Excessive Modesty makes me feel objectified

This last weekend we went to a large park with the kids and as we piled out of the van I noticed a Mennonite family was there.

A teenage girl followed a toddler around the park, both of them wearing the long plain dresses that hid every shape of their young bodies. The mother sat on a park bench quietly watching while the husband and brother stood nearby arms folded, grimly surveying the area. I watched a young girl about age 9 climbing quietly up and down the play structures, her ankle-length dress billowing around her, her hair tucked into a small bonnet.

I have memories of playing at the park in similar attire. I didn’t grow up in a Mennonite family, but we emulated them in our modesty standards. I remember trying to climb trees in skirts. I remember little boys trying to sneak looks up my dress while I played on the monkey bars. I was covered physically by the shorts I wore under my dress, but I did notice that they never bothered the girls in jeans. The extra attention was just the price of being “modest”.

I remember being trying to be modest in my behavior, was I being careful in the way I carried myself? Everyone knows that flat shoes are more modest, heels could make your hips sway and that would be too alluring. I remember reminding myself to be quiet, “Godly women” are chaste, quiet, meek. Trying not to make eye contact, because that could be flirtatious, and we should avoid all appearance of evil. To this day I find myself breaking eye contact and looking down while talking to men.

It was weird what memories resurfaced watching the “modestly” dressed little girls play at the park. I remember being that girl.

As we played at the park, my girls were in t-shirts and the little knee length skirts that they love, with the shorts built in. But suddenly I was uncomfortable, very aware of their bare little legs. Were those men watching them? I felt objectified, suddenly feeling the need to be protected by a long skirt, and wondering if I should have dressed the girls more “modestly”.

It felt creepy to be around them.

Proponents of extreme modesty would say that I was feeling exposed, because I was wearing only jeans and a t-shirt. So I was immodest and therefore felt objectified.

But the real reason I felt objectified was because I know about their extreme awareness of the female body.

I remember being acutely aware of my body. Was too much skin showing? Were my legs too far apart to be ladylike? Had I tucked my skirt between my legs before swinging on the swing to keep it from flying up and exposing my legs?

I remember being aware of other people’s bodies. That woman in a sleeveless top, did she know that a bit of her bra was showing around the armhole? That girl’s pants were too form-fitting, showing the shape of her rear, how sad that she didn’t understand that she was making herself a sex object by dressing that way. I was trained to notice any little thing that could be “immodest”.

Having an excessive modesty mindset trains you to notice anything and everything that could be possibly construed as sexual. I remember several years ago a young mom in my church complaining that “you can’t take your kids anywhere these days” illustrating her point by a story of her 6 year old son asking her why the lady jogging by in shorts was so “immodest”. Six years old, and already he was in training to see women as sex objects.

Excessive modesty teaches men to objectify women, and it trains women to think of themselves as sex objects. This is the opposite of what the excessive modesty mindset sets out to do. How ironic?

This post was linked at InsideCatholic.com and there were alot of comments there as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06489369133555827520 Maurisa

    Very interesting. I really can see your point. When going to our local Dutch Market I find I am much more self-concious about what I'm wearing and the image I might be projecting to the "modestly" clad folk that work there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13672603563016876943 Clare@ BattlementsOfRubies

    Hi there!
    I have you in my reader but I don't think I've left a comment before ( sorry for the lurking!) Usually, as now, I'm on the laptop whilst nursing and while it's easy to scroll and click one handed, typing is a pain.
    But I had to stop here and just say "wow" that is a great insight. I know exactly what you mean but it has been an inchoate feeling that I haven't recognised sufficiently to be able to articulate it.
    Very well observed, and so true Young
    Mom!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00550847149908532903 The Praying Mom

    I think that is why I have such a hard time with most of the modesty standards I find online and in books and so on. I don't feel immodest if I'm in a knee length skirt or jeans or a t-shirt. For that matter, I don't feel immodest in a wide strap tank top either. I actually agree with your thoughts on this. I think by hiding everything you leave too much to the imagination and call attention to yourself in some ways. I think by wearing modest, but culturally 'normal' clothing, you just generally fit in and it doesn't call attention to your body as much. In my opinion modesty shouldn't be about how much you can hide, but how well you can blend in so no one is asking "what are they wearing?!" That question I think is the key to it all. If you are showing off every possible bit of skin or hiding every possible bit of skin, that is the question people typically ask themselves, and that question immediately calls attention to what they can and can't see of your body.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07363886412589745900 That Married Couple

    How interesting!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Maurisa- Yes, I think it elevates our self-consciousness.

