Why do Women Expose — a Psychotherapist Explains

From mating instincts to material gain, a psychotherapist explores the many reasons why women expose their skin

A sexy woman | concept for

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Women As Sex Objects

Why do women expose their bodies? This is a rhetorical question, which implies, “women should not expose”. Men who expect women and girls to cover themselves completely, do so as they find it difficult to manage their own sexual urges. They fear that they might not be able to show restraint. Instead of being adult and owning the responsibility of their ‘low impulse control’, they put the entire responsibility on girls and women by compelling them to remain completely covered.

Then there are activists, who vehemently state that women SHOULD NOT expose, because it means reducing their existence to merely being a ‘sex object’, thus affecting the status of all women in society. Moreover, they are of the view that women should also be responsible for protecting their own physical space. If girls want to live comfortably without intrusion in their space, they should dress in ways that cannot, in any way, be misconstrued as invitations into their space.

What is Skimpy and What is Modest

Whether it is okay for a woman to expose certain parts of her body, has been a matter of discussion down the ages. Many cultural taboos have arisen from such discussions. The purdah system, the burkha, covering the head with a ghungat or dupatta or saree, are some of the age-old norms that are considered proper or modest for a woman. Just recently while I was on a holiday, my chauffeur commented on how immodest and incorrect it was for the women on the road to ‘only’ cover their head with a dupatta instead of fully covering themselves in a burkha, and how his wife did not ‘expose’ herself in such an immodest way.

The idea of what is modest and what is not, in a woman’s dressing, has rapidly changed with passing time. During the early black-and-white era of cinema, only actresses in negative roles wore sleeveless dresses. It symbolized immodesty in a woman as opposed to the heroine, who was always ‘properly’ clad. Slowly, sleeveless dresses were accepted, but swimsuits were taboo. Then, skirts [that showed legs] were OK, but plunging necklines weren’t. Being clad in a short white saree, wet to the skin, under a waterfall, with the complete body form visible is an accepted ‘art form’ in films and has now become outdated. So, what is considered ‘exposing’ in one era, is completely acceptable in another.

Further, a tribal woman in India or Africa may be totally bare with only trinkets and a loin cloth and be seen as modest, whereas a lady in some other parts of the world might be seen as exposing if her feet are showing from her burkha. Being topless on a beach is acceptable in Nice [France]—no one even gives a second glance. The same would be unacceptable in India. A swimsuit is appropriate in a pool, but not in an office. So, what is termed as ‘exposure’ is time-specific, region-specific, culture-specific, occasion-specific, and in my opinion, attitude-specific.

Attractive girl wearing revealing clothes | Why girls expose
Sometimes girls expose to seduce the men they desire; it’s a mating instinct

5 Reasons Why Women Expose

Women’s dressing has suddenly become a hot topic because of the recent increase in the sex crimes and the discussion on how students should dress for college. Several music videos in which actresses bare it all because they believe in ‘If you have it, flaunt it!’ have fanned the fire.

Let us therefore understand why girls and women expose their bodies.

1. Exposing skin as a mating instinct

There is an existential reason behind exposing the body. A woman, like a female of other species, gives out signals of her readiness to engage in the reproductive act for the propagation of the species. Such seduction or alluring the male by exposing, is to arouse a sexual response in him. However, the seduction is for a specific partner with whom she is willing to sexually engage, and not for anyone else. This is what makes women buy revealing nightwear and lingerie—to attract specific sexual mates.

2. Exposing for self-satisfaction

Women also like to dress sensually and expose their bodies to feel pretty and feminine. This is seen in some girls who admire a revealing dress on a model or actress and wear something similar to feel gorgeous. Such girls and women dress for themselves and not for others. They are least interested in attracting attention or being noticed. They wear revealing clothes just because they enjoy looking good .

3. Showing skin for material gains

Some women also expose their bodies to get noticed and attract sexual attention. And this happens even outside show business. A girl may use her ‘assets’ to get the desired promotion or an increment in salary by appearing desirable to a male authority figure. She is aware of her superior’s weakness and cashes on it for material favours. Often, besides enticing him a bit with a little bit of skin show, she is not interested in taking matters ahead.

However, the frustrated superior either satisfies himself in fantasy, or asks her to make good on her non-verbal promises of sexual gratification by exchanging material benefits.

Women who consciously attract sexual attention for a purpose need to fully understand the deal they are getting into and take responsibility of their actions.

