Beauty Redefined Blog

Modest is Hottest? The Revealing Truth

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Modest is Not Hottest Beauty Redefined

Women and girls are more than just bodies. But you wouldn’t know that if you looked to media, or even sometimes well-meaning religious* rhetoric, for the truth about females. And you wouldn’t know that if you listened to the way so many of us discuss the topic of appropriate dress, or “modesty,” today. We are growing up and growing older surrounded by profit-driven media’s fixation on bodies – from “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!” billboards to always-Photoshopped magazines and TV obsessed with judging what women wear and how much cellulite they have. In an inescapable media world that pans up and down women’s bodies and focuses so much attention on their parts, no wonder girls learn to display their bodies as something to be looked at. No wonder girls learn to survey their bodies at all times, and in all things they are wearing, and in all places they are going.

Today in many circles, issues of female “modesty” are very popular. From many religions’ focus on appropriate dress to schools having rules on how high above the knee girls’ shorts can and can’t be or how much bare shoulder is too much – modesty is a trending topic. (For LDS audiences, we now have a modesty lesson plan here). Fashion boutiques have crazy names like “Sexy Modest” and “Modest is Hottest!” is a popular phrase endorsing full-coverage clothing. While reasons for suggesting modesty vary greatly, we at Beauty Redefined can attest that far too much emphasis is being placed on arbitrary standards that are harming females from a very young age and keeping us fixated on females as bodies alone

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If you’re pro-modesty (by whatever definition that means to you), then live it and teach it as a means for empowerment and benefit to yourself, not as a service or protection for men. You are capable of much more than being looked at, and your clothing decisions can reflect that. Simultaneously, let’s make sure we’re not shaming or blaming any girl or woman for what she chooses to wear. We’re in this fight together!

From a research-driven point of view, there is power in modesty. Many cultures and religions echo that sentiment  to varying degrees — that covering up your parts is crucial to respecting bodies, which are viewed as sacred. Regardless of your spiritual orientation, an open discussion about modesty from the perspective of our research can get us somewhere much more powerful and valuable than the shallow “modest is hottest” mentality so prevalent today. Here’s the truth you can stand behind:

We are more than bodies to be looked at.  Self-objectification is an epidemic among females today, as our research can attest, and it keeps females “in their place” as bodies in need of constant preoccupation and perfection. It takes place when we internalize an outsider’s perspective of ourselves. We literally picture ourselves being looked at as we go throughout our days, and research shows it gets in the way of everything we do. Everything. When we have to accomplish a task while also thinking about what we look like while doing it, we’re at a major disadvantage.

girlsinmirrorWhen we live “to be looked at,” self-conscious of our bodies, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness. We perform worse on math tests, logical reasoning tests, athletic performance, have lower sexual assertiveness (including the ability to say “no” when needed), and we are left unfulfilled and unhappy. When we self-objectify, which is the norm today for little girls all the way up to older women, disordered eating and cosmetic surgery procedures increase, we stop raising our hands in class, and we quit pursuits of math and science degrees at greater rates. We experience immense body shame, anxiety and depression, and fixate on our bodies enough that we never get on to the great things we can and should be doing.** Girls and women LOSE — and so do the men all around us — when we fixate on bodies.

If modesty is a concept you subscribe to, there is great power in changing the modesty conversation from what you LOOK like to others to what you FEEL like inside.  Studies on the epidemic of self-objectification show us that “clothing represents an important contributor to the body and emotional experience of contemporary young women” because body-baring clothing leads to greater states of self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood (the latest study of this kind was just published in May 2012’s Sex Roles academic journal)***. What this tells us (and what our own experience living in female bodies tells us is a no-brainer) is that when we wear clothing that is revealing or emphasizing our parts, we become very self-aware of those parts that are being looked at. We self-objectify and are in a near-constant state of adjusting our clothing, fixating on what we look like, and looking at other people looking at us. It’s OK to like being looked at, and even to like attention from others for our looks, but if it’s getting in the way of progress, happiness, and health — as so much research confirms that it is for many — we’ve got to move on to being more than an object to be looked at. Research shows a level of modesty can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves and our daughters from being in a constant state of self-objectification.

Many discussions of modesty, from diverse cultural or religious perspectives, revolve around the idea of keeping sinful and unholy female bodies and body parts from the gaze of others — particularly men. This privileges the male gaze, in a  backward sort of way, and puts females at a disadvantage for being the ones in control of what others think or feel when seeing their bodies. When we speak of modesty strictly in terms of covering our bodies from the sexual gaze of others, we are keeping the level of discourse at the shallow waters of women and girls as bodies alone.  We have very little control of what other people think when they look at us. Even in cultures where women are required to or choose to cover up a great deal, there is still an incredibly high incidence of rape and sexual violence. Covering up has no bearing on men’s ability to control themselves. If we are teaching the girls in our lives that the primary objective of modesty is to keep themselves covered so boys and men don’t think sexual thoughts about them, then we are teaching girls they are responsible for other peoples’ thoughts and they are primarily sexual objects in need of covering. No girl or woman’s body is sinful, and no one should be taught that. Modesty, as an ideal, can be about so much more than shaming females into covering up.Capable of Much More bR Sticky Note

We complicate it even further when we throw in phrases like, “modest is hottest,” which again teaches that girls should dress modestly for the benefit and approval of others, and not for themselves. Modesty can be a powerful concept when we believe we are more than bodies. And when you believe that you are capable of more than looking hot, then you might dress differently than someone who perceives her value comes from her appearance, or the amount of attention she gets from men. Someone who sees herself as a capable and powerful person with a body that can help her achieve great things might act differently than someone who exists solely to look “hot.” She’ll treat her body differently and think about it differently. If you believe your power comes from your words, your unique contributions, your mind, your service, then you don’t need to seek attention and power by emphasizing your parts and minimizing yourself to your body.

We see why suggestions regarding the length of hemlines and the depth of necklines are important, because we live in a sexual world where even the youngest of girls are sexualized to an extreme degree and they are told their “sexiness” will bring them popularity, love, and happiness.  Studies show girls as young as 6 years old are sexualizing themselves because media messages show them being sexy yields rewards (a July 2012 study in Sex Roles reveals the latest). As we‘ve written about before, even girls’ TOYS and cartoon characters are sexualized to the extreme these days. But when we fixate on the inches showing we are missing the pointWhen we judge girls and women for the skin they are or are not showing, we are minimizing them to their bodies and repeating the same lies that females are only bodies in need of judgment and fixing. We are even perpetuating the shame-inducing belief that female bodies are sinful and impure, and must be covered to protect boys and men who can’t be held responsible for their thoughts or actions.

Modesty is defined differently by different cultures – even different families – and it’s time to stop shaming people into covering themselves and start teaching truths that need shouted from the rooftop: We are more than just bodies to be looked at. When we begin believing that, we begin acting like it, and female progress in every imaginable way will move forward. We will spend less money on cosmetic surgery (up 500% in the last decade with 92% of the surgeries performed on women) and every other product we need to “fix” our flaws. We will spend less time minimizing and obsessing over our insecurities beneath our clothes. We will spend less time emphasizing and obsessing over our favorite parts on display in our clothes. We will perform better academically, athletically, and in our careers. We will love other women more because we will not be judging them as bodies. We will feel greater self-love, happiness, and power to live authentically chosen lives. We will pass along all of these powerful truths to the little girls growing up in an increasingly sexualized world.

Please pass this along. Let’s change the conversation currently steeped in the negativism of “cover yourself” to “you are capable of so much more than being looked at” and positive, powerful outcomes will follow. 

*After many requests, we have created a lesson plan on modesty specifically geared for LDS audiences.

{Beauty Redefined is a nonprofit organization, the Beauty Redefined Foundation and depends on your donations for support. All donations and purchases made of our body-positive merchandise are tax-deductible and support our work to take back beauty for females everywhere through this website and our regular speaking engagements. We are grateful for every penny! Please check out our products or make a donation of any amount HERE. We love you!}

**For a comprehensive list of self-objectification’s many negative consequences, see the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

***Tiggemann, M. & Andrew, R. (2012). Clothes Make a Difference: The Role of Self-Objectification. Sex Roles. Vol. 66 Issue 9/10, p646

 

 

  1. Steve
    Steve09-27-2012

    A guy will find it much easier to see a woman as a whole person when she dresses modestly. It coveys an essence of quiet confidence, respect and strength since her self-worth comes from within instead of being inexorably tied to an unhealthy over emphasis on sexuality.

    There’s nothing shameful about dressing frilly or being feminine. The problem is when there is a lack of balance resulting in either over-sexualization, or false shame and doubt which can lead to women being covered completely up as it is with some cultures.

    In similarity to this fine article, author Wendy Shalit also makes some good points in her book, “A Return to Modesty” I hope we can insulate our girls and boys from our unhealthy, over-sexualized culture and affirm healthy views of themselves and human sexuality…They’re certainly not going to get it from the movies and pop-culture.

