Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Modesty, Part 2- effacement of the female form

Another issue I have with modesty doctrines (besides the impossibility of defining modesty and the rapey ickiness of holding women responsible for someone else's behavior) is the seeming preoccupation with hiding the female form. Modesty rules look a little different for the fuller figured among us than for the more willowy types! It seems to me that some modesty teaching is all about hiding anything overtly feminine- a curve, a bit of skin, or anything else that screams "woman" as opposed to "man" or "child." If I had a nickel for every time I heard "oh, she can wear that- she's so skinny, her curves will never show" I'd be.... well, a little richer. (I'm not decrying my more athletically built sisters here- as long as you do it healthily, and love the body you have, there's nothing wrong with being skinny, or flat-chested, etc. Genuineness and good health should be the goal, and beyond that enjoyment of our diversity) It is extremely difficult, though, to hide a curvy figure and to find stylish clothes which fit well and mask curves- well, impossible really, because "fitting well" and "masking curves" should probably be seen as mutually exclusive. :) It's as though anything overtly feminine, or suggestive of feminine power or feminine sexuality, is inherently negative. When young women are told that they need to "find shirts that don't accentuate the bust" or "make sure everything is loose" or "only wear pants (if you must wear pants) which billow loosely down from your waist so as to not outline your derriere", they hear "don't accentuate your body- hide it!" and it sends the message that our bodies are something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something to be afraid of. This, of course, is untrue. I think it would be difficult to raise a daughter to wear loose clothing and "dress modestly" for fear of inciting lust or whatever without also raising her to have a very unhealthy body image.

The female form, or the male form for that matter, :) is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a gift from God for us to enjoy. Yes, there are ways in which we reserve enjoyment for ourselves and our spouse, but there are also ways in which it is completely appropriate to share our physical form with others. To see beauty and appreciate it is not, in my mind, synonymous with lust. If I'm dressed in nice jeans and a cute shirt and I'm happy and my eyes are sparkling and my face is animated and my hair is soft and shiny and yes, maybe I'm showing a socially acceptable amount of decolletage, it is perfectly appropriate for someone to see me and see in me a happy and beautiful woman and enjoy the sight of my beauty as the artwork of my Creator. I am a female, both biologically and culturally, and there is no innate holiness in obscuring that fact. My female personhood should not bar me from worship, from leadership, from respect, from admiration, or from anything that I am gifted and skilled to do. When women are arbitrarily banned from certain roles in the church or from authority or power because of our female personhood, it sends the same message- "to get ahead, be holy, whatever, obscure your femaleness."

When women are told that their bodies are something which must be hidden to avoid inciting lust in men, a part of them can begin to believe that there is something bad, dangerous, or wicked about not only their bodies, but about themselves. They can try to purposely obscure their beauty by unhealthy behaviors to either end of the weight spectrum, or they can become overly focused on trying to please others with the way they present themselves or their bodies. I truly believe that modesty, taught from a perspective of "do this so men won't see you and lust for you or objectify you" destroys healthy confidence and body image. That's a sad, sad thing.

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