Pin It

What Jessica Rey didn’t tell us and why the modesty debate matters (Modesty, Power, & Bikini Burning part 2 )

19 Comments

Warning: Today’s post is really more of an essay than a blog post. It’s a follow-up to Modesty, Power, and Bikini Burning, which I published early in the 31 Days of Women Empowering Women series. What I’ve written is not short, nor catchy, nor designed for a little afternoon pick-me-up while you steal a second on your smart phone in the grocery store line. It’s a bit serious, and dang-it, maybe I should just post another kid party feature (readers seem to love that stuff). But I can’t. I want to use this platform to share things that are important to me… and that goes for parties and politics. (I like the fun and fluff and the gritty and complicated – can’t help it.) I wrote this post about two weeks ago in response to some readers’ comments (that I so appreciated!) about Jessica Rey and her video presentation “The Evolution of the Swim Suit”. After I did more research, I got a little fired up about being misled, and the following post is my response. It’s not flawless, and I’m still very much learning, but it’s where I’m up to so far and I think it’s an important topic to continue exploring – with or without the debate, especially when we’re talking about what it means for women to empower women.

 

//

 

Modesty isn't about hiding ourselves. It's about revealing our dignity.

It seems I stumbled into a bit of a landmine for choosing to post—and comment on—Jessica Rey’s “Evolution of a Swim Suit” video and highlight her presentation on modesty as a part of the 31 Days of Women Empowering Women series.

Honestly? I had no idea that this was an actual debate going on. Perhaps it was because I was on a ship in the middle of the ocean in Papua New Guinea when it was all breaking loose, but whatever. The whole thing makes my stomach churn a little.

As it turns out, Rey’s presentation is incredibly misleading and doesn’t represent the research she’s referring to well at all. Obviously I didn’t know that or else I would have taken a different approach on my post all together. A thoughtful—and better informed—reader turned me on to this article, written by a social science PhD (and also a person of faith, if that’s of consequence to you) who is much more educated than I am and has also read the entire research findings personally.

Apparently, I should have done some more homework before believing “everything I read on the internet”. (Slight exaggeration there to make a point – heh.) Last night I thoroughly read the article passed on to me, as well as some of the original research paper, to see and determine for myself.

Quoting out of context will make a fool of us and cause us to lose our credibility

After doing a bit more digging, here’s the thing that needs to be said: Jessica Rey took the study results out of context and selectively shared data in order to reinforce her beliefs about modesty, rather than letting the study speak for itself. It’s really sad actually. In case you missed it, she sighted a Princeton neural imaging study in which men who were shown images of scantily clad women in bikinis displayed brain activity more in line with looking at objects than looking at people. (I’m totally over-simplifying, but if you want to read more, you can read my first post on modesty or just watch the nine-minute video of Rey’s presentation for yourself.)

Obviously this sort of physiological “evidence”—a man’s brain activity registering women as objects—is disturbing and compelling. If that doesn’t make the case for being wary of bikinis or other revealing clothing, then I’m not sure what does. (What woman wouldn’t want to protect herself from being objectified if she could… especially IF she knew it was a straightforward biological response that men had little control over?)

And I guess that’s my point: it’s not straightforward. The way Rey presented the data was bias and extremely oversimplified. Maybe this sounds extreme, but I feel that the way she presented her “case” as fact (using scientific “evidence” to back it up) is misleading at best… outright manipulation at worst. (To be clear I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt on this one – and going with ‘misleading’. But because she’s also the owner of a ‘modest’ swimwear line, it does call into question her motives. Again though, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.)

The truth about the data presented by Rey

What Jessica failed to tell us is that the images the men were given were headless. Headless. And, far more importantly, she also failed to tell us that the men who responded in this way were already established/identified in the study as “hostile sexist”. In light of knowing they are already “hostile sexists”, of course they would objectify these women. The problem wasn’t the immediate pictures they were shown of women in bikinis, it was the pattern already established and engrained on the map of their minds. (Which begs the question, how did their brains get that way? Totally different—but important—subject that I’m not going to attempt addressing here.)

Needless to say I was incredibly disappointed to learn that the video presentation misrepresents the research so explicitly. Rey is a beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken woman and I stand by her notion that “modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves, it’s about revealing our dignity.” (Hiding = shame-based and disempowering; revealing dignity = truth-based and empowering.) But the fact that her entire presentation hinges on research data that misrepresents the actual results? Well that just undermines her credibility completely and even goes to prove that “modesty” is a more complex issue than can be confined to certain types of clothing.