    • Maddie
      Maddie09-28-2012

      Steve, with respect, I think that your comment betrays you have not fully internalized the message in this article, which encourages us to stop evaluating women based on what they are wearing. Your opening sentence is quite revealing (no pun intended): “A guy will find it much easier to see a woman as a whole person when she dresses modestly.” The thing is, all women are always whole people, no matter how they are dressed. It’s just as much the viewer’s responsibility to stop reducing the other person to an object as it is the subject’s responsibility to make sure they are not attempting to objectifying themselves.

      • Steve
        Steve09-28-2012

        I couldn’t agree more with Maddie’s tenets and the basic postulates of this well written article. Like what was already stated, a woman (or anyone for that matter), has inherent value as a compete person regardless of what they wear or their status in life. In the ideal world, a woman could potentially walk down the street wearing anything since her self-worth is not derived from her clothing.

        Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect, overly-sexualized world where people are evaluated based on their appearance. Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone makes subconscious judgments about people even at first glance. These are rooted in such factors as: Age, race, social class, religion, gender, and many more. Based upon these culturally derived paradigms, we come to expect a person to act, speak and behave in a particular way based on certain social constructs.

        Is it fair? No. But it is something we contend with. It grieves me that many girls are basing their self-worth and identity on an unrealistic and unhealthy cultural view of sexuality…An over-sexualization which has the potential to harm even a boy’s healthy development and view of women as well.

        Reinforcing the stereotypes and unhealthy beliefs propagated by pop culture and media through what we wear will serve to only foster inequalities and perpetuate maladaptive behaviors. There is no shame or any one person to blame, but in order to refute these misconceptions everyone has a responsibility to dress in a way that demonstrates the self-respect and inherent value we already possess.

        If we where to be honest, women know how to dress to get a man’s attention in a sexual way. To then go on say it is entirely a man’s fault for noticing this overt sexuality ignores all cultural constructs and socialization, in addition to male biology. Are you aware that science has shown the male brain is more prone to be affected by visual sexualized stimuli? True, a man has no excuse if he victimizes someone…It is never a woman’s fault. However, the relationship to perception between men and women is reciprocal.

        In this manner, dressing proactively is like placing the cookie jar in front of a child and then blaming the child for staring at the jar and getting hungry for a cookie. In essence, all of us – men and women carry at least some responsibility and must work together to fight gender inequality. The only real shame or blame is on those who refuse to unite for this common and very worth while goal.

        • Amy
          Amy10-01-2012

          Well said Steve! One of my greatest frustrations is reading/hearing women ‘male bash’ in an effort to move ‘forward’ in a feminist way (of course the bashing of ANYONE is equally frustrating). I’m a feminist in the sense of the Susan B Anthony tradition and find most modern feminist movements going in a direction I have little interest in.

          “The only real shame or blame is on those who refuse to unite for this common and very worth while goal.”

          This sums it up perfectly in my opinion wether male or female. When we stop making any of it about women vs men or vice versa and focus on uniting in our advocacy of investing in EVERYONE’S inherent worth, THEN we will see the changes needed!

        • CM
          CM10-09-2012

          Steve this is wrong and you completely missed the point of the article. Women have 0 responsibility for the actions of men period. Just as the cookie jar is not responsible for a child’s behavior.

          • CM
            CM10-09-2012

            In other words, you can look and you can have feelings but being civil or humane means you can’t act on your urges if it violates another person’s boundaries (such as killing when you’re angry).

          • Jalala
            Jalala02-23-2014

            You can’t compare an animate object with one that is inanimate… Women vs a cookie jar?

        • CM
          CM10-09-2012

          Why can’t I edit comments? As I keep reading your post it’s appalling how much you missed. First of all, biology is no excuse to kill or rape. “Male biology” is simply a scapegoat for rape and telling women to dress a certain way

          • Kelsey
            Kelsey03-26-2014

            You’ll notice that Steve *specifically* said, “… a man has no excuses if he victimizes someone [i.e. rapes them]… it is never a woman’s fault.” I saw nothing in his comments that said it was okay for men to rape women or objectify them or not “be civil and humane”. He simply said that by presenting an image that has been culturally defined as sexual – a very bare female body – it is unreasonable to assume that sexual thoughts wouldn’t come. Whether or not a man chooses to reject those thoughts, and how he chooses to act as a result is – it’s true – ENTIRELY his choice. Certainly all young men (and older men) need to accept this reality and control their thoughts and actions. No rape is excusable. It is also true, I think, that making modesty exclusively about men’s thoughts and actions is a dangerous ground on which to walk. However, I am grateful to know that by covering my body, I can help men who don’t want to think about women as sex objects to do that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with including a respect for men in the discussion on modesty. It has helped me, and, for me at least, it helped to humanize men in my mind, to think about them as people with feelings and struggles that I could help to negate, if I chose. I believe what matters is that discussions about modesty are thoughtful and well-chosen, considering many different perspectives.

        • Courntey
          Courntey04-01-2013

          Oh so close Steve, but I’m afraid your analogy is just wrong. First off, men aren’t children, and I wish men would stop insulting themselves by saying so. I know many adult men who are much more capable of controlling their thoughts now, than they were when they were children. Second, women aren’t objects, so it was very poor to compare us to a cookie jar.

          A MUCH more appropriate analogy would be that it’s like someone with a love of chocolate chip cookies not paying attention to the conversation that they are having with a person who is holding a chocolate chip cookie, because they are too busy looking at the cookie, thinking about the cookie, perhaps even considering ways to obtain the cookie. Whether asking politely, tricking, or stealing the root issue is that this person cares more about the cookie then the person talking. Focusing on stopping that type of attitude is just as important as stopping other people from feeling like they need wave cookies in front of people’s faces in order to obtain a relationship.

          • Janna
            Janna04-04-2013

            Courtney, you’re a genius. I LOVE that “person holding the cookie” analogy. Brilliant. And I’m going to share it on FB. This is such an important conversation. I don’t know you, but I love you! :)

          • Dina P
            Dina P01-28-2014

            THIS. You are brilliant and articulate. Now, about that cookie…

          • brit
            brit01-29-2014

            True! No person should be reduced to being viewed as a cookie. A person holding a cookie is much more appropriate of a description. I would also add that it’s not polite to wave cookies in someones face if you’re not planning on sharing. :) Correct social behavior balances on both parties doing what is good. But even if someone isn’t upholding their side if the social contract, that is no excuse for the other party.

        • flyn
          flyn04-23-2013

          “Are you aware that science has shown the male brain is more prone to be affected by visual sexualized stimuli?”

          Actually, there are several studies showing that women’s brains are just as affected by visual sexualized simuli as men’s brains. It’s just that women are less likely to report it because society looks down on sexual women, (calling them “sluts” for example).
          These studies that didn’t require women to report with words, used certain tools/machines instead, which ended up showing that women’s bodies were affected and aroused the same amount as men’s bodies were.

          • Courteen
            Courteen10-11-2013

            Men are more visually stimulated to sexual content then women. Women know it and men know it. Why do you see men in the community dressing however which way they like without the paranoia and fixation women tend to put on their dress? Answer: men don`t care. Women do care about how they are seen and how attractive they look. And women “score a point” when they observe a man shooting her a glance. Furthermore, if you talk to women, they will admit that we women tend to compete with other women. We compare ourselves to other women. I`m not saying its healthy. It`s just something women do.
            Good article.

        • SilverRain
          SilverRain07-15-2013

          Except . . . men aren’t children. They ought to be expected to take responsibility.

        • Jill
          Jill10-14-2013

          You are so right, Steve! Well said.

      • CM
        CM10-09-2012

        What Maddie means here by “the subject is not objectifying themself” is that they’re not harming themselves by defining themselves by their appearance or attire, and NOT that they will somehow magically predict and prevent a predator from approaching them.

      • Lianda
        Lianda02-27-2014

        Yes, women are judged by what they wear, but on the other side; women are wearing provocative clothing to attract attention to themselves. You don’t walk around with your bra, or your body totally exposed for NO REASON. Honestly, there has to be some motivation behind the choices you make. I don’t think men mostly go around wearing tight pants to exhibit their crotches. And in fact, it very often backfires for women, because others do judge them, rightly or wrongly.

        It’s a two way street here. Women have to start believing in themselves and their value that is NOT associated with solely with their appearance.

        • Bethany
          Bethany03-01-2014

          Exactly! Women kills me sometimes when they get mad at a guy who is staring at the breasts she is showing off by wearing a neckline down to her belly-button. No woman on this earth gets dressed to the 9′s NOT to be looked at, but she gets angry when it happens?

          Of course no woman is responsible for the reaction of a man, but she certainly can make it easier for him not to have to battle with staring her down or getting to know her personality.

          I said this recently online: “A guy that walks around with his shirt off is asking for compliments but a girl who walks around with cleavage showing isn’t? Modesty isn’t about pleasing others, it is about pleasing yourself by forcing others to concentrate on your personality; it’s personal gain.”