    Claire- Nice to "meet" you. :) I hadn't been able to articulate it either. Then all my thought on it came together after the trip to the park.

    Cass- Yes, I think that wearing what is appropriate for the occasion is a big part of true modesty. Some men who grow up in the excessively modest mindset tend to have strong reactions to extremely modest clothing on women, I call it porn for conservative guys.:)

  • http://becomewhatyouare.wordpress.com becomewhatyouare

    Well said! I've always thought this, but never could articulate it. Thanks for writing this!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02711137394143200105 michelle

    I recently saw a shirt at a christian bookstore that said "modest is the hottest". I thought is was hilarious….even though I'm sure that wasn't the point.
    exteme modest is almost like telling someone, whatever you do don't think about something then that is the only thing you can think about! great insight

  • Hillary

    THANK YOU! I've experienced this before also. Thank you for articulating it so succinctly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15064636500827230911 cristina

    this is so interesting, you make really good points that to me make sense. Wow, thank you for sharing :)

  • Anonymous

    Great post! Glad I found your blog. I grew up very conservative Mennonite and I believe your observations are correct. In Bible School (for young adults) they mentioned to the guys during a "Purity Talk" that jeans with pockets that were straight across (instead of slacks with pockets on the side)brought attention to their nether regions….who would have thought about that, but some dirty old man? I learned about this via a young man's sister, since he and his friends were so embarrassed that they didn't even speak to us for several days.
    And as one who wore the tradional head covering and long cape dress for many years, I don't believe that modesty involves making yourself stick out like a sore thumb.
    Kathryn

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01659200420621854710 Maggie

    I have never thought this before! Very interesting! I love reading your viewpoints!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00107187991997943212 Lisa

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04448595911801738792 Erin

    Wow! You've put into words well what I've been struggling to articulate. Funny enough I spent yesterday at the park, with my friend who is drifting down this path, dressing like a Mennonite. Her little girls wore long skirts and headscarves. It restricted their play.

    Just read your other modesty post, you shared struggling to find the balance, I was always taught the clothing you wear should be; Loose enough to know you are a lady, tight enough to know you are a woman.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08863579550620358675 Jill

    What an interesting post. Isn't it amazing how sometimes the very things we set out to avoid are the things our avoidance draws us to? I hadn't considered this issue this way…very thought provoking!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04738076740941616678 Rebecca

    I had never thought about this, but it makes total sense. Thank-you for pointing it out. (And if the men in the men-ruled countries/groups who make these rules read this, they are gonna be maaaaad – way to go ;) )!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14980588863109281657 Kimberlee

    This is very interesting. I think it's important to note that much of your perspective comes from your experience of being 'trained' in modesty and the possible results of being immodest. I have five daughters and we dress in a 'modest' fashion and wear dresses only, but I have never discussed modesty with any of them. We don't even use the word 'modest'. I can't imagine burdening a young girl or even a teen with worrying about being 'alluring'. Equating eye contact with 'flirting' is quite opressive. It seems your negative experience comes more from all the unfortunate things you were taught about modesty, sexuality and body image. I just want to say it's possible to dress modestly without giving our daughters an unhealthy 'modesty obsession' mindset.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    I've found that most of the writing on modesty argues for women dressing modestly based on how tempting it could be for men. Growing up dressing differently from anyone else, eventually leads to asking questions about why other ladies dress differently, and its pretty hard to explain why you should dress one way, without saying in some way that the women who dress other ways are immodest. Kids draw their own conclusions.

  • Anonymous

    Love this post. I grew up similarly and believe that excessive focus on modesty (for men and women) causes knee jerk reactions just as you expressed (for men and women).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00107187991997943212 Lisa

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13797631451398420550 Kingdom Mama

    I loooooove this! Couldn't agree more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13240230832660127316 Michelle

    I love your take on this! I have often thought the same thing. I think the key to what you post here is in the adjective "excessive". :)

  • http://liliesofhope.com/doodleacres Heather – Doodle Acres

    I think there is a lot of room between extreme modesty and immodesty. We have found a comfortable place in the middle. My teenage daughter wears mostly skirts and dresses, but they are not the typical Mennonite sacks. She looks beautiful and at the same time modest. We wear sweatpants for exercising and sports when it would be more immodest to wear dresses. As the commenter Michelle said, "I think the key to what you post here is in the adjective 'excessive'."

