Playing the THOT: A Reflection on a Moment of Dress-Up

Last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, I was in Miami for my best friend’s bachelorette proceedings. There was plenty of indulgent eating, drinking, partying, and of course a bit of scantily clad dressing because that is de rigueur in Miami. But there was one night that would raise the eyebrows of many, a themed night called, “So You Think You Can Dress…Like a THOT.” To quickly fill you in, THOT stands for “That Hoe Over/Out There” and has swept the nation for the last year or so. You can pretty much consider “THOT” the millennial slut. She is classified as such by her questionable and high quantities of men, “ratchet” behavior, too revealing and tight clothing, and even her teeth. I decided that since my bride-to-be best friend loves dressing up–she met her soon-to-be husband at a Halloween party and she loves dressing up for galas, parties, etc–it would be fun to have the group compete in a THOT dress-up contest complete with prizes for “Most THOTful outfit. I also figured that the act of dressing up  this way would be ripe for social commentary and ethical reflection. What can I say, I love a good social experiment and I’m a slave to my research interests.

I was hesitant about this idea at first because I didn’t know if it would offend the sensibilities of a group of young, professional black women. Surely we have enough odds stacked against us that donning our THOT apparel may not help us. But, much to my surprise, the group was for it. The original plan was to dress up the night we went to Miami’s–and possibly the nation’s largest strip club, King of Diamonds, but a last-minute change of plans resulted in us modeling our outfits for an impromptu photo shoot in the lobby of our hotel. Alas my social experiment was axed but it still left me with something to think about.

Days before this themed night I spoke with a close friend about it and asked her what she thought about my posting the pictures on Instagram. Immediately she told me that it would be a bad idea because it would be a conflict of interest with my professional life. She suggested that the photo might fall into the wrong hands and I may be judged harshly for it. A few days after it was all said and done, I told another close friend that I wanted to post one of the pictures on Facebook to which he said, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He suggested that someone from work might see it and I might get in trouble. To the latter friend I responded that I wish I would get in trouble for posting a picture of myself in a revealing outfit when they know who I am as a person. I am confounded that this would even be an issue and that, once again, what a woman does with her body–independent of harming anyone else–would subject her to judgement.

We all know that the advent of social media makes it more possible to get in trouble for the things we do in our private time. We also know that photos of women in revealing clothing subjects them to harsher judgement than their male peers regardless of what is known about them personally. And of course, over the last few weeks, we have come to know that at this time people’s computers can be hacked and nude photos released for public consumption without permission. So the reality is, women are damned if they don’t and damned if they do. Our reputation can be put on the line for having scantily clad fun–or for being fully dressed because that’s what fashion critics do–or it can be put on the line during the involuntary release of photos of ourselves. We have no control over whose hands photos fall into and what people will think about those photos when they receive them. Right now it is my prerogative to release a photograph of myself in revealing clothing worn for fun. Conversely, it is another woman’s prerogative to release pictures of herself in revealing clothes that she wears because that is what she likes wearing. Neither of us deserve what could be coming to us in the way of condemnation, judgement, termination from jobs, lascivious attention, rape etc. I had to throw in the latter because before the themed night someone also suggested that we will get unwelcome attention from men and it may be dangerous for us to dress like this. I am personally tired of policing myself based on men’s lack of impulse control–thank you Daily Show’s Jessica Williams for that word. It is rarely other women we have to deal with but men who think they are entitled to certain behavioral outcomes because of the way a woman dresses or men who determine what is respectable and what isn’t. And this leads me to my concluding point, the politics of respectability.

At the end of the day politics of respectability is what this all boils down to. A woman perceived as a THOT or a woman in THOT clothing is not seen as respectable because she doesn’t conform herself to society’s–better yet, the patriarchy’s standard for women–and therefore it is assumed that she doesn’t deserve our respect. But this disregards the humanity of women and their right to choose for themselves whom they will be or in the case of this discussion, what they will look like, and still maintain full integrity of their being. Is a woman not more than the clothes she chooses to puts on her back? Or is she not more than what she chooses to do for money? I am well aware that I speak with a certain privilege because I wore my outfit for entertainment purposes only and I have a certain reputation established, but most of the women we categorize as THOTs don’t have that luxury. And to take it one step further, the term “THOT” was contrived in the minds of men so isn’t it about time the women destroy it somehow? I’m with Madame Noir writer Veronica Well who said,

…as you may imagine the term was originally used to describe sexually promiscuous women. Of course that’s problematic and misogynistic because, once again, women are being punished for being sexually expressive while men, who behave similarly, are given a pass and a pat on the back.

