How Modesty Made Me Fat

by Sierra

This isn’t a story about how modest clothes allowed me to “let myself go” and conceal a growing figure. It’s not even a story about how wearing modest clothes kept my self-esteem at rock bottom and thrust me into a too-close relationship with Ben & Jerry. It’s a story about how modesty doctrines impacted my mind, in ways that had real, negative effects on my body. Modesty was one of the reasons my defining relationship with my body became whether or not I was “fat.” Modesty was one of the engines that pushed me into a full-blown eating disorder. It’s not just a dress code: it’s a philosophy, and it’s one that destroys young women, mentally and physically.

Modesty taught me that my first priority needed to be making sure I wasn’t a “stumbling block” to men. Not being sexually attractive was the most important thing I had to consider when buying clothes, putting them on, maintaining my weight (can’t have things getting tight!), and moving around (can’t wiggle those hips, or let a little knee show). Modesty taught me that what I looked like was what mattered most of all. Not what I thought. Not how I felt. Not what I was capable of doing. Worrying about modesty, and being vigilant not to be sexy, made me even more obsessed with my looks than the women in short shorts and spray tans I was taught to hate.

Modesty taught me that I was always on display. There was no occasion in which it was acceptable to be immodest. Not the beach, not at the pool with friends, not in my own backyard (sunbathing was out because a neighbor might glance over and see me). This took my normal self-consciousness as a teenage girl and amped it up to an impossible degree. I once had a bee fly down my (acceptably loose) shirt and, in flailing around to get it out, had a family member comment that I’d just “flashed” my own grandfather. I was horrified for the rest of the week. That’s not normal. The normal order of priorities is getting dangerous animals out of your clothing first, and then worrying about making your own relatives perv on you second. Not so with the modesty doctrine. I should have let it sting me, apparently. Getting stung was the lesser risk.

Modesty was not just about dress. It was also about moving like a lady. Knees together, butt down, breasts in, arms down. It is impossible to get physically fit while adhering to ladylike movements only. You might be able to run, but only if you wear two sports bras to keep anything from jiggling inappropriately. You certainly can’t do anything with weights. In college, I had the chance to join a horseback riding team for a couple of semesters. I soon realized that staying on the horse required starting some kind of fitness regimen. In the gym, I found a couple of hip abductor/adductor machines that were handy for building the thigh strength necessary to grip the horse. The problem? I was so embarrassed that somebody might walk in front of me while I was on the machine with my legs spread that I started going to the gym the moment it opened in the morning and avoiding exercise when men were present. In this instance, modesty was literally keeping me weak. Eventually, I grew comfortable enough with my own body to exercise without worrying about other people happening to look at me. Now, I do an exercise routine that would have scandalized my old self: squats, deadlifts, and barbell rows. I have so much more energy and my mood is so much improved – plus, I can move my own furniture! But I couldn’t have got to this point without dumping the modesty doctrine. Because I couldn’t concentrate on hauling iron while worried that some perv behind me might happen to glance my way and pop his gym shorts. That’s not my job anymore. I’m not responsible for men’s souls, because I no longer think of myself as an object to be looked at and evaluated.

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Daughter of the Patriarchy: Daybreak

by Sierra 

By the time I turned in my final remedial math exam, my family had settled into a tiny rental house in Pennsylvania. I was now eligible to start community college, getting prerequisites out of the way while finishing up my high school diploma. For my first semester, I was registered for Basic Problems of Philosophy (my mother, snickering, said, “There are a lot of problems with Philosophy,” implying that it was a godless discipline), and Earth Science.

Community college was a dazzling experience. Not only could I drive myself there three nights a week and not have to worry about tiptoeing around my father’s ever-simmering rage, I could talk to normal people face-to-face. I became painfully aware of the conspicuousness of my long skirts and hair, and went out of my way to dress up for college. I preferred to have people think I was simply overdressed than advertising my religion.

On the first day of my Philosophy class, our professor walked in – a tall, lithe woman wearing a fedora. “You may call me Professor V.,” she explained. “You may also call me Dr. V., if you need medical assistance, which I can provide.” She had three doctoral degrees, she explained. My eyes kept widening as she introduced herself. She seemed like a creature from a higher dimension: poised, collected, professional, and utterly unlike any other woman I’d ever known. Our first exercise was to probe the foundational source of our own identity in a one-page essay. I answered that, as a Christian, my identity came from within the imagination of God, the source of all Creation. I wrote easily, but afterward began to think. Was I being honest in my answer? Or was I only reproducing someone else’s thoughts?

Integrity became an increasing fixation in my life. Every day, I worked an eight-hour shift at Wal-Mart, and despite my best efforts to vary my wardrobe and to solicit comments on being overdressed rather than appearing strange, inevitably somebody noticed that I didn’t wear pants. “It’s Biblical,” I sighed. It was a shortcut other women had taught me to say when I didn’t want to have a long conversation about my dress. “If they’re thirsty, they’ll keep asking,” my mother and her friends had instructed. Inwardly, I was sick of inspiring thirst.

I felt as though the Holy Bible were plastered to my chest. There was nothing I could do to avoid mentioning it. I began to obfuscate when strangers and friends confronted me. “It’s religious,” I said sometimes. Other times, “I just like skirts.” As I looked around at my coworkers in cute jeans and tank tops, I felt less and less inclined to “witness” and wanted desperately just to go about my business without incurring questions from strangers.

