I’ve been rolling this one around in my skull today in between bouts of toddler WWF-style throw downs. I don’t know why they have to bite each other, but I guess if it’s important to them, I want to be supportive.
So I have this pretty, funny, sort of insecure little college girl in mind when I write this. And she is smart and beautiful, and she seems to kind of know it, but she also seems to want to trade almost exclusively on her looks. So that makes me think maybe she’s not as sure as she’d like to seem. Does that make sense?
So I want to talk to her. But not directly, because I’m not sure how she’d receive it. Even from someone who loves her.
I have to be 100% honest that one million blog years ago I’m pretty sure I wrote a post called Modest is Hottest. And I’m almost positive it was farcical. But just in case, I’m still hanging my head in virtual shame.
Here are two things to keep in mind when discussing modesty:
1. Modest is not hottest. I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.
2. Girls are not responsible for how guys perceive them. But we are responsible for putting on pants before leaving the house/appearing on Facebook.
So those seem to be the two hottest (har har) points of contention in the matter. Firstly, that practicing modesty is in some way competitive with dressing provocatively and therefore, cap sleeves are bringing sexy back; and second, that women are emphatically not responsible for Creepy McCreeperton leering at them in the checkout line butwe are allowed to wear underpants outside of the locker room.
It’s a tad confusing to navigate, as a woman. As a human.
What if being modest has more to do with how one perceives (and values, and presents) herself (or himself) than about trying to repackage turtlenecks as provocative?
And what if girls (I’m speaking mostly to girls not because it’s a feminine issue per se, but because I’ve got the chromosomes to go there. And so I go.) were absolved from striving to compete on a sexual level, every waking moment of the day.
I think our culture sends a confusing, schizophrenic message to women, inviting us to be simultaneously powerful and provocative and simpering and slutty and empowered and utterly on display. Because equal rights!
So a lot of girls buy into this idea, believing that they’ve got some serious capital to trade in, namely, their boobs, etc., and that it is their natural born right to flaunt it because they’ve got it, and nobody can tell them otherwise. Because sexism!
It’s kind of ironic that female empowerment has to synch up with public nudity, though. Because you know who is really not coming out on top in that equation?
Yeah, the naked person.
Even the most confidant, empowered, enlightened, thresholded, whatever-ed woman of the 21st century doesn’t deserve to be put on public display and openly ogled. Even if she is the one doing the displaying. Does that sound crazy? To say that just because you can do something with your body doesn’t mean that you ought to?
Even if a woman is a willing, eager participant in presenting herself as a sexual object to be consumed (and pornography is the ultimate example of this), she is still participating in the degradation and depersonalization of a human being. And that always gravely wrong. Even when it takes the form of self harm.
But maybe there’s a better way, where we as women decide that looking decently beautiful and approachable shouldn’t require a compromise with our dignity, nor should it involved ankle-length demin? And that maybe situations or people that demand otherwise aren’t worth our time?
It’s not empowering to shake your sexy kitten bottom at a costume party. Even if you are 22 and your butt is at its pinnacle of perfection (which, I can assure you, it is).
You are not empowered by being naked in public. In fact, nobody is empowered by that.
You are being exploited, even if it is self exploitation. And your sisters, and your friends, and your mom, and your future daughters are all the poorer for it.
Conversely, you do not have to drape thyself in a denim hijab hybrid. There’s a middle ground out there, and it’s waiting for you at J Crew. Or, you know, somewhere else that carries clothing which is equally attractive and more reasonably priced.
I just want you to know, if you’re reading this and feeling judged, feel, instead, looked after.
Feel the weight of your dignity as a human person, and as a beautiful and powerful woman. Feel the immense responsibility you have to demand the same level of respect of yourself that you would ask from anyone else. You are worth it. You are worth more than kitty ears and a push up bra in public. And it sounds so trite. But it’s true.
But you have to believe it for yourself, too. And believe that other people deserve to see more of you than is possible when they’re seeing all of you.