  • Anonymous

    I just have to tell you how awesome this post is. I could not agree more! I've just never been able to articulate it as well as you did.
    Also, an interesting point is that in some ways excessive (extreme) so-called modesty actually animalizes men: it is as if they have no self-control at all. [I know it's tough for them, but claiming that an elbow or ankle is too much is insinuating that men have zero control over themselves.]

  • http://simchafisher.wordpress.com/ simchafisher

    Very nicely said! I'm very glad I found your blog.

  • http://nowealthbutlife.com Rae

    I don't use expletives of a certain sort, either online or off… but if I did, I'd reply with something concise like "expletive, right!"

    I am always so happy to read others who have some clue. The thrill that others from normal backgrounds find in modesty sends shivers of fear down my spine. I am still sitting on a draft about getting over modesty and how helpful it is to have a chaste husband who can appreciate beauty rather than being stuck with "COVER UP!" lust.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15336879000523115946 Gnatmo

    From my experience- having been on all sides of this issue- from extremely immodest to almost mennonite modest and now feeling pretty moderate- perfectly in the middle. I have seen so many families who have high standards for modesty and then their teen and young adult daughters rebel because it they have been so impressed upon to be modest.

    I have to agree I think it is most modest to dress appropriately for the day and time and the culture. I almost always wear knee length or longer skirts and tee shirts or blouses- but I also wear dresses and shorts and skorts and even sometimes jeans. I have a slightly imbalanced wardrobe in that it is more skirts than anything else- but I don't think it is so much that people would be drawn to my appearance as one of those…

    I hope I am teaching my girls a balance of knowing what is appropriate for most situations. I think being modest is not drawing ones attention in any way- too immodest or too modest.

  • Shauna

    Thanks for such an interesting perspective on modesty, something I find myself thinking about quite a lot lately. When I traveled to the Middle East a few years ago, I had an interesting experience with modesty. While wearing my "western" clothes (t-shirts, jeans, etc.), I was virtually ignored by Arab men. However, after purchasing a hijab (typical female head covering) and allowing the shop owner to arrange it around by face and head in the traditional manner, I received, shall we say, much more interest and many more "eyes" on me. I think it's a cultural thing: what a person is taught to believe is beautiful, alluring, sexy, etc., is what he will be drawn toward (whether that's a head covering, a long dress, or skin tight jeans).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15908098528893336853 Elizabeth

    A very insightful post. It may have just inspired me to write something similar. Thank you!
    Elizabeth Esther

  • Martha

    Hmmmm. Made me think… and, actually, SO TRUE. What's a girl to do? I guess moderation is the key- I just read 'Dressing with Dignity' by Colleen Hammond, and made a personal vow to wear only long skirts/dresses for a year as an experiment. Maybe too harsh? I do make a spectacle on a bike!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17847735304747859410 The Glo-ness

    Another problem with the whole "protect your brothers" modesty argument is that it is a flimsy foundation upon which a girl can base her fashion choices: what if "your brothers" are acting like jerks? A girl may grow up being taught to cover herself as a sort of favor to the men, but once she gets old enough, and begins to experience the, "emotional clumsiness" of men (and gets maybe a broken heart a time or two) she may be tempted to stop dressing modestly because, "well, what's the use? They don't protect me emotionally, why should I try to protect them sexually? They deserve the trouble they'll get" and may be tempted to dress immodestly in a spirit of revenge. Also, the other problem with that argument (which I think someone mentioned earlier) is that it simultaneously sends the message to the guys that "lust isn't your fault/you aren't responsible for your actions in the presence of a beautiful woman", that the woman is the primary agent (and thus the more responsible one) etc.

