On Monday a farmer in Northern Ireland, upon meeting the international pop star Rihanna, did what I imagine very few red-blooded men would: he publicly admitted to not knowing who Rihanna is. Okay, that’s true, but my great uncles would probably all say the same. No, his real shocker was kicking Rihanna out of his grain field where she was filming a music video. Her crime? Looking too sexy. Alderman* Alan Graham explained that when he saw the singer strip down to a red bikini top and jeans he “felt things were getting inappropriate.” He added, “I had my conversation with Rihanna and I hope she understands where I’m coming from. We shook hands.” And the hand shake makes three things most men would never do if they met Rihanna.
This issue of beautiful women showing their bits to make money has been covered more times than “Let it Be” so why did this story spark such an interest for me? Because of the way people are reacting to Graham’s reasoning. He could have said that he kicked her out of his field for trampling his crops, being a distraction or even for not paying him but instead he told the truth: he was uncomfortable with her style of (un)dress and considered it inappropriate. He didn’t tell her to cover up. He didn’t call her a slut. He didn’t tell her she was going to hell. He didn’t say anything except how he felt. And how he felt was uncomfortable. Whether or not you agree with his assessment – and for the record I didn’t find Rihanna’s outfit in this case to be particularly shocking, especially given the standard for women in music videos; I was more appalled that she was smoking - I think he was very brave to share it.
It is not p.c. these days to tell a woman that her sexiness makes you uncomfortable. Allegations of sex-shaming, burqa-inflicting and even insanity fly (because a man would have to be insane to turn down a free glimpse of cleavage, right?). But my favorite of all these accusations is jealousy and it’s usually the one targeted at other women.
A few years ago I wrote a post questioning a popular fitness figure’s in-your-face sex appeal as her primary marketing technique. To sum it up, I felt like her body and her skill set were already so amazing that she didn’t need to fall back on close-ups of her huge boobs and videos of her barely-clad butt to sell her expertise. To this day I love her and I love her w orkouts – girl kicks my much-more-clad butt regularly – and yet I never watch her videos and when I’m on her site, I scroll down until the pictures of her aren’t showing anymore. Because the oversexualized outfits and poses make me uncomfortable.
People don’t believe this answer. Every week or so someone drops by that very old post to leave me a comment saying some iteration of “Stop being such a hater! You’re just jealous! If you had her body you’d flaunt it too! Women are allowed to be sexy!” I hate the “you’re just jealous” argument because it stops all further discussion with a character assassination. There isn’t any point in discussing social mores or sexual politics or how women are treated in our society when you write off all opinion as jealousy. And also, it just isn’t true.
1. I don’t hate her or Rihanna. They are both amazing, talented women.
2. I’m not jealous. Sure I wish I had abs of steel but I feel more admiration for all the hard work I know went into building those abs than sour grapes that I’m not as hot as her (a fact I willingly admit).
3. And I wouldn’t flaunt it even if I had it. First, it’s against my religion. My LDS faith has guidelines about what needs to be covered, and I adhere to them. Nobody makes me do it, it’s something I’ve chosen to do. I don’t feel stifled or repressed, rather I feel more comfortable and more like myself. Second I think it is a disservice to all women to use sex as our primary source of power. It reduces us to a single aspect of our being and marginalizes all our other talents.
4. Women are allowed to be sexy. But since when does a woman having the right to express her sexuality mean that all women have to do so at all times or else they’re just jealous and/or ugly? I find this mentality particularly prevalent in the fitness industry. It’s like there’s this pressure on women (and somewhat on men as well) that they need to prove how fit and healthy they are by showing all the goods, as if real health can be ascertained by a quick scan of glutes or pecs. And the issue isn’t a girl who runs in a sports bra and shorts because that’s how she’s most comfortable on a hot day. The problem is when a girl feels like to be taken seriously as fitness professional she has to wear a push-up bra (or get implants) and wear cheeky shorts even though they may make it harder for her to workout. The problem is when your body becomes your resume. I suppose it’s inevitable that a profession built around bodies would also show a lot of them – but I would argue that the context matters. You can show a great physique without sticking her in a bikini and making her bend over a chair and do that weird trick where you use your arms to squish your boobs together and make more cleavage.
In the end, I’m not judging anyone or denying them their right to do as they please. I’m not even telling them to cover up (totally not my place). Like Graham, all I’m saying is how I feel. And for a variety of reasons this constant message of a woman must be sexy before anything else makes me uncomfortable. Call me a prude. Call me a Bible-thumper (yes Mormons believe in the Bible). Call me an old-wave feminist. But don’t call me jealous.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this – and I’m totally fine with that – but I am interested in taking the discussion further than name calling. What do you think about female sexiness and the fitness industry? What do you think about the farmer and Rihanna?
*Apparently “Alderman” is a specific title that has religious and political connotations that I had no idea about. Cherry explains this all very well in the comments!