I grew up in a home that took modesty seriously. I remember wearing only dresses almost my entire childhood. As a child I loved it for the most part. I loved the swishy feeling of the skirts around my legs. I loved how pretty and ruffly my clothes were.
Sometimes it was annoying to be in a skirt when trying to play soccer or doing outdoor chores. I never liked the way my modest dress/bathing suit moved shapelessly around my body instead of sticking to me in the water, I remember having to pin the bathing suit to my shorts to prevent it from slipping over my head. And sometimes we got lots of questions about what we were wearing and why, and then got labeled as religious fanatics.
But I figured it was all for a good cause, God wanted us to be modest.
Then I hit adolescence. It was awkward from the start. Suddenly my skirts weren’t long enough anymore, ruffles looked silly on my new body, and worst of all, I got breasts. By the time I was 12 I was a bigger cup size than my Mom. I remember bra shopping with my Mom, she brought me bra after bra and none fit. Finally she called in the dark squat lady attendant to “fit” my bra size and discovered I was no longer the A cup that Mom had thought, I was now a C cup at the ripe old age of 15.
Breasts brought a whole new problem to dressing modestly. Button down shirts gaped and had to be pinned, almost any shirt showed some cleavage, so I graduated to mock-neck shirts and turtlenecks only. Everything had to be fairly loose or it could show my figure and that would be tempting to men and cause them to sin.
I remember hearing one of my moms friends say that I was too large breasted to be modest without wearing some sort of vest over my shirt, even baggy fitted shirts weren’t modest enough for me. So I wore vests. I wore jumpers. I wore thicker materials. I wore square cut shirts and shirts that made me look even shorter and wider than I was.
I was the only larger girl in my family and I was very self-conscience of my body. I wished that I could be smaller and thinner, I would be able to hide my body so much easier if I wasn’t cursed with an hourglass shape. Because of the way I dressed, I looked much much older than I was. At 16 it was common for me to get mistaken as the mother of all my siblings. I remember feeling rather bitter that anyone thought I looked old enough to be the mom of 8 children.
I was allowed to get my ears pierced at 16, but I stuck mostly with small stud earring’s. Anything else would draw attention, and that would not be modest. Makeup was not allowed until I was 18, and my first attempts were not very encouraging. So I rarely tried to work with it. I struggled with my weight throughout my teens, fluctuating between 15-60 pounds over my “ideal weight” depending on what diet I was on.
While engaged I took a trip with my Fiance and soon to be In-laws. After a day at the beach I had badly burned shoulders and to avoid the friction of material against the burns I wore a tank top (I had for layering under clothes) for the drive home. When I arrived home I was scolded for wearing something that would be such a temptation to my Fiance and being such a bad example to my siblings.
As an independent adult, I have branched out a bit.
On our honeymoon I was wearing a shorter skirt when my new husband wanted to go out to the store, I told him that I should go change and he laughed and said that what I was wearing was fine. So we went to K-mart. I was so nervous. Convinced that every single man would be staring at me tempted to sin, and every single woman would laugh at how the short dumpy fat girl thought she could pull off that look. I was stunned when I didn’t notice a single person look my way.
You could probably catch a glimpse of cleavage now and then since I don’t wear turtlenecks anymore, they make my short neck look even shorter, and I’ve always hated the way they feel. My clothes are a little more fitted now, not skin tight, but they do show that I have a waist. I wear jeans and slacks, and when I swim I wear a tankini top and a pair of swim shorts.
On the one hand, I am grateful that I was taught about modesty. I was taught to respect privacy. That my body was my own and not to be shared. And that I shouldn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.
On the other hand, I think that my family went a bit overboard. I always felt dowdy, fat and ashamed of the way my body was made. I got unwanted attention from people making fun of the way I was dressed. I feel as though I gave an inaccurate impression of “how you must dress if you are a Christian.”
I am becoming more comfortable with my body, and the way I am built. But to this day I have a hard time feeling beautiful in a skirt. I think others look great in skirts, I love the idea of wearing skirts, but when I put one on, I feel all the old insecurities flooding back. I love the idea of wearing brighter colors, but after trying on the blue or pink shirts, I usually decide that I would just look silly and go back to my old reliable green, gray or black.
I don’t see myself as a beautiful woman, but I don’t want my daughters growing up hearing their Mom hate her body. So I am trying to change the way I see myself, and realize that its OK to get my hair cut, or wear makeup or jewelry. I have learned to ignore the “ideal weight” charts and simply try to eat well and exercise. I hope to get to the point that I enjoy what I wear and the way I look. I want my daughters to respect their bodies and be modest in the way they dress, but I want to guard against extremes.
How do you approach modesty in a healthy way?