What's the message in your Prada?
As we all learned through the powerful development of the MeToo Movement, most women have endured an experience during which they felt objectified at least once in their lives.
Objectification is defined as the act of treating someone as a mere object of desire, and refers to the behavior or attitudes by someone, usually a woman, is viewed "as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity. [It] can also refer to the behavior of individuals and is a type of dehumanization."
In short, this happens when someone perceives of or uses you as they would an inanimate object, rather than seeing you for who you are as a person, at least not beyond external factors such as what you look like or which outfit you're wearing.
Rather than seeing you as a fellow human being with your unique emotions and soul, a man who objectifies you believes you exist solely for his personal pleasure and gratification.
And while both men and women can be mistreated this way, women are the ones who most often find themselves the victims.
Take one woman named Alison*, for example. When she moved to a new city for work, she started getting lots of male attention. Before moving, she'd rarely heard from men. She would have crushes that lasted for years based on nothing more than a few smiles and, if she was lucky, some polite words muttered in passing.
Then, all of a sudden, her luck changed. The tables turned and men began seeking her attention.
"But why now," she wondered?
Alison had also happened to notice that women in her new city didn't seem to pay much attention to their outward appearance and the way they dressed for work, preferring to focus on their performance and career accomplishments.
When Alison sat back and objectively compared herself to most local women she encountered, she could see her own beauty and attractiveness far more readily than she ever had before.
She soon met John, a charming guy who caught her interest and had just moved to the city himself.
The two initially bonded over being away from their families, and she felt butterflies whenever they spent time together. When he wasn't around, however, those positive feelings disappeared and she began feeling a paranoid sort of nervousness in their place.
A short while later, Alison learned that John was avoiding making a commitment to her because he wanted to explore possibilities with other women, leading her to break up with him.
Even though, in retrospect, Alison could now see that John had treated her terribly during the brief they were dating, it felt impossible for her to let go of him.
In an effort to get him off her mind, she forced herself to go out and attend party after party.
Every night, she tried her best to make sure she would be the most attractive woman in the room, garnering the attention of as many men as possible. Then she would follow up by posting gorgeous photos of herself on Facebook ... to show John what he was missing out on.
As time went on, she became obsessed with being and feeling as beautiful as possible.
After a few years passed, Alison realized she had grown increasingly jealous of other attractive women.
Mortified by her discovery, she began to rebel against the feminine style she'd relied on for so long. She got a haircut, began wearing masculine, baggy clothing, and rarely went out wearing makeup.
Alison knew that the most important qualities in all of us are those that are internal, and she made a conscious decision to dress in a more androgynous way so she would stop receiving male attention based only on her looks.
Her experience of being objectified by John and other men led her to both fear and reject her femininity, as she blamed her choice of clothing and the emphasis she'd put on her appearance for attracting the wrong kind of men.
Eventually, Alison began to miss wearing the fun dresses in bright colors and curve-hugging clothing that better suited her personal sense of taste and style.
At the same time, however, she was afraid that reintroducing that kind of clothing into her life would cause her to fall back into her old, negative pattern of seeking validation based on men's approval and competition with other women.
What Alison came to realize was that wearing the kind of outfits she preferred and being respected by men don't have to be mutually exclusive.
By renouncing a more feminine style of clothing entirely, Alison had only succeeded in camouflaging the inner truth of who she is, as a woman and as a human being.
Alison is now married to a wonderful man who treats her like gold.
When they first met, her husband definitely noticed her put-together look, elegant attire, and the confident way she carried herself, but it was her heart he ultimately fell in love with.
While Alison might have started her clothing "challenge" by wanting to attract the right man (and make the wrong one regret the way he'd treated her), over the course of her experience, she came to change her entire mindset about her appearance.
As a result, she became more self-aware and empowered as a woman, rather than further subjecting herself to self-objectification.
While all women should avoid dressing themselves solely for the sake of capturing male attention, it’s completely normal for everyone, no matter what their gender, to want to wear clothing in which they feel their best and most attractive — both for themselves and for the cute new crush they're about to go on a date with.
What's most important is selecting items for your wardrobe that make you feel more fully empowered by your own attractiveness and femininity, rather than those that make you feel defined by external sources of validation.
*All names changed to preserve confidentiality.