What the research proves doesn’t correlate with her thesis at all. It’s comparing apples to oranges, served up in a yummy fruit salad that appeals to our taste buds.

I suppose—like me—Rey could have some uninformed opinions, and possibly her misinformation is a genuine mistake. (For her sake, I genuinely hope so.) But even if that is the case, she’d only need to read the first paragraph of the actual Princeton bikini/neural imaging study to see that she’s missed the entire point of the research. And surely anyone who’s traveling the country speaking on this subject (as she stated) would have done some substantial research to build her presentation.

(Read a thorough breakdown of the Princeton study and Rey’s presentation here, or have a look at the actual Princeton neural imaging study here.)

Bringing it to a personal level

After I posted my original piece on modesty, a reader-friend asked me if my views on modesty have been swayed by reading the post exposing Rey’s conclusions. I thought it was a great question, and worthy of a public response.

My simple answer is this: my overall views on modesty didn’t change by watching the video in the first place, and they didn’t change after discovering the claims made by Rey were inaccurate. My views on modesty—probably like yours—run deeper than that and are built on a worldview and value system that takes into account my culture, my faith, and my personal experiences and beliefs. None of that has changed. The only thing that’s changed for me is that I will be more careful not to oversimplify the modesty issue and I certainly won’t be sharing misleading research in order to prove what I already believe to be true or not true.

And here’s where I really throw a spanner into the equation: where to draw the line of what is and isn’t modest is incredibly tricky for me anyway. I didn’t bring this into the discussion while writing my first modesty post because I was attempting—unlike today—to keep the post succinct and more readable. (Today I’ve given up on that notion – ha! – and will write as much as I want to in order to say what I want to say regardless of this post fitting into manageable size for my regular readers. Sorry, it’s just going to be long. And I accept that most won’t read it because of that. So be it.)

Modesty is strongly influenced by cultural norms

I’ve spent nearly fifteen years of my adult life (that’s almost all of it!) living abroad and traveling overseas. I’ve been in so many different nations and have learned that the bar for modesty is almost always set at a different place. In India bare shoulders are considered immodest but showing the midriff and belly button is perfectly fine; in Papua New Guinea it’s bare knees and thighs that are immodest but no one would give a second thought about completely exposed breasts; and in Egypt it’s considered immodest to leave your hair down or to wear fitted pants.

By Australian standards, I dress quite modestly, which is largely influenced by my personality, comfort, sense of style, values and convictions, faith and even—to an extent—my American culture (which is slightly more conservative than Australia in terms of dress standards and norms). So even though I might be considered on the moderately conservative end of the spectrum here in Australia, by Middle Eastern standards I dress like a loose, scandalous westerner in my {gasp!} shorts and tank tops or skinny jeans and scoop neck t-shirts with my big old wild mane of hair falling all around my shoulders, completely free and unkempt.

What is it? Modesty, defined.

But you know what? Even this discussion – what constitutes modest clothing and what does not – begins to get off topic and becomes way too subjective.

The Oxford definition of modesty is this:

modesty

noun

[mass noun]

1. the quality or state of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities

2. the quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level

3. behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency

You know what I find most interesting about this definition? It doesn’t encompass rules of what’s in and what’s out in terms of items of clothing or outward appearance at all. There’s nothing there that can establish literal, objective benchmarks. The definition is centered around behavior and character – inwardly motivated action.

Wow.

Have we steered the modesty discussion off course and gotten too consumed with appearance over the attitudes of our heart?

I think perhaps, yes.

For those that want to look at it from a biblical perspective, the main scripture sighted to speak about modesty in women is usually this one:

Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” 1 Tim 2:9-10

The word ‘modest’ here in the Greek is kosmios, meaning “orderly” or “of good behavior”.

What??

So Paul is instructing women to wear “respectable apparel” in verse 9. (Again – so subjective. I’m really pleased it’s now respectable for me to show my ankles and pray without a shawl over my head.) And then he goes on in verse 10 to implore us to be modest – be orderly and of good behavior.  Sure, he includes a few examples of things to avoid (over-the-top possessions, identified within the cultural context and time period of his epistle) but he wraps up all of those things by juxtaposing them with the concept of “good works”. His focus seems to me to be on being respectable—not excessive or materialistic—which leaves us in a position to produce “good works”.

