Muddling through Modesty

It happens every year around this time without fail. The various mothering groups that I belong to inevitably begin the modesty discussion and every year I cringe and ask myself if I really want to get involved…again.
I used to be very opinionated about modesty, but as I’ve gotten more mature and more comfortable with who I am, this is a subject that has changed in me. You see, as I and my girls have gotten older, I am finding that I have issues with the way modesty is presented and talked about because it not only objectifies women, it attributes all of society’s ills to clothing.
Ask a bunch of random people what modesty is and you will get a bunch of different answers. To some, modesty is honoring the self by detracting from the physical. To others, modesty is about showing the world that you are more than a bag of flesh. To another group, modesty is about protecting men from sin while to another, modesty is about showing the world that you are a person of value.
No matter how modest is defined, one thing remains clear: modesty is almost always talked about in reference to girls and about protecting them from the world.
I mean, think about it, modesty talks are always directed toward women and girls. When is the last time you read a blog post or saw a meme that was directed toward men dressing and behaving modestly? Have you read a post admonishing mothers for letting their sons run around the beach topless because of the effect it will have on our girls? Are boys shown images of tuxedos to remind them of their inherent purity and value to their future spouse? When a man is assaulted, do we wonder “What was he wearing?” And don’t get me started on bathing suits or school dress codes (which usually target girls with the reason of not being “distracting to others.”)
Rather than talking about modesty, our family focuses more on situational functionality of clothing or the idea of “will your clothes get in the way of what you want to do.” Are you able to move as freely as you would like in your outfit? Will any part of your outfit cause you more trouble than it’s worth? Is your outfit appropriate for what you want to do that day?
The author Judy O’Connor wrote a great little “Fancy Nancy” book about this very issue. It was pajama day at school, and Nancy decided that she wanted to wear her frilliest PJ gown to school because of how “fancy” it was. She ended up having a horrible day when her gown was stepped on, got dirty, ended up tearing, and kept her from hanging out with her friends on the monkey bars.
But I get it. We as parents are tasked with protecting our children, especially our girls, from all of the bad out there. But in protecting them, are we just setting them up for failure? Are we OK with our girls growing up with the idea that they are responsible for the actions or thoughts of others because of what they happen to put on that morning? Are we giving them the idea that how you dress and what you wear gives others the permission to pass judgement?
There is no right answer to the modesty question because, after all, modesty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Karianna Frey

Karianna Frey

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