I spent the entire month of December wearing a dress, well, at least publicly. At the end of 2017, an organization called the Dressember Foundation launched a campaign to raise 2 million dollars of support for victims of human trafficking worldwide. People were encouraged to advocate for Dressember’s mission as individuals or teams via social media outlets. Around 80% of victims of sex trafficking are women and girls, and as a victim of rape myself, this subject as been close to my heart for many years. Whereas my assault was an isolated incident, a crime that was immediately reported, sex trafficking is usually a nightmare that goes on and on for its victims, with no end in sight. Also, it’s a profitable business across the globe, making it easier to push on the dark web and almost directly under people’s noses.
So, when I found out about Dressember’s mission during the month of December, my interest was piqued. All I was asked to do as an advocate was wear a dress every day, take photos of myself and post them to social media, and ask people to donate. That last part was the most intimidating for me because I’m not a natural salesperson, and December is already a heavy spending month for people; I felt a little awkward asking them to stretch their budgets even more.
But several things surprised me about my month of dresses. Wearing a dress didn’t seem like such a big commitment or statement to me at first, probably because I’m a girly-girl and I like to wear dresses anyway. But as the first week ended and the second week began, my perspective on my limited wardrobe options changed.
First, I noticed that I was relegated to about four dresses that suited the wintry weather in December in North Carolina, and that got me thinking about women in second and third world countries who may not even have that many dresses for the season. The fact that I had four warm and fashionable dresses and then went out and easily purchased a skirt to wear with some of my sweaters, just because I could, increased my gratitude. Second, as I had to decide which dress or skirt was better for that day’s schedule or itinerary—was it grocery shopping, hiking with my family, church or yard-work—I was aware that pants are a recent and western adornment for women, and that for centuries (and even today in certain parts of the world) women performed every task under the sun in a dress. It’s not comfortable to squat, to lift, or to sweat in a bulky skirt. This awareness tied my heart to women of all nationalities and races, past and present, and increased my resolve.
Finally, as I posted photos of myself in my dresses (more uncomfortably as the month went along), I learned how little people know about this issue, and how desperately most want to help once they become aware of its scale and power. Human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, is often regarded as something that happens in third world countries. Americans don’t believe that it’s a problem in their own country. But as I continued to post my photos with statistics about sex trafficking in the USA, I saw support pour in from women AND men, old friends and recent acquaintances who wanted to help somehow. I started to see the dress as a symbol not only of femininity and beauty, but of solidarity and strength to overcome.
If I’m being honest, yes, I really missed my jeans. There were days that month when the last thing I wanted to do was to pull on my tights and shimmy into a dress, but then I thought of all the women and girls who are victims of human trafficking. How many days have they wished that they could stay in their sweats, or just walk down the street in jeans and comfortable shoes in freedom? How many times have they been forced to shimmy into a tight miniskirt and step into strappy heels, only to walk down the street as slaves? The dress-wearing ended for me on December 31 and I began a new year in clothes of my own choosing. For victims of sex trafficking, 2018 brought no comfortable options. This year when you choose to wear a dress, I hope that you’ll stop and consider women across the world, across time, and that you’ll be grateful for the freedom your wardrobe represents.
To find out more about how you can donate to or partner with the Dressember Foundation, please visit http://www.dressember.org.