* * *
Since writing this post a month ago, it has received more traffic than any other post in my small blog's history. Consequently, I have received a slightly ridiculous number of emails about it, most of which accuse me of making judgements about others, being unkind, or not understanding modesty.
So let me make three quick clarifications for you, dear readers:
1. Many people have accused me of trying to force my own opinions of modesty on others- but if that came across, it was unintentional. This post is not really about hemlines and necklines and allows for differing opinions on what is acceptable dress. This post is about intentions. What is your intention when dressing yourself? To be sexy?
Is your self worth wrapped up in your appearance of sexuality? If so, I do think that you are dressed immodestly and in poor taste- regardless of the exact amount of thigh showing.
2. Many people have also been quick to point out that someone dressed modestly can still be sexually attractive or look "ready for sex."
Yes. That's true. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with being sexually attractive or sexually attracted to others. We are meant to be attractive. Again, this post is not about what others think of you- it's about what you think of yourself. Is your own self-worth based on the size of your breasts, or on more important qualities? And which of those qualities are important enough for you to display?
* * *
Here's the deal: I see an online debate? I can't help myself.
For months people have been posting links to articles about modesty.
I would read them, and I always think: "Okay, this is almost right. But not quite." And it wasn't until yesterday that I figured out why I was so irked by the debates on both sides of the fence.
You've probably read a couple of the posts, too. They come in varying degrees of: women should dress modestly, because they owe themselves and the men around them respect. If a man sees you in a towel, he can never un-see it. Etc.
Followed by: Men are not animals. They can make good choices regardless of what I'm wearing. I should be allowed to dress however I want without invoking scorn or rape.
Okay. Two extremely valid points.
But neither of them is quite right.
You see, I think that women should dress modestly, and it's not even because men sexualize them.
It's because women are sexualizing themselves.
In our society, "sexiness" is an extremely desirous quality. Women argue that looking sexy (and dressing immodestly) helps them feel good about themselves, therefore- it should be allowed for reasons of self-esteem and freedom of speech.
Okay. Looking sexy IS nice. You feel desirable, confident, attractive.
But to look "sexy" is (by very definition if the word): to be in a state of readiness for sex.
So. When people (including yourself, men, or women) automatically sexualize you: that is not unexpected. That is not crude. That is not ignoring your personality or intelligence: that is doing what YOU were doing. You were trying to look sexy? Mission accomplished.
Teenagers and children should never look sexy, because they should not be in a state of readiness for sex.
If you're running to the grocery store, the beach, or to school: you should not be in a state of readiness for sex, because those are not places you will (or should) have sex.
If you're going to a fancy gala, you should look fashionable, glamorous, beautiful, confident, sleek, whatever adjectives fit your fancy, but unless you're planning on seducing the mayor and then popping off to the coat closet for a quickie: you should not look overtly sexy.
Obviously immodesty and sexiness are not exactly the same thing. A woman can wear tank tops, shorts, and other clothes without looking like she's about to get down and dirty, and likewise, I've seen some pretty sexy-looking women at Comic Con (mostly wearing Cat Woman suits) that are literally covered from head to toe. Even wearing turtlenecks in some cases!
But I know where the line is, and you know where the line is. (Even if our lines are slightly varied.)
For example: if I can see your bra through your shirt, if the bottoms of your shorts are before the bottoms of your butt-cheeks, if your dress is not only backless, but also... Um... middle-less, and maybe leg-less and maybe barely there at all:
You're not wearing those clothes for the comfort or to stay cool, because those clothes are not comfortable, and 5 more inches on the bottoms of your shorts won't give you heat stroke. In fact, it will probably help you avoid getting a rash on your sweaty butt-cheek creases.
So you've crossed the line to inappropriate immodesty.
I see these stupid memes on Pinterest all the time. They show frumpy looking women with captions like, "Modesty: Dressing women like asexual paper bags since the Bible was written."
That actually really ticks me off.
The purpose of modesty is not to make us unattractive to ourselves or each other. It's to show respect for our bodies, each other, and sex. Because sex deserves a some respect.
Despite the fact that sex is great and most of us are having it, we really shouldn't be having it with the Internet, with our communities, or with everyone we pass on the streets. We shouldn't need to be (or look like we are) in a state of sexual readiness to feel good about ourselves or our bodies.
When we dress ourselves immodestly, we aren't "allowing men to sexualize us." We are sexualizing ourselves.
Here's a picture my husband snapped of me a few weeks ago. I'm not sharing this because I want to point out how wonderfully modest I'm dressed.
I'm sharing it, because I am in long (not too tight) jeans, a fitted shirt that doesn't show my breasts (or even my shoulders!) and yet:
I do not look like a paper bag.
I like this picture of myself. I like my shape, I think I look attractive, and I think I'm pretty stylish.
But you're right: I don't look ready to pop back inside for some sex.
That's because I'm not ready for that, I was following my kids, about to scoop them up and load them into the car for a trip to grandma's house.
Frankly, having my boobs, butt, or back hanging out of this ensemble would be highly inconvenient.
If you need to always look sexy to feel good about yourself then,
1. You need higher self-esteem, since you apparently don't think that you have other admirable or attractive qualities.
2. Maybe you should find a higher calling in life, so that you can feel fulfilled and good about yourself without wearing a low-top shirt.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of two extremely different women from the same generation are Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.
One is remembered for her beauty, grace, charm, kindness, style, and hardworking character. One is remembered as a sexual and fashion icon.
We all know Audrey had an eating disorder for a while, so obviously she had some self-image issues too. But what we primarily remember and think of these women was based on their manner and dress. Audrey never posted herself as a sexual object, so we don't think of her that way, yet I think no one would ever say that she looked frumpy, unattractive, or unfashionable. Marilyn on the other hand, constantly acted, dressed, and posed as an object of sexual desire and now, 50 years after her death, that is still how she is primarily remembered.
Men aren't turning women into sexual objects. Women are doing it to themselves, and they're doing it on purpose.
I dress modestly. I do. Pretty much every day.
But I rarely leave my house dressed like a paper bag. I do sometimes. I did yesterday. I needed to run to the store without my kids. I didn't want to bring my gigantic diaper bag, meaning I needed shorts with pockets big enough to hold keys, a phone, my money, and my grocery list. Since women's pockets are inexplicably tiny, I put on the only frumpy, sad-girl shorts that fit the bill.
I frowned at myself in the mirror for a minute (I'll be honest with you, reader), but then I decided that it didn't matter.
I wasn't going to seduce anyone at the store, so my immediate concern was convenience. When I came home, I changed back into a more flattering (but pocketless) skirt.
Guess what? I don't look sexy now, either. In fact, let me describe myself to you. It's five am. I'm sitting up in bed, typing this on my phone with a sick and sweaty toddler sprawled across my lap. I'm consuming about 2 liters of water every half hour and blowing my nose every minute and a half. I'm beginning to suspect I have an earache in addition to this cold from hell. I'm wearing an old sweatshirt of my husband's and a pair of stretched out and too-thin leggings, that I can't throw away because they're so blasted comfy. My eyes are probably bloodshot, since I've been up since before 3, and my hair is definitely greasy and sticking up.
I don't feel good. Not even remotely.
But right now, I feel good about myself.
Even though I'd rather be sleeping, I'm taking care of my son.
I have a purpose to fulfill besides looking sexy, and I am fulfilling it.