What Paul’s essentially saying is dress respectably, be of good behavior and self control, and don’t be materialistic. Oh yeah, and be proactive by dressing yourself in good works.

Modesty is not—or shouldn’t be—gender-specific

When looking at Paul’s instructions taking into account both the literal meaning of the word ‘modesty’ and the context in which it was written, it becomes clear that—although addressed to women—his instructions certainly are not gender-specific to the exclusion of the other gender. We expect our boys and men to also be respectable, not excessive, and of good behavior, right? And yet we’ve put so much emphasis on a woman’s appearance in relation to modesty that we risk alienating her even more and diminishing an important concept down to whether or not we wear a mini skirt. (I’m afraid I’m not exempt from falling pray to that type of simplistic thinking.)

It’s not fair of us to make this simply a “women’s issue”… at the expense of women. Rachel Held Evans states it better than I can:

“While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them. In both cases, the impetus is placed on the woman to accommodate her clothing or her body to the (varied and culturally relative) expectations of men. In both cases, it becomes the woman’s job to manage the sexual desires of men, and thus it is seen as her fault if a man ignores her on the one hand or objectifies her on the other.”

I stand by what I said yesterday in my original post:

This is not about dressing in a way to please or not please men, or even to protect them or—to use christianese terms—to “keep them from stumbling”. I don’t believe a man’s reaction to a woman is her responsibility. You can look at it from any angle – men objectifying women is just plain wrong. Always.

And this is also not about a false pretense that a certain level of modesty will serve as protection from genuine male predators. Men who seek to objectify and harm women will do so regardless of what a woman is wearing.

Although these are both important issues worthy of exploring further, the point of this post is to say YES and AMEN to the premise that choosing to be modest is choosing to wield your feminine power well.

It all boils down to empowering women – ourselves.

Modesty is not outdated, it’s not unrealistic, it’s not frumpy, and it’s not anti-feminist.

Modesty – in it’s truest form – is not about hiding our beauty, it’s about handling it well and—ultimately—our good works that come as a result of our heart motivations and everyday actions.

What I think is most sad in all of this is that the real modesty message is missing among our young people (and our culture at large) today.  Modesty—both the Oxford definition and the biblical Greek definition—is about acting in ways that respect others, operating in humility rather than pride, and avoiding indecency. In short, it’s about “good behavior” (which I believe stems from good character and heart motivation). And YES, respecting others, good behavior, operating in humility, avoiding decency – all of it – absolutely includes our clothing choices, but is certainly not limited to it.

We all know that mass media is what really needs to be addressed – the normalcy of what’s put forward by both men and women as to what’s acceptable (and even expected) in terms of sexual allure. Mass media projects a distorted image of femininity that does no woman justice. In fact it disempowers and dishonors and disheartens women (and men, too). No wonder it’s become an assault against our modesty, our confidence, and our measuring sticks.

Back to Rey’s bikini video

The main reason I’m disappointed with Jessica Rey’s video is that she presented the research in such a light that—now that it’s been uncovered as misleading—it feels as if the case for modesty has taken one step forward and two steps backwards. It’s adding to the competing voices and making truth even harder discern because misinformation always breeds confusion and disillusionment and angst.

And that? That is just depressing. Because modesty is important. It’s not only important in the quest for women to become at peace with their own bodies but it’s important in the overall discussion of the objectification of women, which is actually a matter of life and death.

In closing, I would still encourage you to watch the Evolution of the Swim Suit video. The issues raised are more than worthy of our critical thinking and discussion, but as you watch, do so within context of knowing that the information presented only tells part of the story.

Major on the majors, minor on the minors

Ultimately let’s not get caught up in modesty arguments about what is and isn’t an acceptable neckline or body part exposed. (I just reeeeeeeally like my tank-tops and having my shoulders “exposed”.) Instead let’s make sure we don’t lose sight of the real questions we should be asking ourselves: How’s our interior life affecting our exterior life? And how are we avoiding excess and materialism and dressing ourselves in ‘good works’? As well as the questions we should be asking ourselves and our communities and society at large: How are we consuming media that reinforces the objectification of women and a sexuality (of both men and women) that is demeaning and destructive? What do we allow in our homes? What do we tolerate in our store windows, billboards, magazine covers, and television sets?

Friends, what are your thoughts on the issue of modesty? How can we flip our worldview and teach modesty from a place of truth that empowers, rather than a place of shame that disempowers? Big questions, I know, but we really need to go there.

