The Great Modesty Experiment


With the new results from the Rebelution organization’s modesty survey, I decided to put their “rules” to the test. Despite cautions that the survey results should not be taken as “rules” for women, the prevalence of “Girls should…” statements in the responses begs to differ. So, I decided to test that “should.”

The above image is my closet. I have less clothes than the average female, thanks to my numerous international travels, which has forced me to keep a smaller amount of clothes. There’s also a few clothing items in the hamper on the floor there, so this exercise isn’t entirely representative of everything I own.

Now to the rules. In combing through the survey results, looking for “girls should” or “this causes me to stumble” statements, I created the following list. As, you know, a heartfelt and valuable Christian woman, I figure I should follow these rules pretty closely – after all, I don’t want to make my brother sin in his thoughts!

  1. No v-necks.
  2. No skirts above the knee.
  3. Nothing “too tight.”
  4. No tight jeans or low slung ones (hip-huggers).
  5. No heavy make up.
  6. No tees with writing on the chest, particularly across the bust.
  7. No two piece swimsuits.
  8. No tank tops worn by themselves.
  9. No short shorts.
  10. No shiny or glittery skirts
  11. No halter tops
  12. No lacey camisoles under clothes – actually, nothing lacey because it’s reminiscent of lingerie.
  13. No strapless.
  14. Nothing too thin.
  15. No button downs that button under the bust.
  16. No “shrugs” (bodelleros, guys).
  17. No fishnets or tights with designs.
  18. No short dresses over leggings.
  19. No leggings.
  20. Nothing transperant over a sleeveless top.
  21. Sleeveless could be okay, depending on how tight it is.
  22. No belts around the waist under the bust.

So, taking these 22 rules into account, I sorted my clothes. The three pictures below are the “no” pile. This includes things that are too tight, shorter skirts, v-necks, and dresses I normally wear leggings with.

And this is the “yes” pile. You can already tell that the “yes” pile is significantly smaller than the “no” pile. I guess I’m more immodest than I thought!

So then I decided to try some stuff on. I gave myself a situation: Say I’m going on a date with a man who agrees with these 22 modesty rules. What would I wear? I picked out a normal “first date” outfit for me:

[caption id="attachment_964" align="aligncenter" width="261" caption="This is my actual outfit from my first date with my ex-boyfriend."][/caption]

Well, the shirt’s a v-neck, so that’s out. Those leggings might draw too much attention to my legs, so that’s gone. I can’t wear the vest without the shirt, and it’s a racer-back, so that my draw too much attention to my back, where my bra is. And that skirt is just way too short – when I sit down, it’s practically a mini! This entire thing’s going to have to go!

So, I scrapped that outfit, and switched to a different skirt – this one is a vintage one from the 1970s that I picked up in Boston five years ago. It goes to just below my knee, and runs all the way up to my waist. I threw on a solid color tee over it, as I don’t have much else that fits the rules:

I would  normally go with nice leggings, but as those are a no-no, I have to go bare-legged. This barely makes the cut, though – bare legs might be too close to breaking the rules to be safe. I’d better just try for some jeans instead.

I went through all 10 pairs of jeans that I own, figuring out which ones are “too tight” and which ones are baggy enough for the modesty rules. Of the two pairs of “baggy” jeans that I own, one of them is pair of hip-huggers, so those might be too low cut for the menfolk. So, I’m down to one pair of jeans:

And now that I look at it, that solid color tee might be a little bit too tight. I mean, my bust is pretty clearly outlined, and if I walk, they bounce a little. Better get rid of everything in that style.

Now, when I first when through the shirts and pulled out the “yes’s,” I left a couple of the solid color tees in, but that still left me with only six or seven shirts. I went back through with a more careful eye this time and took out ones with writing, ones that might be too light in the wrong light, and ones that would cause problems if I bent over.

That left me with two tshirts – one of which I’ve had since the third grade. I also have two collared shirts that I got from work that are too big on me, but would be consider baggy and modest, as they effectively “hide my thunder.”

So, following these rules as carefully as possible, considering my Christian brothers at every turn, I am left with one pair of jeans, and three shirts that fit the modest standards.

And I think you can tell how hard it is to look fashionable when you’re restricted to crew necks and nothing too well-fitted. Up until I was in graduate school (and for many times during it), this sort of outfit was my go-to wear. It was the only thing I felt comfortable wearing, knowing I absolutely, totally couldn’t cause a Christian brother to stumble.

Every morning, for most of my life since hitting puberty at age 11, I would look at this in the mirror. I would look at this frumpy, unfashionable, outfit that was comfortable and modest, and think I was ugly, that I couldn’t wear much else because it was too immodest. There was this cognitive dissonance that happened every single day in front of the mirror: “I am ugly because I can’t look like the models in those magazines. And I can’t make an effort to look like those models because my natural form might cause someone to stumble. I’m ugly, but I’m capable of provoking a boy to lustful sin.”

And we wonder why women have body image problems?

I’m well aware that I’m missing the point of the survey: “modesty’s an attitude! It’s all about she carries herself.” I watch so many Christian men pay lip service to this idea, only to follow it with a “but, women should make an effort by doing x, y and z.” As my friend Sarah Moon put it on Twitter: “That survey did nothing but make me slightly paranoid of men.”

Maybe instead of policing natural sexual thoughts (getting a boner when looking at a pretty woman doesn’t mean you’re lusting after her!), we could recognize that everyone’s human, and attempt to see the woman behind the clothing – the woman who is, more often than not, insecure about how she looks, and probably doesn’t need you reminding her that she’s caused you to “stumble” when she was just trying to feel comfortable about looking at herself in the mirror.