    This is why I've always liked the Catholic Church's stance: that modesty is about the fundamental dignity of the woman, and that what is sacred is veiled, and that modesty is a means to the end of respect for women, NOT merely "spare the poor uncontrollable men".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17847735304747859410 The Glo-ness

    You know, another thing about this that just struck me was that if we use the "protect your brothers" argument too much, it will also (possibly?) set up our young men to have unrealistic expectations of ahem, their sex drive. They may begin to think that as long as they are around modestly dressed women, then they will NEVER have temptations, life will be great, tra la la, and then they will have a rude awakening when they find out that that isn't the case. They may then mistakenly think that it is still somehow due to the girl (because remember, "men can't help themselves" bla, bla bla…)…so yeah, sorry my thoughts took up two comments, but I really think the whole "protect your brothers" is a helpful, but dangerously shaky foundation (for both sexes) to build a love of modesty on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01059266303939120407 The Home Room Teacher

    Hmmmm, interesting post. I feel as though I dress more modest than most. i wear longer skirts and occasional gaucho pants. I feel that as Christians we shouldn't "blend in" with the world around us, but we should strive to higher standards…that we should be different from the world in how we talk, our entertainment choices, how we dress., etc.

    That being said, when an occasional gust of wind blows my skirt up, or when I pick up the baby and his shoe gets caught on my hem and I'm unaware until I've hiked my skirt up to my waist, then it occurs to me that capri pants aren't really that bad.

    Seriously though, I don't look down upon other people for their clothing choices. I think God is working on different issues in each of our hearts right now and it's not my job to inflict my opinion about this minor issue on others. A modest and pure heart is a more precious gift to God than a modest dress any day.

    I have several friends who are Fundamental Baptist/Mennonite types and I know they are incredibly warm and caring people to everyone they meet. I know you know this, but just because you met with one family who seemed cold and judgmental doesn't mean they are all that way!

  • http://blog.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    You make some really interesting points here!

    I live in a neighborhood with a high proportion of Orthodox Jews. Even in the hottest weather, they wear long sleeves, long loose pants for males, below-the-knee skirts and opaque tights for females. I've learned that Orthodox male neighbors who sometimes have friendly conversations with me, will look away and pretend not to see me passing on the sidewalk if I have bare arms or a lot of leg exposed. But they simply look away; they never try to tell me how to dress or show any disrespect. They walk along the main street mingling with all kinds of people dressed all kinds of ways, passing racks of magazines with barely-dressed people on the covers, without any air of judgment, just a calm sense of knowing who they are and living by their own standards themselves. I really respect that.

    We have a friend who has a foot fetish. He has explained to me that if I'm barefoot in front of him, it is like my being naked in front of a typical man. Now that I know, I can help him avoid distraction by keeping my socks on–but he does not at all expect that women everywhere should do this for him. It's his responsibility to act appropriately in the face of temptation. You never know what body part or clothing type may be the secret obsession of someone who sees you, and that makes it impossible to be modest enough for every situation, if the measure of "modest enough" is whether anyone might feel attracted to you.

  • KK

    Right on and totally have been thinking about this…
    Living modestly in dress and action is important but we take it to a whole new level when women can't bare a shoulder or a knee. It's almost as if we are over-sexualizing the body ourselves by putting such an emphasis on skirts to the ankle, sleeves to the wrists. This is tuff with all that is out there like Victoria's Secret, TV shows etc. that seriously cross the line but it's b/c of these things that now, many of us Christians, believe that the body must be hidden or we are being immodest. I also think that men, while important to not tempt them, should be given the benefit of the doubt and also BE responsible enough to see a woman in a bathing suit and NOT automatically think sex. As Christians we believe that we are unique from animals in this regard and I believe men can (and should) be morally capable of seeing women wear a tank top, bathing suit, breastfeed her baby without thinking SEX. If e think otherwise we fall victim to our over-sexualized cultural message of body=sex.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06472104751888958606 Tari

    Great post! I haven't thought about this in this way before, but it really makes sense. I had friends growing up whose parents made a big deal about what they wore, even when we were little girls, but my mom was (surprisingly) normal about the issue. I have boys and not girls, but I think I would be the same way: if it's age and activity appropriate, wear it. Our bodies were made by God and are good, not evil. Sex is only one of the many, many things they were made for, and we shouldn't make all our clothing decisions based on that being one of their functions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15624828638731650677 suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    this is fascinating and true, although not something i'd considered before.

    i think an unnatural attention toward modesty (or the lack) can encourage body-shaming, and ultimately, a sort of gnostic heresy.

    this reminds me of the arguments about public breastfeeding. our bodies are sexual, yes, but not only sexual, and forcing women to cover up can dishonor the image of God in them. not only are our bodies more than sexual, we are more than our bodies! we are whole people, my goodness, and the whole woman-as-lust-object model serves non of us well (even/especially God.)

