others. This is a community of acceptance and respect.
I’m not asking for your stamp of approval. No stamps needed here. Stick to your guns. Stand up for yourself. But I am asking for you to respect me enough to let me do the same, and to let me live my life. Do not condemn the quality of my being based on the choices I make that don’t affect you. Let me rock my crop top, please and thank you.
Haleigh Miller is a second-year in the College majoring in public policy.