Monday, August 12, 2013

Put on display like a trophy?

Recently we went to the outdoor Logan Aquatics Center and had a great time.  We especially had fun going down the water slides.  After taking our tiny 4-year old down the twisty slide a couple times, I was shocked that she wanted to go all by herself.  She did it two times.  Thankfully, the lifeguards were prepared to catch her at the bottom!

I noticed while there that lots of females wore cute, flattering, and even modest swimsuits --- if you can call a swimsuit modest!  And, of course, there were plenty of bikinis --- the more endowed the woman, the smaller the bikini (seems).  I tried not to notice the flesh hanging out all around me.

As I waited in line for one of the water slides with my daughter, several males, and other modestly-suited females, a very attractive mother in a blue and white polka-dot bikini came up the stairs and stood a few people behind us.  She looked great: thin, smooth, hairless, rounded in all the right places.  I totally checked her out.  OK, not in a sexual way, but first in a stunned way that she'd be okay that all these people could see her in her near naked state.  I wondered if she really felt okay like that, especially with her little daughter standing right beside her.

Secondly, I looked at her like she was on display.  I looked at her like I would look at someone's Emmy Award if they showed it to me.  Why would you look away when an award winner shows you her prize?  It is on display after all --- all shiny and bright, just wanting to be looked at and admired.  I looked at her the same way I look at the punk kid with long hair and dumpy clothes who walks up to the Sacrament table to prepare the Sacrament.  Are you serious?  He thinks that is becoming of the Lord?  I looked at her like I look at a person covered with tattoos or piercings or makeup.  Don't they do those things to their bodies because they want to stand out?  They want to be different?  They want you to look?  Oh, you don't want me to look at your tattooed arm and neck?  Uh, sorry, it was kind of hard not to notice.

Are we modest when we do these things?  I don't think so.  Modesty is blending in, not drawing attention to oneself, but honoring God and glorifying him in all we do, not taking the glory ourselves.

Now of course, some women DO want to be looked at and lusted after, and I guess they have their wish when they go to the pool.  However, some are ignorant like the cute teens in their bikinis who haven't yet realized that the 40-year old men are checking them out just as much as the 17-year old guys. Do they really want that?

As I began to feel that the women in bikinis were putting themselves on display, I began to not feel so bad for looking.  I also didn't feel quite so ashamed for the men checking out the women.  Hey, if the women didn't want to be looked at, they could have chosen something different to wear.  More seriously, I really don't know what women think when they wear bikinis as I've never asked a bikini-wearer why she wears one, nor have I ever worn a bikini to know what would go through my head.

In a 1979 question to Ann Landers, both Ann and the inquisitor share my thoughts.
Dear Ann Landers: . . . I am getting a lot of flak from my college freshman daughter in regard to whether or not a girl who wears a bikini is an innocent little thing or a smart little teaser.  I don't buy the line, "Dirty thoughts are in the mind of the beholder." I am fed up with this worn-out excuse for all sorts of exhibitionism.
Isn't it about time we woke up to the fact that a girl in a bikini is sexually stimulating?  My daughter says, "Only to men with evil minds." What do you say, Ann? --- Concerned Parent
Dear C.P.: I'm with you, especially when it comes to those generously endowed dames who wear postage-stamp bottoms with spaghetti string bras.  When she bought the bikini she knew how much of her would be on display.
Too bad these over-exposed females don't know that a woman's greatest asset is a man's imagination.
I am absolutely of the opinion that men should control their thoughts, but should they really be expected not to notice or look at the rear of the woman in front of them in line a couple steps up?  Well sure, but I can't imagine it could be easy.  All I can say here is along with my other good, Christian (or any other high-/traditional-valued) sisters for modesty, can't we just give these men a break?!  Can't we do them a favor by not showing so much skin?

So what was I wearing to keep me from being put on display you may wonder.  Well, there were three reasons for how I dressed: practicality, body insecurity, and respect.

First, practicality.  My aunt and uncle lived in Australia for three years.  I was tickled when I learned that lots of people there swam in rash guards.  Fantastic!  A swim shirt would protect me from the sun, allow me not to spend so much time applying sunblock, and keep me more modest.  A win, win, win!   I bought one, and that is what I wear the majority of the time I swim outdoors.
Second, body insecurity.  I chose to wear board shorts (ok, they were Wal-Mart running shorts because I can't fit into my old board shorts, and I didn't want to fork out the money for new ones) for the sun protection, use of less sunblock, more modesty, less shaving, and my body insecurities.

Honestly, I'm really insecure about my thighs.  My shape is kind of that of an oompa-loompa and my cottage cheese, I mean fat, is stored on my thighs.  It's really not attractive.  How I wish I wasn't programmed to be so concerned about it, but I am.  I admired the younger gal at the aquatics center whose belly hung out over her bikini and wondered if she knew she looked like that.  If she did, good on her for not worrying about it.  I was jealous of the men, some also with bellies, in their knee-length swim trunks and wished my shorts were longer.  I wondered how many other people felt as self- conscious about whatever body part as I did about my thighs. I realized that even some beautiful-looking people probably felt just as insecure as I did.  I wish my main purpose in covering up was to merely be modest, but it's not.

Now, at this point since you know what I wore, you could argue that I was the one being immodest because I stood out for my more covered body.  Oh well.

