I made a big fashion faux pas today to wear leggings without anything to cover my butt/crotch which resulted in a “cameltoe” (slang for labia majora being outlined through tight clothes). And a guy at school rudely pointed it out to me and implied I must have a lot of sex because that makes the outer lips more fleshy and prominent.
The thing is, I haven’t had any sex, I’m still a virgin, so I was pretty embarrassed and offended. I just thought cameltoe was caused by clingy, tight clothes. Was this guy just ignorant about girls’ bodies or is there some truth to what he is saying? I honestly feel ridiculous asking but I just had to make sure.Heather Corinna replies:
Let’s talk about what’s real when it comes to the size and shape of the labia and mons first, then address harassment. There’s nothing ridiculous about asking this, and nothing ridiculous about looking for comfort and reassurance after you’ve been sexually harassed. Harassment tends to leave us feeling uncomfortable, insecure and upset, after all, so good on you for seeking out what you need to take care of yourself after being harassed.
How much sex someone has or hasn’t had, and whatever their sexual history has or hasn’t entailed won’t likely have any influence at all on the size or shape of the vulva. The mons and outer labia specifically are mostly fatty tissue, so how prominent they are or aren’t has a lot to do with how fat is distributed there. That’s mostly about genetics but can also be influenced by how much a person weighs, how and where they carry their weight and also with water weight. Back to genetics again, how those portions appear is also going to be about bone structure: all our bones aren’t the same, and how our parts look is related to the size and proportions of the bones beneath them.
When you are sexually aroused or actually engaged in any kind of sex, including masturbation, both those areas can also tend to swell and look bigger or more prominent. But once a person isn’t aroused anymore, that swelling goes down pretty quickly and doesn’t last over days, months of years, just like if your face gets flushed from exercise, once you chill out and your heart rate goes back down, it stops being so red.
For sure, clothing can change how things look, too. However, I hope you know that wearing leggings or anything else that may make those parts of your body less hidden doesn’t make harassment warranted or your fault. Jean Seberg and Edie Sedgwick rocked that look like nobody’s business in the mid-1960s: it wasn’t a fashion faux pas, it was totally trendsetting. Mind, if you feel like that’s not a look you like or feel comfortable in, you don’t have to wear it again, but whether or not something you wear is or isn’t fashionable isn’t based on whether or not you got harassed when you were wearing it. Alas, there’s absolutely nothing anyone can or can’t wear to assure they won’t be harassed or attacked in some way. If only!
Sometimes, without intent, a given clothing choice will result in others being able to see parts of our bodies we don’t mean them to, or don’t mean to expose, but that doesn’t mean that wearing whatever that is means we’re giving anyone a green light to harass us. Sexual harassment is an abuse, and like other kinds of abuses, the person at fault is the person who chooses to abuse someone: harassment is that person’s fault and responsibility, not your fault or your leggings’ fault. If and when we earnestly feel someone might be exposing something they don’t want to be, the thing to do is to either just look away or to say something to them kindly, discreetly and and with as much sensitivity as we can muster, rather than say, making sexual comments or taking a picture of their exposed parts and selling it to a magazine.
I don’t know if this guy was ignorant, because I don’t know if he thought what he said to you was true or not. Clearly, he was harassing you, probably because he meant to harass you. When people aim to do that, they usually aren’t after what’s true, they’re after power and getting a reaction; they aim to make you feel powerless and humiliated, not give you bonafide information about your body. So, in my book, once someone is harassing me or someone else, I figure their credibility is shot, and I should figure that whatever they say — even if I might take some of what they say as a compliment in a different context — it’s probably either not true or that even if it is, what it’s motivated by makes it something I should dismiss by default.
Another reader recently asked a different question about harassment, and I think both of you could benefit from each other’s questions and answers.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.