Modesty

Hello fabulous readers. Recently, a bunch of us bra bloggers decided to coordinate and tackle the subject of modesty. We’ve titled this series The Modesty Panel. It’s been a tough subject for a lot of us to write about, as it is quite personal in nature, but I think everyone agrees that it has been a positive experience. Below you’ll find links to other blogger’s posts about modesty, which will be updated as more posts pop up.

So Modesty. Kind of a charged word.

I dress in a way that many would call “modest.” I don’t show cleavage (That is, not intentionally. The boobs, they do that they want), I prefer loose sweaters and flowing tops, and my pants are generally of a medium rise. I wear shorts that stop at mid-thigh or longer, and dresses that hit just above or below the knee.

My choice to dress this way comes from a few places: cultural norms, family values, and of course physical comfort. I grew up with open minded parents. My mother encouraged me to choose my own beliefs. She always let me know that I was not bound to a religion or political view. She happy when I decided to go to church with my grandparents for a couple of years, and also happy when I chose to stop going. However, despite these fabulous qualities, I can remember certain phrases from my childhood…

“cover your boobies”

“isn’t that a bit revealing?”

“put on a sweater.”

My mother and I never really talked about breasts, bodies, or physical development unless we absolutely had to. I don’t even remember getting the talk about my period. If I did, it was very, very brief. It would catch me off my guard to hear those phrases, it’s like they would come out of no where, considering we never had a conversation about what was “appropriate dress,” and what was not. Sometimes these comments were directed at me, sometimes my sister. Another source, or influence on my degree of modesty was my grandmother. My grandmother has always been a bit passive aggressive. When I dressed like a “lady”, she praised me, and when I didn’t, she was silent. It’s not something I picked up on until I was older, but looking back, I remember her praising me when I wore earrings or a nice top or dress, but no words of kindness if I wore my favourite hoodie with a monkey on it. It seems that, intentionally or not, my family instilled in me the idea that “ladies” dress “modestly” and “ladies” receive praise. My mother was never particularly concerned with the idea of me being a “lady.” She considered herself a tomboy growing up, as did I, but she definitely encouraged the idea of modesty, and it stuck with me. There were subtle hints scattered throughout my adolescence that “smart” girls dressed “modestly” and “dumb girls” dressed “immodestly” (Get ready for some heavy quotation use throughout this post. Heavy).

As I grew and my body developed, most people around me didn’t notice. I dressed in such a way that, despite having sizeable breasts since 10th grade, I appeared to have very little curve to my figure. Few people noticed me in a sexual context during high school. However, there were times where when my body was more visible, and I received strange feedback. I remember wearing a purse across my body, and the strap separated my breasts, making them more visible. A friend pointed out that he could see my breasts, and laughed. Then our other friends laughed. I punched him lightly and laughed it off, but I felt strange. I remember wearing a seamed bra under my school uniform top, and had another friend point out that he could “see my nipples.” Really what he was seeing was the seam, which I explained, but once again I was just met with laughter.

The seeds were sewn. The connection between breasts as something to be laughed at and shamed, covered lest someone notice them and point them out to the world, began. And this somehow spread to the rest of my body as well. Perhaps when I wore my school kilt, and a schoolmate said “damn Windie, isn’t that skirt a bit short?” Maybe then, or maybe one of the other similar instances that occurred during my adolescence. Probably the sum of all of them.

An example of approximately what my school uniform looked like. The girl'a outfits look almost identical in shape to how mine did

An example of approximately what my school uniform looked like. The girl’s outfits look almost identical in shape to my old uniform. Every example of being commented on I mentioned above occurred in an outfit like one of these. Modesty doesn’t prevent rude behaviour, stopping rude behaviour does.

Maybe it’s because I’m currently heavily under the influence of feminist analysis of literature (creation myths and fairy tales, mostly), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these ideas of “modesty” likely stem from what it means to be a “good girl” in a patriarchal society. The reason why my parents, grandparents, and peers think it is their place to comment on my body, about how much of it is revealed or not, about how much of my shape they can make out from under my clothing, is because at least on some level it is not my body. I say on some level, because if you were to openly ask most any of those individuals who commented on my body if it is mine to do with as I please, I bet you they would all say “yes, absolutely.”   But on some level, my body is still public property to be openly judged, by men and women. We have come a long way, a really long way from where we were a century or half a century ago in terms of women’s rights in Canada. Legally, my body is mine, but there are all these bits and pieces scattered from the past that remain regarding the possession of women’s bodies, that desperately need to be annihilated. Do I need to cite the recent issue with Abercrombie and Fitch CEO, excluding larger women from wearing his clothing? Do I need to cite the recent rape case in Nova Scotia where the crime was photographed, and the victim was slut shamed to the point of suicide? Ownership of female bodies is still well and alive in western culture, and the force to dress modestly is part of it.

That being said, I don’t think dressing in a modest fashion is inherently wrong. I do dress modestly. I find gigantic sweaters absurdly comfortable, and I like the way loose-fitted blouses drape around me. I don’t like fussing with tightly fitted material that hugs every curve of my body, and I don’t like feeling restricted. There is nothing wrong with dressing “modestly.” There IS something wrong with perpetuating the idea that women’s bodies are inherently more sexual than their male counterparts, and thus need to be “reigned in” by excess fabric. Every example I listed above about being rudely commented on occurred while wearing my high school uniform, which consisted of loose polo shirts, black dress pants, and kilts that hit above the knee. Dressing modestly does not prevent rude behaviour, it doesn’t not prevent shaming. It may decrease the number of stares or sexual attention one receives, but it does not fix the issue.

Their body, their choice. Not your body, not your choice. Done.

-Windie

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