    • Natalie
      Natalie09-28-2012

      If a man can’t see me as a “whole person” or take me seriously because I’m showing a bit of cleavage or shoulder, he isn’t someone I care to associate with and the problem lies with him, not me. I think walking into a room with good posture and a smile on my face, making eye contact with the people I encounter is a show of confidence and strength, no matter what I’m wearing. Also, I hate the word “modesty” because I think the religious climate in my home state has worn it out. I prefer the term “classy.” :)

      • Liffey Banks
        Liffey Banks09-28-2012

        I completely agree, Natalie. If we are to redefine “beauty,” let’s also redefine “modest,” to mean what it originally meant – humility in our manner, interactions, and, perhaps least of all, dress. Modesty is a concept that has very little to do with hemlines at its core.

        And one more thing! There is nothing inherently sexual or impure about our knees or shoulders, and indeed, in some cultures to mere glimpse of an ankle is enough to provide ammunition for sexualized male gaze. So, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that modesty is a prescribed dress code, immutable across time and geography, the violation of which guarantees the ogling of then men around us. Not to mention the fact that all of the men I know and love are perfectly able to control themselves around women dressed in any variety of ways – even at the beach, where most women are wearing next to nothing at all. What a thought.

        • Liz
          Liz04-02-2013

          Liffey, this was great. Thanks for articulating such a well thought out response!

        • Penny Murdock
          Penny Murdock04-18-2014

          Very well stated Liffey!! I truly agree!

      • Heidi
        Heidi10-01-2012

        Let’s be realistic. We would all like to not notice what people are wearing (or what they are not wearing), but it’s human nature to notice and make some kind of judgement, hopefully kind. It has nothing to do with money.

        Maybe I’m old (40), but I’ve never seen so much cleavage in my life. Just going to a hometown days carnival. It’s embarrassing. I’m no prude, but it seems popular for women to dress as prostitutes nowadays. Unfortunately, that’s what available at the stores. We’ve been conditioned to accept that.

        No one’s saying that we should wear burkas. But I know I feel more comfortable and confident in modest, classy, flattering clothes. Tight clothes are not pretty.

        Throughout history (until very recently) royalty wore lots of clothing. Servants and slaves wore scanty clothing. And I’m raising little princesses, not second-city specials.

        Yes, women will keep dressing immodestly–it’s a verified addiction–and will keep getting offended when they get unwanted advances from men. But what are these poor men to think? Be realistic.

        • Jadey
          Jadey10-01-2012

          Agree Heidi, well put!

        • Annie B.
          Annie B.10-04-2012

          Seeing cleavage bothered me when I was younger but I think that was because I was also very ashamed of my own body as my parents had conditioned me to be. I was taught I had to keep covered from shoulders to knees, often at the expense of my own comfort or preference, because any show of skin would be considered a sexual invitation. I know my parents were doing the best they knew, but the way they taught me modesty only perpetuated the worldview that women’s bodies are nothing but sex objects. I learned that’s all my body was, and I judged others accordingly too. I always thought of a show of skin on others as a cry for sexual attention (and sadly, I’m sure my brothers picked up on that concept, too). I’m so glad that I don’t view my body that way any more! I think having kids helped. I now appreciate my body for all the things that it does, including bear and nurse children, house an analytical mind, physical labor, and serve as a vehicle for a joyful life experience. I think I’m able to appreciate other’s bodies in the same way because of the healthier way that I now view my own body.

          What we wear does affect what others think of us, and in a lot of cultures cleavage is thought of as obscene, which is why I dress conservatively in a conservative community, as much for my own protection as not to offend anyone. And I would not be offended if a man were to compliment my looks, but would be offended if he put his hands on me or made overtly sexual remarks. But I’m so glad there are people and communities who teach their sons and daughters that bodies (breasts included) can be sexy, but are not solely sexual, and not to automatically perceive them that way on others. In past cultures where ankles stayed covered, men were conditioned to have a sexual response to seeing bare ankles. In communities where breastfeeding is done in the open for convenience and comfort, men have little to no sexual response to seeing cleavage, and children as well as adults are not embarrassed by the sight of breasts because it’s natural to them. I think this shows that it’s possible for us to teach our boys (who will become men) that skin, while beautiful, does not always equal an invitation for sexual advances.

        • CM
          CM10-09-2012

          Wow Heidi you also missed the point, I think it’s quite embarrassing for a woman to side with the perpetrators that are making unwanted advances to women and then to call them “poor men”. No woman no matter how they dress deserves to be objectified or harassed. There is much victim blaming going on here.

          • B.Y.
            B.Y.11-13-2012

            No, Heidi and Steve are not wrong or missing the point, they are just pointing out other important aspects of this debate. The issue is more complex than the perpetrator-victim perspective reveals, and it is lovely to hear other views.

            I believe both women and men tend to be equally confused in how to navigate this issue. There are many a woman that dress in a certain way because she (thinks she) wants sexual attention, and expects a man to give feed back on that – otherwise she might feel undervalued. To a male it can be very confusing – he may try to be friendly and show appreciation in a non-sexist way, but still it is taken as an insult. Many of my male friends have expressed frustration at this. “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

            When I realized this, it made me feel more compassionate towards men. Many of them are fed up with women continually valuing themselves mostly on their looks and expecting men to play along, and are just waiting for us to see that we are complete, complex, wonderful beings. It made me relax and think less on my apperarance, made more forthright in my dealings with men and I have stopped completely to dress to impress. I dress the way I do because it feels good. And when a male friend compliment my look, I know that it is heartfelt and not because he thinks it is expected of him.

            It is an inescapable fact that one person feels attraction (sexual and otherwise) to other human beings. The key is HOW to express this attraction. I believe that with dialogue, women and men can agree on ways to express it in a way that is wholesome for both parties.

          • Heather B
            Heather B07-31-2013

            There’s a lot around this issue which is neither good nor bad, but is simply a fact. It’s important to take some things that are simply facts into consideration. Dressing modestly can be an asset, especially in contexts where a woman wants to be heard and understood.

            For example, someone close to me has a very well-endowed employee who wears tops and dresses which show lots of cleavage. She will come to discuss something important with him and he finds it very distracting.

            He is a very nice man. He doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable, he doesn’t feel overly tempted and he certainly doesn’t feel out of control. He respects this employee and values her contribution. Furthermore, knows he can’t stare, he would never, ever make a comment. He’s not a child, she’s not a cookie jar, they are two professional adults.

            However, he definitely notices breasts too and he does like to look at them, so in order to not stare at her breasts, he ends up thinking “look at her face, keep looking at her face, don’t look down, look at her face…” unfortunately, that’s usually followed by “What did she say?” because he’s focusing his attention on not focusing his attention on her breasts.

            “Cleavage is distracting to most men” is a statement of fact. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it is simply true. If a woman is in a context, such as work, where it’s very important that what she says be heard, remembering that cleavage is distracting to most men can help women dress to put the focus on her thoughts and ideas.

            Nice men, like the one I’m close to, who are truly interested in a woman’s thoughts and ideas, will appreciate it if the women around them make focusing on their words easier by not pulling focus with cleavage. “Men tend to be lousy at multi-tasking.” is also a true statement. He may really want to hear what she’s saying but finds it impossible to split his focus.

            Not good, not bad, just a fact.

        • Melanie
          Melanie07-16-2013

          Thank you Heidi! I love the way you said this, I am sorry for the negative feedback you’re getting:)

  2. Jeanette
    Jeanette09-28-2012

    I LOVE this post, and I love what you two are doing with your research and this blog. I work with our church’s young women’s group, and always feel a real twinge of annoyance when we teach lessons on modesty and sexuality. It’s the same feeling that I felt when I was a teenager and got the same lessons. I don’t even want to dress immodestly (quite the opposite), but there was/is something about the way it is often presented that really rubs me the wrong way, and you did an excellent job at putting these feelings into words for me.

  3. Alice
    Alice09-28-2012

    This post is amazing!

    Growing up in a church always preaching modesty, I always wanted to be modest. But once people started saying that I needed to cover myself to keep boys in check, I became very insecure. In high school, I had a very large chest on a tiny frame. I KNEW I was always being looked at. I even had a member of the volleyball team, a female, tell me they discussed my boobs on a volleyball trip because they were so large. I had many boys, religious and nonreligious, tell me they loved my boobs. Boys that I had just met would ask me if I would make out with them, and some even offered sex. I was so confused and felt so awful about myself. What could I be doing to cause these things if I was dressing modestly? After someone assaulted me, I knew I had to change and began to wear large, frumpy clothing to try to hide my dominating features, stopped wearing make up, and stopped doing my hair. No matter what I did, I felt like I was causing people to think immoral thoughts.

    It wasn’t until I met my husband years later that things changed. He told me that, no matter what, people would always look at me. I COULD NOT CHANGE WHAT THEY THOUGHT ABOUT ME OR THE ACTIONS THEY TOOK. He told me I should not be responsible for that. He reminded me that I was more than my body, and my focus and confidence should be based on what I can do and who I can be, not in how I look.

    One day, I will have daughters that may or may not receive my genetics. But I don’t want them to feel the way I did because of the way modesty was taught to me. I want them to know they they are capable of much more than being look at.

    Thanks again!

    • Ash
      Ash04-02-2013

      Alice, you could be telling my life story.

  4. Alice
    Alice09-28-2012

    Also, I would be interested to know how to teach boys about the subject of modesty. How would you do that?

