The Problem of Modesty

“Modest is Hottest.” The all-too familiar chant for anyone who grew up in the LDS Young Women’s program. We grow up being taught that as women, it is our responsibility to cover ourselves up, in order to protect the thoughts of the young men in which we interact with. Exposing the shoulder, midriff, cleavage, or thigh causes young men to have lustful thoughts, and we best not corrupt them.

I never bought into this whole “modesty” thing, mostly because in this instance, the word “modesty” is being completely misused. I would suggest we substitute “modest” with “conservative,” but “Conservative is Hottest” isn’t nearly as appealing to say, and doesn’t rhyme, either.

Also, I never felt that the burden of controlling someone else’s thoughts was a burden assigned to me. After all, if I was busy controlling my dude friends’ thoughts, who was controlling mine for me?

Back to my point. So I was always that girl in high school who stuck out like a sore thumb in homecoming pictures because my dresses lacked sleeves, and rarely reached past my mid-thigh. Tank tops in the summer were a staple, as were two-piece swimsuits. (Except at Girl’s Camp, of course.)

Today, I was at the gym, minding my own little business on the weight floor, when an older man (estimated age 60) approached me.

“Excuse me,” He said as I ripped out my headphones, DMX blaring. “I know i’m an old man, but I just wanted to thank you for not wearing those tiny running shorts.” I looked down at my Ultimate Yoga Pants, my cheeks growing hot. I blinked.

“I’m new to this gym,” he continued, “I switched here because at my old gym, all the girls would wear these tiny, little running shorts. I’ve been coming here a week now, and I haven’t seen a single girl wearing those. I appreciate you covering up.”

Dumbfounded and jaw agape, I mumbled, “I like stretchy pants.” and marched out of the gym, ears fuming, and cursing myself for not having a better response.

To be frank, my dear old gym friend, I did not choose to wear pants as opposed to shorts for modesty’s sake. The last thing on my mind when dressing myself this morning was “gee, how can I present myself in a way that will promote clean thoughts from the men that see me?” Because let’s be honest, I will be objectified regardless of the length of my leg wear.

This cultural attitude that women must cover themselves in order to protect men from entertaining lustful thoughts and desires is problematic at best.It ingrains a sense of shame in young girls over their bodies. Girls as young as they come are being told that tank tops are immodest. The shoulder has been sexualized. Girls are shamed into conforming to some arbitrary dress code and told that if they don’t, they are causing men to have lustful thoughts.

And we layer EVERYTHING. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re into. But when it’s 112 degrees on a July afternoon, you can bet your bottom dollar I will not be sporting more than one layer.

So sure, let’s keep the fun “Modest Is Hottest” motto. But let’s stick to the literal definition of the words within that phrase, and let’s hear the boys chant this at scout camp, too.

According to our friends at Merriam-Webster, Modesty is defined as “freedom from conceit or vanity.”

Where, exactly, does the shoulder coverage fit in there?

M.

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