|via this tumblr|
Today I will discuss the first two points of The Modesty Myth:
- Modesty upholds the double standard of sexual purity between women and men.
- Modesty contributes to unhealthy body image among women and girls.
3. Modesty upholds the double standard of sexual purity between women and men.A female leader at camp once approached me at the waterfront after eyeing me over and said, “You look really cute in that bathing suit, but you need to cover up. You don’t want your brothers to stumble!” Cheeks flush with embarrassment, my fourteen-year-old self hurried back to the cabin to change from my “conservative one-piece bathing suit” as I wrestled with feelings of anger, confusion, and shame. While as a counselor I certainly have told my girl campers the same thing (usually when their butt cheeks are hanging out of their Soffe shorts – and always privately), being the recipient of such
The next day, one of my cabin mates borrowed the same bathing suit. No one said anything to her. Meanwhile, I tugged at my swim shorts and covered my bare shoulders with my beach towel. I felt something was wrong with my body, with me. But there’s nothing wrong with my body. What’s wrong is the double standard of purity that religious communities (not just evangelical Christians) impose on women and even girls from a young age. As Lauren Dubinsky, founder of The Good Women Project reports:
“For the last month, I've been suffering a daily barrage of comments and emails criticizing the way I dress. Questioning my character and my salvation. Challenging that I can't have the influence on women that I want to have when I'm wearing an oversized v-neck shirt on a date with my new husband. Rebuking me for causing men to stumble. Telling me that all the good I am doing is being canceled out by the fact that I have a great pair of legs. That I'm selling myself short by being attractive.”Bottom line is that the tightness of a woman’s shirt is not a clear indicator of her salvation. Period.
The double standard of sexual purity and modesty also ignores the fact that women are sexual beings, too. The church likes to tout that “men are visual,” meaning that they are more likely to be aroused by seeing a bra strap or inch of midriff or form-fitting tank top. However, this tacitly denies that women are visual, as well. For instance, one year several of my girl campers complained how unfair it was that the boy campers could play volleyball shirts and skins, while they were expected to cover up when at the beach. They explained that they were distracted from what they were supposed to be doing as they ogled the muscular, tanned bodies of their male peers. When these outspoken teen girls approached the camp leaders about this, they were met with muted shock as the leaders admitted that they didn’t even consider that shirtless young men would be a stumbling block to the female campers.
Trigger warning: Disturbing image of eating disorder below.
4. Modesty contributes to unhealthy body image among women and girls.Over 10 million women and girls in the United States suffer from anorexia and bulimia, two of the most serious types of eating disorders. One in every five struggles with other methods of disordered eating, such as obsessively counting calories, brushing teeth after eating so as to prevent snacking, chewing gum constantly, exercising before and after meals (athletic anorexia), and so on. So what’s this got to do with modesty?
Modesty teaches that the less womanly one looks, the less likely she is to draw unwanted attention from men. The ultra-feminine Marilyn Monroe types – women with large breasts or toned arms or long legs – are seen as spewing lasciviousness while the Twiggies – women with more androgynous or less curvaceous figures – are lauded for their ability to conceal their breasts and other womanly attributes (and thereby preventing men from lusting after them). At least from the large-breasted women I know, they do not think having to wear two sports bras to exercise comfortably is sexy.
One woman explains how her fear of being lusted after by men drove her dramatic weight loss:
“The skinnier I got, the less womanly I looked, and the more “modest” I felt, until I was 25 [pounds] underweight. I was perpetually “fat” in my own mind – because in my own mind, the only acceptable body type was an androgynous one – one that could not possibly provoke a man to lust.” (The Phoenix and Olive Branch)Another friend anonymously described her experience at a Christian summer camp:
I very vividly remember walking from the pool back to our cabin with one of my cabin-mates, and she had a towel covering her, but a counselor blew a whistle at us, made us turn around, and pointed at my friend and told her that the towel was not covering her back enough. My friend was embarrassed and I empathized with her. I wondered whether my pre-pubescent, boyish body, which was more easily covered by a towel, precluded me from a whistle blow. I felt like there were so many things wrong with the situation.The Church needs to reaffirm the beauty and dignity of women – including their bodies for just the way they are – while acknowledging that men and men alone are in control of their sexual thoughts. While women and girls can certainly take into account their dress and demeanor when wanting to appear modest, their bodies should not be the battleground for what many Christians call “every man’s battle” – lust.