    • Angel
      Angel09-28-2012

      Tell them not to sag their jeans

      • Colleen
        Colleen01-28-2014

        Yep, I learned the hard way myself – as much as I covered up, I still got comments from people (especially males) that made me feel uncomfortable. Add to that, I went through puberty early, and that made me feel embarrassed (the worst remarks were made by kids my age, and sad to say, some of them were by girls as well). As if I could help having boobs that were bigger than the average girl my age then?

        And yes, I do cover up because I feel more comfortable covering up, and I choose to do so. I am personally not too fussed about the skimpy and tight fashions out these days, but know I don’t have to look completely frumpy either. I think if a guy (or another girl for that matter) is genuinely interested, then they will be so regardless of how I look or dress.

  5. reactivatedfeminist
    reactivatedfeminist09-29-2012

    I think it is important to note that modesty is subjective. Observe the many different religious views of modesty, Islam, Sihks, Mormons, Protestants… all have different views on what is considered to modest and many still have the same reason- to prevent immoral thoughts/actions of a man… I agree modesty needs to be re-examined and all people held accountable for their own thoughts and actions. Lets not play the blame game nor reduce each other to objectification.

    • Melanie
      Melanie07-16-2013

      As a Mormon, I would like to sat that dressing modestly as taught in our church is not just to prevent immoral thoughts of a man. That is one aspect, yes. Any immoral actions a man makes are never justified; however, it is proven that a man’s brain is more easily directed towards sexual thoughts when a women dresses provocatively. I do not ever want to do that to any man’s thoughts. Another huge aspect of modesty for us and me personally is to respect the body God has given us. I do not believe I am the body, I know I am so much more than that. However, I know the body is sacred and to me is such a valued gift to be able to live my life. I feel that dressing in a revealing manner sends the message that I do not respect the true value of my body – a gift that God has given me to become someONE great. I am not a thing..I am not my body. Dressing that way sends the message that that is the part I most value about myself. I do not judge those who believe or choose otherwise but that is my personal standpoint.

  6. Richard
    Richard09-30-2012

    This is perhaps a very difficult topic to really answer. On the one hand there perhaps is too much focus on either what women look like, or the somewhat ridiculous assumption that sexual attraction is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing a woman is wearing. Moreover, if we go down that route, we’ll end up being counter-productive- what does a woman covered from head to foot, face included, do for seeing a woman as a human being? Often, too, it’s what someone is showing, or not showing, that matters- it would be better, in my view, to be partly or mostly naked than to something that appears deliberately to tempt, but not to reveal entirely. Many a wrong thought can come as a result, and I speak from experience.

    On the same hand, of course, is if in focussing attention on what the woman is wearing and not on the thoughts of the man. We men are as much to blame for not keeping a check on ourselves or allowing the wrong thought patterns to develop- or deliberately thinking or acting in an improper manner.

    On the other hand if we ignore that fact that how one dresses doesen’t affect how people see us, and that particularly dressing in a sexually suggestive way isn’t going to focus the attention of men on that aspect of a woman to the detriment of others, we are just as much deluding ourselves. There is some effect, even if it’s limited. And we mustn’t igonre that some women may do this deliberately for whatever reason- and I don’t exactly countenance that. (I don’t speak of what gois on in the bedrooms of married couples and neither one partner is using the other- but outside of that it could be misleading, manipulative, or part of the sort of sexual relations that aren’t appropriate. Yes, I do believe sex is meant for marriage, not outside it- you may disagree but I stand by that.)

    It’s also important to note “modesty” as a term isn’t really used in a strictly sexual way in the Bible. consider one passage:

    “In the same way, that women also adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and propriety; not just with braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing; but (which becomes women professing godliness) with good works.” (1 Tim 2:9-10).

    Here the emphasis is not so much on sexuality as adornments suchas clothing, jewellry, fancy hairdos and so on- this is actually more about not showing off externally, a theme running throughout the Bible, and applying as much to men. Jesus had as much to say about the (male) Pharisees who did similarly:

    But all their works they do to be seen of men: for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, (Matt. 23:5 ASV). [What is referred to has to do with garments mandated by the Mosaic Law, and these guys were showing how “holy” they were by showing them off. Not necessarily to do with ideals of beauty, but same principle- outward appearances can be deceptive.)

    The apostle Paul in 1 Timothy seems to be using examples of things what might easily denote wealth or status, ad it’s unlikely the poorer women would be able to afford them. And notice that instead, he emphasises good works- it’s the character of a person that should stand out, not their outward appearance.)

    (Yes, I admit some feminists might be put off by the fact that was a male authority figure and for what else he appears to be saying regarding women- but the understanding that last part is debated even by those who hold to the Bible as divinely inspired and authoritative in its entirity, so I would rather not focus on that!)

  7. Linda
    Linda10-01-2012

    I never liked that phrase. It sounds so lame. Why can’t we just tell girls to dress modestly to avoid being objectified, instead of telling them that they will look the hottest if they dress modestly? Good article.

  8. Sarah
    Sarah10-01-2012

    Can we discuss the issues in thinking that if someone isn’t dressing “modestly” then they are dressing “too sexually” or “slutty”? Although one might be the exact opposite of the other, there is a lot of room between the two on a continuum. Just because you are wearing shorts above your knees or a tank top that shows your shoulders, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re dressing in a way that is over-sexualized. Living in Utah, I’ve felt the ramifications of some people’s interpretations of dressing modestly as a “right” and “moral” way to live. Wearing sleeveless shirts has earned me comments aimed at shaming me and even a discussion on how I’m being a bad influence on an 8-year old who wanted to wear a similar sleeveless tank top (full strap, not even a spaghetti strap tank top). I think it’s problematic when modesty versus over-sexualization is seen as a black and white issue when there are clearly different shades of modesty dressing. I appreciate this article a lot because it is blurring the black and white lines of modest dressing and it’s creating a space for a productive conversation. I hope we can teach our young girls what this article is saying, especially that our bodies are not sinful and therefore need to be covered up but rather we should teach them to think about how their dress makes them feel.

  9. Kristen B.
    Kristen B.10-01-2012

    I think this sums up nicely some of what you are discussing here. Sexualization can also be part of viewing the world through the “male gaze.” I suspect modesty, in some part, is not attracting that gaze but being strong in self confidence.

    http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/09/guest-post-the-omniscient-breasts-by-kate-elliott/

  10. Franca
    Franca10-06-2012

    Excellent article! thank you.

    I ind the topic of modesty intriguing but very problematic and what people say about it often infuriating. I live in the UK, and it’s not a concept used only occasionally in relation to specific religious communities (the UK is much more secular of course) but it’s not a mainstream concept. I’m 31 and don’t hand out with teenagers, so I may be ignorant, but I also don’t see the over-sexualisation of young girls to anywhere near the same extent as what people are describing in the US. I do see girls on night outs wearing very short skirts, no tights, strapless tops etc, and I would be lying if I didn’t judge them a little bit in terms of unflatteringness and health (if it’s december, for example), but I honestly never think they do it because they’re ‘desperate for male attention’ and I would certainly never draw conclusions about their sexual behaviour. And I think most people I know see this style of dressing the same way I do.

    The thing is, I dress in what could objectively be described as ‘modest’ – I am usually covered completely. But this is due to climate, my laziness with body hair removal, and because I have a visual preference for layering. I would be a bit offended if people thought I was doing it because of some externally imposed standard of dressing designed to protect men from impure thoughts. I hate the reductive mechanistic view of human desire this implies. I think people’s sexuality is a bit more complex than boobs=dirty thoughts! And it really really bothers me that it’s only ever about men’s desires while looking at women. No one ever talks about women looking at men.

    I’ve written a number of posts about this actually:

    http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2010/01/modest-dressing.html

    http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2010/10/modesty-again-i-just-dont-get-it.html

    http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2011/07/on-going-out-clothes-and-sexual.html

    http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2011/11/ffb-appearance-attractiveness-and-gender-differences.html

  11. Sarah
    Sarah10-09-2012

    I’ll add my two cents from an Islamic perspective, since I see religious views have entered the conversation. Contrary to the stereotype of a male-imposed dress code, Muslim women dress modestly for their own benefit: for their own focus and liberation from society’s constant pressures. No one can force her to dress modestly, however, as it is a personal decision that reflects a certain mindset. To say that religion asks women to cover because without covering properly, men are excused and are allowed to rape or degrade women is a weak and hugely problematic argument. It implies that men have no self-control.

    Islam unequivocally demands that a man is responsible for not ogling women or viewing them as sex objects, no matter what she wears. It is this understanding of both genders that I find complete. I’ve read through academic papers and scholarly writings that assume (what I find to be) an unbalanced approach to the problem of sexualization. It takes a holistic commitment from both genders to make a healthy society. One where a woman’s dress reflects her desire to be seen in a professional and respectful manner, and one where a man does not sexually degrade woman, even if her clothes lacks in taste or class. And God knows best what’s in everyone’s hearts.

