Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Why the focus on female flesh?

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Why are there such strong opinions about how they choose to dress? Photo / Thinkstock
Why are there such strong opinions about how they choose to dress? Photo / Thinkstock

Women are frequently criticised for the amount of flesh they reveal. Too little and they're uptight. Too much and they're a hussy. Or so goes the conventional, oppressive narrative. The body parts currently undergoing minute examination by the mainstream media are female midriffs and bellies. There sure is a lot of navel-gazing going on.
Exposing them publically is a guaranteed way to get disapproving tongues wagging.
From our only-in-America files, Cover up if you're too trim reports that a "woman whose body was 'too trim' has fallen foul of the 'no gymtimidation' policy of America's fastest-growing health club franchise." In a dazzling display of hypocrisy, she was asked to cover up her "visibly trim midriff" in what was supposed to be a "Judgment Free Zone". Go figure. (Ha!)

The five most controversial magazine covers reminded us that back in 1991 Demi Moore exposed her seven-months-pregnant bare belly on the cover of Vanity Fair and "[m]any conservative groups in the US found it to be morally objectionable."

Yet this bold act singlehandedly empowered expectant mothers everywhere to embrace their burgeoning bellies with pride.

Moore no doubt fuelled the trend for celebrating pregnancies with moody photographs and inspired women to feel beautiful in their fecundity.

More recently and closer to home, Aja Rock shocked some people by posting a selfie on Twitter showing her flat stomach accompanied by the hashtag #oneweekpostbaby. As explained in Weight debate a stress for mums, she "also raised eyebrows at" a "party in Auckland, proudly showing fellow guests her flat stomach". But the aim of regaining a pre-pregnancy body in super-fast time was condemned by health professionals as unrealistic and just another pressure for new mothers. I wonder whether it is okay to acknowledge that truth while admiring the tummy in question but suspect it is not. Oh well.

While some women are frowned upon for showing too much flesh, others are criticised for wearing items of clothing designed to protect their bodies from the gaze of others. In Lifting the veil on the life of Muslim women in NZ a spokeswoman for the Islamic Women's Council of NZ said: "A woman's body is her own private space, and she has every right to choose to cover herself up without having to be judged or penalised for doing so".


Sahar Farhat (left), Alena Katkova and Rawand Shiblaq feel they have been shown respect for wearing the hijab. Photo / Greg Bowker

She was specifically talking about the wearing of the burqa but surely her words could also apply to women who want to uncover themselves to a certain extent. Doesn't every woman have a right to expose her belly or midriff if she chooses?

I would have thought all women should be free to show off their body to a reasonable degree without fear of condemnation. Yet the message that could be taken from the first three linked stories above is: if you're a woman who is a) "trim" b) pregnant, c) a mother or d) all of the above, you should keep your belly out of public view for fear of offending or pressurising others. Sorry, I still don't get it.

Why are there such strong opinions about how much flesh women reveal and how they choose to dress? Is it just another way to keep women doubting themselves and each other in order that the patriarchy can continue to flourish?

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- www.nzherald.co.nz

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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