4. Exposing as a way to cope with low self-esteem

The need to expose is also found manifesting in a larger percentage of cases where girls suffer from low self-esteem or poor self-image. The narrow definition of beauty in the form of perfectly sculpted bodies of models is causing an increasing amount of self-esteem problems leading to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

There is a mad rush for cosmetic surgery miracles, some of which are causing serious health concerns. The belief that beauty is skin deep is being sold to us on TV commercials and in magazines.

A saree-clad woman can be immodest and attention-seeking through her body language

A case in point: A concerned mother used to repeatedly tell her dark teenage daughter to use a certain fairness cream. This young girl’s self-esteem sank so low that she was caught in a dilemma. She was sexually maturing, her hormones were raging, and there was an urgent need for her to feel attractive to the opposite sex, so that her own primal needs could be fulfilled. Her immature mind found a solution to raise her self-esteem and cope with this dilemma. She was endowed with a full figure, which she started revealing with low necklines and high hemlines. She would dance at parties in a seductive manner. Needless to say, she got a whole lot of male attention, but was soon labelled as ‘easily available’, with the result that her self-worth hit rock bottom.

While we are discussing the reasons why a woman exposes her body, we need to remember that it is not how much you wear, or which parts of your body are covered that define modesty and culture, but the way you carry what you wear. It is the attitude of the person in the dress, the motivation behind wearing that dress, the body language of the person in the dress that makes it either modest or immodest.

A saree-clad woman can be immodest and attention-seeking through her body language, and a girl wearing a blouse with spaghetti straps can be modest and comfortable by the way she carries herself.

Although exposure is attitude-specific, it is sensible to dress in ways that are appropriate for the occasion, the time, the culture and the region in which you live. Take responsibility of your own actions and ensure that your dressing doesn’t give messages that you don’t want to give.

5. Flashing it for pleasure

According to modern psychiatry, ‘exhibitionism’ is a form of perversion, in which a person derives sexual pleasure when s/he shocks people by exposing his or her body in a sudden, unexpected way. Majority of exhibitionists are impotent in other forms of heterosexual activity and seem to be pushed by an ‘uncontrollable urge’ that leads to their impulsive behavior. According to Masters & Johnson, in many instances, a particular episode of exhibitionist behavior is triggered by a family conflict or a run-in with an authority figure. A female exhibitionist may, at times, get away with her perversion remaining unnoticed by being in a profession in which she exhibits her body in unexpected ways, e.g. the show business where she can enjoy her fetish and derive sexual pleasure by watching shocked faces and raised eyebrows, and can even get paid for it.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Women who wear revealing clothing without thinking it will make them sexually attractive must be very naïve. Granted, modern men have become much less sensitive to various stages of exposure but there is a limit. Women, and especially young girls, should be willing to take some responsibility for the inevitable reaction it causes in any normal heterosexual male.

    • It may also be noted that many married women wear revealing clothes at the behest of their spouse. I believe, many of us take pleasure when the wife gets other men’s attention.

  2. Also, I remember when I was a kid, before I had any concept of sexuality, when I saw a woman wearing revealing clothing, I thought it was gross and it felt like something i shouldn’t see. What is interesting is that this disgust i felt would not have been a problem if I grew up without being taught that those are private parts that I should not see. If I grew up in a nudist colony, for instance, I would be entirely okay with seeing people naked and would not see it in a taboo manner. Either way, beliefs within cultures on covering private parts exists for reasons that make sense, and that are not intended to degrade women. If a man wore revealing clothing, it woulf be more of a problem than with women. If a man wore booty shorts, people would be disgusted and make fun of him. If a man walks into a public business without a shirt, he is not welcome there.

  3. I am pretty certain that most men that want women to cover themselves completely believe in modesty. It is an overgeneralization to say they either cant control their urges or are activists claiming they make a bad image for all women. This belief in modesty is common with religious people as well as old timers that grew up in a time that believed it is indecent to do anything that may be sexualized in public. Some of them might defend this belief with the idea that children should not see women with their breasts and buttocks showing. I personally do not agree with the beliefs I am describing, but i have known men who do believe this, and most of the men that express sexual gratification from revealing clothing actually love the fact that women dress that way, and they do not think they should cover themselves. Still there are men that might want a woman to cover themselves because these men cannot control their sexual urges, as well as the activists you described, but these are not the only reasons men believe this, and are probably less common reasons. Plus it is not just men that believe this, but women of older generations and religions. Some men and women might even think its gross and disrespectful to reveal your buttocks or your breasts, because they are and have always been considered private parts.

    Also, it seems like a lot of women wear revealing clothing without thinking of it as sexual at all. It can be comfortable for them, they might simply like the clothes, etc.

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