Matt Bernstein, AKA @mattxiv, posts photos with flawless makeup and a message. His most recent post reads, “stop sexualizing women and girls for literally just existing,” as a response to the altered yearbook photos of more than 80 young women at a school in Florida, and his comments section blew up. He adds in the comments that “choosing to project sexuality onto a person for simply existing and having skin is your problem, not theirs.” This raises some important thoughts about the way we view gender, sexuality, and the portrayal of genders in media. Some people are shocked we still need messages like the one’s Mattxiv shares, but here’s why. Bartram Trail High School in Florida edited photos of young women for their yearbook. Someone photoshopped the images to remove cleavage and bare shoulders.
Sexualizing the Female Body
The implication here is that certain body parts, especially female ones, provoke arousal in others and are therefore considered “inappropriate.” Matt is pointing out that there is no such thing as a “sexual” body part. The only implications that come with any part of the female body are those we impose on them. Nothing is inherently sexual. We make it out to be that way because of the society we live in.
When the news of the horribly altered photos hit Instagram and Twitter, the comments section went wild. Twitter is outraged because the photos of these young women weren’t inappropriate in any way. Each girl was modestly dressed, but that wasn’t good enough. The school in question told the media the photos had to be edited to stay in line with the dress code, which states that girls’ shirts must be modest. What does that even mean? Why the hell is it only girls’ shirts that have to be modest? The implications of the edited photos are, quite frankly, gross. Not to mention misogynistic.
I am no stranger to school administrations trying to police the way that girls dress. When I was in middle school, girls were not allowed to wear tank tops, and skirts had to come down to our knees. If we broke the dress code we would be pulled out of class to change into something different. What the fuck is up with that?! This photoshop incident is further proof that the way we try and sexualize women’s bodies is out of control.
One woman pointed out that the altered photos make girls feel like their bodies are something to be ashamed of. They feel like they have to hide certain parts of themselves away. It doesn’t help that photos of boys showing skin did not undergo changes. The yearbook includes photos of boys in speedos. This school needs to ask themselves why they feel the need to shame young women and not treat young men differently. That’s blatant sexism!
How We Can Change
A question I ask myself all the time is how we can change this? How can we make women feel more comfortable in their bodies? How can we eliminate the shame that comes from being sexualized based on how we present ourselves? There is no right answer. But I think it starts with posts like Matt’s. Matt has a large following on Instagram and Twitter so he can reach a wide audience. The more people who know about what’s happening at that school in Florida, and the more they react to it, the more likely it is that things will change on an administrative level.