Lately I have read and seen much in digital format and in person to turn my thoughts towards modesty. Fear not, I don’t intend to start an online debate about hem lines, midriffs and sleeves. I was never one who was much for contention anyway, but I do feel prompted to say something about the principle of modesty, and more importantly, body self-respect. I am well aware, perhaps even hyper aware, that what is considered modest is completely dependent upon time, location, climate, and culture. It does not take a thorough search to see examples of wrists as provocative or heads and faces as inappropriate. The popular novelist Brandon Sanderson, in his series Way of Kings creates a society in which women’s left hand or “safe hand” is always covered but not the right, in order to show the arbitrary nature of what is considered modest most of the time.
Even within my own religion as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, standards have changed over the centuries from wrist and ankle length to shoulder and knee length. Is that a relaxing of standards or a practical alteration to accommodate for modern life? Is modesty always just a sliding scale in relation to our peers in a particular time and place and situation? Even within my own personal life, what I feel “modest” in at the pool does not correlate with what I would feel modest in shopping at the store.
With consideration to the arbitrary and relative nature of the amount of clothing we each choose to cover our body with, there are underlying principles that are getting lost in a sea of “sexy selfies” online.
I would like to speak out about the notion that the opposite of body shame is body pride.
They are merely two sides of the same prideful coin. Pride looks up as much as it looks down- the key is pride is always looking at others. Pride is always comparing. And this comparative pride never leads to happiness. The problem online is that quiet self-love looks a lot like silent shame because those who are really comfortable with themselves rarely feel the need to post about appearances.
I see much of, “come on girl, just put on the bikini anyway and be proud of your body just the way it is, with all its imperfections!” I understand the sentiment is coming from good intentions but I told an online friend, I don’t want my children to be ashamed OR proud of their bodies, just grateful and respectful. I’d like for my boys and my girls to be less focused altogether on how they appear to others. Less need to proclaim their self-acceptance in a grab for digital validation by virtue signaling and more actual joy in the wonderful gift that is their body. Wearing a modest swim suit could be a sign of body shame, but hopefully it is an emblem of self-respect and a healthy relationship with your body and with God.
I am personally well acquainted with the tortured relationship women have with their bodies, especially as they travel through all the changes that aging and motherhood can bring. I’m not saying I’ve never had a negative thought about my appearance or weight gain. After eight pregnancies and sixteen years as a living accordion, I rarely see the same image in the mirror two days in a row. What I AM saying is that for every before and after photo in a sports bra, ever bikini selfie, every mini-skirt modeling session there is thirteen-year-old boy/girl out there hearing the loudly broadcasted message that what matters to our society is exteriors. The better you look, the more gold stars you will receive.
Sadly, that is true about society, but it doesn’t have to be true about you and me. The lie comes in that those gold stars will make you feel better about yourself and your life will be happier for accumulating the most gold stars. Peer validation, and especially digital peer validation, is like eating sugar. Completely addictive and utterly devoid of any real emotional nutritional value. There can never be “enough” validation. The more you get the more you crave. It is a counter intuitive downward spiral until you are mentally and emotionally sluggish and out of energy.
I am personally fatigued with all the talk about “body acceptance”, as though your body were a consolation prize in the game of life when the grand prize would have been to look like Kim Kardashian or a super model. Your body is not a consolation prize, IT IS one of the grand prizes in coming to earth. I don’t just want to see women out there “accepting” their bodies as a compromise between the ideal and reality, I want to see them “body REJOICING!” (I could be convinced of the value in “body positivity” talk though) And what would Body Rejoicing look like you say? I am glad you asked:
Body Rejoicing could be-
Dressing yourself in modest clothing
Wearing comfortable shoes
Wearing no shoes at all
Going for a hike
Enjoying a salad or green smoothie
Enjoying a piece of chocolate cake
Hugging a friend
Smiling at a baby
Smiling when you look in a mirror
Smiling for no reason at all
Going to bed early
Good personal hygiene
Dancing in the kitchen
Dressing nicely but not to call attention to yourself
Protecting yourself from the sun
Trying a new sport or other physical activity
Working in the yard or garden
Taking a rest
Resisting the urge to compare or judge
Not getting on the scale
Meditation and deep breathing
If you feel like the world needs more Body Rejoicing and less “body acceptance” or worse, “body shaming,” then think about one AMAZING thing that you are grateful your body does or can do. If there are people in your life, especially women, who could use this message and challenge, then pass it on. #bodyrejoicing
Originally posted on Facebook 7/26/2021, modified slightly for reproduction.