Third, respect.  I believe that by being more modest I show myself, God, and others around me respect. I believe as stated in For the Strength of Youth that MY "body is God's sacred creation.  Respect is a gift from God. . . . Through [my] dress and appearance, [I] can show the Lord that [I] know how precious [my] body is.  [I] can show that [I am] a disciple of Jesus Christ."

In addition to me showing respect by my modesty, at least one recent study indicated that men more highly respect women who are modest (I need to find the reference).  They don't view them as body parts as they would view an immodest woman.  I've always valued intelligence, so it's only natural that I'd want to be valued and respected for my intellect rather than merely my looks, which would mean I ought to cover up.

In conclusion, I need to publicly apologize to the polka-dot bikini mom for gloating at her, but I also thank her for helping me better realize that I do not want to put myself on display to be looked at like a trophy, a tattoo, piercings, makeup, or whatever else we do to show off.

Somewhat related: Matt Walsh's view on porn & breastfeeding.


Nathan said...

Nice thoughts. It's true that individual men are responsible for where their thoughts dwell, but like you say, it's a little disingenuous of some people who dress with extreme immodesty to then claim that they don't want men looking at them that way. If you want to elevate his thoughts, first you'll need to elevate his eyes.

Nathan said...

Nice thoughts. I agree---individual men are ultimately responsible for what their thoughts dwell on, but it's also kind of disingenuous for someone to dress extremely immodestly and then claim they don't want men looking at them "that way." If you want to elevate his thoughts, first you need to elevate his eyes.

Raisin4Cookies said...

I think you touched on the crux of the matter when you mentioned that modesty isn't just about WHAT you are wearing, but WHEN and HOW. But modesty is far, far more than just about what we wear; it's about how we behave, and how our thoughts affect that behaviour.

I wear a similar sort of swimsuit when I swim, and buy the same for my kids. UPV protection of 50+ in my daughter's swim top and shorts kept her from getting burnt to a crisp when we were in Greece last month. (she was in the pool non-stop for 5 hours a day!)

I tell you what though -- we stuck out like sore thumbs. No female of any age was wearing anything other than bikinis, wherever we went swimming. Sometimes only the bottom half of the bikini as well!

Were we actually modest in those circumstances? *shrug* I saw it as a cultural difference, and didn't think much beyond that. I felt better in my swimsuit, and was happy not to worry so much about burning. My main thought when I saw those women was SUNBURN CITY. Ouch!

I've made a few personal rules about modest dress in my life that gives me more comfort and helps me relax about what to wear. I don't require other people to follow these rules (for instance, I don't wear much jewelry or makeup), because those are choices that make me feel happy and comfortable. I can imagine I would feel differently if I had acne scars or severe burn scars, for instance.

swedemom said...

I disagree with the idea that modesty means not standing out. If you are blessed with an extremely beautiful face, must you cover in order to avoid standing out? By taking that definition further, you could also have people never developing talents or outstanding traits because they will stand out or become more noticeable.

For me the difference with immodest displays is that a man or woman are deliberately using their bodies to attract lustful attention or to obtain a sense of power. I don't think we need to blend in to be modest. There are many people who use blending in to hide not to glorify God, but out of shame and fear. Neither of these ways is healthy in my opinion. Both speak of insecurity and a misunderstanding of self.

I personally think LDS girls and women are caught in the cross roads between two very powerful messages. Our society very much teaches that women's power and status in society depends on sexual prowess and beauty. And with the increased problems with pornography women need to go more extreme lengths to get the reactions they believe prove them powerful.

I am not sure all LDS girls or even women see the strength and power they are offered by following the gospel, but yet are constantly told their bodies are a temptation to men. S the temptation idea kind of reinforces the message the power their bodies have.

I guess I am rambling here. I need to spend a little more time thinking and get back to you.

Emily said...

Good point. I was actually struggling with the idea you pointed out at the top. I thought, so if unattractive people are just that, and people don't want to look at them, does that mean it's okay for them not to be modest because no one will care? I don't think so. Why should only beautiful people need to be modest? They shouldn't. Everyone should be. Still thinking about it.

I've also been thinking about how when we are modest in our clothing, it does help us judge less - whether we're thin or overweight, busty, flat... If it's not out there obviously for everyone to see, probably most people just won't really notice, and it's not a distraction, nothing to make opinions on, more likely to focus on the person.

So, I should probably modify my "definition" a little (especially because I'll probably post an updated version of this at RI). I do think modesty extends to more than lustful attention, though, because it can go to our material possessions - homes, toys... If we're buying stuff to show off and show we're better than others (power), that's not right. The trick is, we often don't know why people do what they do, so that's why we can't judge a situation. Reminds me of how easy it is to judge the family with the big, fancy house. Then you find out they have 10 kids and you're like, ohhhh! Now that makes sense.

As for blending in, I still think that is important, especially in cultural situations. In the US it's okay to show your upper legs when you swim. In Samoa it's not okay (at least 16 years ago it was not okay). I think you need to look at the culture around you and at least somewhat conform to those standards to show respect and not stick out like a sore thumb. Does that clarify what I mean about blending in at all? Maybe my thoughts on blending in more stem from respecting culture, not necessarily so much dealing with religious standards. I'm sure you have a lot to say on modesty in other cultures, thinking of the hijab in KSA. It would be immodest to not cover, even though the covering seems ridiculous to Westerners. The covering is the way you blend in and honor? that culture.

Again, thanks for the comment. If you think of anything else, let me know! Good discussion items.