On Modesty and Abstinence 4

dysmorphic ideals

dysmorphic ideals

Sunday morning. Coffee and sunshine and chatter. I tell my dearest about my friend, whose daughter was sent home from school for a dress code infraction.

Her crime? Yoga pants.

My indignation grows as I speak.

How can they justify sending a kid home for yoga pants? First of all, that’s basically blaming the poor kid for having hips and other curves. And you know what else? That’s saying that the boy’s education is more important that the girls. Who cares if the girls are distracted, but we really have to keep our boys focused on their math and science.

He tells me that’s a bridge too far. He says I’m overstating my case. He says I underestimate the role of physical attraction on boys.

Maybe. Maybe I do underestimate the frustration of being a pubescent boy reacting to the physical world of breasts and hips. And I can’t know what that’s like, just as my husband can’t know the swirl of ideas, mores and standards pressed on girls. Be pretty, but not too pretty. Dress well, but don’t let me see your curves. Take care of your body, but don’t feel confident. My friend’s daughter was embarrassed for being sent home. Ashamed that she had been singled out. Hurt that someone thought her body, totally covered, was offensive. How is a girl to wade through this morass?

Maybe they (men) forget that girls and women have eyes, too. They seem to forget, or not know, that girls have eyes. We have hormones. We see and respond to the world around us, too.

Our daughters, 16 and 14, sit at the table, listening to us banter. They agree with me (see? Brilliant.) There’s more than one reason they like the Thor movies, IYKWIM.

So far, everything we’ve heard about dress code policies and infractions focuses on girls. My dearest asks how we know boys aren’t also being sent home. We never hear it. Somehow this proves his point. So far, the discussion centers around the way a girl dresses is “asking for” attention. So far, it seems that a girl’s responsibility in school isn’t to learn dressed comfortably and completely, but to make sure she’s not a distraction to the boys around her.

And now, she’s not even allowed to be seen in yoga pants.

Yoga pants.

My daughters wear yoga pants to school, and I can promise you the reason they wear them is not to get boys to look at their butts. I know for a fact that neither of them chooses clothes for anyone other than themselves. Sometimes, they wear dresses that accentuate their femaleness. Sometimes, they wear baggy tees and shorts. All the time, they are serious students who want to be heard for their ideas and character rather than the whorishness of their clothes.

(A moment here to say, yes, there are girls who most certainly dress to be alluring. And so do some boys.)

The solution isn’t more restrictions. The solution isn’t shaming boys for looking or girls for having boobs. The solution is to address it, full on, if you will. Sexual attraction is normal. Responding physically to the appearance of another is normal. Testing the boundaries and trying on personalities is part of adolescence. What they love today they may hate in three months. And that’s okay. That’s kind of how it works.

What our kids need is for us to pull our heads out of the purity sand and listen to what they are saying, without the vapors, and help them to walk themselves into solutions and decisions that suit them, and are healthy. What our sons need is to be recognized as visual people, and to be taught how to manage that. My husband makes this case. He says if we know that boys react to girls, and are embarrassed by their bodies, then what are we doing to help them know that’s okay? (And this says nothing of children who are struggling with sexual identity, which can most certainly throw a shame wrench into the soup.) What our daughters need is to be recognized as visual people, and be taught how to be confident in that.

So. There you have it . My family’s solution to dress codes: Are you a person? Then you are worth respect rather than objectification, and we are working toward that ideal here.

And then, my daughter throws in: “And that whole abstinence thing is so scary!”

So we settled in for another cup of coffee.

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4 thoughts on “On Modesty and Abstinence

  • Hannah

    Please elaborate as to how “that whole abstinence thing is so scary.” What is scary about protecting oneself from STD’s, unintended pregnancy, and unnecessary heartache and regret? I must admit I am a bit confused?? Especially because you say you speak to women’s church groups and Bible studies. I am a 25-year-old unmarried woman who has not always lived a life of purity and abstinence, though I wish I had. Not because I have been shamed by “purity culture,” but because I have seen first-hand how not honoring God in the area of sexual purity is detrimental. Praise Him for how He redeems and heals!

    • Jennifer Post author

      Hi, Hannah. Please excuse the delayed reply. I toyed with a few thoughts and then got distracted by life, such as it is. I hope you’ll see my follow up post on Abstinence. What my daughter was saying, at the end of a discussion on modesty, was that while abstinence is the only 100% effective birth control and a way to avoid many of the emotional and physical scars of intimacy, much of the education in that vein tends to focus on horror stories. I admit to feeling a bit defensive at first when you seemed to suggest my thoughts were inappropriate to discuss in church groups. But, I understand what your point. I am not walking into churches encouraging sex in all manners. But I do think the church could do a lot more in the way of honest discussions about sexuality. Further, “purity” as a concept is one that has been held hostage by certain Christian delegates and reduced in meaning. I would posit that an overall purity is what God desires, and what we all pursue. I find myself thankful for second and third chances, and acknowledge my inability to achieve perfection. Sexual impurity does not negate God’s love.

  • Kyle

    Good thoughts, Jennifer. Hannah, how is it that the only thing you felt was necessary to chime in on was the final statement honestly made by Jennifer’s daughter? The judgmental tone of your question affirms the entire tone that the article argues against. So, thank you for making Jennifer’s point. Also, I’m just curious, when will Christians understand that finishing their judgmental rants with phrases like, “to God be the glory” only increases the ignorance all together?

    • Jennifer Post author

      Hey, Kyle. Thanks for chiming in. I’m thankful that guys are participating in this conversation. I admit I felt a little defensive at Hannah’s comments, but knowing just a bit of her own background helps me to understand some of her perspective. I do wish the church in general would start talking about purity in heart, rather than shaming kids about their bodies. Why can’t we be thankful and appropriate for how God made us?