Monday, October 27, 2014

The modesty wars

I've been rolling this one around in my skull today in between bouts of toddler WWF-style throw downs. I don't know why they have to bite each other, but I guess if it's important to them, I want to be supportive.


So I have this pretty, funny, sort of insecure little college girl in mind when I write this. And she is smart and beautiful, and she seems to kind of know it, but she also seems to want to trade almost exclusively on her looks. So that makes me think maybe she's not as sure as she'd like to seem. Does that make sense?

So I want to talk to her. But not directly, because I'm not sure how she'd receive it. Even from someone who loves her.

I have to be 100% honest that one million blog years ago I'm pretty sure I wrote a post called Modest is Hottest. And I'm almost positive it was farcical. But just in case, I'm still hanging my head in virtual shame.

Here are two things to keep in mind when discussing modesty:

1. Modest is not hottest. I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

2. Girls are not responsible for how guys perceive them. But we are responsible for putting on pants before leaving the house/appearing on Facebook.

So those seem to be the two hottest (har har) points of contention in the matter. Firstly, that practicing modesty is in some way competitive with dressing provocatively and therefore, cap sleeves are bringing sexy back; and second, that women are emphatically not responsible for Creepy McCreeperton leering at them in the checkout line but we are allowed to wear underpants outside of the locker room.

It's a tad confusing to navigate, as a woman. As a human.

What if being modest has more to do with how one perceives (and values, and presents) herself (or himself) than about trying to repackage turtlenecks as provocative?

And what if girls (I'm speaking mostly to girls not because it's a feminine issue per se, but because I've got the chromosomes to go there. And so I go.) were absolved from striving to compete on a sexual level, every waking moment of the day.

I think our culture sends a confusing, schizophrenic message to women, inviting us to be simultaneously powerful and provocative and simpering and slutty and empowered and utterly on display. Because equal rights!

So a lot of girls buy into this idea, believing that they've got some serious capital to trade in, namely, their boobs, etc., and that it is their natural born right to flaunt it because they've got it, and nobody can tell them otherwise. Because sexism!

It's kind of ironic that female empowerment has to synch up with public nudity, though. Because you know who is really not coming out on top in that equation?

Yeah, the naked person.

Even the most confidant, empowered, enlightened, thresholded, whatever-ed woman of the 21st century doesn't deserve to be put on public display and openly ogled. Even if she is the one doing the displaying.

Does that sound crazy? To say that just because you can do something with your body doesn't mean that you ought to?

Even if a woman is a willing, eager participant in presenting herself as a sexual object to be consumed (and pornography is the ultimate example of this), she is still participating in the degradation and depersonalization of a human being. And that always gravely wrong. Even when it takes the form of self harm.

But maybe there's a better way, where we as women decide that looking decently beautiful and approachable shouldn't require a compromise with our dignity, nor should it involved ankle-length demin? And that maybe situations or people that demand otherwise aren't worth our time?

It's not empowering to shake your sexy kitten bottom at a costume party. Even if you are 22 and your butt is at its pinnacle of perfection (which, I can assure you, it is).

You are not empowered by being naked in public. In fact, nobody is empowered by that.

You are being exploited, even if it is self exploitation. And your sisters, and your friends, and your mom, and your future daughters are all the poorer for it.

Conversely, you do not have to drape thyself in a denim hijab hybrid. There's a middle ground out there, and it's waiting for you at J Crew. Or, you know, somewhere else that carries clothing which is equally attractive and more reasonably priced.

I just want you to know, if you're reading this and feeling judged, feel, instead, looked after.


Feel the weight of your dignity as a human person, and as a beautiful and powerful woman. Feel the immense responsibility you have to demand the same level of respect of yourself that you would ask from anyone else. You are worth it. You are worth more than kitty ears and a push up bra in public. And it sounds so trite. But it's true.

But you have to believe it for yourself, too. And believe that other people deserve to see more of you than is possible when they're seeing all of you.

And seriously, no cap sleeves.

Linking up anyway because it's MY party and I'll tangent if I want to.
Click here for the rest of the series.