Adriel xx

31 Days of Women Empowering Women at AdrielBooker.com

 

This post is part of a series called 31 Days of Women Empowering Women. See hundreds of incredible #31Days projects here.

Pin It

19 Comments

  • Reply Sarah 19 October 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Adriel, I almost bought one of Rey’s bathing suits after watching that video. But you know what makes me even angrier about being duped now that I know a bit more about the real research? I’m angry that every time men are made out to be sex maniacs and lumped together with “hostile sexists” the way Rey did, it makes me pause when it comes to the men in my own life. That’s totally unfair to them. They are human beings with feelings, needs and emotions. Sinners, just like us women. I think as Christian women who stand up for and empower women, it does us all good to remember the men who love us and encourage us on this journey.

    Thank you for this post.
    Sarah recently posted..Things I’m LovingMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel Booker 20 October 2013 at 8:07 am

      Yes Sarah, I think that is something that we have to be so careful of – that in our quest to empower women (ourselves) we don’t disempower and dishonor men. It’s clear that there are a lot of good men out there and it’s not fair to reduce them to a caricature, even as we don’t want to be reduced to one. I certainly don’t want to lump the men around me together and label them sex maniacs and would challenge any woman that did so. I don’t think that was Rey’s intention exactly… but her conclusions definitely pointed in that (unhealthy) direction. If it was all evidence-based it would be different, in my opinion, but clearly it was not.

      For the record I think Rey’s swim suits are really cute and, especially now that I’m older, I prefer wearing suits that are more along those lines just for comfort reasons and to minimize gawkers. I wish she had made her presentation differently because she is a beautiful, articulate, intelligent women and our young people need to see more of that in a world where women are often reduced to the sum of their bra size. But wow, the fact that you nearly bought one of her suits straight after watching the presentation… that says something about the power of persuasion. Marketing – even in another form than we’re used to – is powerful. Scary powerful.
      Adriel Booker recently posted..Liberation from the Beauty Myth: A call for transformationMy Profile

    • Reply Danie Williams-Rivera 26 November 2015 at 6:48 am

      YES! I totally agree. I know my husband is always devastated when things like this come up. It’s another way of saying “men are dumb – they only think about naked women” and it’s not only remarkably unfair to them… but I really think it’s a slippery slope to “She deserved it, did you see what she was wearing?”

      I was having a long conversation about modesty with my Mom. My husband and I are expecting and if we have a daughter – I am determined to teach her that she shouldn’t be ashamed of her body and feel she has to cover it up (which is what I was taught in the modesty talks growing up at church and school – especially, being a more curvy girl), But she should respect her body and all the wonderful pieces of it. She shouldn’t feel she has to dress to show herself off, because she is enough exactly as she is. She should dress for comfort, play, and because it makes her feel good and be happy… so she can be more concerned with important things, like other people and enjoying life.

      If we have a boy, I want him to know that he is responsible for his thoughts, that people (women or men) are not objects but people to be cherished and loved. I want him to know that he isn’t a victim in the great modesty debate – a victim to his “wayward thoughts” and gentiles. He is so much more than that.

      Isn’t that what true modesty is? Understanding our worth – not making it out to be less or more than what it is, and thanking God every day for all the gifts, beauty, skills, and amazing people he has blessed us with?

      • Reply Adriel Booker 16 December 2015 at 4:22 pm

        Congrats on your pregnancy Danie. Parenting through these issues is complex but I believe the Holy Spirit can give us discernment and inspire our wisdom. All the best to you and your hubby in the days ahead.

    • Reply Claire 9 December 2015 at 11:07 am

      It says something really unhealthy about a person that they would misread something and get it so drastically wrong- that she would want to believe that all men treat women like hostile sexists really worries me.

  • Reply AnnaC 19 October 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Great follow up. Thank you for this.
    AnnaC recently posted..It always comes back to connection.My Profile

  • Reply Greta 20 October 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Well said. And of course, beautifully articulated. I adore how your mind works Adriel. You are a beautiful mama. I admire you so much. Your grace, your love, your compassion, your energy, your ability to laugh things off, your depth. You give your entire heart to your family. And somehow you still have more to give everyone around you too. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for setting an example. Thank you for being you.

  • Reply Tiffany 20 October 2013 at 1:51 pm

    I really like the definition you gave above that said “behaviour, manner, or appearance intended” because it goes to the matter of the heart. What is the intention?

