Fashion Magazine

“Is That What You’re Wearing?”

By Mod31

Lent has really served as a time of self reflection for me; it’s made me examine my motivations for many of the choices that I make in my life. Keeping this style blog has been a big part of that journey. I don’t think I’ve ever put so much thought into my daily outfits as I have been since starting Mod31. I’m constantly indulging in my girly side as I examine my closet to put outfits together creatively. Which accessories match? How I can I wear this skirt in different ways to keep it interesting? Should I go glam with my makeup or keep it simple yet tasteful?

More importantly, however, Mod31 has caused me to reassess my thoughts on dressing modestly. I’ve avoided defining what modest is mainly because it has a tendency to be a bit arbitrary, especially when one takes into consideration social conditioning and cultural norms. But when my friend John wrote an article on manly modesty, I was inspired to write about my own reflections. After all, even as cultural norms vary, we all share a universal human nature that connects us all and there is something
Two Extremes

There are two prevalent views on this topic in the world. The first is tied to the idea of sexual liberation. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. It’s the other person’s problem if they can’t handle it. I’ve seen many self destructive behavior and relationships resulting from this mentality and have already expressed how feel about it. The other extreme (view on modesty) is the idolatry of modesty,  as Jeff Bethke so aptly coined on his blog. I highly suggest you read it as he makes many good points about how modesty can become harmful when it becomes too much about the self.

It is the scrupulosity of the latter extreme that turns many away (myself included) from really thinking about this topic at all. The problem with this mentality is that it puts the focus on shame as opposed to revealing the value of the person. It also invalidate the inherent desire of many women to look and feel “pretty,” as though this were a lesser need that should be stifled for the “greater good” of not tempting men or indulge in vanities. This is just as much a degradation of our womanhood as the hypersexualization of the media, as it still reduces us to objects, our values and character measured by how much we are covered and how little we care about “frivolous” things. It disregards the value of beauty.

Body Image and Self Respect

The most obvious reason for modesty is self respect – an awareness of our inherent dignity and worth that doesn’t come from nor can be violated by the opinion of others. Obviously, our dignity and personhood trumps how we wear our clothes, but it is one way we communicate who we are or who we’d like to be to the world. When the way we dress puts the focus on who we are as a individuals, we start to reflect on who that person is that we each want to be – who do we want the world to see?

I’d wager that the majority of us would want our clothes to express to the world that we are more than pretty faces and a sum of our parts. And a way to respect ourselves is to dress in ways that don’t put the attention on parts but on ourselves as a whole.

Modesty As A Virtue to Help Others

Modesty as a virtue takes us out of ourselves and makes us think about the good of others as well. And let’s be real, men (generally speaking) are more inclined to be visually distracted when it comes to the human body. Does this mean the burden is all on us to not cause men to lust? Don’t be ridiculous.

What it comes down to is this: any man is capable of lusting after a woman even if she is covered from head to toe. And as a woman, I should be able to expect a man to have a conversation with me, focusing on me as a person and treating me with the respect, even if the neckline of my top plunges more than three fingers below my collarbone or if the hem of my skirt stops above my knees. In this article in the New York Times , Rabbi Don Linzer pointed out that the Talmud “places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we, as women, can ignore any responsibility we have for our male counterparts. All we can do is help, and I do believe we ought to help. A friend of mine defined modesty as “the will to help others love you as they should.” This beautifully sums it up. Modesty isn’t a rigid guideline of how to dress to hide ourselves from the word. Neither is it something we do just for our own “protection.” Rather, it is a mentality and a humble way of living our lives that show a respect for the people around us. I know that many of my male friends struggle with being distracted easily by certain clothes women wear. Instead of choosing to say “that’s your problem, not mine,” I choose to dress in ways that make it easier for them (even though I hold that I and every woman should be treated with respect regardless of how we dress). And shouldn’t we all be helping each other grow in mutual respect?

Still Figuring Things Out

To be honest, I’m still struggling with defining my own personal standards of “modesty,” and often my ideas are contradictory and frustrating. Mainly from trying to reconcile my love of pretty things with the image of myself I portray to the world and how it may or may not affect other people’s thoughts and actions around me.

I love it when style is combined by grace. When done correctly and confidently, I think it takes the attention away from mere physical aesthetics but really allows others to see one’s joyful and gentle spirit.

I realize not everyone will agree with everything I am writing here. In which case, I leave you with the wise words of India.Arie:

Now don’t be offended this is all my opinion
Ain’t nothing that I’m saying law

I’d really like to hear other people’s opinions on this topic, especially if you disagree and want to spark a (respectful) dicussion.

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