Updated: Sep 4
I have a friend who is a gifted artist. One year she entered a very prestigious art competition that selects only l0% of applicants. I saw the pieces she was entering as she was painting the final touches. Her paintings were incredibly good! Which explains why I was so surprised to find out later that she had been rejected. Part of my surprise came from the fact that my own husband had entered the same contest and been accepted. I knew her painting skills were at least equal to, if not superior, to his. Then one day I understood. I saw how she had framed the piece. It looked like she had run down to the local drug store and bought a $10 frame. Technically the color was a nice match, but the overall effect was to cheapen the look of the paintings. My husband, on the other hand, spent hundreds of dollars designing and then commissioning a woodworker to frame his work of art. The frame on his painting was a work of art itself.
Many people will say as a society we think too much of the appearance of our bodies. I think the opposite is true. Though we certainly think too often of the appearance of our bodies, in general our problem is that we think too little of them. We treat them like they are cheap. The human body is a work of art. There is not another single body that now exists, has existed in the past, or will ever exist, that is exactly like your body (This includes identical twins! I will assure you this is true from personal experience.) In the art universe, it would be called a one-of-a-kind work of art. As such it has incredible value. How often we cheapen ourselves by how we dress. Clothing, like a frame, should reflect and enhance the true art which is on the inside. What does your clothing say about you? For many people, the one and only message they choose to send the world is that they are sexy. Hopefully you do feel sexy, but you are so much more than that. In all the mind-numbing expanse of the universe there is not another work of art exactly like you. Dress yourself like that is true.
2) Elevator man
Imagine you are in a crowded elevator. The stranger next to you leans over to show you his mobile banking account that is now more than a million dollars. On one level you cannot help but be impressed with his wealth. But on a deeper level you are NOT impressed by his flexing. When you think of this man later, it is that NOT impressed feeling that lingers. Why was this stranger trying to impress stranger with his personal information? Or was he seeking to establish hi superiority?
When we expose too much of our bodies (and too much is decided by context, culture, and company) we are acting just like our elevator man. Hopefully, we are all as proud of our bodies as elevator man is of his bank account, but whatever we gain in attention when flexing on people, we lose in respect.
Another mistake elevator man made, is he crossed the boundary of who receives our most private information. TMI(too much information) is not really about the amount of information given so much as who receives it. The information he gave was not too much for his accountant or partner, but it was for strangers. Modesty is never about being ashamed of the information that is our body. It is about giving that information to the right people in the right circumstances. When in doubt about who you should visually share most of your body with, perhaps it is the same answer as, who would you trust to give your bank account number to? If this seems crazy, ask yourself why as a culture we value our money more than our bodies? 541 million dollars are printed and circulated each day in the US. In all of history your unique body was, and could be, created only once.
3) You're not asleep
One day in class, one of my professors advised us to never wearing pajamas while taking a test. She explained that multiple studies have shown that people perform beneath their potential when dressed in PJ’s vs normal attire during test taking. To perform optimally on a test, your clothes need to send your mind reminders, that A) you aren't asleep and B) you are ready for and capable of hard work.
The way we dress truly has an impact not only on how others think, but also the way we think about ourselves. If “I am sexy!” is the main message your clothing shouts to the world, there is great danger you will grow to believe that “sexy” is your most important attribute. You may come to believe (as many do) that without sexiness, you are nothing. And yet, when we think of the people who are heroes in history and to us individually in our lives (i.e. Mother Teresa & your mom) their sexiness probably has nothing to do with why you value them. Keep in mind the difference between important people, and famous people. Some famous people prefer to ONLY be sexy. But important people are the ones you look to for inspiration, courage, intelligence, selfless love, creativity, and determination. Your clothing needs to remind you that you are not asleep and your ultimate and lasting value to this world has almost nothing to do with being sexy.