    • Batya
      Batya10-10-2012

      Salam/Shalom to you, Sarah! Yes to everything you said, I’m Jewish. Like Islam, we have varying degrees of observance of laws of tznius (modesty/appropriateness). There are laws of tznius for men and women to follow, as I understand Islam has as well (for us, men must cover their knees, depending on strictness some men always wear pants, some wear longer shorts on occasion…it depends. Some will also never wear short sleeves, but I’m not sure if that’s a law or just custom.). Men are not to look at women (other than their wives) lustfully. This includes those who aren’t dressed tznius. It’s not all on the women. If a man is looking at a woman sexually, it’s his problem (if she’s not his wife. With husbands and wives, almost anything is okay), no matter how she’s dressed. What I think a lot of people fail to understand is that dressing a certain way is us exercising autonomy–I choose to cover my body this way or that. It’s not “Oh poor oppressed women!” There are many more laws dictating how a man is to conduct himself around women and how to treat women properly than there are laws dictating how women should dress. I think that says something right there.

      • Chana
        Chana01-29-2013

        in reply to Batya & Sarah as well: I appreciate the perspectives both of you have offered, and I think the way that Sarah has expressed the Islamic viewpoint is how many Orthodox Jewish women look at modest dress. However I think there is a danger that’s being overlooked. When modesty in dress becomes a norm (a socially, if not religiously, mandated rule) then along with it seems to come the idea that all of the responsibility is on the woman, as though we have the power to control men’s minds and they don’t. The implication that men do not have self-control then becomes accepted as fact. I see this in strict Orthodox Jewish communities, and it seems to be the message of the strictest Muslim societies as well. In both Judaism and Islam, there are those who blame the victim when a rape occurs (in the Old Testament, there is a law that if a woman is raped in a city she is put to death. In some Muslim and Christian communities in the Middle East, honor killings still occur after a woman has been raped). I think there are two distinct ways to look at modest dress in both communities and what it says about men and women, and understanding that both extremes (high levels of respect for women and very low levels of respect for women, even going as far as blaming the victim) can be linked to how the subject of modesty is understood and discussed. It can either elevate or denigrate. And i believe that’s part of the message of this post. A dress code isn’t as important as the internal attitudes.

  12. Tiffany Thorne
    Tiffany Thorne10-09-2012

    Hi, I was very intrigued by this article. Particularly the assertion that there is power in modesty. You had mentioned it was a research-driven assertion. I was hoping for a reference there?

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined10-12-2012

      Hi Tiffany! We wrote about it in the post here: If modesty is a concept you subscribe to, there is great power in changing the modesty conversation from what you LOOK like to others to what you FEEL like inside. Studies on the epidemic of self-objectification show us that “clothing represents an important contributor to the body and emotional experience of contemporary young women” because body-bearing clothing leads to greater states of self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood (the latest study of this kind was just published in May 2012’s Sex Roles academic journal). What this tells us (and what our own experience living in female bodies tells us is a no-brainer) is that when we wear clothing that is revealing or emphasizing our parts, we become very self-aware of those parts that are being looked at. We self-objectify and are in a near-constant state of adjusting our clothing, fixating on what we look like, and looking at other people looking at us. It’s OK to like being looked at, and even to like attention from others for our looks, but if it’s getting in the way of progress, happiness, and health — as so much research confirms that it is — we’ve got to move on to being more than an object to be looked at. Research shows a level of modesty can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves and our daughters from being in a constant state of self-objectification.

  13. HyeKeen
    HyeKeen10-12-2012

    Reading this article, it brought me back to my teens and twenties. I’ve always been a fairly modest dressing person, with occassional non-modest outfits for parties or dancing at clubs. What I remembered was how much I thought about my appearance – always adjusting my clothes to make sure my skin/fat/rolls didn’t show. That makes me think that the WHOLE clothing thing is more about the greater attention that we place on women’s looks – and increasingly (or always) really everyone’s looks – I’m sure you could find a (formerly) overweight male who felt the same way I did growing up.

    For me the issue was never about viewing myself as a sex object, but rather wanting to make sure I wasn’t an object of disgust, or a body that would attract being made fun of – which is really what I was trying to avoid. At that point in my life I would have loved to have the smooth, skinny body to wear revealing clothes – because it would mean I wasn’t ashamed of my body.

    Dressing modestly or not doesn’t really give a person (at least in current US society) the ability to focus on the mind, the talent, the personality, etc. It’s more a matter at this point of self-esteem, feeling confident in your body and person. I’m at the point now as a 30-something where I’m more comfortable in my skin (although not 100%). I don’t wear makeup because I just don’t want to, I don’t usually shave my legs, and in general I wear modest clothes because it’s comfortable and I don’t have to worry about something inappropriate “popping” out. I still adjust my clothing to ensure my skin/fat/rolls aren’t showing or at least showing as much, so I still have a ways to go before just focusing on my inner self.

    I’m trying to work harder on appreciating my body for what it does for me – and trying to learn to love myself more so that my daughter will grow up learning to love her body and herself for who she is and the good things her body can do.

    It’s a challenge for sure!

  14. Ruthie Oberg
    Ruthie Oberg10-22-2012

    I noticed something recently about the way I greet little girls and, honestly, it shocked me that I had never noticed it before. Every time I met a new little girl I always said, “Oh, how pretty you are!” in an effort to boost her self-confidence. Then it hit me “BAM” I am teaching her to build her confidence based on her looks – why on earth would I want to set her up like that when she is six years old? So I now make a conscious choice when I meet a little girl to say, “HI Sweetie! I bet you’re a really smart girl…can you tell me about a book you have been reading lately?” All of the sudden conversations open up and I’ve made a connection with something much deeper than the usual “What cute shoes you have on today.”

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin11-29-2012

      I never thought about that. Wow. Thanks for sharing that!

  15. Jessica Brown
    Jessica Brown11-03-2012

    This article *almost* came off, as prude-shame like. If anybody remotely sounds like they’re criticizing someone for dressing too revealing they’re accused of slut shaming but if someone criticize a girl for dressing too modestly than that’s noo way that’s shaming someone for their looks.

    If a girl want to dress revealingly she is empowered but if a girl feels comfortable expressing herself modestly then there must be something wrong with her, she must be a prude, she must be a slut shamer, she’s jealous, insecure of how all the boys like me instead.

    I like how this article shows that regardless of what we wear no one has a right to judge who we are on our looks but out of all the blog posts on the Internet telling others to back off on the “sluts” it would refreshing to see some telling others to back off on the “prudes”.

  16. Caitlin
    Caitlin11-29-2012

    Wow. This article was so enlightening and definitely opened up my eyes to the reality of all this modest talk, and how much we let others opinions of us affect what we do. It definitely hit home for me, even from the being afraid to raise our hands in class. Beautiful message.

  17. pfspiegel
    pfspiegel01-04-2013

    You women want to not be seen as eye candy, but you want to be able to wear anything you want. Until we evolve our primate/reptilian part of our brain, which will be some day (new era for humans), men just won’t respect a women who dresses with a lot of skin showing. It’s just not going to happen. When a man sees that, immediately he lusts after it. When a woman sees a mans chest, she lusts after it (I’m being general, there are always exceptions in some cases one might not be attracted ect.). You want to be less oppressed, but there always has to be some boundary. Better to be respectably modest, because otherwise you fools will never be deemed anything else.

    • AKCurtis
      AKCurtis03-02-2014

      So you are claiming men in cultures where it is the norm to show more skin (for example indigenous cultures) respect women less than mainatream US culture? My experience is the opposite. When I am in cultural spaces where body covering is emphasized, I am treated with less respect than when I am is cultural spaces where very little covering is the norm.

  18. Kristin
    Kristin01-29-2013

    I’m offended that just because someone wants to be more covered, particularly for religious reasons, that must mean they find the female body “sinful and unholy”. My body might not be special to the world, but it is special to me and I don’t feel like just anyone and everyone deserves to look at it. I prefer to dress more modestly because I DO think the female body is beautiful and special. I also don’t think that just because you care about your appearance that you must be an unintelligent underachiever. Give me a break.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined01-29-2013

      Kristin, please re-read the post! We’re with you on all points. I never said anything about a woman wanting to be covered, particularly for religious reasons, being “sinful or unholy”! In fact, this post was all about the importance of modesty for the individual. From the post: “Research shows a level of modesty can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves and our daughters from being in a constant state of self-objectification.” And caring about your appearance definitely doesn’t make you an unintelligent overachiever, which was never even alluded to. This foundation is called “Beauty Redefined” because beauty needs to be something so much more all-encompassing than media would have us believe it is. To us, beauty is happy and important and so much more than what we see it defined as.

  19. Nikki
    Nikki04-02-2013

    Beauty Redefined, there’s a reason she quoted “sinful and unholy”. It came directly from your article referencing churches that teach modesty as teaching it so women would cover their “sinful and unholy” bodies. If you don’t understand why someone would extend that to people who choose to dress modestly for religious purposes then perhaps you should get to know more religious people before writing about them again.

