Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Being Sexy

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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?
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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.

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Elizabeth said...

Yes, yes, and yes.

Lorna said...

I think you've got it! Thanks for the clarification I have been looking for in all the recent modesty articles.

Unknown said...

I love everything about this. Well said, Becky!

Kristen said...

You are brilliant. I love everything about this post.

Unknown said...

This is perfect. Someone finally got it right!

Polly said...

You make your mama proud. I love you. Sorry you and your kids are sickies.

gillian claire said...

LOVE this! awesome.

Betina said...

The problem is that many people would consider that audrey hepburn photo as sexy, or even your mom outfit. Dressing in form fitting clothing can, in some circles, indicate that you are ready for sex. Audrey's doe-in-the-headlight classy innocence is highly sexually appealing to many people. Many men would look at that photograph with her lips half open, looking innocently coy and her being "ready for sex"

There is no telling what people will think of when they see you.

I like your ideas the dressing for comfort and for the occasion and for your own well being is a healthy thing. But just because you don't feel "ready for sex" in what you are wearing does not mean someone else will not see you as "ready for sex".

Which is why we need to mind our own business and stop worrying so much about what all the other women are wearing.

Alice said...

I agree that in addition to men controlling themselves and not sexualizing women around them, women should avoid sexualizing themselves too. That is all about intent, because clothing choices and reasons for clothing choices differ so much that it's impossible to say "dress this way and you aren't sexualizing yourself" or "dressing this way is sexualizing yourself".

As was said before, I can't control how other people perceive me. I dress in a way that I feel is respectful to myself, and that makes me comfortable and happy.

Some clothes that I wear, other people might now feel comfortable in, and they might think I'm sexualizing myself, but I'm not. I'm dressing the way that makes me comfortable (both physically and emotionally).

So while your post is great for individuals, we have to be careful to not push our definitions of "modest" or "sexualizing" onto others.

Bonnie said...

Amen, amen, amen. I like the way you think. Seriously. I have been trying to put into words the way I feel about this issue for days, and you nailed it on the head.

Also - you are brave to bring up touchy topics on your blog. I haven't gotten there yet. Maybe someday.

Kayla said...

I agree that a huge part of modesty in dress is simply wearing clothes that are right for the occasion--focusing your attention on the task at hand instead of hoping that everyone you encounter will be focused on the way you look.

Unknown said...

A big problem I see is that you assume everyone has the same standards for what is sexy and what is modest. If you were to wear your modest mom outfit in the streets of Saudi Arabia, you'd be considered extremely immodest. Or if you wore it in 1840s Nauvoo, you'd be extremely immodest. This means that there is at least some degree of relativity to what modesty actually is. If there is some relativity, then how can we have universal codes for what is modest?
I'm not sure why it's such a bad thing for humans to sexualize other humans. Isn't that what we're wired to do? Of course, it's a bad thing if we see others as ONLY sexual objects, but I'm sure your husband sexualizes you in his mind and vice versa. The issue is in considering others as people and not merely sexual objects.

Brooke said...

Another huge problem that goes along with this is that society makes us feel like we have to be defined by our sexuality/sexiness. So not true! And love this post :)

Casey said...

Oh my gosh! What an amazing post!! You MUST feel better soon :-( Poor girl!!!

. said...

Best article I've ever read about modesty. Thank you so much for the new insight!

cindy baldwin said...

I came across your post via a friend's recommendation and just had to pop in and say AMEN, sister! ;) I think the issue of modesty, immodesty, and the sexualization of women and girls is a huge and multi-layered one in our culture today, but this is a very pertinent and eloquently-stated point. Three cheers for attractive, flattering modesty. ;)

Unknown said...

This is quite possibly the greatest exposition on modesty I have ever heard. Thank you for enlightening me and brightening my day. =)

Barbara said...

There was an article I read recently that stated similar things, siting studies about the affect of self-objectification and constantly thinking we are being viewed. The link is: http://www.beautyredefined.net/modest-is-hottest-the-revealing-truth/

"Self-objectification is an epidemic among females today, as Lexie’s PhD research can attest, and it keeps females “in their place” as bodies in need of constant preoccupation and perfection. It takes place when we internalize an outsider’s perspective of ourselves. We literally picture ourselves being looked at as we go throughout our days, and research shows it gets in the way of everything we do. Everything. When we have to accomplish a task while also thinking about what we look like while doing it, we’re at a major disadvantage."

Siarra Nielsen said...

You go girl!! :)

Jess said...

Wow! So well said! I really appreciate you posting this. This is exactly what I have been thinking.

Unknown said...

Very well put. loved the sad girl shorts video.

Unknown said...

This really turned me on. Especially when you said "Sex is great, and most of us are having it." I can't get over how sexy your skinny body looks in your "mom picture." I'm imagining having sex with you in my head.

Maryann Goodspeed Penman said...

"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."

(Hi, I found this via a Facebook friend.) You put into words exactly the conundrum I find myself in after reading all of these articles about modesty (and the comments that follow). Thank you for adding your voice to the debate. I really liked a lot of what you had to say. You've helped me add a piece to the puzzle in my own quest to identify what modesty means to me, and how to teach it to my two little girls. Thanks again!

