There’s a track team that gets to the intersection in front of the Catholic high school around the same time that the kids and I do in the minivan after kindergarten pickup in the afternoon. Usually the girls run by in their sports bras and Nike shorts while I’m waiting at the light, and the boys come through in their shirtless pack a few minutes later. Yesterday, though, they were all running together. Out of about ten kids on each team, all but two girls were wearing t-shirts over their normal running gear while they were working out with the boys. Not one boy felt compelled to put a shirt on. Not one.
When I was a very little girl, I could not wrap my mind around why I had to wear a heavy cotton t-shirt in the sticky humidity of Mississippi’s triple digit summer days while my brother and his friends ran around shirtless. I wasn’t even allowed to wear crop tops to give my belly button a little air. This led to a lot of grumbling conversations with my friend Riley as we sweated through our little short-sleeved OshKosh B’gosh prisons while our big brothers ran around enjoying the breeze unhindered.
Girls have to cover their bodies, we were told. That’s just how it is.
The boys had to wear something, but there was less to hide for them. They could show more skin; ours was not fit for polite company.
We all know this. The term “body-shaming” may be pretty new on the scene, but the concept is as old as Eden. Here’s what’s funny about that, though– when Adam and Eve realized they were naked, the Bible says they covered themselves with loincloths, and that’s it. They put on matching fig leaf undies and called it a day. Old school depictions get his right, but in most modern images I’ve seen of this story Eve is wearing much more than Adam. When we tell this story now, she is the one who bears the majority of the blame (and therefore, more of the clothing) in our minds.
We’ve all been asked to wear a one-piece to school or church pool parties to avoid tempting the boys who are free to run around half-naked. Every Christian girl I know has owned about a thousand undershirt camis in different colors to wear with our V-necks to avoid giving anyone the impression that we might actually have boobs under there. Scandal! Ask any Southern girl about modesty, and she can give you the rundown about what is or is not “appropriate” for a nice Christian girl. I double-dog-dare you to come up with even one modesty rule for the wardrobe of a nice Christian boy.
Thankfully, in skimming for a few articles on the subject, I found many more speaking against this kind of policing of women’s bodies. I even found one particularly clever tongue-in-cheek post by a woman pleading with Christian men to stop wearing well-tailored suits that can cause her to lust after them. Unlike when a lot of us were growing up, many people are now realizing the negative impact of placing responsibility for the sex drive of every person who sees me in a day squarely on my uncovered shoulders.
I’m not saying this means all bets are off and nudity is where it’s at. That sounds profoundly awkward and more than a little bit unsanitary. The whole idea of that actually makes me so uncomfortable I can’t even talk about it. But I digress…
I am saying that clothing should be practical rather than punitive.
What is our purpose in dressing ourselves at all? What does our clothing equip us for? If we weren’t worried about “the message it sends,” what would we wear to work, to track practice, to the playground with kids, to lunch with a friend?
One survey claims that the average American spends the equivalent of 48 days having sex throughout their lives. You know how much time they spend not having sex? 28,641 days. It’s not even a little bit close. So shouldn’t we spend more time worrying about how our clothing fits in with the BAZILLIONS of other things we spend most of our lives doing rather than fretting over what it may imply about that .2%? According to that same article, though, women (not men) spend an average of one year of our lives deciding what to wear, not because we’re prissy but because our reputation is on the line.
In her brilliant reflection on this titled Modesty: A Retraction, Amy Laura Hall writes about her own transition from dressing conservatively to avoid ruffling feathers in her male-dominated profession to eventually “throwing caution to the wind” and dressing how she wanted. Her old rule of thumb was, “Don’t startle those around you by dressing too obviously like a woman, or even worse, the wrong sort of woman.” Through the example and encouragement of women around her, though, she eventually fired fear as her personal stylist and started wearing clothes that made sense for her, like jeans that actually fit her body instead of “mom jeans”. I’d like to suggest we do the same.
As much as possible, wear what you need to wear for what you’re doing. Wear what makes you happy. That’s a luxury not all of us can afford, I know. There are bosses and coworkers and congregants and clients to take into consideration. There are uniforms and dress codes, and I get that. But there’s still room for you. There’s room to wake up and decide to be brave in what we wear today, from the makeup (or lack thereof) on our faces to the stilettos or Ked’s on our feet.
Whatever that looks like for you, own it. You do you, boo boo. You do you.