Modesty, Power, and Bikini Burning
“Modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves, it’s about revealing our dignity.” –Jessica Rey
I’ve been a bikini-wearer for twenty years now. In fact, I’m a bit of a collector of bikini’s. Last time I did a purge, I still had about six or seven left in my drawer. I see swim suits like shoes – different ones for different moods – and so I have a hard time parting with them. (And just for the record, it’s not that I’m buying new ones all the time. Apart from my belly growing a bit [babies] and my boobs growing and shrinking a bit [yup, babies], I haven’t changed sizes much. So the collection just grows as I pick up a new one every couple of years.)
For me, wearing bikinis has always been about the tan. Maximum exposure equals less awkward tan lines. (I’m classy like that.) I’ve always considered my bikinis “modest” – as in not too skimpy – and I’ve definitely added tankinis to my collection as I’ve gotten older and as styles have gotten cuter.
But then I watched this video – the evolution of the swim suit – and had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
If you don’t have nine minutes to spare, let me give you a quick run down of what actress and designer Jessica Rey shares.
She starts off by presenting the history of the bikini – a fascinating little synopsis that begins in France in 1946 and explodes in America in the 1960’s during the sexual revolution… to the point of becoming a multi-billion dollar industry ($8 billion in spending last year alone).
Rey goes on to showcase research done at Princeton University – brain scans performed on men while they look at images of scantily clad women. Researchers were shocked at what they found. The part of the brain that lit up while looking at these images was the same part that lit up when looking at images of tools – screwdrivers and hammers. The even more shocking revelation was that for many of these men the part of the brain associated with thoughts, feelings, and intentions (the medial prefrontal cortex) completely shut down. Experts say this part of the brain rarely ever shuts down.
Analysts at National Geographic concluded that bikinis inspire men to see women as something to be used, not people to connect with.
In short, these men saw scantily clothed women in the same way they saw power tools. (Uhhh… I want one for my collection? Using one will make me happy? Add it to my Christmas wish list, please?)
See the problem here? Yikes.
This is so. not. okay.
I don’t know a single woman that desires to be objectified or used, and yet we often wear whatever makes us feel good, taking no mind of the implications beyond how we immediately feel. (Not that it’s intrinsically wrong to wear what makes us feel good; I’m all for using clothes to help reveal, express, and affirm beauty… all of which make us feel good.)
But the realization that I have this measure of power and influence springing from the clothes I wear makes me think long and hard about how I want to handle that. Do I want to use my power to turn men’s brains off and put myself in a position to be more easily objectified? Or do I want to use my power to make sure I’m taken seriously?
For me it’s a no-brainer.
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 women is her responsibility. (To that line of reasoning I’d say: come on guys, don’t let some fabric and stitches emasculate you and demoralize her. You’re more man than that – give yourself a little credit.) 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 women is wearing. (Let’s not take this to the extreme that women are responsible for date rape and other forms of violence against women. Don’t even go there cuz I might get up and angry… and that just ain’t pretty.)
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.
Dear friends, what do you think? What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘modesty’? I’m still learning and grappling with what I believe it is to be modest. But I’m not shirking it off as outdated anymore. How about you? Ready to burn your bikinis?? (Jokes! For the record, I’m still keeping a couple for when I’m by myself or with my husband or just too pregnant to fit into anything else.)
p.s. This post is part of 31 Days of Women Empowering Women, as well as part of a larger movement of writers all over the world joining in with The Nester in writing everyday for the month of October. See hundreds of incredible #31Days projects here.