November 15, 2017 • Sarah Jean Gosney
Here’s a thought. Women dressing modestly has less to do with protecting us from the “male gaze” and way more to do with keeping us from hating each other and ourselves.
I’ve heard about every thesis on the negative impact of the media on women’s self-esteem. And to be honest, I think there’s a great deal of truth in that. But, throw a burka on Kate Upton, and there’s a lot less for me to be jealous of.
Of course, the burka is an extreme and largely culturally incompatible article of clothing for most of my readers, but it certainly makes its point, doesn’t it?
There is the argument that women should not be made into “sex objects,” but I find this notion ridiculous since, as biological creatures, men and women are pretty much nothing but sex objects with over-sized brains. So, no matter what you wear, a man is likely gonna wonder what’s under your burka.
One thing I’ve learned over years of talking to actual men is that the consensus on what’s attractive is a healthy young woman. They all have their preferences, but for the most part, they are simply attracted to health (clear skin, healthy body weight, no open wounds) and fertility (signaled by age).
Sure, they might be drooling over the Sports Illustrated model du jour, but they’re probably genuinely happy to catch the girl next door. And the truly maddening thing that I wish I’d realized when I was a tween is that men don’t dictate fashion (not the straight ones, anyway), and that includes what body types are fashionable. Remember when it was bad to have a big butt?
Long story short, men like women. Full stop.
So let’s take them out of the picture entirely.
Despite knowing that (most) men don’t care if you have perfect brows or have a little cellulite, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being judged as inferior, particularly when it came to the dreaded bikini. I have never been able to fill out a bikini top, for better or for worse, and always feel awkward and vulnerable in this bit of attire. There’s something about the way a bikini cuts me that makes me feel like a meat cutlet being tied with kitchen twine.
No amount of “body positivity” or “self-love” could make me feel confident in this article of clothing, despite the fact that I no longer take much issue with my body in the general way. What did I do to fix my predicament?
I put on a one-piece.
Even though you can very clearly discern my body shape in the one-piece bathing suit, something about having that extra layer of polyester between my skin and the outside world made me feel like I was in control again. I could decide exactly how much of my body people could judge. Sure, they still knew what I looked like, but that blue fabric drew the line between what was public and what was mine.
Of course, my entire body is mine, but the world claims it, as it does every person, animal, and object, for judgement. For me, covering up a little more signals to the world “It’s on my terms.”
For me, modest dress can be pretty easily summed-up in the “bend-over test”: can you bend over without exposing something Eve would have hidden under a fig leaf? This works well for dresses, skirts, and shirts, and was instrumental in my being able to dress appropriately as a teacher when I was under the watchful eye of teenage boys.
But this isn’t about boys looking at me. It’s about the fact that when women, myself included, are dressed in a professional or modest way, there’s simply less to judge. At the very least, more is forced into the imagination.
Everyone can still generally tell who is prettiest or has the best figure (if there is a consensus), but it’s much better to think “Sally is prettier than me” than to obsess over the fact that “Sally has a flatter stomach, longer legs, less razor burn, better shaped butt-cheeks, and less cellulite than me.” See how easy it is to leap into insanity when we bare it all?
So ladies, take control of your confidence, and put on a few more inches of fabric. You don’t have to be puritanical about it (I’m not asking you to wear a wimple), but maybe trade in your crop-top for a regular shirt. We could really do our sanity a favor if we all dressed this way.
Keep it classy.
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