I want to argue for a woman retaining her power regardless of how she chooses to dress. That we all owe women and girls that respect and I say this as a lesson I am teaching myself because I will not act like I haven’t seen a women questionably dressed and not judged her. Hell, I saw plenty of questionably dressed women in Miami, I’ve been appalled by Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” I’ve stared in disbelief as women got paid to dance on top of bars in little to nothing or pole danced…I’ve questioned the content of many a woman’s character for how they dressed or acted. Many are the judgements I’ve waged against those women and the pity I’ve had for them, but these women chose that for themselves with the assumption that they would still be treated with respect, just as much respect as the women who came out of the house or the hotel with respectable clothing on, and I get it. I get it. A few minutes of one night that I chose to dress as a so-called THOT, I expected to be respected and taken seriously because I know who I am at my core. This is what all women expect and are entitled to regardless of how much or how little clothing they are wearing because they too know who they are at their core.

picstitch

Same woman, different clothes, respect regardless.

 

Sexy Virgins?


Adriana Lima

Jessica Simpson

Teyana Taylor Black Men's magazine cover

Meagan Good

The four women pictured above either were or are virgins. If you have kept up with pop culture you most likely can point out the ones who are no longer virgins because you know something about their lives. You know that they are  married and entering into such a union makes it probable that they have since lost their virginity. But what makes these women the topic of my discussion today is not the fact that they were or are virgins, but the way in which their virginity was put on display–either by themselves or the media–and how the portrayal of their virginal nature–or lack thereof–has created a misconception of who and what virgins are.

It used to be people could tell a virgin from far away. The female virgin was one who exuded chastity and seemed to walk around with an impenetrable force field of purity. She was so good you couldn’t stand it. She was dressed in white, wore skirts that hit below the knee. None of her clothing was form-fitting because modesty was de rigueur for the virgin. She was like an angel or a beautiful bird, caged, singing a particular song that people could hardly stand to listen to but they were always captivated by. Through the years our virgin started to wear red–on her body and her lips. The hemlines of her skirt began to rise, her clothes began to be more form-fitting, but, as she began to change her look to match that of her contemporaries, she still held on to the ideal of chastity and purity. But, this time around no one believed her and couldn’t stand her. No one believed her because she changed everything about herself that made her seem virginal. Her virginity became less of a visible quality and more of a state of mind which confused people.

What virgin models lingerie for Victoria’s Secret and wear angels wings while walking down the runway in her skivvies for the world to see? What virgin gets engaged to a gorgeous boy band member who drips sex and doesn’t immediately have sex with him, before the wedding night? What virgin makes her money playing coquettish women for a living in movies and leaves very little to the imagination when seen in public? What virgin poses for a popular men’s magazine exposing a tantalizing view of her breasts and thighs and calls herself, “The sexiest virgin you know.” What virgin does any of those things? Each of the women pictured above have been those virgins and one is that virgin.

Because each of them is a public figure their sexuality has been up for grabs from the moment they stepped into the spotlight. For Adriana Lima and Jessica Simpson, their virginity has been packaged and sold. Simpson, the All-American girl who saved herself until marriage and then let the cameras roll until her marriage was destroyed. And Lima, the exotic beauty and Victoria’s Secret cash cow. She could sell lingerie to a blind man as long as he could smell her Strawberries & Champagne scented sex appeal and she could keep the man with good eyes ogling her and fantasizing about what it’d be like to be with a sexy virgin, like her.

Then we have our last two women, up and coming R&B singer Teyana Taylor, and starlet, Meagan Good. I didn’t know that Taylor was a virgin until she took nearly all her clothes off and declared to men–and women who like that type of thing–that she was the sexiest virgin they know. Now the images of her virginity go hand in hand with the image of her stripping down and being “sexy.” (I have to put sexy in quotes because I think we currently misunderstand what it means to be sexy, but that will be for another post.) And Good, the young starlet who has made the majority of her fortune playing not so “good” characters. There is no evidence that she was a virgin throughout all of this, but she has claimed to be a Christian and a person with high moral standards. Given this it was no surprise that upon announcing her engagement to Hollywood producer and Seventh Day Adventist preacher, Devon Franklin, she also announced that they would be waiting until they got married to have sex. Oh how the tongues wagged at this. Could Good be capable of not having sex after years of acting as though she’d been around? Should she be judged so harshly just because she had a few “sexpot” roles?

It all culminates in this: What should a virgin be like today? (Assuming there is an ideal for a virgin in our currently over sexed society.) Has our culture changed what virgins look and act like? Is the term “virgin” just out-of-place in our culture? Can a woman be a virgin and “sexy” simultaneously or is it all one big oxymoron?  Do we need to bring virgins back like Justin Timberlake brought sexy back?

Let’s talk.