Monday, April 6, 2009

Modesty and other questions. What are your answers?

immodest clothes

Once again, dear readers, I am soliciting your insight and opinions. How do you teach your children about modesty? What are your own thoughts on the subject? Is it important to you? Why or why not? Does intent matter? Culture? Age? Gender? Family vs. public?

I'm still mulling the topic, and so my thoughts are very scattered. As far as personal experience goes, I never recall either parent dressing in a way meant to be sexually provocative. My dad always wore clothes around us, at least underwear, although my mother was comfortable being undressed around us. Since her mother never even explained menstruation to her, I think she made an effort to be open with us about our bodies. Still, growing up, a lot of things didn't make sense to me.

For one thing, it seemed to me that the rules were very one-sided (guys didn't have nearly the restrictions girls did!), and it varied so much from one culture to another that I became pretty skeptical of the idea that any particular region, or any particular time in history, had the perfect standards. It obviously wasn't necessarily about the amount of skin showing, because girls were supposed to wear dresses or skirts (or, culottes!--and I am just guessing at the spelling, since I've never seen the word in print). For climbing trees and most of my other preferred activities, jeans would clearly seem to be more appropriate to me.

I remember once, when I was six, we had a little plastic wading pool in our backyard. I wanted my friend to swim with me, but she wasn't allowed to wear a bathing suit, because they were immodest. Instead, she wore a dress. I was totally bewildered. How could anyone swim in a heavy dress with a full skirt? Why would they? To be sure, the pool was maybe a foot deep and six feet in diameter, if that, so I wasn't going to be swimming laps, either, but still...

As an adult, I dress to please myself and my husband. I generally choose not to wear shorts or short skirts, but it is more for aesthetic reasons than modesty. The idea of anyone looking lustfully on my chubby, white knees is frankly ludicrous. I prefer not to wear clothing that is super-tight for comfort reasons, although, again, clearly defining my rolls and cellulite is not likely to cause my brother to stumble.

In balance to that, my breasts, which were, um, bountiful to begin with, have grown even more since pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is exceedingly difficult to find any shirt that will adequately cover them, especially one that I can nurse in. Furthermore, I don't consider breastfeeding immodest, and will nurse anywhere my baby needs to eat. I can't think off hand of any place where I haven't nursed my kids. I don't use blankets. I was once given a nice Hooter Hider-type cover, but Ariana got hot and the flapping attracted far more attention than simply moving my shirt a little.

In so many places, it is perfectly fine for little girls to go topless, especially if they haven't yet developed breast buds. I find that much healthier than the sexualized view here that has them wearing slogans or styles that are overtly provocative, even if they cover more skin. I was actually relieved and perfectly comfortable when we visited beaches in Spain because no one cared if I was topless. (For the curious out there, I did wear a tank top).

So far, all of my kidlets have shown a distinct preference for nudity. This was great for potty-learning. Around three years of age, we started requiring underwear if guests might be present. At five, I'm still fine with Ariana taking off her shirt. She loves to dress up in different outfits everyday, so we rarely have to guide her there. Joel still prefers shoes to pants. They all still love family baths and haven't shown the least bit of self-consciousness if they see us undressed. I'm sure this will change, and as soon as they or we get uncomfortable, we'll start covering up more.

I want each of my children to have a healthy respect for the specialness of their bodies. I don't want them to rely on their appearance to attract others, but instead to make sure that they are beautiful on the inside. It is, however, a difficult topic to navigate, because so much seems to be based on each family's perspective and comfort level. I like clear rules and regulations (well, unless they inconvenience me, of course). But room for differing views and opinions is good, right? I look forward to hearing yours.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Very interesting thoughts, Dulce!

I have been thinking along similar lines myself lately...mainly in how very puritanical we are about things like toddlers running around naked or breastfeeding, while simultaneously having no problem with sex that sells (Lady Gaga, Britney Spears...the list is endless). In fact a lot of people have no problem with exposing all of this to their children!

I know as a young kid I wore belly revealing shirts, halter tops and bikinis - but I grew up on CA, and it was hot! Never did I equate those things with being 'sexy'.

When I became a teenager I did have some desire to dress differently - I remember longing to be able to wear a tummy baring top - but I wouldn't because I was overweight. On the other hand, my mom would never let me buy anything but white bras and underwear, which I think was going too far (I had no thought of having sex during that time period in my life, and I like the idea of a girl or woman wearing those things for herself).

Anyway, I'm rambling here, but as I now have a little girl and must think of these things, too, I think everything has to be considered on a case by case basis. I don't dress in ways that are overtly provocative, but I don't mind showing a little cleavage on occasion either. We are sexual beings and that should be reflected in some ways, rather than denied.

On the other hand, there is a lot of stuff that is just way too sexy - both for little girls to wear and be exposed to. That's where I draw the line - and where I must teach her to value herself and understand what she is revealing and why. I don't think kids have thoughts of that - and it's odd to project sexuality onto them. As they grow older, they'll have more understanding of what it means to dress provocatively and that is where the teaching - and rules on dress - will come in to our family.