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Friday, February 22, 2013

On Modesty

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned modesty to some people. They laughed and told me modesty doesn't exist. I believe it is very much alive in our culture, CBS's leaked memo pleading with Grammy nominees to not wear "problematic" clothing being just one example. Modesty exists, but the lines are more blurred and the rules are more personal.

On Wednesday, I spoke to the girls in my church's youth group about modesty and beauty. We actually had a really great time talking about everything from how your body and clothes relate and fight, how to sit in a miniskirt, and why you shouldn't date a boy who constantly compares you to other girls. This was a big win for me for two reasons. First, teenagers were actually interested in my talking adult face. Not really. They were curious about things like how to keep your bra straps from constantly falling off, ways to wear a strapless dress without being a cleavage display, and how to respond when someone makes fun of your outfit.
My girls wouldn't wear any of this, for which I am thankful.
Second, I had some pride in doing the discussion right. becca and I both spent our entire schooling in Midwestern Protestant schools. My high school used to host a "Purity Day" every Valentine's Day wherein they would talk about dating and sex and the dirty horrible music kids today listen to. The girls would also get an annual talk that they started calling "So You Want To Be a Spicy Girl?" This was complete with pictures of the Spice Girls. (I don't know how they found about about my vinyl Union Jack dress that I was obviously wearing every weekend instead of the jeans that were also forbidden by dress code.) The purpose of these talks was to tell us we were terrible harlots and we should hate ourselves. I seriously learned nothing in them, and my mission when I was on student council was to put an end to the "Spicy Girl" talk. I won the fight, too. Modest shouldn't be a synonym for shame.

For most people, modesty is a topic that arises at work. Sometimes people only bring it up when they don't like someone else's outfit. For some people it's a matter of faith, while others have personal modesty rules based around what they are comfortable with. Pop stars may be anything goes, but the average woman has her limits. But for some reason (maybe watching too much To Catch a Predator), when many adults start to talk about modesty and teenagers, they turn into frantic nuns covering girls with blankets and assuming the darkest intentions. (And there's not enough teaching boys how to be gentlemen instead of louses, if you really want my curmudgeoney opinion.) Why can't we encourage girls to explore who they are, have fun with clothes, and oh yeah, please keep your butt in your pants and your boobs in your shirt? That sounds healthier.

What is modest for you? Do you think modesty is different for teenagers than for adults?


Nora Bradshaw said...

For me, modesty is about dignity. It's about creating a boundary between public and non-public you. It's about respecting yourself by giving yourself privacy.

I would like to speak up for teenagers for a second. Presuming that they had the "darkest of intentions," sounds a little silly to me. There were times when I wore things not knowing that they were inappropriate. There was so much that I didn't know about what people were thinking.

Jael Paris said...

I completely agree with you about teenagers. Often times as a teen I learned about something sexual or what have you because an adult thought that I was making a reference to something and yelled at me. And sometimes kids may know words and terms but still have no idea what they are really talking about.

Nora Bradshaw said...

I wish I could share some anecdotes with you about such misunderstandings.