by Nosipho Mathaba
The conversation cannot stop when, as a young learner, I was told not to wear a bikini because it is seen as inappropriate for the male learners. The conversation cannot stop when the professional sportswomen that I look up to were told to “respect the game and the place” while fully clothed.
From a very young age, I developed this sixth sense for fashion. I describe fashion as my first love because it has never been difficult for me to put together an outfit that was deemed “fashionable”.
During high school, I used to get extremely excited whenever there was a civvies day or a camp. I would plan outfits a day before and drag my mother to the nearest mall for the trendiest outfit. I remember immersing myself in teen magazines, trying to see where I could draw inspiration from.
When Seventeen magazine was at its peak of popularity, I would skip to the fashion section at the back, cut out the images, and come up with a way to make that outfit scream "Nosipho”. I knew that the only thing standing in the way of how I wanted to dress was me.
I realized shortly that I was very wrong.
While I was trying to grapple with my personal style and how I wanted to represent myself to the world, I was always tainted with the words “watch how you dress”. These conflicting words would come from my relatives, elders, friends, teachers and even strangers. One of the first times I heard those words, I was attending a holiday camp. At this camp, there were also male learners who came from all over South Africa.
The girls were given specific instructions not to wear any bikinis that they had packed because it would be “too inappropriate” for the boys. This is why gender inequality in fashion cannot stop being spoken about. The fact that the words “inappropriate” were used to describe a 12-year-old in a bikini, simply exposes the horrific sexualisation of girls and women in fashion. In addition, that clothing items for females are icons of objectification.
I was too young to understand the complexity of those words. So shamefully, I simply just changed my outfit.
However, as soon as I got older, I realized how those four words were apart of a much bigger issue; the policing of women’s fashion. I stopped simply changing my outfit and I started challenging.
Serena Williams did the same thing. She was suffering from a medical condition which forced her to wear a compression outfit which covered her thighs, shoulders, upper arms, and cleavage. Fully clothed from head to toe, Williams was told by the President of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, that players “must respect the game and the place”. Williams challenged this and started wearing a tutu to games.
Similar to Williams, my personal style challenges this policing. I am not afraid to dress up to the occasion, no matter how “inappropriate” it is.
I wear my tight short dresses and my thigh high boots with pride and confidence. Simply because my body does not belong to anyone but me. My fashion sense belongs to me. From my late teens onward, I decided that what I wear is a reflection of self-expression. My fashion is not only an extension of myself but my fashion is activism.