So I came across this article last week that touched on one of my favorite/least favorite topics in Christian culture. Then the week got crazy, and there were other things to think about and talk about so it got put on the back burner until today when I actually have some amount of time to devote to it.
The distinction between this subject being my favorite and least favorite largely depends on who is talking, and what they're saying about it. The topic is modesty, and the "modesty culture." The article was about "Christian cleavage" and how that probably isn't as big of a problem as some of us were raised believing. Myself included, which is obviously why I have some pretty strong feelings about it.
First off, reading the article will get you started on what my views are on this subject. The author lays out a great foundation of actual Biblical evidence, and this weird thing called logic. Also another weird thing called respect for human beings, not just women.
A breakdown of the highlights of modesty culture, if you're in a TL:DR mood:
- Puts all the responsibility on women for dressing in a way that "doesn't cause men to stumble," which is harmful to both men and women.
- Women are taught that they are held accountable for men's actions (which they can't actually control).
- Men are taught that they aren't totally accountable for their actions, which is dangerous, to say the least.
- Men are also taught that they are more or less animals, with no distinction between a passing sexual thought and actual lusting/obsession/fantasizing about women.
- Women are usually not taught positive things about themselves in the course of this doctrine. It boils down to, "That cool body God created you in? Yeah, it's shameful and you should hide it because people could SIN, *Rebecca St. James plays in the background*"
I almost don't even know where to start with this. For most of these things, any decent human being should be able to see what's wrong with this picture. If you can't, or if you're into Biblical proofs, read the article. Really, so much has been written on this topic that all I have to add to it this time around is some personal experiences that I may or may not have shared before.
First off, if you know me in person, you know that I'm a pretty huge tomboy. Like, I intentionally did my best to look guy-ish for a significant portion of my formative years, that kind of tomboy. There was a reason for that, in my little kid head. With all the super strong talk about how modesty was important, from camp dress codes sent out with every registration form, to conferences about keeping yourself pure from all manner of shady sexual sin, that I somehow ended up at before I even really hit puberty.
I took it to the extreme (which I *never* do. Ever.). I decided that being a girl was just WAY too complicated and stressful, and being boyish, literally, was easier. After all, no one ever gets on girls for wearing loose t-shirts and cargo pants. (Well, unless you're super-extra conservative, but thankfully my family was never on the "we should wear long-skirts and sweaters always" train. I might have died.)
T-shirts - especially unisex styles - are the epitome of modesty, especially when they have sometimes slightly clever appropriations of pop culture sayings on them, with a Christian twist. My personal favorite when I was 14 was a shirt that said "Talk to the Hand" with a picture of Jesus' hand with a nail sticking through it and blood dripping down. Plus a Bible verse. It was what I considered my most hardcore shirt. Oh, and the best part? The name of the company that made this shirt was "Yahwear" (I wish I was making that up).
So fast forward 12 years, and I've had a number of changes of theology (thank GOD). I'm still a tomboy, don't get me wrong. I still rarely wear anything fancier than jeans and a t-shirt, but the jeans are women's jeans not men's cargo pants, and the shirts are cut for women and have necklines that I'm still getting used to. I'm slowly trying to buy more things that I could potentially wear in a professional setting, even though that's an expensive endeavor (non-standard size shopping is the worst). I own more than one dress that I didn't have to buy for choir, even if I don't wear them that often. Buying them was difficult enough. I'm working on the whole wearing them bit.
See, this teaching was buried deep in my brain, and I'm trying to pull it out piece by piece, because I realize how it skewed my perspective on everything. It taught me to believe that my body was shameful, before I even had much of a body to be ashamed of. Somehow, just by virtue of being a girl I was heaped with all this extra responsibility. Be modest, make sure your shorts are longer than your fingertips, skin-tight clothing may as well have been invented by the devil, necklines are really dangerous, especially if you have big boobs, but we can't actually say that so we just preach the gospel of the undershirt and the camisole because OH BY THE WAY you're still somehow required to look cute and girly, and be into makeup (though not too into it, because beauty is also dangerous), and want to wear dresses, because that's what boys want, but don't you DARE actually try and draw attention to yourself with your looks because then you're causing them to sin.
Talk about mixed signals. And I still hear this litany going off in my head every time I try to stray out of my clothing comfort zone. It gets worse (significantly) when weight plays into it, and then I REALLY can't find anything "cute" to wear unless I pay $50 and maybe sell my soul to Torrid because it is the only mainstream store I've found that makes clothes a) in my size and b) not something your average middle aged housewife would wear. I have never been into that style, though I still get dragged into it occasionally, because you try finding professional plus size clothes without going to Dress Barn.
That particular issue has as much to do with general culture's view of weight (another topic) as it does with the highly shame-based version of modesty I was taught. But for me, they are still rather connected, because nearly every piece of clothing that could possibly be considered nice falls under one of two distinctions in my head. "I could never wear that because I don't have the right undershirt, and if I leaned down plus bend in this really odd angle someone could see slightly more skin than is appropriate." Or, "This would be nice but... oh, never mind, it isn't the right size/cut right."
I don't know if I have a happy ending to this story yet, to be honest. I am still very much in the middle. In the conflict. In the trying to find some form of femininity that doesn't make 12-year-old me - a very vocal age-range still - run screaming into a corner because it's just too hard. In trying to actively not be ashamed of my body, in all it's glory. In trying to learn that the first step to being healthy is actually being okay with yourself as you are, which is a war where I've won some key battles, but there are plenty more than I still have to face.
In Pokemon terms (because who doesn't relate their life to RPGs?), I've beaten the first couple of gyms. But beating the rest of the game is going to take some work, some grinding to train up my team, and a lot of strategy and playing to my strengths. Problem is, it's way easier in Pokemon than it is in real life. I may or may not have actually found my strengths yet, which makes strategy harder, which makes figuring out what areas to work on nearly impossible.
Still, I'm trying, which has to count for something. Trying to read things like the article that started this whole thought process, which affirm what I now believe, that bodies are not shameful things. I should have to be extra responsible for things that I cannot control. I just need to be responsible for me, and that's difficult enough already. No need to add other people's bricks to my load.