Unknown said...

The notion that it's all the boys' fault that women are being sexualized has always bother me. I love what you say about how women are doing it to themselves and how it's not necessarily a bad thing but a situational thing. Very well put! :)

Kathryn Williams said...

Well said! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Kaytlyn Monsivais said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Sarah said...

Wonderful!! Few people could have expressed it better. I want every woman I know and every teen I love to read this. Thanks you for a truly inspiring post.

clairesmom05 said...

Really Justin Tyme?? Grow up. If you don't like it, don't read it. The point is sexiness doesn't equal attractiveness and vice versa. Yes she's attractive, in that picture, but not inappropriate. Sharing this now!! I loved it!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

This is so perfect! It kind of erased any desire to be "sexy" in "unsexy" contexts. Sure there are times and places for sexiness, but personally, that's not during 99.7 percent of my day. There is something so classy and admirable about not trying to sexualize ourselves every minute of forever. Thank you!

Stacy said...

I can't even tell you how much I love this. I came across this because a friend shared it on FB and it is so spot-on. I've read many of those same articles and they have some very valid points but didn't quite get it right. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So so great.

shady brady dye said...

This message is for Betina...I disagree because I really do believe that Audrey isn't intentionally trying to be sexy, even if others are physically attracted to her. I think that is the point of this article. You can have people think you are beautiful, feminine, and even desire you in a sexy manner, without being immodest. That doesn't mean just wear whatever you want because no matter what, people will think what they want. It means that instead, you should maybe think that what you wear reflects on what you think of yourself. This article is putting this idea out there so women think about what they want to convey about themselves to others. If you are being immodest intentionally, there really is very little else you can portray, at least very effectively. There is no question what Marilyn is trying to portray. While the Audrey Hepburn photo may stimulate some men, it doesn't come off as intentional.

Rachel said...

Yes! I love this, thank you for writing :) and get well soon!!!

I've personally never understood why we as women should want to look "sexy". It's honestly not a label I have ever associated with my appearance (except in appropriate circumstances), and I'd say I have a pretty darn great self esteem.
I love your point about giving sex some respect and keeping it sacred. That's really what modesty is all about, right? It's sad to see that our modern society is so hyper-sexualized in general.

Kylee said...

This is genius. I have been trying to reconcile the same questions you bring up, and I think you really nailed it. Thanks for posting.

Shayla Taylor said...

Yes. Yes. and Yes. I am printing this and reading it to my daughter. Thank you.

kat said...

Well written. Pajamas are worn when you want to sleep, bathing suits are worn when you want to swim, work uniforms are worn when you go to work, lingerie and clothing that resembles it are meant to be worn when you want to have sex. Just as it is inappropriate to wear a suit to the swimming pool, it is inappropriate to wear "sex-ready" attire in public. This is not rocket science.

deargoodness said...

agreed! this is fantastic, thanks for taking the time to write it.

Unknown said...

The subject of mosdesty annoys to me no end. Though I was raised right, I have my own oppinion of what is or isn't modest and what should be acceptable regardless of the undergarments that one should wear. We'll blame it on my life long carreer.

However, you have blown me away with this article. Everything that you said here I agree with 100% and I really appreciate the way you presented your points. Its realistic as the topic of modesty should be! Thank you.

Kat | poshbykat.com

Miriam L. said...


It took me about an hour longer than it should have to read this because I watched Portlandia clips for long time after the sad shorts clip.

Anonymous said...

I think most of what you said was great or possibly all of it but I must say about half way down then two thirds of the way down I was feeling your intensity a little more and a little more. I think when we are enlightened a s have the opportunity to share that with others it's just as important to express love, understanding, and humility as well as the point and I definitely was feeling reprimanded for ever wanting to feel it look sexy which I really don't think is always bad ? I just think there are a lot of different avenues of life out there and a softer approach may be more reaching to those that don't understand modesty and why it's important.

Jamie said...

hit the nail on the head

Dana said...

LOVE, LOVE LOVED this! I would love to feature this on a blog I run called empoweredldswomen.wordpress.com.
Please let me know if that's okay! Thanks!


Unknown said...

In 4 words, "dress classy, not trashy" (:

Teri said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this out, even while you were sick and caring for a little one. Amazing. Your whole post is spot-on and I hope this goes viral. Women, especially in the U.S., and especially teens and young women, need to read this weekly! Love love love this.

Traci said...

Loved This! Thank you for explaining it SO WELL! You rock! :) {and kudos for taking care of your sweet baby, I did that last night, too :) I am the same, would rather be sleeping, but cuddling a little one is probably the best feeling ever :)

Jessie said...

I have never heard this explained so well!

Emily said...

I just want to point out to some of the commenters who are stating that you're generalizing the *standards of modesty* that you said " 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. . . . But I know where the line is, and you know where the line is. (Even if our lines are slightly varied.)" I did not think you were pushing your standards on others, but encouraging us to realize our intent in our appearance - we all know our own intent.