    This is one of those great conversations to hash out in person, right? Because there is so much to say based on each individual’s experience. I’m not saying I disagree with anything you said, I just have so many thoughts on the subject that I can’t write them all here. My experience with a Norwegian exchange student swimming in a Victoria Secret – doesn’t look anything like a swimsuit – bra (in our fairly modest town). My boyfriend in college who placed the impetus on me to be modest so HE wouldn’t stumble. My teenage babysitter that wore shorts so short I could see her rear when she bent over (um, she doesn’t babysit anymore). The article I posted on Facebook yesterday (you might have seen it) about a mom that looks through her son’s social media feeds and asks them to not follow/friend/like any girl that posts pictures of herself that are inappropriate (inappropriate: girl in her pajamas, in her bedroom, taking a picture of herself with no bra on)

    I think the term, modesty, gets a bad rap so thanks for sharing, Adriel. Thought provoking, as always!

    • Reply Adriel Booker 20 October 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks Tiffany. Yeah, these sorts of conversations really are easier in person than through text, because there are so many angles and nuances and experiences to take into account. I find that challenging… and part of the reason why this post went on for days. You wouldn’t even believe what I did cut out in order to keep it this “short”. 😉 And no, I didn’t see the article you posted yesterday so can’t comment on that. But yes, modesty is a good thing and should be talked about openly and truthfully, always with an attitude to empower rather than shame. It’s complicated, but important, ey?
      Adriel Booker recently posted..The Problem of the Period: Why menstruation is holding us back from changing the world and how you can reverse that with your sewing machineMy Profile

  • Reply Kins 25 August 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I have to say… Beware of Jessica Rey…She is extremely unethical and she has hired photographers to shoot her designs, but then they refuse to pay/compensate their models and photographers AFTER the work is done, even little 4 yr old models! We recently worked with her and she is VERY VERY misleading and again, only shares part of the truth to get what she needs. Photographers and models beware of this! Insist on payment prior to working with Rey Swimwear!

    Awful customer service and Jessica is flaky and lied to the entire team numerous times, on record. Criticized one of the little girl models who owned a bikini and shamed others. I will be purchasing “modest” swimwear elsewhere.

  • Reply The Matter of Modesty: A Christian Culture | You Said; I Thought 22 March 2015 at 2:38 am

    […] Rey, please read about why the Princeton Study she cited doesn’t even apply to modesty here and here.) Then there are also have people like the Duggars—who are into über modesty— and […]

  • Reply michelle 25 July 2015 at 6:44 pm

    This was a superb read!!! Thank you!!

  • Reply Chloe 27 July 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Thanx for this. So good, i wish i had this back when i helped run a girls group. the bikini debate came up so often and this would have been a really good view point.

  • Reply Ash 8 July 2016 at 2:08 am

    I enjoyed your essay, but more I was searching the web on how to review the Rey swimwear site/company because they are so devastatingly terrible to deal with. So here’s a little review: They screen their reviews to only post 5 star reviews and not allow anything negative. They ignore emails and have a tight 7 day window to contact them to ask for permission to return or exchange a purchase(not openly noted either) after which they do not accept anything! When it comes to returns they will at all cost avoid giving back money but forcibly give store credit. I’ve decided to forget my money b/c of the snowball effect of money that gets sucked up trying to return, reorder, reship, and only refund to gift cards despite paying via credit card originally etc. TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE! order from modcloth or other companies!

    • Reply JESS 13 July 2016 at 8:52 am

      Omgoodness! I’m so glad to have found this article right now. Ash, I am in the exact situation with the return policy.
      I ordered a swimsuit, it didn’t arrive before I left for a family reunion, (which is what I ordered it for), and then I missed the 7 day return policy because I was out of town at the reunion. The suit is too big on me and my swimsuit season is over. (in fact, I hadn’t even worn a bathing suit in years due to being uncomfortable in my skin, but decided the Rey Swimsuits might be a little empowering? Unfortunately it didn’t arrive on time and ended up being too big. Their 7-day window isn’t the standard 7 “business” day window…which I would’ve easily qualified for. Just like you stated, they are refusing the refund and offering a store credit. I decided to do a little research because their return policy seems so shady. I immediately noticed there are no reviews or “visitor posts” on their FB page and no real reviews on their site. Then I found this article and your comments – as well as the one from KINS. Dishonest business practices is my only conclusion. As a small business owner myself, this is so disappointing.

    Leave a Reply