    Here are two new words for why churches may be teaching what they teach: special and sacred. Some churches believe that when things are special or sacred they should be protected and not just available for anyone who may not value their sacred nature. It’s like the idea of not casting your pearls before swine. Sex is not “sinful and unholy”. So why do we keep it hidden? Because it’s sacred. My church has sacred ordinances that we perform, and only those with a recommend are allowed to view them. Why? Because it’s sacred. It’s special. Those things aren’t things that should be common or ordinary and available to just anyone. The female body isn’t ordinary. It’s special. So is the male body. That’s why my church holds men to the same standards of modesty as women. (This is just how my church views it. I’m not saying everyone has to think this way.)

    You don’t have to believe in my religion (LDS) or any religion at all. I just hope that maybe before you remark on what churches teach and why, you actually do some research into the churches that teach it. While my church has members and yes, an occasional misguided leader, that teach modesty as something that is “helping men” it is NOT what the church itself teaches.

    https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/dress-and-appearance?lang=eng

    If you read this link you will notice a lack of the words sex and sexual. That’s not what all churches believe. I would also like to point out that unless it specifically states one gender or the other, it’s referring to both. I hope this can provide more insight into the subject. I also hope this can also help more members of my church teach this principle correctly.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined04-02-2013

      Nikki,
      Thank you for stating what your church teaches! Again, if you re-read the post, you will see we NEVER claim that is gospel teaching in any specific church: “Many discussions of modesty, from diverse cultural or religious perspectives, revolve around the idea of keeping sinful and unholy female bodies and body parts from the gaze of others — particularly men. This privileges the male gaze, in a backward sort of way, and puts females at a disadvantage for being the ones in control of what others think or feel when seeing their bodies. When we speak of modesty strictly in terms of covering our bodies from the sexual gaze of others, we are keeping the level of discourse at the shallow waters of women and girls as bodies alone.”

      We stand by this statement. Many discussions of modesty DO leave it at the shallow waters of women as bodies to be covered. Of course we would never call out any specific church for what it believes and bash it. If you know anything about us, you’d know were are deeply spiritual and deeply religious, which is what drives all we do at this nonprofit.

      So please, re-read the post, and direct your anger elsewhere. This post also aligns perfectly with LDS doctrine and helps get individuals attempting to teach modesty somewhere so much deeper and more helpful for the females AND males listening.

      • Julie
        Julie03-04-2014

        Beauty redefined, Why did you assume Nikki’s post was “angry”? you asked her to “re-read the post and redirect your anger elsewhere”. That was a little harsh. I thought it was very well written and informative. Funny how we get defensive with others written words when we can’t hear voice inflections, or see facial expressions. In my experience, the phrase “modest is hottest” is always said tongue-in-cheek. It’s simply a fun catch phrase to go against what these young girls are being bombarded with in the media everyday. It’s not meant to say that if you dress/act modestly, boys will find you hot. Rather, it’s to reinforce that you don’t have to be a slave to the latest fashion trends. I can wear a shirt that is not see-through, tight, and low cut and still be fashionable. I don’t have to wear booty shorts just to fit in. We could say “modest is the way to go” or “modest is awesome” but those just don’t have the same ring to them :)

  20. Sarah
    Sarah06-14-2013

    I hate the end when it says ” the negativism of ‘cover yourself’ to ‘ you are so much more capable than being looked at”. I don’t know about some of the others girls out there but I dress modestly so I’m not looked at. I don’t want people staring at my boobs or my downstairs area. That just makes me uncomfortable. When you dress immodestly you send a message to your peers. And not a good message. Modest really is the hottest.

  21. Megan K.
    Megan K.06-17-2013

    I love this website but this article did seem a little confusing. Can you tell me why someone would wear a string bikini other than because she is supporting the sexualization of the female body? Or if we were to follow this train of thought couldn’t we say that if some women feel confident enough to go naked then we should honor them instead of sexualizing or judging them?

    That being said, I do think the idea of “sexy modest” and “modest is hottest” misses the point. We dress modestly so we can stop being nothing more than sexy – we dress modestly so we can remove ourselves from the meat market.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined06-17-2013

      We need to remember how normalized and unquestioned bikinis have become. Media and culture have framed it as the only acceptable, fashionable option. So some girls and women wear them because they don’t even critically examine that they have other options — they rarely see alternatives. And the other reason may be to get more sun/less tan lines, which is trying to fit beauty ideals, but not necessarily for men’s eyes only. To respond to your second question, we recognize the need to strike a balance between feeling good about your body and clothing it appropriately for different situations — which definitely counts out the going nude in public scenario. What we want to emphasize is that girls/women’s power is not ONLY in their bodies, but that their bodies are powerful instruments for their own benefit (not just to pleasure others by the sight/comsumption of them). We teach girls to make decisions regarding modesty based on respecting and valuing their own bodies, which acknowledges the fact that they have bodies that they can take pride and ownership in AND decentralizes the focus on the appearance of the body or the idea that female bodies are sinful temptations to others. We teach that the power is in who we are and that our perceptions of “who we are” can show up in our choices for clothing. Honoring and respecting your body doesn’t necessarily follow the logic of bearing it all — it might even mean covering up more.

    • AKCurtis
      AKCurtis03-02-2014

      Well, I wear a string bikini because it is the most comfortable option and I don’t think the tiny amount of additional skin it shows (compared to a regular bikini) matters. Thanks for 1) sexualizing me because I don’t ascribe to your views, 2) presuming you know why I would choose to do something, and 3) assuming you know what the norms are for my community. Your judgemental attitude is exactly what is wrong with “modesty” culture.

  22. Sarah
    Sarah07-12-2013

    I love this article and I couldnt agree more! Modesty is more about self respect than just clothing. Often the clothes we wear are a reflection of our level of self respect and convey a message to others about who we are and what we hold in high regard, sacred even. That said, it is also up to us to find value in other people beyond their bodies and other superficialities. One key point is that not everyone agrees on where modesty stops and immodesty begins. This is why we should avoid being too judgmental of others who may not share our beliefs. Regardless, some forms of dress are considered immodest to just about everyone, including the person wearing them! That would be the point, haha. Joking aside, it is in our best interest to curb this unhealthy obsession with appearance and teach our girls AND boys to respect themselves and each other. Everything I want to say is pretty much in this article! I will add though that I know some very immodest people who do cover up completely. Our appearance can and really should be a reflection of who we are inside, but not everyone is who they want you to think they are. Great job Beauty Redefined :)

  23. Kristi
    Kristi07-14-2013

    I’ve always disliked that sexuality is always discussed in terms of what men want, think, feel, and do for their own pleasure, and what women look like and do for men’s pleasure. My body is not sex, you only think my boobs are sexual because you’ve been told they are, and I’m wearing these skimpy clothes because I have a sweating problem.

  24. Julie
    Julie07-15-2013

    Clothing – whether it be modest or immodest, dressy or causal, “current” or “dated”, all makes a statement about the wearer. We wear things for a purpose – a dress for a wedding, jeans for the football game, or a bathing suit at the beach. Wearing a flannel shirt and overalls would not be appropriate (at least in the US customs) to wear to a formal wedding reception. Clothing styles have times and places where they are appropriate and where they are not appropriate.

    Clothing is also a form of self-expression . We choose what we wear to represent us. Our clothing is what people see before we open our mouth. Clothing is a way of of giving ourselves an “image” – whether it be positive or negative. Choosing our clothing and getting dressed is an action, so yes – when you make a judgment based on how someone dressed, you are judging an action. Judging actions when trying to figure out how to interact with someone is not shallow, it is natural and necessary.

    When factoring in that clothing styles having a time and a place, and how our clothing gives ourselves an image, every individual is then responsible for dressing appropriately and choosing how they would like to be seen by others. Different activities and circumstances naturally lead towards styles of clothing for a circumstance, and dressing contrary to those expectations will almost always get a response out of people. (“why is she wearing 4 inch heals and a skirt to a late season football game while it is snowing???) There might be a good reason for it (she just came from a job interview??), but it still looks very out of place, and naturally we all notice.

    Regarding the whole modesty and sexuality thing – I agree that a woman holds no responsibility for the actions of a man. A man can choose to look away and think other thoughts, and a man can certainly decide not to rape her. However, there is a reason why porn stars and strippers do not wear jeans and tunics (at least while they are “working”) and flannel night gowns are not replacing negligees. Also, not that I have taken a survey, but I suspect many married couples dress differently for each other in the bedroom than they do at work or at the mall. A natural association between showing skin and sex has been developed for very obvious reasons.

    As a woman who respects herself, I want to dress appropriately for the occasion. I want to show respect for the circumstances and those around me. As far as what parts of my body can/cannot be seen I am not opposed to showing shoulders and thighs at all – just only at the beach in a swimsuit, but I would not show my upper thigh at a restaurant, for example. I want to choose clothing that promotes the image that I want to share with those who see me. I do not want my body to be associated with sex, so I do not dress in ways that are reminiscent of how someone would dress to solicit sexual attention. I do not want people to look at me and think that I am someone I’m not or want something that I don’t. I dress in a way that shows that I am aware of the circumstances and that I want to show respect for myself and others. It has nothing to do with protecting men, it is merely saying to men and everyone that I am not seeking for and do not want sexual attention. Wearing “sexy clothing” makes people associate what you are wearing with sex (hence it being “sexy clothing”). When you are choosing to wear something that is associated with sex just simply in the name of “self-expression” but then claim to not want that kind of “attention” is crazy. People are just responding to your own actions. How can someone say “I’m going to do this, this and this, but that’s not what I’m really like. You can’t use my actions to figure out how to treat me.”