  • Anonymous

    I believe you are 50% correct. You certainly seem to understand your own feelings, and a lot of your female commenters' as well. However, when you say:

    "(1)Excessive modesty teaches men to objectify women, and (2)it trains women to think of themselves as sex objects. (3)This is the opposite of what the excessive modesty mindset sets out to do."

    I would make the following points:

    1. Men don't need to be taught how to objectify women – it comes naturally. No one needs to "teach" boys to become interested in their classmates when they start rounding out, and no one can prevent it by any form of contrary "teaching." And if those little girls have spent their entire prepubescent years in hip-huggers and tank tops, how do you possibly explain to them why they should suddenly stop without causing them to feel somehow ashamed of puberty?

    2. Modesty (considered according to right reason, and not irrational social constructions like 'godly women don't make eye contact') teaches women to think of themselves the way men think of them. And yes, men think of attractive women as sex objects (at least in part, how large a part depends largely on modesty!).

    3. With the slight change in emphasis I mention in #2, I think that this is exactly what the modesty mindset should set out to do – make people mindful of how their actions influence the emotions of others.

    This mindfulness is especially important because as women, you are constitutionally incapable of understanding the emotional reactions of men in any but a theoretical sense (the reverse is certainly true as well).

    E.g. one of your commenters’ statements:

    "I also think that men… should be given the benefit of the doubt and also BE responsible enough to see a woman in a bathing suit and NOT automatically think sex."

    Now with all respect to your kind commenter, this statement is lunacy. First, she uses the word "thinking" twice. Let me assure her that no "thinking" need be involved. We’re talking about feelings, not thoughts. To imagine a man could "be responsible" and see a woman's breast without feeling at least the first movements of arousal is as absurd as to imagine he could "be responsible" and be punched in the face without feeling the first movements of anger.

    There is no malice in this woman, she clearly intends to pay men a compliment. But it is an impossible compliment, like assuring a young man that if he tries hard enough, he can flap his arms and fly to the moon. When she says, "…As Christians we believe that we are unique from animals in this regard" she is incorrect; we do not at all believe that we can choose what our feelings are. We believe we can choose to act on rightly ordered feelings, and not act on disordered feelings. Our feelings are precisely the part of ourselves that is corporeal and thus outside of the (complete) control of the intellect and will.

    Young Mom, you seem to have had a rather strange formation in the virtue of modesty. So I can sympathize with your feeling "creepy" about modesty, if that is your exposure to it. I hope those feelings do not cause you to shrink from the topic. I notice in your "about" you mention that you are open to the Catholic perspective on things. I would urge you to continue to investigate the Catholic tradition on modesty as a virtue which concerns far more things than clothing (and concerns men as well as women, incidentally).

    For more information on the topic of the passions, our control over them, their moral nature, and on the virtues, I recommend the Summa Theologia, I IIæ, art 22-70 (esp. art. 22-5,30-4,49-50, 55-6, 59-61, 63-6).

    All of which can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2.htm

    I hope that nothing in this comment seems overly combative or critical. If anything comes across that way, it was not intended so.

    Peace,
    P

  • Anonymous

    Excellent insights…I think what you're talking about isn't excessive modesty, but a warped view of who God intended us to be, and a distorted understanding of modesty flowing out of that. I went to a very strict fundamentalist high school, and received a lot of the same instruction you did. When my peers and I graduated, most of us (me included) made really bad decisions about sex and relationships, because we had no defense against the culture. This was 30 years ago; I shudder to think what kids go through now when they're set apart in that way. An obsession with the body as intrinsically evil or tempting is every bit as out of balance as a person obsessed with pornography. Both problems come from the same place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15624828638731650677 suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    anon-p:

    scripture says that we need to "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ."

    respectfully, i do not think you give men enough credit. we are all more than our bodies and as christians, no longer slaves to any physical response.

    and while attraction is completely natural, objectification of women absolutely unnatural and the result of a broken, sinful world. objectification IS taught, and it's a false teaching we must combat. modesty plays a role, yes, but covering up will not transform or redeem a broken worldview–only Christ can do that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12557248434888642114 Melanie B

    P,

    What you say here is great:

    ""I also think that men… should be given the benefit of the doubt and also BE responsible enough to see a woman in a bathing suit and NOT automatically think sex."

