Monday, June 24, 2013

Why "modest is hottest" is problematic

With Jessica Rey's swimsuit video spurring vibrant discussions on modesty on Facebook and elsewhere, I would like to offer my concerns behind an oft-hackneyed phrase reiterated among Mormon and other Christian youth: "Modest is Hottest."

This may be surprising for some: "modest is hottest" is a seemingly innocuous (and catchy) phrase that can drive women to cover their bodies properly. Moreover, I recognize that most who say it do so with good intentions behind it. So what are the underlying problems?

1. It is still reducing women to simply a body. As I explore in a previous post, women have primarily been judged by their level of attractiveness. Today's women are generally in a much better position to be judged by their intellect, rather than their physique, than ever before. Yet phrases like this one reverts to this historical problem, forcing women to largely define themselves by how they look and what they do (and don't) wear .

2. Women should dress modestly only to gain male attention. Equating modesty with "hotness" reinforces the notion that women are only a societal relation to men (a historical problem that I explain in an earlier post). I enjoyed this post from "Beauty Redefined," explaining that women should dress modestly primarily as a means for empowerment and benefit to themselves. As I have stated before, I view the body as a divine stewardship, and I seek to show my respect and love for God through covering myself appropriately.

3. The phrase restricts modesty's definition to refer to the body alone. I've come to realize that modesty is much more than hemlines, necklines, and the degree of tightness. It means demonstrating a sense of propriety in my manner of speech and behavior. It is showing a sense of humility, rather than pretentiousness, when experiencing achievement. Modesty is about acquiring a sense of refinement, as well as an unassuming nature. Covering the body appropriately, while important, does not capture the overall essence of what modesty really means.

4. It teaches women to perceive their body in a negative way. Teaching women that it is "hot" to cover themselves propels a sense of shame about their body. We don't cover our bodies because we are ashamed of this God-given gift. As Mormons, we teach the body as being a temple, or a sacred space where the Holy Spirit can dwell. Women can be taught that seeking to dress modestly can strengthen their relationship with God, as they are seeking to view it as God views it.

I don't know another cutesy catchphrase that succinctly captures my thoughts on this subject. But I hope that we can reconsider how modesty is taught.

15 comments:

  1. This is great! I've had issue with that phrase and ways that modesty is taught but also had issue trying to articulate WHY I had a problem with it. You, on the other hand, hit the nail on the head! Thank you!

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  2. I dislike that the phrase still implies that the ultimate goal is to titilate men, whether that is done more effectively by dressinggimmodestly or modestly. That is NOT why I have ever chosen to cover my body. It is about my worth, my stewardship of this divine gift, and my relationship with god. Thank you for articulating this!

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    1. Amen Megan! Thanks for your comment! :)

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  3. I saw this article today and thought I would share it with you. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/orthodox-jewish-bridesmaid-dresses-mormon-article-1.1378894#ixzz2Wrt4Z5l2

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Thanks Kimberly! It's empowering to know that other women striving to achieve a strong relationship with God are looking to cover themselves properly. Thank you!

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  4. The biggest issue I have had with all the 'modesty' arguments is they basically shame the human body or present some form of "men cannot control themselves, so women must hide themselves" philosophy. Neither of which K believe to be a reasonable mindset or valid argument for modesty sake. The more we cover our body for shame the worse we will feel when we partake of 'shameful' acts with it, even within a loving, eternal marriage.

    But the argument you present for modesty is one that can either be disagreed upon because people see their relationship with God in a different manner or not disagreed with at all. This was very well written and spoken.

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    1. Exactly, I appreciate your comment. Thank you!

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  5. didn't know it was directed to women exclusively . . .

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  6. I intended to direct my thoughts to both women and men.

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  7. There's several problems with this article. To begin with the author is talking about HER definition of what that phrase means. No effort has been made to find out what this phrase means to other people. So you're kind of off to a bad start.
    We'll look at your points one at a time. 1) the author is ignoring the fact that the female body is, *gasp* a sexual object. I know, it's shocking to say it, but it's true. Men are visually actuated. And there's nothing wrong with looking or being sexy, but there is a time and a place for it. The author seems to not realize that there is a time for being "hot" and being modestly dressed the rest of the time can be a big part of that.
    2+3. "Modest is hottest" is a simple slogan, not a thesis statement. It is not meant to address ALL the reasons for being modest. It is just a statement that reinforces the idea that if you want to be attractive to a guy who is interested in a long term relationship being modest is attractive to that type of person.
    4. "It teaches women to perceive their body in a negative way." Really? Why? By teaching them that their body is beautiful but should only be shown in ALL it's beauty to her husband?

    Overall the author is not addressing that there's a lot more emotions that go into male attraction than she seems to think. Modest is hottest is also a matter of intention behind how a person dresses and what that says about their sexuality. Someone who dresses modestly knows what they are truly worth and for some guys that is very sexy but in a good way. There IS such a thing as sexy being good.

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  8. Thanks Joe, for your comments. I won't argue with you that female body inevitably attracts men; I am very cognizant of that. My purpose of writing this article was to explain how I personally feel about this slogan, and as you can see from my "Beauty Redefined" link (as well as the previous comments), I am not the only one who feels the way I do.

    Overall, my purpose was to think beyond dressing modestly for simply the male audience. While the "modest is hottest" may have have been intended as a simple slogan, too often, I believe it has been used as the "thesis statement" of why women should dress modestly--to attract a male into a long-term relationship. Certainly, this can be one reason to dress modestly, but us women need to remember the overall reason for why we dress the way we do. That's all I was trying to point out.

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  9. This is well put and well written, friend. Thanks.

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