  25. Luke
    Luke07-15-2013

    So here’s my question…

    I completely understand (and agree) that modesty is much more than the standard “guard the eyes of men” rhetoric, but is it less than that? In other words, are you saying that modesty isn’t at all about showing decency so that men don’t mentally associate a woman with acting provocative, or are you saying it also has to do with that, but it is so much more?

    If a woman says to herself, “Hey, I know if I dress a certain way, act a certain way, and talk a certain way, I will be displaying sexual cues, and men will pick up on those cues, therefore, I will choose not to do those things,” is she somehow misled?

  26. jb
    jb07-15-2013

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with realizing that it IS challenging for everyone (I include women in this) to think appropriate thoughts and trying to help one another out by trying to dress modestly. Most men I know realize very clearly that it is their responsibility not to objectify women, and work very hard not to do so, yet they also lament how challenging this is when it is so hard to get away from women who are dressed in a revealing way…
    I don’t see why it can’t be framed as, “Yes, it is the viewer’s responsibility not to objectify, and our clothing choices can support that.”
    And people can help on the other side by expressing appreciation for modest clothing choices, encouraging it, complimenting it, and not rewarding immodest clothing choices or acting as if they have zero effect on people’s thoughts/choices.

    • Courteen
      Courteen10-11-2013

      thank you for putting it all so plainly, for telling it like it is!

  27. Rissa
    Rissa07-15-2013

    There are lots of ways women can influence others. Women (and men) are more then just their bodies. However, we still have bodies and we are responsible for the influence that our bodies have on others. Please note the fact that I said influence. I am not trying to say that men are not responsible for their actions. That being said, we women can make it easier or harder for them to have clean thoughts and good actions. One way that we can do this is how we dress and act. If we dress immodestly or act with crude behavior or language we make it harder for men to be good men.

  28. Julie
    Julie07-15-2013

    It is true that a way a woman dresses can make it harder for a man to think pure thoughts. (That is in fact, science. However, a man is still capable of overcoming this.) Unfortunately some men purposefully find scantily clad women to assist them in thinking those thoughts. However, as far as teaching modesty is concerned, I think it is so much more than and so much more important than “help the boys and men keep pure thoughts”. If we can teach girls and women of all ages why it is important to dress modestly for themselves, I think it will be more effective.

    Part of our human nature is to be a sexual being. (I am LDS, so if this sounds very Mormon, that’s why) When our sexuality is used in the way it was intended – to create beautiful bonds between a husband and wife and to bring children into this world, it is a holy and sacred thing. When it is used the way society has decided it is to be used, that’s when problems begin. My body, including my sexuality, is a gift from God. By flaunting my body and using my sexuality in a way that it is not intended, I am hurting myself. I am harming my own virtue. When I dress and/or act proactively in a situation that is not appropriate, that hurts me, and it of course may also affect “bystanders”. I want to stay pure for myself. My body and sexuality is a gift that is to be shared between me and my husband. Likewise, his body and sexuality is a gift that is only to be shared between me and him.

    So yes – while at least some men may find it extra “challenging” to keep pure thoughts when around an immodestly dressed woman, it is just as much about her virtue as it is his. A girl would have a hard time understanding all of this from a guy’s perspective, but she can be taught to understand herself and her own body and learn just how special and sacred it really is.

    This, btw, is my explanation of the importance modesty for other LDS people and those who share our values on sexuality and modesty. My previous response is my explanation of the importance of modesty for people who don’t share those same views.

    • Grackle
      Grackle07-22-2013

      “It is true that a way a woman dresses can make it harder for a man to think pure thoughts. (That is in fact, science. ”

      To say that it is is, “in fact, science” is to ignore the multitude of ways in which boys and men are taught to view their own sexuality–justifiably voracious, unstoppable, powerful–and how we’re all brought up to view women–as innately sexual objects whose ultimate purpose is to satisfy the male appetite. We’re all taught that it is the woman’s responsibility to hide however much of herself a given society has deemed too sexual for general viewing because men are “visual”–whether it be her cleavage, her arms, her legs, her ankles, or her entire body. To say that the sexual responses of bystanders is our responsibility is to say the burqa might just be justifiable after all.

      I think that we have different views entirely in regards to purity, etcetera, because I’m not religious–though I certainly respect your nuanced opinions on the issue. I’m just not going to get into it because this comment is long enough already!

  29. Emily Currie
    Emily Currie10-05-2013

    Being a natural 34hh chest, I have learnt that if I wear baggy shirts I get the same attention equal to wearing something provocative. I made the decision long ago to wear clothes which make me feel happy. I am 26 and I can easily wear something from bon marche to a corset ensemble. The only conclusion I have learnt of those who judge aesthetic equalling a definite attitude towards depraved sexual nature are those who bind visual with low self esteem. I think the reactions of what people say about a woman in a provocative outfit says more about them than the subject they seek to value/devalue. To be honest I can talk to a girl who wears a bin bag or a astronaut suit since I attune more to the words an individual speaks than the illusion of what clothes they wear. Afterall true kindness can emerge from any shell modest or not.

    Have a lovely day guys and ladies xx

    Em x

  30. Sonja
    Sonja01-28-2014

    There is an aspect of linguistic and insinuative psychology that the author is overlooking, sadly.

    by CHOOSING the term Modesty for a way of dressing your body a certain way you attach the full meaning of this word as a subtext to the dresscode.

    I am very much on board with
    (a) the idea that how you dress, and doing it with care and self love can be very empowering and will probably (outside of summer and hard work) end up with containing more fabric (and as a lover of such I am always for MORE fabric) and
    (b) the idea that it is important to divest this conversation of the subtext that it MATTERS a great deal how the attire under (a) or the body in that attire looks.

    My issue is with choosing the term MODESTY for this.

    Modesty is NOT an empty word which is free to be filled with whatever we like to fill it with. Modesty is first and foremost a form of humility. (Which is why I don’t really get when it got from modesty MEANING to not care so much about how you look sexy at all, but rather to look modest, as is to NOT wear tons of accessories etc, as in the OPPOSITE of being vain and attention grabbing To A WAY TO LOOK HOT and be super-stylish just with your lady parts being covered (all the while sometimes QUITE tight fitting and therefore quite equally revealing)

    You cannot CARE about your appearance much, wear gold and sparkles AND be modest in that sense at all. (and originally this was also how the dresscode was viewed.

    Now, I don’t say that humility or modesty of this form is a bad thing, not at all. But I have noticed in the last 4 years that I – as a non america socialized person have live in the USA – find troublesome in that context:

    (a) American women are WAY too modest as it is: I have been unable to get any of my amazing american female friends finish this sentences (as in I have asked about two dozen grown up women of varying ages and not ONE finished it with confidence)

    “I am excellent at…..”

    The top of the crop was a young lady who is a twice Fulbright scholar, with a background in math and robotics who has learned one of the hardest to learn languages mostly by herself , who after much prodding was willing to admit that she makes good brownies. In fact, any of the ladies who in the end said something like “I am good at” choose something incredibly trivial (not to diss brownies)

    (b) Modesty may be a very desirable mindset. But it has become a GENDERED mindset, when it wasn’t always so. Nobody is asking men to dress modest (in fact, if anything we could nudge them to take a bit more care with their appearance, but in truth we don’t) and the majority of american men I met wouldn’t have any trouble finishing that sentence

    (c) You ABSOLUTELY CANNOT divest words of their subtext.

    Which is why I find using the term Modesty in the context of empowering women almost INVARIABLY problematic.

    We know the way to get recognition in your field is NOT to be overly modest, is, in fact, to claim your ability and to loudly proclaim your successes and to minimize your failures as learning processes. (yes, so far we tend to be accepting of this more in men than women, but it is NECESSARY to be visible like this to change things) so clamoring for any form of modesty as a way to EMPOWER women is more than merely counterproductive, it strikes at the heart of self confidence.

    (d) dressing in a way that makes you feel good about yourself (not dressing for somebody else, but YOURSELF) is IMO indeed a form of self respect.

    But If breathing is something that is easier with some cleavage, then, take a deeper neckline, no MATTER what.
    If you feel better with long skirts, because the way they bounce around your calves makes you feel merry and romantic and adds a flair of romance to your statistical analysis? go for it!,

    If pants give you a sense of no nonsense, I can handle the world today: go with that!

    Whatever floats your boat. (and though it shouldn’t be relevant: chances are it will indeed make you look attractive because contrary to what the media tells us, in real life we are all drawn to people who are at ease with themselves, and you can only be that if you are comfortable in your clothes)

  31. Jake
    Jake02-27-2014

    What is “modesty” in the first place?

    Are we gonna accuse tribes in Africa because they go half naked on top, for being immodest? Are we gonna call mothers who breastfeed in public in Southeast Asia immodest? Are we gonna accuse Europeans of being immodest for their nude beaches?

    Was it not that 100 years ago, showing your ankle (for women) was immodest?

