Modesty: Forced or voluntary? 

November 20, 2022

In the little hours of freedom from the obstacles of the world, I like to doom scroll on TikTok for hours, rotting my brain into mushy mashed potatoes. I truly hate the app, but for some reason I cannot get myself to delete it. For some reason, it scratches that itch in my brain for short term content. Although I despise the app for taking away time from, I don’t know? Reading a book or something? I will not discredit the fact that it does have educational content among all the muck. 

Of course, my “For You Page” is mostly made up of mostly antique dealers showing off things that I can only aspire to afford, and fashion designers and influencers showing off their amazing ensembles to go about their day in. You see, in fashion you have to look for the people that you draw inspiration from, and online, there are many folks wanting to be that for you. Sometimes it is incredible, and then sometimes it is actual garbage fire. 

Not too long ago, while making my daily deepdive into the Internet, I clicked into a whole new group of fashion to me, and I was terribly intrigued. I love to layer, and it really doesn’t matter what time of year it is, if I want to wear two skirts at the same time, I am going to do it. While swiping away through my homepage, getting farther and farther along, ignoring every “Stop! You have been scrolling for way too long now!” the video that came along, I  realized something very funny about the algorithm, and how it was thought I followed modesty rules. 

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I giggled and paused, thinking about myself, scanning my closet in my head in that instant. Then suddenly, I took a mental step back and thought to myself “Oh my goodness, sometimes I serve pentcostal realness, and it slays”. Now, I know that sentence makes zero sense, probably even more so to the Pentecstals themselves, but it is a good thing. It all has to do with two things: The bouffant hair, and the skirts. 

Usually Tik Tok is showing me fashionable ways to make modesty work for you. It is usually an Orthodox Jewish woman showing off her amazing collection of babydoll dresses and tights, and trying on every sheitel (wig) that she owns, as they are unable to show their hair. The videos are always educational, and the women are always sure to inform the audience of her extent of modesty. 

A whole other section of the rabbit hole I fell into was the garment known as the “habit” worn by nuns of multiple denominations, mostly known for being represented as Catholic. That is some seriously comfortable looking stuff, as none of it has shape at all, and no clinging to the body. This piqued my interest, as my whole life I have been terribly uncomfortable with clothing that could be perceived as “too tight”. I was always afraid that someone would call me fat, or address that I was (more as a child than now, but still hanging onto for some reason) a chubby person. I mean, my favorite garment is a muumuu or a caftan. There is nothing better than feeling like Elizabeth Taylor in her latter years. 

Some Muslim women cover their hair, their body, and sometimes even their face out of modesty. 

Growing up, I was always incredibly intrigues by Muslim women in the store, as that was something that I was not used to seeing then. I was always fascinated by the anonymity that the Burqa provides, and how their eyes were always the main focus, pulling the lingering eyes of men to meet with their own. 

I used to always think to myself “Oh these poor women” for any women participating in modesty rules in any religion out there. It was hard for me to understand, as it looked like a form of oppression to me. Wearing something that someone else makes you wear is oppressive, and the only examples of modesty rules that I had witnessed, were forms of oppression. 

Growing up in Catholic school, I had only 20 kids in my class. When I moved on from eighth grade, there were 10 of each gender in the room, and only 11 of us got held to modesty expectations, and that was the girls and little ole me. Although a boy, I am a femme presenting individual, and if my voice had have dropped, and my hair wasnt long, maybe this wouldnt have happened, but I was always held to the exact same standards as they did with the girls. 

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“Take your hair out of those braids Aaron Elliott”, a teacher very politely said one day as I stood in line after recess. I froze, knowing that if I took my hair down out of the dutch braid that my friend had worked so hard on, I would be caught for being out of uniform. Somewhere in that thick book of rules that we re-read every first day, it read something along the lines of “Boys hair should not come any farther past the top of the backside of the collar on your shirt”. Since I was a bit mouthy, and quick on my feet I tried “Why?! I just did it! I’m not taking it down”, to which she insisted I do anyway. Pulling at my hair out from its daily updo, I complained and wasted so much time undoing my braid, I mean really being a hag. Finally, once I had released my locks, my teacher took a good look and giggled manically and said “That hair is getting a little long” while walking away. 

The first thoughts that come to mid about modesty are of oppression that I witnessed myself. In Highschool, a small man with a big ego that was part of the administration would walk his bald self around, calling attention to any shoulder, thigh, or breast that was “too much for other students” and did not follow dress code. This always filled me with anger, as boys could literally come to school with a shirt unbuttoned down to the equator and always got away with it. 

It was finally my time to shine as soon as I heard the words “Elliott, those shorts are too short”. I whipped my head so hard, you’d think you would hear the crack. I stood there in a bit of silence instead of rebutting what this bald man had said before me. Yes, I am sure my that my shorts ere way too high, and yes I am sure that it was a stupid outfit, but really? I’m not naked, just mind your own. After about twenty seconds of unbroken eye contact, instead of pursuing some sort of write up for my distasteful outfit, he carried on with her rounds. I felt anger for multiple reasons all pointed at modesty, but my biggest one was that if I was a woman, he would have written me up with no questions asked.

You see, there are modesty rules for men, but they are not as strict by any means. Most of the time, the only parts of the body that needs to be covered for men are their buttocks and groin area, while being fully able to bear their chest for all to see. This has never sat right with me, as men’s chests have no purpose, while women’s breasts have a purpose.While researching modesty rules for men while writing this, I was still shocked by the endless list of dressing rules that women must follow, but the minuscule and quick list that men should abide by. 

My question is this, is modesty always a form of oppression, or are there exceptions? 

These women on TikTok make it look so easy, and most of all fashionable. Modesty isn’t all old cut up Miss Me jeans upcycled into a jean skirt anymore, as there is a whole market out there now dedicated to this. There are groups of women from all different backgrounds who come together and bond over fashion that they can wear out and about. 

Many women still hold on and defend modesty, and to which I must state that I respect greatly, as to most it is a sign of personal strength and their love for whatever they believe in. Modesty garb is no longer just old jeans made into skirts and lots of long sleeve shirts, it is a whole lot more, and will continue to grow as the market for it becomes a world well known, which I am interested to see. 

 

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