I want to introduce this topic in the most basic form; Oxford Dictionary. Yes, a dictionary definition could be the most cliché article preface of all time, but there are few things that bring me similar satisfaction (other than peeling off a scab at the perfect stage…but that’s gross).
“Modest: (Of a woman) dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, especially to avoid attracting sexual attention.”
Notice the first bit of the definition, “Modest: (Of a woman).” This guides us to the conclusion that modesty or “decency” is in the hands of the female. Interesting.
Modesty is taught to girls at some of the youngest stages of their lives. I recall having lessons in church as a teenybopper 12-year-old about staying modest. I was told not to let my shoulders show and to always cover my knees because my body’s a temple and I must respect it. But why must we define respect with a piece of fabric? Since when does wearing a tank top make me lose respect for myself? I’ve pulled an example from the LDS website which may give you an idea of what I was told as a girl.
“If we are unsure about whether our dress or grooming is modest, we should ask ourselves, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?””
To be honest, I don’t think Jesus could care less about my clothes, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. My point is, why is the topic of modesty drilled into girls brains and not into those of young men?
While the concept of modesty does not start nor end with religion, it is hard to ignore the impact the organizations have had over the subject.
“9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
Although braided hair and pearls do not lessen a woman’s modesty today, the principal is the same. Women hold the duty of self-control.
There is this sort of disconnect, gray area if you will, surrounding modesty and gender.
Men can take their shirts off, no problem. Men can lounge the poolside in a speedo letting the nylon carve everything out. When the tables are turned however, the standard is changed. If a women takes her shirt off, she’s promiscuous. When a women wears a bikini, she’s asking for the wrong attention. Obviously.
This image from Harper’s Bazaar was shown to girls in 1868 and illustrated the length a girls’ skirt must be as her age increased. As silly as this may seem to us now, society still holds women to a certain standard, which in my opinion, is restricting and degrading. Setting limitations on what a person can and cannot do with their own body is potentially damaging to anyone, but it was certainly destructive to me.
I was scared to wear shorts that came up past my knees or dress in a top that showed even the very tips of my shoulders. But the thing was, I liked wearing shorts and tank tops and didn’t feel any less decent while wearing them. But this desire made me feel shame because regardless of how good the clothes made me feel, I was being “immodest” and “disrespectful of my Heavenly Father.” Not only was God ashamed, but I was making it hard for the boys around me to keep pure thoughts. Yep, you read that correctly. I was making it difficult for men to be righteous.
When will we start realizing that women’s clothing does not control the actions of men?
A tank top does not make a person whistle at a passing girl. Shorts do not cause a person to grab a woman’s leg. A bikini does not tell anyone that it is okay to touch her. The only thing responsible for the action is the offender.
As I got older, I started to wear what made me feel comfortable and cute because I shouldn’t have to dress for anyone but myself. I am the owner of my body, my property, my mansion. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have curtains on my windows. It doesn’t matter if my back yard isn’t fenced in. That does not give others the right to enter without permission.
Regulating the “pure thoughts” of men is none of my business. I should not hold the responsibility of how someone might react to me wearing a piece of fabric on my body. They have the agency to think and feel however they would like to when they see a woman’s thigh.
We need to stop teaching girls that in order to get the right attention, to be pure, or to be decent, they must cover their legs, shoulders, chests, and backs. We should be helping girls feel comfortable and proud of everything that they are because if we don’t, we are indirectly teaching them to feel guilty about having a female body. Alternatively, we should be teaching boys to respect a person no matter what they choose to wear.
Incase we need a reminder, humans have legs, humans have breasts and humans all have an ass. And you know what? They are amazing!
It is time to dismiss our fear of the female body and embrace the beauty of it instead.