When I was quite young, probably around 5 or 6, I took a dance class with some of my friends. We had to wear leotards, and I remember being mortified because my undies would peek out around the leg holes. I hated the way it looked and understood at a deep and visceral level that undergarments should never be seen in public. It never occurred to me to just not wear any undies because that would have been even worse than having my panties showing!
I have always been a fairly modest person when it comes to clothing. Oh sure, I went through a short shorts phase in my teens, but for the most part I am just not comfortable showing off too much of my body. Part of the reason is because I believe in proportions, so if your arms and shoulders are bare then you shouldn’t be wearing a short skirt. I also never wanted to draw too much negative attention to myself. I defined negative attention as gross men coming up and hitting on me. If I went to nightclub I made sure I wasn’t dressed in such a way as to bring unwanted attention to myself.
Now that I am older, I still have little rules that I follow. I don’t wear hemlines much higher than my knees. I have one or two items of clothing that are a little shorter than I feel comfortable with, and whenever I wear them I feel kind of insecure. Of course my husband thinks I am nuts and the length of skirts I am talking about are laughably long enough, especially here in a beach town where women wear daisy dukes and heels to breakfast. This is a personal form of modesty which is dictated by what I consider my limits in what I want to show off to others.
I happen to have a lot of Jewish Orthodox friends. They have an even stricter code of modesty. According to their beliefs, a woman should be covered from her collarbone down just past her elbows, and then down just past her knees. If a woman is married then she covers her hair, either with a scarf or with a wig. I remember being shocked when I found out my friends’ hair were wigs! As I was working though what level of Judaism I felt comfortable with, I became more modest in my dress. I never got the hang of covering myself up quite so much, but I found the challenge to be an interesting one. I stopped wearing pants for a few years, and only recently began to reintroduce them into my wardrobe. It was an fascinating experiment and it taught me exactly where I drew my personal line in the modesty sand.
But my wardrobe choices are exactly that. Mine. If I wanted to dress in a bikini to go to the grocery store, I could do that. As a matter of fact, I have seen plenty of women around here in their bathing suits in the store, stopping in to buy a soda on the way to the beach. What I question is when women are forced to cover themselves up by authority figures.
I’m not going to go into the religious aspect of covering up. This isn’t that kind of blog. What I am referring to is the fairly new backlash against public schools having clothing modesty checks and making girls change if the rules aren’t followed. When I was growing up I don’t remember having any modesty checks. Grunge was all the rage when I was in high school and flannels with Doc Martins aren’t very scintillating. On the other hand the teachers were always asking the boys to pull up their pants because they were showing off their boxers.
It seems these days the girls’ shorts and skirts are not long enough anymore. But this time the girls are fighting back. “Why should we be shamed for what we are wearing? Why aren’t you teaching the boys that we are not objects for their pleasure and to learn how to control themselves?”, the girls are asking. At first I thought the girls just needed to learn that in any polite society there are levels of modesty that are deemed acceptable. For example, “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. I have an entire blog dedicated to the idea that dressing well is a form of politeness. So shouldn’t I believe girls need to be taught to respect themselves enough to want to cover up?
But the more I thought about it, the more I questioned my initial reaction. If the girls are comfortable in short shorts, and it is a hot day, why shouldn’t they be allowed to dress the way they want? Why shouldn’t the boys learn that girls are not their for their amusement and they need to learn to control themselves? If a girl’s outfit is distracting then isn’t that the problem that the boy has to learn to deal with, not the girl? It isn’t as if boys aren’t going to be exposed to inappropriate attire for the rest of their lives. Don’t they need to learn how to act appropriately around members of the opposite sex?
To be completely honest, I have not come to a definite conclusion. I really can see truths on both sides of the argument, but I can also see the consequences of both body shaming women as well as the free for all when it comes to society and clothing modesty issues. Should this man be allowed to board an airplane wearing a women’s bikini? Should a woman be allowed to wear a bikini boarding an airplane? In both instances I believe the answer is no, but who am I to say?
Maybe the answer is that both males and females need to learn more about one another and respect each other’s boundaries. Men will always oggle women, and women need to understand that if they don’t want that kind of attention then they can choose to dress more modestly. On the other hand, men need to learn that women are not just objects. We are real people and men need to learn to respect our boundaries. If a woman’s beauty and form is too distracting for some men than those men need to learn how to control their impulses. Maybe by working together we can create a more polite society.