A topic that has really been on my mind of late is about self love, and the kind of image that we portray according to the amount of love we have for ourselves.
That led me to thinking about modesty quite a lot, which led me to doing obsessive amounts of research and self reflection of modesty.
In my 19 years of living, and only 10 of those years being an opinionated and cognitive about how things affect me, modesty has been a recurring and will always be a recurring topic because it's something I deal with on a day to day basis.
And let me tell you why modesty is a daily struggle, and it will never be hot.
Girls began to fight for the boys attention, and with a newfound puberty wave taking each of my friends down one by one, new and completely misunderstood weapons were being used. I took the sidelines and observed, watching more and more clothes come off as a form of keeping attention. And it seemed to work; boys fawned over the girl with the tight fitting clothes and the one to actively promote herself. They called her hot, sexy, totally a babe, and all the girls thought of ways that they could get that same level of attention, because who doesn't want someone to look at them with desire and like the light of the world shines from their eyes?
So I began to wear short shorts, and shirts that were low cut to show my barely acknowledgeable assets. I liked being seen, and I began to understand why my friends did it too, why my friends were so eager to wear push up bras, and to flaunt in high heels. The attention from the opposite gender was addictive, but there was always something off about it. I was being seen, but a different type of seen. Like sensing when somebody is watching you but you couldn't see them, and you knew it wasn't a safe place. I was seen but for something seen a completely different way.
My first boyfriend, who I'll name Batman, came at the age of 12-13 (My memory is so off...) We met through a mutual friend, and it was the first ever official guy that mutually liked me back. We began to hang out, and soon enough, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was ecstatic! My first ever REAL relationship! We would go on dates at the nearby mall, eat lunch together, and then go sit somewhere privately and talk which inevitably led to making out. Rinse, repeat. I liked the new experience, and it was completely foreign to me except for the chick flick rom-coms that you watch growing up and aspire to. It was completely new.
Now, Batman was a one of a kind type of dude. He had always encouraged me to be good, to be kind, to be loving, and he was an overall nice guy. I don't know how I deserved my first boyfriend to be such a sweetheart, and someone who didn't mess me up like a lot of my friend's first relationships did (Boys dumping the girls without them knowing, or 'cheating' on them) but I did, and it's something I look back on as a big event that shaped me as who I am now.
One of our dates we went ice skating (Because I love ice skating and there isn't much to do where we live that isn't super expensive) and I decided to wear jeans, and one of my low cut tops. I wanted to draw his attention, I wanted to be desired, and wasn't that allowed since he was my boyfriend?
But without me realising it, since I was fawning over Batman so much, there was a group of teenage boys who were perving on me and my low cut top. Every time I came around where they were sitting, they'd all wink and hoot at me, and I would just roll my eyes at them and thought it was because I was with Batman. My boyfriend held my hand as we went around, and I began to sense that he was feeling uncomfortable with a whole gang of boys looking at his girlfriend in a not so innocent way.
He pulled me aside into one of more isolated areas of the rink, where I thought we were going to share a kiss, but he turned to me with a concerned but loving look on his face, and very slowly and calmly, lifted the front of my shirt to hide my cleavage. I was stunned. I was so confused, and almost a little hurt. Was he ashamed of me? Did he not like me anymore? Did I upset him?
He pulled me into a hug, and told me that I was worth so much more than just some stares from pigs on the side lines. Guys who had learnt to only see girls as a sexual challenge, slaves to their raging hormones and lack of compassion for the very humans they were perving at openly and disgustingly. He told me it was hard to be around girls who were always baring all, because of course you're going to look. We all look. Don't we all double take a shirtless guy, or a girl whose shirt is plunging far past their cleavage? Don't we all make comments how hot that person that just passed us was? And it's not to say 'oh boys will be boys!' and that girls are completely the ones in fault for making these guys perv, that's COMPLETELY wrong. The way we dress does send a certain message, regardless if we want it to or not. We look at a guy wearing all black and a hoodie and we are put on edge, thinking that they could be dangerous. We look at a man in a suit and think he must be established or someone of importance. Everything we wear is a message to others, and that's been established for a long time. It's etched into the very fibres of our society.
From that point on, I dressed for myself. I was more comfortable wearing jeans, and long sleeved shirts, and covering myself. I didn't like attention from guys because of my body, so I began to dress more reservedly. I looked to my mother for her example in modest dress, and I started to feel comfortable in myself. And some of you may know, I then began to go through my gothic phase of clothing.
At the age of fourteen, it had sunk in deeply the message that media portrays of women and what they do with their bodies; to cover myself and be teased by my friends for being reserved and labeled a prude or frigid, or to wear clothes that give off the impression to others that I was open to any creepy stares from 30+ year old men, and being labeled a slut by other girls. There was no in between, and anyone who tried to challenge that would be shut down as quickly as they started. It was a lose-lose situation but at least one could lose without losing a sense of comfort from doing so.
When I joined the Church at age 14, I was completely stunned by the fact that I did not see one bared chest or skirt that went above the knee, or even shoulders! These women and young women were so beautiful and radiant in their dresses that would be labeled unfashionable and old because it covering way more than was necessary in their eyes. I was taken back even more when we had a lesson on modesty and what it meant to be modest. They shared the For The Strength of Youth standards in a tiny little pamphlet I had never seen before, and it shared a set of guidelines for girls (AND BOYS) about what sort of clothes that they wear. In my limited understanding, I thought that they were a little bit constricting - Why couldn't I wear spaghetti strapped dresses or have skirts higher than my knee? - but as I heard each young woman share how she felt about modesty, and how she felt comfortable in every one's presence knowing that she wasn't showing a part of herself that she didn't want to show everyone, I began to understand. Modesty isn't just wearing clothes and saying just cover yourself because you're a sexual object for the opposite gender's viewing pleasure. It's not saying you're a prude, or a slut for wearing revealing clothing. Modesty was about self respect, and knowing within yourself that you are so so much more than what you see on TV being presented as normal. For once in my life, I felt that modesty wasn't a bad thing. It wasn't something you had to defend or feel ashamed about. It was more than that.