Anyway, I loved the post. I tend to forget that it's women themselves who are wanting to look sexy because it's not one of my finer points as I sit here in capris, ponytail, and sweatshirt. :)

Kayley said...

I've never left a comment on someone's blog I didn't know before...but I wanted, I needed to thank you for this wonderful post. I feel that our society uses the word sexy too often and I just love how you have described it. Thank you for being willing to write this and possibly get some attacks from people who don't agree. I love reading things that just make sense. This did. It's like a plain and simple truth. Thanks so much!

Amy said...

Great post. I only want to say that Audrey Hepburn went through severe childhood malnutrition during WWII. Her father sent her from England to the Netherlands thinking she'd be safer there. She always wanted to be a dancer but her muscles never fully developed d/t the childhood malnutrition & so she went into modeling/acting instead. Her son once said that she couldn't eat as much food as other people because when she looked at the food, she thought about how many children could have been fed with that food instead, based on how much food she was allowed to have in her own childhood.

I think that if thats an eating disorder, 1. its justified. and 2. many people would benefit from the mindset.

Great post on modesty (I realize my comment really has nothing to do with the point of your post)

TheOneTrueSue said...

Here's the thing though. You have a body type that allows you to have this perspective. You are waifish. If I wore the EXACT SAME OUTFIT you are wearing in that picture, I'd be perceived as a woman who is, in your words, ready for sex. I have large breasts and a small waist. That means that if I wear ANYTHING that fits me, not anything tight, but just - well fitting - it is often perceived in a sexual way by men. I am not sexualizing myself. I am walking around in the world with a body type that doesn't allow me to be quite as judgmental about where the lines are as you are. Making assumptions about someone's self esteem based on what they are wearing is pretty awful behavior.

You are sort of blinded by your experience with your own body type.

ethan said...

I admire the effort, but this validation piece comes off just as forceful, one-dimensional, and assumptious as the other crap about modesty that has been making the rounds on Facebook lately.

- modesty is SUBJECTIVE
- modesty is less about showing skin and more about activity appropriateness and social acceptance. This is still true in spite of the attempts for some to redefine it to be an outer reflection of inner morality.
- sexiness is SUBJECTIVE
- sexiness is NOT "to be in a state of readiness for sex," as the author defines it. A reputable dictionary defines 'sexy' as "(1) sexually appealing, attractive, or exciting; (2) having interesting or appealing qualities" [source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexy]
- sexiness is NOT something you have direct control over, as you may be perceived by another as being sexy, regardless of your intent. As a quick example, one may think the blog author looks sexy in her picture, even though she claims no intention of trying to be sexy. In fact, her clothing might even be deemed immodest, due to it's form-fitting nature (no, it's not spandex, but both her sweater and her pants hug her figure closely; see http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/5482/byu_skinny_jean_controversy:_sexism,_sizeism,_or_standards)

Ultimately, I can't control how I am perceived by others. I choose to dress in a way that I feel is appropriate for the situation and that is also comfortable to me (physically and emotionally). People may choose to judge me as immodest or immoral if they so desire. So what? Reality is in the eye of the beholder. Live and let live!

Dress the way you want. If someone dresses in a way that bothers you, look away. You can't expect everyone else to play by rules you set for yourself.

Jared Hale said...

Wonderful post about modesty. I don't think I entirely agree with her definition of "sexy" as being ready to have sex right not then and there. But my primary comment is on the humorous side.
Does anyone else find a post about sexiness and modesty slightly funny coming from a blog named "Babymaking"? :)

Jared Hale said...

Wonderful post about modesty. I don't think I entirely agree with her definition of "sexy" as being ready to have sex right not then and there. But my primary comment is on the humorous side.
Does anyone else find a post about sexiness and modesty slightly funny coming from a blog named "Babymaking"? :)

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Unknown said...

No. You are reading it all wrong and it sounds like your just making excuses to dress immodestly because God gave you bigger assets. You CAN dress respectfully for your body type. Thats why there are more than one size fits all clothing!

Unknown said...

Theres no excuse for dressing in shorts with your ass hanging out at a funeral. Your trying to justify dressing inappropriately by stating "its others fault if they sexualize you. Not the fact that what and HOW a person wears their clothes directly affects others perceptions. Everyone gets a one time first impression and its often clothing and how a person carries themself that is seen first! In reality the word "sexy" in FACT has the root word "SEX" in it. Dont cherry pick the definition. SEXually appealing meaning, to desire to have sex. So what is the definition of sex? It is NOT appropriate and most places illegal to engage in sex in public places. You can be attractive and appealing to others without having to stimulate sexual brain chemistry ON PURPOSE. THAT is what the author is trying to get accross. If you get dressed every day in sexy very revealing clothing to fullfill some self esteem issue with yourself then dont gripe when all your defined as by others as a sex object. Youve fullfilled your goal. No, we cant control what others ultimatly think, jesus, some men are turned on by fire hydrents, but you can choose to respect yourself by not say, wearing a too short skirt with your ass hanging out at your childrens school play. There is a time a place for things to be worn respectfully.