    Now with all respect to your kind commenter, this statement is lunacy. First, she uses the word "thinking" twice. Let me assure her that no "thinking" need be involved. We’re talking about feelings, not thoughts. To imagine a man could "be responsible" and see a woman's breast without feeling at least the first movements of arousal is as absurd as to imagine he could "be responsible" and be punched in the face without feeling the first movements of anger."

    I would add that the Catholic tradition does promote "custody of the eyes". Which is to say a man isn't responsible for the first glimpse of the woman in the bikini and his immediate emotional and physical reaction. However, young men can be trained to avert their eyes so that they aren't taking a second and third look and entertaining those emotions and the thoughts that inevitably arise. And while women are responsible for considering how they dress affects men, there are ways that men can take responsibility for their own temptations, even avoid the occasions of sin… if you know where Victoria's Secret window is in the shopping mall, you can deliberately not look. If you go to the beach, you know there are going to be scantily clad women. Um, not being a man I'm not sure exactly how he can come up with a game plan to minimize the temptations he subjects himself to there; but I'm sure some Catholic dads might have better advice. That's why my husband will be responsible for that part of our son's formation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02739878492337566462 guilinger2

    sadly, as women, we can think whatever we wish concerning modesty or lack thereof, but men are still hormone driven. I really think we can't win no matter how we dress, and that we women will continue to be critical of others, and even ourselves, no matter what we wear.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13761954687722403122 LLMom

    Wow, what interesting thoughts. I have started a blog for Catholic women who have been hurt by false teachings and extreme modesty is one of them.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, goodness, thanks so much! As a young woman, I have felt so objectified by men and boys who are obsessed with modesty. Some can't even look at my face, as though I might suddenly seduce them with my evil hair or something. Legs are for walking. Boobs are for feeding babies. If you're a little turned on, good news: you're not impotent or a negative mutation. I'm so sick of people acting as if my body is evil just because I was born female. Guess what boys, girls can get turned on just like you can. So, remember that next time you wear tight pants, no shirt, flex your arms, wear short shorts… Oh, yeah, I notice everything, too. And, if you think girls don't… you may need to loose/gain weight or something. Not to be shallow, but the guys who think that girls don't notice anything tend to be really ugly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17729876725191615859 Willow

    Thank you so much for this post. Wow, you said so beautifully what I was trying to express in mine.. I guess I still have a lot of raw emotion about this topic in general. Both this post, and the one you linked to within this post, were such a blessing to me. Thank you!
    ~Willow

  • Anonymous

    My last comment but you do write some involving articles !

    Let me say I wear skirts 95% of the time. Not for religious reasons in terms of modesty etc but I guess in part because I'm a SAHM and I do have a belief in femininity. 

    For me modesty is a cultural thing and dressing in a way that attracts attention is almost as bad as dressing immodestly by showing too much. I DO NOT want to wear anything revealing or potentially sexually stimulating and I do think you have to be careful – men are lookers, but in public but I don't want to stand out. 

    I don't want to get legalistic about skirts but for me they are naturally more feminine, perfectly comfortable and practical. 

    I'm sorry but I do think that beyond a reasonably modest one piece some swimsuits  gets frankly showy. 

    As a protestant I do rather envy the Catholic tradition of head covering in Church and even sometimes Muslim headscarfs – yes it is submissive which feminists hate but it does seem somehow feminine to me although I don't do it. 