Several months ago, I joined a group of trained volunteers at a maximum-security prison. Our goal was to help the inmates prepare for future parole board hearings. The volunteer dress code was extremely rigid. There were only a few colors we could wear, and modesty standards were very high. Pants, or skirts past the knee, high necklines, and nothing sleeveless. Many of these men had been in prison upwards of 20 years during which time their interactions with women were rare. It was important for us to acknowledge and respect the difficulty that fact posed for these men. The women in my group showed great respect for these men in both their dress and behavior. That respect was magnified and reflected right back to us.
``` Our interaction with the inmates was supervised, but our conversations were private. These were the most intense conversations I have ever had. I have never concentrated so hard or tried so desperately to help someone i`n such a short amount of time. I was touched by the courage and confidence the men showed us by talking honestly about their crimes. Never once did the fact that I w`as a woman speaking to a man disrupt our conversations. I was struck by the beautiful connection`n that is possible between souls when neither soul is distracted by the body. Modesty can be level ground that makes it easier for people to build upon.
6) Before & After
Most people seem convinced that when it comes to choosing clothing “the sexier the better”. However, even from a strictly style-oriented standpoint, some degree of modesty generally makes us look better. Instead of convincing you with my words I offer visual proof. In both of these examples the original "Before" picture is technically sexier. They are shorter and show more skin. However, the "afters" are more interesting, more flattering, and overall better looking.
Recently I saw a little girl wearing a T-shirt that said, “a girl’s body is not responsible for a boy’s thoughts.” Even if we set aside the shocking fact that a company manufactured a shirt in a size child's size with such a weighty message, something still felt off with the shirt. There is certainly truth to the shirt. We are all responsible for our own thoughts and behaviors. But it oversimplifies the issue (as T-shirt philosophy is apt to do) If a man hides in the bushes then jumps out to surprise you, we can reasonably argue his body is responsible for your thoughts--namely fear. Those thoughts are a normal-human reaction to the situation and one he surely would have expected. You could also argue a woman using her body to dress and behave in a sexual way, is responsible for the normal-human reactions in the mind of a man.
Can't we defend the value of girls without disregarding boys? Does it actually take anything away from girls' incredible potential to teach them to consider how their clothing and behavior might affect boys? Some of these boys are sincerely trying to battle sexual urges and and act appropriately and respectfully towards women. We rarely acknowledged the incredible guilt boys can feel over unwanted sexual thoughts. Ultimately, I think the little girl’s T-shirt started the wrong conversation. We should talk more about respect than responsibility. A T-shirt with a higher truth would say: “A girl’s body and mind can respect a boy's body and mind" and of course one in blue that says, "a boy's mind and body can respect a girl's body and mind"
7) News Comedy
There is a show I watched for years but recently stopped watching. I watched because the host is incredibly intelligent and funny. I quit because of the language he used. I am not generally sensitive to other people’s language though it is true that I rarely curse. I don't cure in part out of general respect and partially because it preserves the power of a curse word (when I do curse, my children will drop everything and pay attention!) But this man is an extreme case. In the last episode I watched, he, or his guests, used the F word 25 times in 30 min! Yet I stopped watching him more out of intellectual outrage than moral outrage. This man is both brilliant and highly educated yet he uses the same word for every single moment of emphasis?! Where is his creativity and imagination? More importantly what about the opportunity cost? Sometimes I think he makes really important points that I would like to share with people, especially people I know have never considered his perspective. But I have never shared any of his videos. I know the second my friends or family hear his language, they would dismiss anything he had to say. His reliance on one word, has undercut his ability to reach a larger audience.
Sometimes we use clothing the same way this man uses language. Sexy is over-used to death. You will see the same, in your-face, sexy style for: wedding receptions, job interviews, trips to the grocery and visits to grandma. Where is the creativity and imagination? What if instead we preserve to power of our sexy style, so that when our partner/spouse sees it they drop everything and pay attention?
And what about the opportunity cost? Has our clothing undercut our ability to connect with other people? Years ago, I talked to the regional president of a large international company. He told me about a woman he had interviewed for her final hurdle to a senior position. This woman had a flawless resume, and good experience. But the moment she walked into his office, he immediately dismissed her. She was dressed in a low-cut blouse and the shortest skirt he had ever seen in a place of business in his 30 years. Her reliance on sexy, undercut her career.