Recently, my friend Cathleen wrote a piece for Darling Magazine on proper attire and etiquette at the gym. It was well-written and provided great advice—yet a few people totally freaked out. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen people react negatively to talk about modesty. When I wrote about the research study about men viewing women in bikinis as objects, I even got some backlash that suggested that I was participating in a negative modesty conversation that placed women as the victims who were “asking for it”—when that’s really not at all what’s going on.
First, let me be clear—no matter what a woman wears anywhere, her attire is never something that gives anyone a reason to abuse her in any way shape or form. I want to be clear that I do not think that women are to blame when men commit acts of violence against them. That is not what we’re talking about. I do, however, think that it’s very important to talk about modesty so I’m going to go ahead and do that.
Modesty has become a really negative word that offends people, but I’ve come to view it as nothing short of empowering. In her speech, The Evolution of the Swimsuit, Jessica Rey shares something that put words to my thoughts about the topic…
Revealing our dignity. I love that. Modesty reframes things. Rather than being bodies that have personalities, modesty turns the tables and makes us people who happen to have bodies. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the body have, no matter what size or shape it is. But our lack of shame doesn’t mean we should reveal our bodies to everyone on the street. There is beauty in modesty, sexiness in modesty, empowerment and dignity in the intentional choice to not flaunt it.
It’s worth noting that modesty is more so an attitude than a set of strict rules, and that dressing modestly is relative. A woman can wear a bikini at the beach here in San Diego with a scarf around her hips as a cover up, and there really isn’t anything immodest about that. But take that very same amount of clothing to the grocery store, the gym, or the workplace, and that’s a very different story. Of course, everyone has the freedom to dress as they please, and that’s a beautiful luxury. But just because we have the freedom to expose our bodies doesn’t mean we always should.
We live in a culture where anything goes. And while I suppose that can be a good thing at time (certainly when it comes to acceptance and respect of others), it’s often detrimental. I think modesty is one of those areas that has totally been abandoned, but really needs to make a comeback. I’m not talking about dressing like the Amish (though of course, there’s nothing wrong with that!)—but I am talking about being mindful with how we dress so we can truly be empowered as women. There is nothing more sexy than a woman who respects herself and dresses accordingly.
What’s your view on modesty?
Image credit: Liu Wen for Zara