I couldn’t see the other girls as evil, depraved, captive or on the prowl to destroy men with their bodies. I saw people that I liked, people I wanted to be like, and the conspicuous nature of my dress burned in my conscience. “I don’t really believe wearing jeans is wrong,” I dared to think between fearful bouts of repentance. “This skirt I’m wearing is a lie.” But I quickly stuffed those thoughts into a hidden place in my mind, a place it would be safe to probe later, when I wouldn’t have to explain a pair of jeans to my mother or to God.

I want to be authentic, I thought. I wanted my actions to reflect my beliefs. And yet there was no room to examine my own heart in private, to sort out what I really believed about women’s dress. Every time I got dressed in the morning, I took a stand for the Message by donning yet another floor-sweeping handmade skirt. To dress otherwise would be to send up a battle flare, declaring my apostasy in one stroke. I’d be set upon instantly by a horde of Message women, all reminding me why Brother Branham said women shouldn’t wear pants and praying that the Lord would lead me to repentance. “Aha!” I could imagine some of them smirking. “We knew she wasn’t saved. She’s probably Serpent’s Seed.” I wasn’t ready for the drama I knew would instantly fall on me, so I hid as best I could: by wearing fancy skirts and answering, “I’m comfortable this way,” while inwardly chafing at the failure of my integrity. Wearing skirts meant always performing: I never had a moment’s privacy to sort out what I really believed.

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It's Not About the Clothes!

[Note: For NLQ readers who have not yet joined the forum, here's a small taste of what you're missing ~ :) ]
by Whisperthroughtherain

When I was little, before we moved to the Bible belt, getting dressed was simple. I liked wild colors and animal prints. I felt so pretty when I got my ears pierced. In the summer when it was hot, nobody thought twice about running around in a bikini… Most of us did. Even chubby grandmas! We had pool parties and ordered pizza and my cousin taught me to swim. I thought he was great. Sometimes little boys tried to kiss me, but I just ran away.

When I was a little older, we got involved with a southern, backwoods Baptist church. In Sunday school they taught us Bible stories, and then they taught us to kneel down and make sure our skirt was long enough to reach the floor. We had to get some skirts to wear to church out of respect, cause it was really important to be different than boys. It was really hard to go to the bathroom at church because the ladies room was full of girls fixing their hairdos and putting on perfume and posing in front of the long mirror… I didn’t do that much though, because I didn’t feel pretty at church. I liked to wear jeans at home. And wild t shirts. And camoflage. My best friend was a boy and he would come over and climb trees and ride bikes with me, but we didn’t hang out together at church much. Because boys and girls were different.

After we left that church, I got angry. I didn’t like being told what to do. I didn’t like having to wear whatever other people decided was appropriate. I didn’t like that it mattered. I knew who I wanted to be, and she didn’t look like they wanted her to… so when we visited friends from that church, I had to dress up and play the part for them. Once we met them in the grocery store while I was wearing jeans, and i stood behind the cart, because I felt guilty… but I didn’t know why. I was angry inside. Very angry. I took it out on my parents, and my brothers and sisters. I wasn’t nice.

Then I had an experience… in the middle of the night one night, I realized that God wasn’t an angry old man up in the sky, waiting for me to screw up so he could send me to hell… he loved me. He wanted to be real to me. And I loved him back. All of a sudden my anger was gone… little things didn’t matter to me anymore! God was so much bigger!

We found a new church to go to… and I was so excited! Other people who loved God! I was so open, so happy to be taught about him! I trusted these new people immediately- I loved them too! They were looking out for me!

Yes… I had to take out my earrings to go to church, because these people didn’t wear earrings. Ever. They thought earrings were bad… but it wouldn’t hurt to take them out, out of respect, right? People were happy when I took them out. They all dressed alike… I came to find out that apparently dressing funny was a big deal to God. His people were supposed to stand out in a crowd and be a witness for him. They preached about it, and I thought, well, if God said to do it, I don’t care! I’ll do it! It didn’t seem fair that it was mostly the girls that had to stand out though. They said that if we didn’t wear a head covering we were rebellious against God in our hearts. Even if we didn’t feel rebellious, we definitely were down deep! Wow, I didn’t want to be rebellious! And I liked my Dad, I really respected him, he was awesome! So I’d hate to be rebellious against him too… So yeah, I guess I’ll wear a head covering. I looked in the mirror and shuddered… but then I remembered that all this outward stuff was NOT a big deal in the grand scheme of things!

… Then I started hearing about how, if I wasn’t super careful about the details of how I dressed, other people might look at me and think bad thoughts and it would be all my fault… That seemed a bit off. I kept changing and changing, trying to get this clothes thing right, and at the end I wasn’t only living on the edge of sin… I was in constant danger of being responsible for other people’s sin! And it had been a really long time since I felt pretty…
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Visionary daughters quiz

Over on the NLQ forum, we’ve all been taking Visionary Daughter’s “Are You A Fool?” quiz ~ it’s annoyingly hilarious ~ and I thought No Longer Quivering readers who aren’t on the forum might like the chance to join in on the fun.

Here’s question #1:

How do you respond when criticized/corrected?

1) I hate it! I get angry and defensive.

2) I usually laugh it off. (Sometimes I roll my eyes.)

3) If I get criticized for the same thing enough times, I usually start to take it seriously..

4) I’m thankful for the smallest hint of reproof and take it very seriously.

Take the Quiz!!

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NLQ FAQ: What is Quiverfull?

by Vyckie   Q: What is “Quiverfull?” “Quiverfull” is a convenient, though I believe, somewhat unfortunate term which we’re using at No Longer Quivering to describe a family lifestyle which is growing in popularity among evangelical Christians ~ particularly those who home educate their children. Quiverfull ~ is the idea that truly godly families will [Read More...]