A View from Within: Shantel Austin Speaks
Twenty something year old Shantel Austin was asked to speak about society's interpretation of the way women dress and the comments that Chef Ayesha Curry made in December regarding the way women dress "nowadays".
Q. What's your view of the issue in general? What is your position?
A. Clothing plays a crucial role in how a person is perceived and also serves as a form of expression. The items we choose to wear (or not) assists in others’ first impressions upon the initial meeting. I am not an individual that keeps up with clothing trends and fashion, or follows changes in pop culture; though, I once was heavily concerned with both topics in my younger years. I cannot really verify Ayesha Curry’s comments regarding revealing clothing as accurate or the “new wave,” because I am honestly not paying much attention to it. My scope of clothing trends literally is derived from what I view from my friends list on my Facebook timeline – which most, in my opinion, appear to dress pretty conservatively. However, I know most celebs wear revealing outfits because sexual images sell like hotcakes at McDonalds and celebrities tend to influence the public, particularly the youth. Generally speaking, women should be able to wear whatever they please, as long as it doesn’t break any laws and is appropriate for the setting (i.e. do not wear a bikini to church--please). Personally, I rather a sophisticated, elegant look, which some may deem as conservative or “covered up.” It is just my preference, but I do not condemn a woman that dresses more revealing than I do. That is her choice and right to do so.
Q. What underlies your thinking?
A. I am a combination of my Afro-Caribbean-patriarchal background, with a twist of modern U.S. feminist thought, tied in with my Islamic beliefs. I am a conundrum because I often evaluate opposing sides and can never completely rule out one option over the other. The way I was brought up was to wear a shirt that was long enough to cover my bottom if I wore fitted jeans. To make sure I had a tank top or t-shirt under sheer tops and to put my stockings on before I pulled up my skirt. I did not have super restrictive parents, but there were definitely known expectations of how a young lady should dress. Even in my teenage years, belly-skin on display, even a smidgen of brown belly button was an absolute “hell no,” if I wanted to make a peaceful exit. It’s ironic, because other areas of my Jamaican culture, particularly dancehall music is synonymous with sexuality, whining up your waist, and dressing, “sexy.” When I went away to college, like most ‘American’ girls do, I experimented freely with my wardrobe. I wore mini-dresses, midriffs, short skirts and short shorts with super high heels. I was young, learning myself and UN-regrettably living my life. As for direct influences, my mother and both grandmothers exuded, in my opinion, classiness and were always both fabulous and covered. Even when my mom was going for a provocative look, maybe for an evening out with my dad, her outfit still covered a great majority of her body, while remaining fashionable. My faith, as a revert to Islam also directs my thinking on this subject matter. Without delving too deep, Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 both address women’s dress in the Qur’an. The short story is that women (men too) should be covered, except when in the presence of their husband (wife for men) and or family members. Summarizing again, the purpose of this type of dress is to avoid forbidden or sinful behaviors. Islam promotes modesty, which means modest dress. The Sunnah further expounds on the topic, citing head coverings and jilbabs to cover the body. So, my underlying reasons for agreeing with Mrs. Curry are not all the way confusing. My real-life role models provided me with memories and depictions of classily dressed and confident women. My maturation over the years, role models, and my religious views have cultivated my thoughts on fashion and women’s dress
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the comments made by Curry?
A. I assume if I was more up-to-date with pop culture, I could possibly share the same outlook as Ayesha Curry. Considering my previously mentioned, limited knowledge of popular trends, I agree with Mrs. Curry, in “keep[ing] the good stuff covered up for the one who matters,” – which for me, is my husband. While I feel a bit of underhandedness in her second comment, preferring “classy” attire to “trendy” clothing, I also agree with that notion. Dressing sexy for or around your husband or significant other, promotes intimacy that should not be available to anyone else but him. I am a believer of being with one person only and sharing my body with one person. That includes, not only sex, but even the sight of my body in its nude form. It’s such a cliché, but my body is my temple and I value it so much that I just would not feel comfortable wearing a barely there outfit in public at this place in time. I would be a hypocrite to say that I never did this before, but I have grown and definitely changed.
Q. What are the implications of women’s attire being a societal issue?
A. There has been so much discussion of women’s attire in the media and how it affects the way they are addressed or even the issue of consent to sex. I am not here for any of it, but I am also a realist. One of the main reasons I choose not to wear revealing outfits in public is because I do not want to deal with entitled men, who think they have the right to approach me, or worse, touch me. I have experienced this personally in my past. It is uncomfortable for me. I wish we lived in a world where this would not be a concern, but unfortunately it is. Last week, I was lazily listening to a talk show while doing some homework. I overheard one of the male commentators respond to guest, Amber Rose, known for her racy attire that, “people should dress, the way they want to be addressed.” I felt guilty for even thinking it, but I agreed with him. I do believe clothing is one way to get a depiction of who a person is, and strangers modify their interactions based on what a person looks like. It is human. It is natural. Is it unfair? Probably, but that’s life.
In regards to consent, that is where I draw the line. There is absolutely no understanding or debating the opposing sides. A women’s attire does not speak for her when it comes to sexual consent. I do not care if a woman is walking around in G-string, if she says “no,” then that is it! No questioning or argument after that. We live in a rape culture, where in many cases, it is the victim of sexual abuse that has to prove she is being truthful and validate her attire and behavior in order to be justified by the public.
Q. How should women dress? Why?
A. Women should dress for the occasion or the venue. It would be unfair for me to say that every woman should wear a hijab, or dress modestly because it is my preference. I cannot speak for every woman and I honestly wouldn’t want to. As long as the outfit is appropriate, then it should not be anyone’s concern. Wear business clothes to a corporate interview, wear a hijab in the mosque, etc. While I stray from giving a specific look, I think women should wear clothing that makes them feel both beautiful and confident--however that looks is how each woman should dress. It is a woman’s right to make choices for our bodies without interference and wishfully, without any judgment.
Q. Why Do you think Black Girls are Fly?
A. The reasons Black girls are fly is really an endless list. Black girls are effortlessly and naturally beautiful with our bronzed to deep chocolate complexions, kinky, coily, unique hair texture which can be manipulated to do a variety of styles, in addition to our full lips and figures, which many would give their life savings to acquire. We set trends. We are creators. Not only are Black girls alluring, but we also have historically exuded strength, confidence and resilience in moments of adversity. Black girls flourish no matter the circumstance or obstacles in our way.
Originally, born in Kingston, Jamaica, W.I. and raised in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Shantel Austin is a 26 year old married graduate student presently living in Florida. Shantel works in Human Resources, which she loves. To “sum her up,” Shantel describes herself as a Black, Jamaican-American-Muslim woman.