You Will Never Own Me


There is a tabloid story that has lived in my brain rent-free since I first encountered it in 2015. Although not in a literal tabloid, the still available E Online article could easily have appeared within the glossy pages of People or US Weekly. It is written in the classic tabloid format showing two celebrities, Kesha and Rhianna wearing the same dress, a slim-fitting bralette style dress that spells out the words “You Will Never Own Me.” in bright sequins.

you will never own me


“Bitch Stole My Look” reads the headline under the photos of the two singers.

Of course, this is one of the main slogans from Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police, which aired on the E network, but I still found the headline particularly dense. The article failed to mention the obvious context behind the outfit, both of these women were survivors of abuse and the public discourse surrounding their experiences. I laughed at the irony, who knows how long the same publication and the tabloid industry had been covering, and therefore profiting off, these women’s trauma. But when it came to wearing the same dress, the article seemed to forget all about these women’s histories and instead wanted, like it often does, to create competition between women.

The subtitle reads, “Yikes! Check out this pop star fashion face off” and contains a poll to vote which pop star wore the dress better. Missing the point by such a margin the comedy feels almost intentional. Unfortunately, it’s not.

For years, I had seen dozens of cover stories about Rihanna’s domestic abuse and massive media coverage of Kesha’s court case against her former producer Dr. Luke. Despite the seemingly infinite amount of coverage, the article missed the parallel between these women’s stories and the context for this piece of fashion. This dress wasn’t just another dazzling piece, it was a statement.

Before I stumbled across the tabloid article I was familiar with the dress. I had made the same photo of Kesha featured in the article as my Facebook cover photo. For those unfamiliar with the social media culture of 2015, a Facebook cover photo appeared on one’s profile page above one’s profile picture. Most people uploaded something scenic or something to express their personality in this photo slot. My choice to publicly display this particular photo of Kesha wearing the dress, was intentional as an extension of my online footprint. She faces the camera with a confident expression, the dress’s slogan on full display. At the time I was active in my city’s comedy scene, and having just outed a fellow comedian for sexually assaulting me, I felt a kinship with the pop star, as I was now having to face my own version of the court of public opinion.

2015 was a diffrent time for rape culture. Just too years before the #MeToo movement of 2017, I was navigating a completely different playing field when it came to sexual violence within my small but incredibly liberal community of Portland Oregon. Once publicly calling out my abuser, I was faced with more scrutiny and disbelief than support, and to further complicate the issue, the man who assaulted me was my ex-boyfriend and a beloved comedian within the scene. In many

ways I felt that my pain was ignored, simply because I wasn’t seen as valuable (funny) as him in my community.

One evening I was hanging out at a show with a small group of comedians I had known and worked with for years. Abruptly interrupting my night, my ex came in on a date with a girl. My turned stomach was in knots, both at having to share a space with him, and with knowing he could continue to hurt other women who didn’t know him.

Me and the small group of comedians I thought were my friends, Greg, Blake and Mikey surveyed the couple as they walked into the bar.

“That’s my friend,” Greg, one of the guys in the group said, referring to the tall, lengthy brunette my ex was now sitting at the bar with.

“If she’s your friend you should warn her about him,” I replied. “Oh she will be fine,” Greg said nonchalantly.

“Dude,” I said looking at Greg. Greg and I had recently had a brief romance, up until now I thought he was a guy that I could trust and who understood me. How he could let a woman he considered his friend date someone he knew to be violent was frustrating. Knowing he didn’t take me seriously, despite the time we had spent together was heartbreaking.

I was getting frustrated. Exacerbated, I started to ramble.

“You know what that guy did to me.”

Without warning, Mikey screamed at me. “I am so fucking tired of hearing about your rape.”

Like I said, people didn’t know how to deal with it before 2017. #MeToo’s impact literally changed the world.

My ex, and by extension part of my community who supported him, chose to villainize me. For years I heard comments about how I was ruining a promising career, or destroying someone’s reputation who didn’t deserve it, or how, it should be me who no longer entered comedy spaces if I was so concerned about not being in the same room as my ex.

I know I am not the only woman to have experienced the same scrutiny within their own communities. I know I am not the only woman to have experienced this scrutiny within the Portland comedy scene. I know many talented funny women who have quit doing stand-up simply because it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to be victimized by a community that would rather uplift rapists than believe women. And it’s certainly not worth it to be picked apart and villainized after surviving trauma.

I, on the other hand, am stubborn. Stupidly so. In 2015, despite everything, no one was going to tell me what my truth was. And so I continued to show up. I refused to be silenced and I refused to let a man take anything more away from me. I worked on my jokes, and produced shows and built a community of comedians that I loved and could trust. And to let everyone know I wasn’t going to go away. I made the photo of Kesha in the You Will Never Own Me dress my cover photo, as an extension of that sentiment.

Wearing the dress, made by the brand Di$count Univer$e, was a dream of mine. I couldn’t afford it, but seeing Kesha wearing it, in spite of her ongoing court battle, gave me some hope in one of the darkest times in my life. I daydreamed of wearing it at a big show and having the best set of my life.

In 2020, five years after I first made the photo of Kesha my cover photo, I found myself needing the dress now, despite thinking I had finally moved on. But healing is never over instead, it moves and shuffles and the wound feels different over time. Sometimes it’s buried and then reemerges, scars splitting back. A smell or a song can still turn me into a mess. And so I found it online and put all $399 of it on my credit card. Buying the dress, years later, felt like a special band-aid made for a wound that never really heals.

When I put on the dress I thought of it differently. Looking at myself in the mirror, I realized how dramatic of a piece it truly was. The curve-hugging fit and sequins brought attention to my body that for so long, and as a result of the abuse, I tried to hide. The dress had an unwritten statement I hadn’t realized until I put it on.

I own me.

And I’m choosing to tell the world, I’m not going anywhere.

Author: Elizabeth Teets

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