This past summer, my daughter, just 6, saw a doll and talked about how she liked it, except it was too bad her clothes were so immodest. This made the doll less desirable, which was sad because she really loved it. As I heard her express these ideas, I felt an odd discomfort and began to explore my feelings.
Why did hemlines equal modesty for my 6 year-old in the first place? How, at such an early age, is she looking around and making value judgments based on superficial things like the length of someone’s skirt? What does modest even mean to her, an innocent girl who should only view her body as a way to
move, learn, and explore the world?
As a mother of a young girl and two small boys, I’m conflicted about how to teach them about modesty. I’m uncomfortable with modesty rhetoric that focuses on a girl or woman’s clothing choices impacting a man in any way. Boys and men are responsible for their own thoughts and their own spirituality. Respect is given, not earned or designated based on someone’s dress, race, gender, sexual orientation, education, religious affiliation, affluence, intelligence, or standing in society.
I’m also concerned about connecting modesty to virtue/purity/virginity, especially at a young age, and how this messaging is almost exclusively directed toward girls. So much of this conversation leads back to a concern over how others, especially men, view women. This focus on external views of a woman’s body and choices send the message that women should put a priority on our image, how others view us, and how we are perceived. It circles back to avoiding tempting men or tainting yourself in some way that makes you undesirable, causing girls to internalize at a young age that they are something to be objectified and sexualized. It also ignores the important aspects of modesty that have nothing to do with dress or gender.
Interestingly enough, I say this from the perspective of a woman who personally chooses to dress in a way that takes into consideration hemlines, necklines, and sleeve lengths. It’s a personal choice I’ve made, religiously influenced, and something I’ve long considered an outward reflection of some personal beliefs. I also wear sparkly eye shadow, bold colors, and big jewelry, which might not fit into some definitions of “modest.”
I don’t know the perfect way to teach modesty to my children. I do know that it won’t be through chewed gum analogies, obnoxious videos that focus on the male gaze, or other messages that objectify bodies or utilize shaming. I do believe that positive messages that focus on what we can do, what we can take responsibility for, and what we can choose is always more effective.
What I Hope to Teach My Children About Their Bodies
My body is wondrous.
With my body, I can move, play, communicate, care, and explore.
With my mind, I can learn new things, understand the world around me, hypothesize, question, imagine, solve problems, communicate, connect, and create.
I am in control of my body.
My body is capable.
My body is powerful.
My body is a gift from God.
I choose what goes into my body and mind.
I can educate myself and decide what helps and what hurts my body.
I can take care of my body and mind.
I can make choices that help my body be healthy.
I will decide when, where, and if someone touches my body.
I will respect other people’s bodies and the choices they make for their bodies.
I will use my body in a kind way to help, not hurt others.
My body’s beauty comes from the way it helps me experience life, learn, grow, change, and enjoy the world around me.
What I Hope to Teach My Children About Clothing:
I want to feel comfortable, healthy, happy, and prepared to meet my goals for the day. My clothes do
not define me, but can be a way to help express my taste and personal style. I may choose to dress in a way that I believe reflects inner convictions, beliefs, or commitments.
When I get dressed, I should ask myself
Is it appropriate for today’s activities?
Can I move freely and comfortably?
Will it help me remain cool, warm, or dry?
Will I be able to enjoy myself in these clothes?
Do I enjoy wearing this color and material?
How do I feel wearing these clothes?
For older children, add
Am I comfortable and confident wearing these clothes?
Am I wearing these clothes to impress others? Am I okay with that?
Do I have parts of my body that I prefer to keep private?
Do I feel in control of my own body?
Do I feel safe?
Can I accomplish my goals for the day in these clothes?