How Do Leggings Shine a Spotlight on Sexism in the Media?

Seth Anderson
Seth Anderson

By Tasha Sanders, Intern 2015

When I first caught wind of blogger Veronica Partridge’s recent post about her decision not to wear leggings or yoga pants anymore, I was stumped. Full disclosure: I am totally in the “Leggings Can Be Pants!” camp. I love leggings. They’re so comfortable, they look great under dresses and tunics alike, and to be frank, they complement my … erm … assets. When I put something on and feel good about the way I look, I feel confident and self-assured. I know it’s a controversial stance to have, but why? Why are some people so fervently against leggings and other “revealing” clothing that they have even come to be banned in some places? Unattainable beauty standards and mass media put the pressure on women, and the results are devastating.

Part of the problem lies in how girls and women are critically judged on their appearance. Take creepy toddler beauty pageants, for example. By the time we are only a few years old, we understand that our physical traits carry a significant weight in this world. I speak from personal experience. I have a three-year-old daughter who knows that being called “pretty” is one of the nicest things you can call a gal.

Girls are being judged 24/7, and sometimes it feels like they just can’t win. Too fat, too skinny. Too much make-up, not enough make-up. Young girls who are changing and developing are enduring this subtle sexism throughout their whole lives, from dress code policies in school to body policing, and it’s causing lasting damage and insecurity.

Leggings weren’t just a random example I pulled out of thin air; they are an incredibly polarizing piece of clothing. I often hear, even from fellow women, that leggings or yoga pants are acceptable only under something long enough to cover your rear, because “no one wants to see that.” I have something to say to that kind of sizeism: If you don’t want to see my fat ass in a pair of leggings, then don’t look!

Society tells us that only certain body shapes should present themselves to the world. Women whose bodies don’t fit this standard are made to feel ashamed and unworthy, and they learn that they should either conform to narrow conventional beauty standards (even if it means dangerous and ultimately ineffective crash dieting) or avoid fashion altogether, despite the fact that the average size of the typical American women is a size 14. When it comes to plus-sized fashion, the industry is essentially telling usHere is a potato sack, girl! I’m sure it will look great on you.

It is in the beauty and fashion industries’ best interests to keep girls second-guessing themselves and remaining in a perpetual state of insecurity. That’s why nearly every ad targeting young girls features a heavily Photoshopped model claiming that If only you had this product, you could look like me! Of course, no one looks like that model — not even that model, really. But as consumers feel judged at every turn, we buy into it. I have dropped plenty of pretty pennies at the promise of volumized hair of longer eyelashes. Every time it doesn’t work the way it’s promised, I raise my fist to the air and mutter, “You got me again!”

It’s not just the advertising industry that works against women. We are taught from a young age that other women are our biggest adversaries. Society tries to pit girls against each other, which isn’t just damaging, it’s downright cruel. With men being viewed as the dominant sex, women are told that in order to gain respect from these “higher beings” and to make it further in this world, we must tear each other apart to reach the top. The only people this benefits, in the end, are men. I don’t want to go off on a tangent shouting “Patriarchy!” but … seriously.

This doesn’t mean that all men are sitting around in a boardroom discussing ways to keep women down. It’s an imbalance in power that men benefit from, subconsciously or otherwise. It’s why so many men fear the idea of feminism: A shift in power — even just to balance things out — directly affects their position in the world. By keeping women at each other’s throats in constant competition with one another, it makes it difficult to succeed or further ourselves in this world.

Once we understand how the media is working against us and decide to buck those unattainable beauty standards, it’s much easier to stand up and take action. This petition calls for “Truth in Advertising,” and calls on companies to alert consumers to the fact that their ads have been Photoshopped. Check out the hashtag #NotBuyingIt and join in with other Twitter users to call out sexism in the media. Remember that activism can occur on a smaller level as well, and shut down conversations that bring other people down or judge people’s appearances. Teach your sons and daughters that a person’s worth comes from inside, and is not dependent on the clothes they choose to wear or how they look.

A shift in perspective is key: not just for us, but for our girls and future generations. The media relies on us to buy into what it sells, so the sooner we speak out against what it’s dishing, the sooner we are likely to see change.

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