    The problem here is that American society sexualizes things are not sexual “biologically”. Butts weren’t really sexual decades ago and before the advent of bras, breasts were not considered sexual either!

    And did not the ancient Greeks and Romans sculpted a lot of nude statues?

    Are these tribes in Southeast Asia immodest for wearing this kind of clothing?

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-d2j_44x1Btg/T1lqnoXBH8I/AAAAAAAACuM/MjwPsDqzJ0o/s400/ifugao+street+dancers+panagbenga.jpg

    Problem is, society(both men and women) cannot distinguish societal constructs from purely biological constructs. Often times, we pull the “biological” card when it is actually societal dictation

    • Stephen
      Stephen03-01-2014

      I think, for me, immodesty is like bragging. Lots of women try to get social power from showing off their bodies and decorations.

  32. Alison Moore Smith
    Alison Moore Smith02-27-2014

    Out of the ballpark, ladies. I beyond love this.

  33. Janna Mauldin Heiner
    Janna Mauldin Heiner02-28-2014

    I’ve been working to change that conversation since I was a teenager, long before beautyredefined and other groups picked up the baton. I thank you for joining those of us (many of us who advocate for modesty based on religious standards; I myself am LDS) who have been working on this for decades. Thank you for coming on board.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined02-28-2014

      Yes, this definitely is not a new conversation! We’re grateful for those who have been seeking to improve conversations about modesty for long before we ever questioned the idea. We feel that our research on the ways clothing choices influence self-objectification is a unique contribution to this discussion.

  34. Wendy
    Wendy02-28-2014

    This is such interesting and healthy communication! Thanks for posting and weighing in. Keep it up!

  35. Dalva Maria de Oliveira
    Dalva Maria de Oliveira03-02-2014

    Thank you for this article. I have never thought like that. It makes so much sense.

  36. Karissa
    Karissa03-02-2014

    Personally, I don’t see this as shaming girls into wearing clothes. I see it as telling girls it’s okay if you don’t want to show so much skin.
    If you look at women portrayed in the media for men – women are mostly naked with little to no personalities, and they’re considered ‘hot’. (See: Billboard Top 100 music videos, action movies, etc.)
    I believe this saying is trying to do the exact opposite of what this image says. With women being sexualized nearly everyplace you could look, it makes girls feel that they need to be naked to be accepted. This slogan is saying that’s not the case – you don’t have to show skin to be attractive. To me, this is telling young women not to worry about this metaphorical standard of attractiveness, but rather making your comfort a priority. Comfort leads to security, and security brings confidence. What’s ‘hotter’ than a girl with confidence? Thus, ‘modest is hottest’. Being comfortable in the clothes you’re wearing is far more attractive than making yourself into something you’re really not. This isn’t implying girls are responsible for other’s thoughts or attractions, it’s saying the opposite – don’t worry about ‘fitting in’ and making yourself feel uneasy.

    Personally, I am very uncomfortable showing much of my skin. It’s not because of confidence issues, or anything of the like – I just prefer for someone to focus less on my body and more on ME. It really sucks when every woman in a music video I see on VH1, most models on catwalks, women in video games or movies, are all showing tons of skin and here I am – refusing to even wear short sleeved shirts. It really makes you want to reconsider your choice of attire and comfort zone because most girls WANT to feel attractive. Not for men, not for their peers, but for themselves. Who wants to feel grossly out of place all the time? This little slogan here says to me “it’s perfectly acceptable to remain covered”. And I really appreciate that.

    Again, this is only my opinion – but perhaps it could give a bit of perspective to the other side of the argument.

  37. Paul
    Paul03-06-2014

    Good article — such ideas need to be more prevalent. The one issue I take, which is reiterated in some of the comments, is the presumption that we live in an over-sexualized world. That is a masculine position in the same way that modesty is a masculine projection of blame onto women. Sex “as a bad thing” is no different than revealing clothing “as a bad thing.” The problem is that our society has ingrained in us religious notions of good and bad that were invented to gain and maintain power, especially among men. If we buy in to the idea that we are currently over-sexualized, then we can never overcome the oppression of women, because women will always be blamed for over-sexualization by men, who still unfortunately have most societal power. And their power is so traditional and embedded in culture that the most enlightened women are enabling it. Like Audre Lorde said: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

  38. Marley
    Marley03-08-2014

    We should stop being police officers of women’s bodies because they’re not for other people to judge and criticized. Clothing choices are not to be blamed for their fate. Besides it’s not their fault something bad happen to them because they were wearing different clothes. I think the media is to be scrutinized because the media is so cruel. So stop supporting bad media. The bad media that doesn’t value girls and women’s abilities in every field: art, music, science etc.

    I hope things will change when we stop shaming other people’s styles, especially women.

  39. Rahul
    Rahul03-10-2014

    In earlier times when ever we see a vivacious women the initial word which pops out of our mind is that she is looking beautiful,Thus sadly today the word beautiful has been replaced by SEXY,SCINTILLATING, The media has persuaded the minds of the masses to assume that women are just sex objects and are the weakest sex,hence women are born only to exhilarate the man with sexual pleasures. That is the reason for most of the women not deliberately but wear revealing attires,cause their mind s have been poisoned to think exposing bodies is a sound thing to do which depicts modesty. I think for me as a man it delivers a wrong signal to us about their character,I am an indian boy who appreciate women who are descent and have utmost self respect in themselves.
    When we switch on the television you’ll get to watch music videos which includes dozens of naked girls engrossing in a seductive dance which is unpleasant. This might be a huge impact on rape cases as well
    I most frequently question my self that why we men wear clothes which is not revealing and women who should not expose where revealing clothes?????

  40. Rebecca
    Rebecca03-11-2014

    I wrote an article on this a little while back that you can read here (http://rebeccaamoore.com/2014/02/15/modest-is-not-hottest/). It was really interesting to see the amount of men who contacted me with feelings of gratitude. They said that they always felt uncomfortable sitting in modesty lessons because they felt like they were being degraded by being treated like cavemen who had no sense of self control. Positive modesty rhetoric is important for everyone.

  41. Teresa
    Teresa04-17-2014

    We all have our agency to choose what we say, how we act, how we dress, etc. We can control our actions but not the consequences of those actions. Like it or not, we all affect each other. Hopefully we are aware of this and choose to love, serve, and help each other vs. selfishly deciding to do whatever we want. Yes, ultimately we are responsible for ourselves and accountable to God for our thoughts, intentions, and actions. I am thankful for a loving Savior who encourages us to choose the right and allows us multiple opportunities to obtain forgiveness for our poor choices and helps us grow to reach our full potential. All of us working together for good is the key.

  42. Teresa
    Teresa04-17-2014

    My understanding of the beginning of the “modest is hottest” slogan is positive. There was a group of high school boys (LDS) who came up with it. Their intention was to encourage girls to realize they are beautiful when they respect their bodies and dress appropriately. They intended to build girl’s self esteem and help both boys and girls live God’s commandments. These boys attended high school with my teenage daughters. Many teens- both boys and girls benefited from this slogan. Please view it in the positive light in which it was created and encouraged. Thanks! :)

    • Megan
      Megan04-21-2014

      This is a great point. Where the phrase gets confusing is when it’s used in a context like “sexy modest.” “Modest is hottest” and “sexy modest” have become a little arbitrary, paradoxical, and confusing. I find that most advertisements for “sexy modest” is pushing clothing that meets 2/3 of LDS modest standards, and then is also overtly sexy in some way. As though women need to be modest AND hot at the same time to be fully accepted (as though modesty gets you accepted in the LDS community, and sexy gets you accepted with potential dating partners and even LDS and other friends). It’s so confusing! “Modest is hottest” started out great but it became another way of pushing that dual expectation. *I’m not saying it’s not entirely possible to be both, or to choose one or the other, or a variety of both. It’s just a huge expectation for women. I’m married and definitely think I amped up the sexier nature of my clothing prior to finding my spouse, and it “worked” (fortunately :), but unfortunate I felt I needed to do that because he would have dated me anyway. Or maybe he wouldn’t have noticed me. Who knows? My thoughts are not complete here, but I’ve tried to express why “modest is hottest” is disconcerting to some.

  43. Teresa
    Teresa04-17-2014

    One more thing: modest is hottest for guys, too. Guy please dress appropriately. Covering your bodies helps you and women/ girls as well. Many guys remove their shirts, wear pants that reveal underwear, wear short shorts, etc. The standard goes both ways for the benefit of all. Thanks! :)

  44. Ron Wolf
    Ron Wolf04-22-2014

    Thx for the thoughtful blog. Guys, mee too, need help with re-reframing and your blog is quite helpful. I really like how you give women suggestions for personal action. Tho they are mostly actions for women, which makes sense. You have some gender independent suggestions but they are usually pretty general. Specifics appreciated. For instance, “When we judge girls and women for the skin they are or are not showing, we are minimizing them to their bodies and repeating the same lies that females are only bodies in need of judgment and fixing. ” Agreed, so what to do other than self-critique? What are the positive ways that guys can be part of the change? OK, its not like I don’t know some. More would be appreciated. That or links to complimentary guy oriented sites. Again thx!

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