  1. Nice job. I feel this needs to be said.

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  3. Great! The point isn't to be "hottest" modest or not. I love that. I cringe at the way I used to dress in college, it was way too provocative. Remember the time when when one's thong was supposed to ride higher up then one's jeans. Thank You Britney Spears ,and also I always feel like I want to give Ms. Spears a hug.because I think she needs it..which further solidifies your point. Anyways,,, I didn't even realize that I was dressing in a way that was inappropriate to myself, let alone other people. I probably just thrived on whatever attention I got out to it. (yuck) I love your take on the whole thing. I hope I can teach this idea to my daughters in an effective way. If my daughters were old enough now I would say yes to reasonable Skinny Jeans, but no to midriff tops, that seams to be a good line. Also, I was shopping for halloween costumes last week and I couldn't believe the sexy costumes that were geared towards Tweens. It's like they don't have a chance.

  4. Thank you for articulating the struggle I feel when talking about The Modesty Issue{s}. Well said.

  5. Wait...what's wrong with cap sleeves?

  6. I love cap sleeves! Not the really poofy ones--the adorable Jane Austen-y ones.

    All great points here. I must say, I do have sympathy for men in our current sex-crazed, half-naked culture. My husband has lamented to me more than once that he is constantly tempted to impure thoughts by magazine covers, billboards, and women wearing no pants at the grocery store. (What's the deal with the leggings-as-pants phenomenon?) I know it's not cool to acknowledge psycho/bio/socio/physiological differences between men and women, but I think it's common knowledge that men tend toward the visual and women toward the verbal. So you can imagine how exhausting it must be to wade through a barrage of half-pornographic images all day long. Poor guys!

  7. I love it! Except for the cap sleeves thing...'cause there are a lot of cute cap sleeves and they're more comfortable than short sleeves. Thanks for another great piece.

  8. I hate that bumpy writing. It was like trying to drive a Honda Civic over a 100 meter stretch of rutted, washed out logging road.

    However, your point about self-exploitation is good. So the donut shop at the end of the logging road was open for business.

    1. Ha, well I'm glad there was a glazed light at the end of the tunnel for you!

  9. Modesty wars...great post! It is much needed, unfortunately by many friends.

    Any chance I can get you to remove the "a$$" in this well as all cuss words in your future posts? It would be much easier for me to share with my Protestant/Evangelicals friends. If I try sharing it--despite the great message--they will be turned off simply by the cuss word. :-D

    In the meanwhile, I'll keep laughing at your great posts on defending the Catholic faith! Thank you!

  10. As a guy and a campus minister, I have thought about this much as well. I think one overlooked reason is that young ladies do not know how to dress like a lady. Some are just plain bad at fashion so it is easier to go with provocative. Other's have no idea how to dress with a feminine flare of grace, elegance and class. When they are made aware of the need for modesty they turn to full length frumpy denim, not because they are prudes, but because they were never taught to dress! Many mistakenly think that showing a lot of skin = elegant, but those formal attempts just come off as slutty. Pretty much our entire culture has lost their mind when it comes to dress. There is no longer a sense about gentelility and refinement in our culture, especially in our personal interaction and in our dress. I think you unailed it when you elaborated about the dignity of the person. The general degredation of the person in almost all aspects of our culture is the reason no one thinks (or knows how) to teach their daughters how to dress.

  11. I agree with everything in this post. It is pretty ridiculous how provocative clothing has become, especially for young girls.

    But to play devil's advocate here...isn't modesty simply a man-devised construct? God created us without an idea of modesty, and it's not until we eat the forbidden fruit that we internalize ideas like modesty. So I wonder if an argument could be made that this battle over modesty is nothing more than man-inflicted strife, and perhaps we spend too much energy waging it?

    Loving the series, by the way. I'm a "not so great Catholic" but love reading and learning about our faith- especially when the dialog is so open and honest (and relatable)!

  12. an USA based woman who was barren for 27 years has delivered baby boy after reportedly being pregnant for 5 years.
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