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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Compelled

I was browsing through my Facebook Newsfeed this morning when I came across an article entitled Modest Is Hottest? The Revealing Truth. (To my delightful suprise, it was a male cyber-friend of mine who shared this article.) I highly suggest you read it, especially if you are affiliated with a religious organization that promotes the slogan “Modest is Hottest.” 

I am a Latter Day Saint. My church pushes a lot of emphaisis on the cruciality of its female members dressing conservitavely. Their rationale? Because men are incapable of controlling their own thoughts, placing the responsibility of keeping their minds virtuous on the women. As young women, we are often told that we are the stronger sex, and that our influence on men is stronger than we may think. 

However, if men are superior (and there are copious documented cases that clearly illustrate that men ARE indeed the superior gender), they should be more than completely capable of controlling their own thoughts. I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that it’s my fault that a guy has an “inappropriate thought” simply because I chose to show a little shoulder. 

This is just another circumstance to be added to the book of ways women are objectified. Shaming women into dressing a certain way just reinforces the fact that our bodies are there to be looked at. Our apperence must be altered to gain the approval of those around us-namely the MEN around us. 

The other day, I went on a date with a young man of my faith. The day after our date, he asked me if i’d like to join him and his friends to go hot tubbing. I nodded, and told him that I thought it’d be fun. After agreeing to his notion, he asked me if I wore one- or two-piecers. Rather hesitently, and slightly awkwardly, I informed him that I owned swimsuits of both descriptions. 

He responded by informing me that he does not tolerate two-piece swimsuits. 

In other words, I was not allowed to wear a bikini in the presence of this man because he did not approve of them. After one date, this guy felt that he was entitled with the authority to tell me what aqua-attire was acceptable to wear around him. The converstation continued with him telling me that he needed to improve his “summer body” if he were planning on not wearing a shirt around me.

Clearly, the modesty rule does not apply to the male population. Nobody thinks that maybe his shirtlessness could plague me with inappropriate thoughts, thus causing me to lose control of my actions. Because men are people, and women are bodies. 

Needless to say, we did not go hot tubbing together that evening. 

The article goes on to say that the degree of which women cover themselves up has no impact on a male’s ability to control himself. This claim is backed up by the fact that in cultures where women are required to cover themselves from head to toe, there is still a great deal of sexual violence inflicted upon them. 

I am not against dressing modesty. In fact, I prefer to dress in a modest fashion because it slightly reduces my degree of self-consciousness, not having to constantly check that everything is “tucked in.” I find that dressing conservatively is classy-for both genders. And I am a woman with a great deal of class. 

How an individual chooses to present his/herself is a personal choice, and I believe that everyone should dress in a way that enables them to express their personalities and give them the most confidence. If you’re a size 16, but feel beautiful in a bikini or cutoff, WEAR IT. IF you’re a size 00 but prefer a one-piece and boardshorts, WEAR IT. Your body is NOT just an item to be looked at and approved or disapproved by your peers. Your body is yours. Cover it as much or as little as makes YOU comfortable. I promise, the rest of us have ample control of the brains in our heads, regardless of your choice of dress. 

M.