    For me – I want to avoid giving any sexual "come on" and to look feminine I think that's good enough – Sarah 

  • http://www.liberatedfamily.com Rebekah

    I totally agree – excessive modesty IS objectifying. Going overboard with anything is usually just a big mess. I think when one is following their heart that balance is just naturally present. Because…the heart knows best :)

  • http://hagriddapig.blogspot.com/ Sara

    I LOVE this post! I haven't ever thought of it in this way. I was also brought up in an uber-conservative church, and all this modesty talk, and only recently have I been able to break out, and think about changing my thinking patterns. I have a boy and a girl, and I have BAD BAD body image. I have skipped the whole "who to blame this on" and have moved on to, "how do I fix it" I bought a new bathing suit this year, short skirt on the bottom, normal, nice, bright top, that's a little lower than I would have worn a couple years ago. I get SO many compliments on it, but every now and then I get the "You are a harlot! You are making EVERY guy around think sex" mantra in my head, and I have to shuush it, it's REALLY hard. BUT, when I wore my other suit, (from land end) with a longer skirt, and a top with no shape, that hid my post-baby pooch, I felt VERY out of place, and like people wondered if I knew what century it was, and my husband hated it. He wanted me in something a little less Victorian. When it comes to my daughter, I'm SO stressed out! LOL I want her to be comfortable in her body, and free to wear (almost anything) she wants. I do draw a line at age appropriateness, and I keep her in younger clothes, but she is tiny, and in younger sizes, and she is adorable, so I like to not make her any older than she is, heaven knows she will grow up too fast soon. My son, I am always wondering what he should be seeing, what can I really shield him from, what is just silly to worry about.
    I like the idea that modesty in it's true sense, is being demure, and not flashy, like wearing the clothes of the time, and place, but not in an extreme way. Tank tops and capris are very "normal" looking but not overly sexual, and don't have to show off bra straps, or be so tight you wonder how she gets those pants on. There is a line we can draw to remain "modest" but not be sticking out like sore thumbs.
    Just my rambling :) Thanks for yours!!

  • Wendy

    Too much of the discussion on the "right" amount of modesty still springs from the cultural notion that observing each other with healthy sexual appreciation is a bad thing.

    I don't think it has to be a bad thing.

  • Gab

    Hi, I was drawn to you're blog via an article about your series on your trans spouse.

    This post resonates a lot with me. As a former Catholic girl turned questionably genderqueer atheist struggling with my own modesty issues. I've come to realize that were I in a vacuum where there things I wore didn't have the social or political implications they, I would likely dress more consistently 'modestly' then I do.

    In some situations it's to fit in. I play a sport where the three-quarter length sleeves and tichel-style hair wraps I favor would be very out of place. In others, it's like I feel the need to make a point: when I go out dressed femininely, I'm going to show leg because I've put work into them and they're strong and that doesn't make showing them sexual and, most of all, it's not my responsibility to try to protect everyone from a man's thoughts about my body.

    It's not even about preventing sexual expression for me. It's about having agency over my body and controlling who I show or give access of it to.

    So, yeah, I'm aware that little rant was only tangentially related to your point. But essentially it comes down to your last point of not wanting my method to undermine my goal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12454283166932826083 Emma

    This of course makes me think of that wonderful seen in Persepolis, in which our heroine is reprimanded by the Iranian police (excessive modesty at its "best"!) for running in her full-body-covering clothing, because when she runs it makes her ass too tantalizing for them to handle. Funny how this extreme objectification of women seems so inherent to religious extremism of all types..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03567549830059823566 Christine

    My complaint about modesty, as you were taught it, is that it's hijacking the idea. I'm Catholic, so I see modesty as a respect for yourself in how you dress, but also as a courtesy to others. Yes, men should be able to contain themselves. However, not showing your whole breasts to them is a courtesy (One waitress had a really loose neck to her shirt. I was the only one who was comfortable looking in her direction when she bent over, and even I found it awkward).

    One of the things I like about the respect position is that modesty stops becoming a series of strict rules to follow. I have stripped off my jersey at soccer games (sports bra underneath) once gameplay ended because it was cooler, and I was borderline for heat stroke.

    I have to agree with "Gab" that if it wasn't for the social or political implications I would be dressing much more conservatively. Not so much because I want to cover up because I think it's modest, but because I like skirts, and the cape dresses that the conservative Mennonites wear are a lot more practical than most modern skirts. I may yet make myself one, but we currently live in a very Mennonite area, so wearing one would seem inappropriate. And I'll never wear it to my husband's church – he's Mennonite (General Conference). It's a shame that the doctrine makes the rest of us feel restricted in how we dress too.

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