Of course, that could be because I recently returned from almost three months in Southeast Asia, where I was (probably) stared at a lot. I was never aware of being stared at (more on that later). However, countless people stopped me to ask for photos (one woman even came sprinting out of the ocean with a tube around her waist to ask for a photo with me) or "surreptitiously" (though they often made no effort to hide it) snap pictures without asking. This happened with Asian tourists, locals, monks and police officers alike.
Which makes sense. I'm literally a foot taller than many women in Southeast Asia. I'm white, in places where there aren't many white people. And I typically show more skin than local women. Even in that beach photo!
Did this bother me? No, not at all.
As I wrote in my answer to the "right to stare" question:
Technically, they do have the right to stare, and a lot of them are doing it unconsciously, anyway. "Staring" isn't the same as "following" or "harassing," though. Let's get that important distinction out of the way.
But, of course, that doesn’t mean that they should stare, or that it’s polite or appropriate for them to do so. Especially in certain contexts.
The thing is, though, you really can’t control other people’s behavior. But! You’re aware that dressing a certain way (a behavior) evokes a certain reaction, and you don’t like that reaction (an attitude). So you can either change your attitude, or your behavior.
One example of changing your behavior means dressing differently. But, as I wrote in Sorry, But No. Not Every Part of Every Culture Deserves My Respect:
I dress how I want to dress, and I don't dress how I don't want to dress.
Maybe I don't want to be complicit in rape culture.
Maybe it's too hot to walk around in a rash guard.
Maybe I just like the feel of the wind and the sun on my skin.
Maybe I'm not obsessed with what others might maybe be thinking about me.
It doesn't really matter, and I don't really need to justify. Read more >
In my view, you should wear what you want, regardless of culture — but still being mindful of context. Just because I would walk to the beach in a bikini in Sri Lanka, doesn't mean I would wear a swimsuit to work. And even in the walking-to-the-beach context, I definitely stayed out of sight when a funeral procession came down the street.
For someone you care about preserving your relationship with, you could stick with something like, “I know it’s not your intention, but you’re staring and it’s obvious and it makes me uncomfortable.” Like, why treat everyone like they're always trying to victimize you... when that might not be the case?
And remember: there's a difference between "rude" and "assertive." "Rude" is usually not rude. To borrow a meme from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Gif ALL Women Need to See ASAP:
If you constantly feel victimized and stared at, my advice is to work on your mindfulness. As I wrote in Here's How One Pretty Woman Deals With The "Constant Stares and Compliments" From Men:
I've read enough psychology studies to know that people who spend a lot of time feeling "watched" or worrying what others think are more neurotic and have more mental health problems.
No way, man. I'm way too present to be worried about that. I'm way too busy appreciating everyday miracles -- clouds and birds and the beauty of imperfection and the kindness of strangers -- to concern myself with such things. Read more >
By becoming more present and mindful, you’ll be less concerned about and aware of what others may be doing — including staring at you. I often get asked, “Man! Didn’t it make you uncomfortable how all those guys were staring?” or, “Don’t you ever get tired of everyone honking their horns at you?” but my answer is, “No… I didn’t actually notice that.”
Even in Costa Rica, where virtually every man who drove by me (apparently) honked his horn at me and said, "Chica." Even in Myanmar, where locals often took photos of me. Even in Thailand, where I was filmed every time I danced in a bar. Even in Sri Lanka, where men (apparently) think all white women are porn stars and I "should" feel endangered all the time... or some dumb thing.
Even everywhere else. I have no idea when or where I'm stared at, unless someone does something to make it obvious, like whipping out their phone and filming me. And I do plenty of behaviors that make others feel self-conscious and stared at. As I wrote in 3 Scientifically PROVEN Ways to Stop Caring What Others Think and Live a Happier Life,
My life will never be boring, because I fill it with silliness, goofiness, and spirit. For me, Thanksgiving will never be about food and Christmas will never be about shopping. And don't even get me started on Valentine's Day!
Some people need to seek new landscapes or spend lots of money to have an adventure. But I see each day with a new set of eyes, making every moment an adventure.
The reason I’m able to immerse myself so fully and excitedly into whatever I’m doing is because I have the excitement of a preschooler -- and preschoolers are the world's top geniuses at excitement.
They know how to find their flow and become so completely immersed in what they're doing, that they don't know or care if anyone's watching. Read more >
Another attitude change you could consider would be cognitive reframing. Instead of thinking about how these guys are staring at you now, think about how, by not allowing their barbaric behavior to control or oppress your own behavior, you’re playing a small role in changing your culture.
Going back to the Not Every Part of Every Culture Deserves My Respect post:
Is it really so horrible for women, men, and children to see a confident, independent Western woman walking alone down the street with a surfboard and a bikini?
Would it be better if they just had no idea what it was like in another part of the world -- or if their only representations of Western women came from porn and Bollywood?
I don't believe I should be a passive recipient of another culture. I believe in meaningful exchange, where both parties have the opportunity to gain perspective, learn, and grow. Read more >
Of course, of all these things, the easiest thing to do would be to just dress differently. That's probably why so many women let the "stares" of men dictate how they dress and act.
But that’s not what I would do.