Summertime Sadness

It’s hot. For once, the British weather has actually acknowledged the meaning of ‘summer’ and has graced us with weeks of sun. I couldn’t be happier – nothing makes me smile more than a lot of sunshine. I instantly equate sunshine and warm weather to days out with friends, catching up and cooling down with a pint, listening to music whilst basking in the sun and spontaneous evenings out.

It is only this summer, my first summer after university, that I’ve thought about the sinister side of summer. I never had a problem before; I haven’t seen a summer this hot in a good few years, so I was never really aware of it. It was only when I was catching up on Everyday Sexism and browsing the internet about air conditioning and ventilation on the tubes that it became obvious. Summer seems to bring out the pervs in people. Sexual harassment has risen significantly during the heatwave and the common excuse is that by wearing skirts, shorts and dresses – i.e. dressing comfortably in the sticky heat – means that women are ‘asking for it’.

skirt

Believe it or not, when women get dressed before going out and bracing themselves for the stuffy underground, which is terrible even in winter, we don’t dress and think ‘gee, I hope someone catcalls me or gropes me in these shorts, else it will be a wasted outing!’ We dress the way we do because it is summer. It is incredibly hot, even more so when commuting. We dress for comfort. I can’t think of anything worse than it being almost 30˚c and being covered head to toe in something like jeans and a jumper (though given some of the gentry around, we’d probably still be asking for it then). We dress for ourselves, be it for our own satisfaction, comfort or practicality. We are not objects to defile and degrade. You do not have a right to comment on our bodies or the nature in which we have dressed them. Our bodies are our private space, not a public space which you can grope or masturbate at. Catcalling is never a compliment and actually makes us feel like we shouldn’t have bothered leaving the house because of the amount of sexual harassment we have had to endure just to be comfortable.

Our bodies are exactly that – ours. We have the right to dress according to the weather without suffering leering gazes mentally undressing us. And I’ll be damned if I let perverts dictate my movements and outfits during the summer: clothing is never the cause of sexual harassment.

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Ink and Metal

Note: I originally wrote this piece for Exetera Magazine, an exclusive student magazine at University of Exeter. I thought I would repost here as it has a lot of relevance and I still feel the same, although I am a lot more comfortable having moved back home to my lovely, diverse hometown of London.

A year ago, I could stroll peacefully around campus without anybody noticing I existed. Nothing particularly stood out about me apart from my cropped blonde hair – a far cry from the long locks of most girls wandering around Exeter. Even then, I weaved in and out of crowds unnoticed.

Then everything changed.

I still remember that showering spring day last academic year when I booked my very first tattoo. I was excited, my hand shaking whilst I signed the contract. I paid the deposit and, a week later, turned up rather drunk to be tattooed. I expected the worst but the pain was like a hot scratch. It was a soothing pain, a pain that was satisfying because it was a means to an end. A very expressive and beautiful end.

That first tattoo opened a can of worms. I got another, bigger and more painful one the month after, and then delved into the world of piercings, having my tragus done. Now, after the first term of my final year, I have three tattoos and fourteen piercings.

My tattoos are mostly visible when I go clubbing – short skirts and backless tops show them off. My piercings aren’t so easy to cover up – two of them are on my face. In Exeter University’s homogeneous population, I stick out like a sore thumb. It seems that the populous doesn’t approve of expressing individuality, with a huge proportion of students decked out in Jack Wills and modeled on barbie dolls. As a consequence of my personal style, people actively stare at me. Even lecturers, who know me for my eccentric, outspoken nature, find it hard to concentrate on anything except my nose and lip piercings.

The reactions vary. Some people are too petrified to approach me, assuming I’m a Satanist (particularly if I’m head to toe in black). Others take a genuine interest, quizzing me about which piercing hurt most and what my tattoos mean. Some, it seems, wish to model themselves on the stereotypical American high school teenagers you spot in cheesy teen movies – they look with disgust and sneer behind my back. I can’t tell if that’s pure pettiness or it’s because they’ve been brought up to think that having copious tattoos and piercings isn’t the done thing.

I don’t regret my tattoos and piercings, despite the strange glances and glares I get whilst traipsing around campus. Recently, I was walking from town toward campus only for a fellow student to turn around, stare at me and make a vomiting noise, then run away. I was hurt for all of two seconds, before realising that I should be proud of my tattoos and piercings. I do look different, and it’s something to celebrate. After years of self-loathing, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, and free to decorate it however I want.