Young Women’s Leader: Ladies, how do you feel when you dress immodestly?
(This is a trick question. No one answers. To answer means you’re admitting openly you’ve been immodest. I have been immodest, and I’m currently racking my brain, thinking of how I’ve felt. I remember. I just felt normal? I keep quiet.)
YWL: What a silly question. Of course none of you would dress immodestly.
(Quietly praying and hoping that my MySpace page really is set to private. I put up a picture of a dress that came above my knees. I’m tall! I’ll say that if she says anything to me.)
YWL: Ladies, immodest dressing is a sign of lack of self-respect. Dressing modestly shows you respect yourself.
I remember countless lessons like this when I was in Young Women. I was never sold by the “dress modestly for the men” or “dress modestly to keep bad things away” aspect of modesty. I was, however, sold on the idea that “modesty means you have self-respect”. I wanted to respect myself. I had been immodest once or twice. When I was 15, I was uncomfortable with myself—something not unknown to many teenagers—and lacked self-esteem. This idea that modesty was connected to self-respect was enticing. I wanted people to think I respected myself.
I actually didn’t really think a whole ton about being modest—it just sort of seemed to happen—but I do remember wistfully looking at my non-member friends in the 95 degree weather in short shorts as I felt dehydrated in my plaid Bermudas. I remember thinking how much I admired my friends—members and non-members. I quickly realized that maybe—just maybe—self-respect was not equivalent to clothing choice, but I was quick to put that out in my mind. Even at 19, I found myself buying short dresses and nervously wondering if other people would think I lacked respect for myself. I had self-respect, and I knew that…so why did it matter?
This summer, I was done with the modesty thing. Here’s the truth: a piece of fabric does not determine your self-worth. (I worked in clothing retail for the first time ever this summer. I have folded at least 500 pieces of clothing. I promise that self-respect is not a piece of fabric that just happens to cover certain parts of your body. They don’t sell it for $22.94 at your department store. It’s not a $1.50 shirt. I’ve folded a lot of clothing. There is NO magic self-respect in pockets or in the sleeves.)
This summer, I purchased things I loved and that felt good on. I wore things that fit my style, the event, and the weather. I’ve worn dresses that cover my knees, long sleeves, short sleeves, tank tops, halter tops, v-necks, bikinis, one-pieces. I don’t hunt for only modest clothing. I’m not on the hunt to only wear clothing that’s deemed immodest. I wear what I like. I wear what I feel is comfortable.
My self-respect was never built off of clothes. I didn’t start respecting myself more because I was covering myself up. I started respecting myself when I surrounded myself with people who respected me. I started respecting myself when I found what I was good at and involved myself in those activities.
I feel insulted and angry when I hear that self-respect is based solely on the way we dress. If we seriously think that we can look at someone and determine their self-worth, reality check. We have no idea, and we don’t get to judge. None of us have some sort of great sensor that gets to say, “Hey, she’s on a level 5 today on the invisible self-respect chart”. The length of piece of fabric on someone’s body isn’t some kind of measurement for self-respect. (I’m not Merriam Webster or anything, but I seriously doubt that ‘length and cut of fabric’ is the definition of self-respect.*)
I thought of the ways I feel I respect myself. I respect myself by not insulting myself. I respect myself by being honest about my feelings. I respect myself by disassociating myself with people who hurt me. I respect myself by trying to better get to know me. And I just think that someday, when I see Christ again, He’ll be excited to see me no matter what I’m wearing. And I won’t care what I’m wearing, because I’ll be so excited to see Him. I imagine He’ll be far more interested in the way I treated myself and others, then what kind of outfits I decided to wear on this earth.
The pictures below illustrate my point. They are both of me in two different dresses that I wore to very different exciting events in my life. I don’t remember the dresses. I remember how I felt during the event—proud, excited, and pleased. I remember being surrounded by people I admire, I remember being happy. Neither one of these dresses or photos indicates a level of self-respect. They’re just dresses. Just fabric, sewn together, bought online. Self-respect comes from inside, not from what we put on.
* I’m not Merriam Webster, but clearly I should be: a proper respect for oneself as a human being (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-respect)