You practically stand out now when you are dressed covered, and that's how far we've come as a society. Each year, artists try to out do each other with more lavish and shocking acts that raises the bar by lowering the standards.
You don't need to go very far to find this out; MTV Award shows are normally the talk for weeks after it happens because of some artist's performance that stuns everyone and you get two groups either praising or criticising it, music now only ever goes around topics of sex, money, alcohol, and drugs, and advertisements prey on our weaknesses of feeling unattractive, undesirable, and comparative thinking. Countless times I've caught myself watching a music video that could pass as a soft core porn or something that would have to be shown after 8pm, when the kids go to sleep so they aren't exposed to it. Society is never going to be the one to change, but to continually strip away our values until there is nothing left but this freedom of speech that everyone labels it under.
Modesty is not easy, and let me make that very clear. It is still a continuous struggle for me, but not in the way that you may think.
I love dressing modestly, I love the way it makes me feel comfortable and I never have to pull or tug or straighten clothes that are riding up. But it's hard to ever find anything to wear that is modest. Dresses now a days are cut in the back, shorter than my fingertips when my arms are straight by my sides, and have these stupid cuts near where my fat rolls are. Why anybody would ever want to see that except to compare our fat rolls with giggles is BEYOND me. I always come home from shopping left disappointed, frustrated, and normally exclaiming to my mother - 'Stuff it! I'm just going to wear a muumuu for the rest of my life' - and absolutely forget about skirts. They're either a pencil skirt, which is way beyond the definition of form fitting and I feel like I'm suction capping myself into a tube-like hell, mini skirts that will make all the old women scoff and throw their cardigan around your waist and usher you back home, or one of those incredibly long skirts that drag behind you like you're a bride walking to the altar.
But occasionally you are blessed to find a modest outfit that suits you, it fits you, it isn't priced so high you are considering selling your left leg cos it's useless compared to the rest of your limbs, and it comes in just the right colour.
Sweet. Baby. Yes.
It's a miraculous day, filled with wonder and joy and blessings all around! You wear an accumulation of these outfits to Church, to Church activities, to dates, to everything! That's the struggle that comes along with modesty in a world that claims modesty no more to be the in thing.
Modesty should never be taught because of shame, or because supposedly women are in charge of how men act or think. It should only ever be taught as self respect for ourselves, and that we are people with worth much more vast than the kind of shows, books, or sports that we like. We are more than the labels we place on ourselves. We are more than the way we style our hair or do our makeup. We are more than what the media claims women must do or aren't doing. Our worth shouldn't be based on our clothes, or the material possessions that we own. I think if we, even just for a second, caught the glimpse of our worth in the sight of God, our whole manner would change. The way we act and think would reflect that, and it would show in how we treat others and the way we speak.
I personally believe that modesty doesn't stem from other people telling someone to be modest, or being responsible for how someone else acts, or how you should portray yourself, or how you need to cover yourself up. Modesty for me stems from a belief that I am worth more. I'll be honest though, it's tough. Being called out dated or unfashionable is tough. Shopping is SIGNIFICANTLY tougher compared to before I joined the Church. I still find it tough to not justify or rationalise that that piece of clothing is okay or if it's below my standards and especially the Lord's standards.
But it's hard because it means something. It's hard because if it were easy, everyone would be doing it without a problem. It's worthwhile, and it pays off for all your hard work.
The aim of the game with modesty is not to be attractive in the sense of the word that the world uses it now, which is to be provocative and sexy, but to bring your inner beauty out. To say, 'Hey I'm not just my reproductive organs. There is a person within this body that has opinions, beliefs, characteristics, a whole universe of depth' and to show that through your actions.
There's a saying quite frequently said in the Church, or really any Christian denomination where it teaches about modesty, which is 'Modest is Hottest'
I heard that repeatedly in my time in Young Women's, and I even have some pins of that quote on my Pinterest. I thought, 'Yeah! Modest is hotter than showing all!' and I truly believed that.
But modest is not the hottest. It should never be the hottest. The definition of 'hot' is sexual attractiveness, and is often said in a derogatory way about someone's appearance. It's a word tied with desire, to a 'Wow she/he's HOT!' and normally with a lustful intention. Modesty is not about being hot, and it never will be.
And lastly, I choose modesty for myself, Heavenly Father, but also my future husband. I know, shocker! Ash, you said not to dress for a man and that you're not responsible for and now you're saying the opposite?
No, I'm not saying dress in something you don't want to because of someone else. I think of the day when I will hopefully be married, and the kind of man I will choose to give my eternity to. I hope, that when he sees me for the first time, I will not be someone he passes over because I'm portraying myself in a way that is disrespectful or improper, but that he will stop and look and notice the light of Christ in my eyes, and the radiance of my smile. That the modesty within him will recognise the modesty within me. That he can see in the way that I act and speak to others that I know my self worth and respect myself, and that I'm not going for hot or sexy, but I'm going for my inner beauty to be brought outwards.
Modesty is about being seen for who you are, as opposed to being seen for what your body is.
Modest is not the hottest and it never will be. For that I'm glad I can comfortably be myself, unreservedly.