When Modesty Makes No Sense

Whenever I punish myself by reading evangelical-fundamentalist blog posts about modesty, I run into images like this. Not only do such images read like posters from the Department of Missing the Point, they reveal the kind of mindset that the modesty doctrine creates in young women. “Modestly” dressed women still live in a world in which a woman’s worth is correlated with her sexual desirability; their modesty does not exempt them from worrying about whether or not they’re attractive. Indeed, it’s the kind of mentality that breeds obsession: rather than doing what it claims to do (relieving women of the need to be “sexy”), it only adds another layer of work. Instead of just worrying about being attractive, girls worry about being attractive yet modest. They’re caught in a double bind.

Additionally, the modesty doctrine breeds obsession when looking at others. Normal people don’t obsess about whether or not a woman is wearing a sleeveless dress in church. Normal people don’t do “modesty checks” before they leave the house. Normal people don’t find themselves driven to distraction by other people’s wardrobe choices. People raised in the modesty doctrine do. The modesty doctrine literally trains them to see sex everywhere, and to assume that everyone else is looking for it, too.

If this were a plain black T-shirt, I wouldn’t think twice about it. Even if it was a black crop top with spaghetti straps, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it. Because it’s branded (right across the bust, no less) with references to modesty and “parts that are unpresentable,” it plants the idea of the wearer’s concealed “parts” in my head. When you wear your modesty on your sleeve, you’re inviting people to “wonder” and defeating your own purpose. (Look at how much I’m not showing off my boobs! Hey! Why are you thinking about my boobs?) If, on the other hand, you realize that not everybody is always looking at you or caring if they do, you can dress how you like and get on with your business. What’s more, you can also stop obsessively checking out other people to see if they’re failing to live up to your standards.

If you can’t have a conversation with someone who is wearing a bikini because you’re hopelessly distracted by her body, you have a sex obsession. Chances are the modesty doctrine actually put it there.

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