By Leora Eisenberg
While Victoria’s Secret Angels are free to go bare on the runway, am I no less free to cover up in public?
If one more person tells me that I need to be “liberated,” I’m going to have a fit.
The moment someone catches a glimpse of my covered limbs and maxi skirts, they tell me how oppressed I am and how much I need to rebel against the patriarchal guidelines for modest dress, designed by men to curb their sexual impulses.
What am I supposed to do? Defend my clothing choices?
In our uber-enlightened age of “you do you,” I hardly find it appropriate that I, a strong proponent of “you do you,” have to defend my clothes. I used to feel that we belong to an age where a woman is free to dress however she chooses. But I wonder – while Victoria’s Secret Angels are free to go bare on the runway, am I no less free to cover up in public?
In some quarters, “modesty” has come to mean sexual repression and religious fundamentalism. I like to think that I represent neither of the two phenomena.
As a progressive observant Jew, I embrace and observe the tenets of my religion while living in the modern world. I don’t dress like a spinster, contrary to popular belief. I can look pretty nice in skirts and flowy clothing. I still look attractive – but not sexy. Modesty does not mean ugliness. It means a code of virtue in dress and behavior. And in my case, that code of virtue is deeply personal.
When I dress modestly, people treat me differently. Instead of inviting me to house parties or clubs, people instead invite for dinner or to a lecture. When I dress modestly, I treat myself differently. Instead of appeasing the promiscuous whims of teenage society, I find myself appeasing no whims, and instead I’m living up to my own religious convictions. The way people view me changes – and thus, their attitudes towards me do as well.
Modesty goes a long way to preserve innocence. People’s perception of modest me helps to free me from participating in activities I would later regret.
And although I’m a religious Jew, no one is forcing me to wear what I do. No male figure is dictating that I clothe myself a certain way because of someone’s supposed sexual appetite.
In fact, I cover my body so that I may free myself from the often unwanted male gaze and imagination, as well as from increasingly sexualized fashion trends that often show off the human body in the most erotically charged way possible.
When I break free from promiscuous garb, I appear in the eyes of others not as curves or legs, but as a mind that knows how to dress its body and function independently of male attention and fashion trends.
Now, perhaps the average teenage girl and young woman is less self-conscious than I. Perhaps she is less worried about the male mind and the latest fashions than I. Perhaps she is freer with herself than I. But I am neither more or less liberated than she. I am liberating myself from the sexualization of my body in the clothes I wear and in the male mind.
While I am a firm believer in the power of modesty, I leave people to make their own choices. Remember, I am a proponent of “you do you.”
But in the meantime, let me be my modestly clothed self. Let “me do me.”