Thursday, August 14, 2008

I am not looking at them, they are looking at me

I haven’t been posting or answering emails as promptly as I used to for several reasons. The main reason for my cyber space neglect is SubHub’s vacation. He’s been home for a few weeks and has been hogging computer expressing desire to spend time with his wife. The nerve! And I have so much to write about, I am bursting at the seams (and not because my clothes are too small). I have another week and a half of this to endure, but then we should be back to our original programming.

I wanted to write this entry ever since the beginning of summer, but always put it off. However, after my company had an evacuation drill, I feel that I can no longer keep silent. Have you noticed that if you see a woman in a New York crowd dressed in super skimpy clothes, so skimpy that she stands out among people wearing mostly tank tops and sundresses, nine times out of ten she speaks Russian?

I was thinking exactly that during our evacuation drill. In the crowd of a two hundred people, one could easily spot my some of my former compatriots based solely on the way they dressed. No, those weren’t the raggedy clothes of poor immigrants, for the most part those were expensive duds, but…. One woman was sporting VERY tight pants with three inch heels. How she climbed down twenty something flights of stairs is anybody’s guess. It’s a good thing that Russian women also possess high endurance. She was talking to another woman who was channeling a 12-year-old trapped in a body of someone about three times that age. The second woman looked like she borrowed clothes from the last Children’s Place collections: a tiny polo shirt with a super mini skirt that looked like this (picture taken from Children's Place website):

Something tells me that there was a little girl in Brooklyn, bitterly crying over the loss of her favorite outfit. And just to put it all in context: this is how these women were dressed for work!

But young women with good bodies baring almost all are only half of the problem. Older women refusing to accept realities of their age, weight and the laws of gravity are much worse. Go to any Russian wedding/birthday/big party if you haven’t yet, and you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. When a woman in her 20s shows too much skin, it’s one thing. When her 50 something year old mother does the same, it’s a whole new ballgame. And I am not talking about grossly overweight ladies; most of these older women are rather fit for their age and would look awesome, if only dressed a bit more…I can’t find a word - well if they were just a bit more dressed, I guess. The things that I have seen would only come in some designer’s nightmare. (From now on I will only be talking about women in 50 plus age bracket.) I have seen them wearing skirts or dresses with slits up to here. It could’ve looked attractive, if only the slit didn’t show spider and varicose veins, cellulite and hanging skin. Not pretty. I have seen low cut dresses and blouses without appropriate support – gravity is a law of nature, you can’t opt out simply because you don’t like it. I have witnessed women squeezed into outfits a few sizes too small for them. That looked funny, both funny ha ha AND funny peculiar. And don’t get me started on makeup. I guess the concept that less is more haven’t reached Brighton Beach and Russian media yet. Let’s hope it catches on in this century.

But the winner of them all almost made my eyes bleed. I have seen her, a woman in her fifties, at a wedding, wearing a laced up corset top, few sizes and twenty years too inappropriate for her, like this one,
only without an extra layer of fabric, with her skin literally popping out from between the criss crossed laces. The saddest part was that this woman was rather attractive, and had she worn something less risqué, she would’ve looked pretty rather than desperate for cash, old and fat.

It all would’ve been just in the realm of aesthetics, and we all know that this one is hard to argue logically. However, this propensity to dress inappropriately often time translates into undesirable treatment. I worked once with a girl who preferred wearing tight T-shirts and short shorts. This was a deli type of establishment, and most people at the counter were teenagers making extra cash while in high school or college. Sooner or later this was bound to happen: one of the guys started making comments about the way this girl looked in shorts. His biggest offense was to tell her that she would’ve looked much better if she exercised her legs a bit. The girl went ballistic and started screaming about sexual harassment. While in no way have I condoned the comment the guy made, I still asked the girl as to why she wouldn’t put more clothes on her body. It only makes sense to me that if you are not comfortable at people looking at your body, then maybe you should cover it up. She said that those were clothes she was comfortable in and she was not going to change the way she dressed because of one jerk. I would’ve seen the logic of it had she not complained to me on a regular basis about people making jokes and commenting on her looks. (When another guy – in my presence - paid her a very sexually explicit compliment only a few months later, she didn’t complain. I guess it didn’t constitute sexual harassment if her looks weren’t mocked or criticized.)

Where am I going with this? I am not sure, but I need to conclude. I am not saying that all Russian women dress like this. Actually, most of them dress just fine and not much different from their current compatriots. But the ones who stand out like a sore thumb make all the rest look bad. Russian girls are often stereotyped as easy and promiscuous, and I suspect that the way some Russian women dress has a lot to do with it. (According to my friend who lives in Austria, it’s the same story there. If you see someone in uber mini there, 95% of the time she’s Russian. And it embarrasses the heck out of all the other Russians because many Austrians also developed stereotypes about Russians.) I am not suggesting that everyone should emulate my old lady frumpy style. But how about some common sense: if you don’t want to be treated like a cheap whore, don’t dress like one?


  1. I agree. I guess it's just hard for some people to accept the fact that they're not as young and fit as they used to be.

  2. Oooh, I can't imagine why you haven't received scads of nasty comments on this one. But here's a theory: Russia is so cold all the time, that once these women emigrate, they are so excited by the idea of not having to be bundled up, they go to the other extreme.

    No? Oh, well, it's the best I can do. I don't remember what year you came here; but I can tell you from my college years here in the 80's that there are some stock feminist responses to your criticisms: A woman should be able to dress anyway she wants without being "harassed" (although, as you have noted, harassment is in the eye of the beholder, as it were); making women cover up their bodies makes them ashamed of them and robs them of their power (hey, I'm only repeating what I was taught); and, it's not the half-naked woman's fault, it is the man's fault.

    Personally, I teach my sons that they need to treat a girl/woman respectfully even if the way she dresses indicates that she has no respect for herself; but I still see no need for them to be tempted unnecessarily. I mean, everyone knows burglars are in the wrong; but no one leaves their house unlocked on a matter of principle.

    My, I am long-winded tonight!


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