When you say I can’t wear a bikini, this is what you’re also saying…  

no-bikinis

Dear Makers of the Pool Rules,

I’ve been thinking about your family-friendly set of pool rules, which include safety rules like “no running”, “no diving”, and “no glass bottles at the pool”. Among these, you also have a rule about acceptable clothing: tankinis and swim shorts and one-pieces are okay… but please, “no bikinis”.

Dear rule-makers, when you say that I can’t wear a bikini, this is what you are also saying:

You are saying you don’t trust me to make good choices as a woman.

You are saying you don’t trust me as a parent to be having conversations about self-respect and clothing with my children.

By spelling out a dress code for women, you are saying that, at some level, you agree with the problematic (and offensive) societal message that a woman’s acceptability and welcome is based on her body.

Spelling out a no-bikini rule adds to the horrid fear and shame culture which the women in our day are struggling with: we cover because we fear men’s eyes, we cover because it is shameful not to. I, for one, think we should cover for different reasons (to protect intimacy) – but when your rules are policing what I wear, the issue gets tangled.

As it happens, I prefer not to wear bikinis in public. I took my children to a swimming pool a few weeks ago and was miserable to discover I had accidentally forgotten my rash guard at home. I personally like to cover not only for the sake of keeping my body for my husband’s eyes, but also because I have a near-pathological fear of the sun. But that’s my choice. On that day, being found in 105F heat with three wilting and whining kids – should I have had to turn around, forfeit the $15 I paid in entrance fees, and taken my kids home because I only had a bikini?

Modesty and dress code are culturally relative things: it seems like bikinis are almost mandatory in Hawaii, whereas in France, Bermuda shorts are forbidden and speedo-type swimwear is mandatory at public swimming pools!

Yours is a family-friendly, faith-based facility, and I respect and appreciate that your pool culture prefers more coverage rather than less: Bermuda shorts rather than Speedos for men, one-pieces rather than bikinis for women. However, the way you’ve phrased the rule strikes me as legalistic, and we women are already facing such a horrid battle against being sexualized and objectified. Your rule, as it stands, is saying you’re on the side of policing women’s bodies, rather than being on the side of respect.

Can I respectfully suggest, then, that perhaps you rephrase your policy? Perhaps something like this:

“Our family-friendly community values modesty, and we trust you to show respect for yourselves and others in your dress code. Thank you.”

A move like that would be consistent with all the other, wonderful, life-affirming programs and activities you hold. And, such a rule surely would be better at teaching us about dignity from the inside-out, rather than trying to impose it from the outside-in. As Gina Dalfonzo’s helpful rule of thumb says: “Dress like you respect yourself.”

Just a thought.

Thanks,

A self-respecting and respectful woman.

 

 

 

 

Attracting attention (thoughts on teen girls, selfies and finding love)

 

Every week brings a new facebook meme, but this weeks’ one got my attention. First, there was Mrs Hall’s post: an open letter to teen girls encouraging them to keep their online pictures modest (or else their family would have to block them from their newsfeed), followed by a zillion other responses – snarky and mean ones from jezebel.com, wise Dad-words from Nate Pyle, and a thoughtful reply from Beth Woolsey reminding us to be gracious in these conversations.

Amid all the discussion about “how much skin is too much?”, “is there a difference between beach-skin-reveals and pajama-skin-reveals?”, “is modesty her responsibility or is it his job not to look?” etc., my friend Tammy raised this excellent question:

Why is it that teen girls feel compelled to post these kinds of selfies anyway?

(Now, I am not a psychologist or a teen-expert and I don’t have a PhD. This is a blog post exploring this question; It is not an article in a renowned journal on human behavior. It is the beginning of a conversation, not the final word…. but all that being said, these are my thoughts:)

I believe that what we girls are aiming for is not so much to be seen as sexy, or even to be seen as beautiful.

I believe what we want is to be ATTRACTIVE.

Being seen as ‘beautiful’ and ‘attractive’ might seem like synonyms, but here is how I see the difference. We can admire and appreciate beautiful people (and things) from afar. And sometimes, as women, we want to be admired and appreciated. But I don’t think that being thought of as beautiful and garnering distant admiration is what drives us women to dress or pose in a certain way.

beauty chalkboardWhile beauty can be admired from afar, attractiveness means that people want to draw close to us. And isn’t that what we want? We post pictures that will make others like us, want to know us, want to spend time with us. We post pictures that we believe will ATTRACT people to us, and the pictures we post reveal what WE THINK others will be attracted to.

So, perhaps for a teen girl in a Miley Cyrus kind of world, we believe that people will be attracted to a more sultry look.

As an adult, I do EXACTLY the same thing as teen girls do – I post pictures of what I believe will be attractive – all that’s different is that my beliefs about what is attractive have changed over the years. I still want to be seen as attractive – but in a different way: I want to be seen as friendly, warm, fun, smiling. I also want to be seen as a good friend and mom and person who-kind-of-keeps-it-together … and consequently I also choose to post pictures which represent that definition of attractive: pictures of me smiling, with my kids, with not too much of a double chin.

I think the whole issue of how we represent ourselves in photos online has less to do with wanting to be thought of as beautiful or sexy, and more to do with wanting to be attractive, because in essence what we want is to be KNOWN and LOVED. We want people NEAR. We want to ATTRACT them to us.

As I’ve written about before, I believe that modesty and intimacy go together: when we choose to reveal parts of ourselves (whether baring our bodies or our souls), what we are really doing is making a bid for intimacy. We are saying “here I am, please know and appreciate me. I want to be known and this is how I believe I can attract your attention.”

So this makes me think: how then can I prepare my kids for the World of Social Media? I’m thinking it may have less to do with rules about photos and facebook, and perhaps more about to do with teaching them about what attractiveness means. There are conversations that need to happen about beauty and our bodies, but I’m thinking too of things I can say and do to deliberately teach them about being attractive.

Much like a parent who is frustrated that they and their toddler are caught in a cycle of misbehavior-followed-by-negative-attention and needs to work on deliberately catching their kid doing something RIGHT so that they can reinforce positive behavior with positive attention; I want to try and be deliberate about speaking up when my kids are attracting attention in a healthy way.

Saying things like:

“That was a really beautiful thing you did (when you showed kindness to your sibling, helped me in the kitchen, picked a flower for a stranger)”

“I love seeing your smiling face.”

“I really enjoy your company.”

“I have so much fun laughing with you.”

“Come here, cutie pie, mama just needs to kiss that kind face of yours.”

“I saw how the kids on the playground loved it when you invited them to play with you.”

“You did a great job of inviting the shy kid to join your game.”

“I love spending time with my friend Kati – she is such a good listener and she makes me laugh.”

“Thank you for offering to share your seat/snack, that really made them feel welcome.”

“Thank you for cheering me up.”

“I love reading with you.”

“It makes me feel so special when you look right into my eyes and tell me a story.”

…. You get the idea – things that reinforce that they can build intimacy and attract my (and others’) attention by showing their character and kindness. And my hope is that when the time comes and they want another teen to notice, and I mean REALLY NOTICE, them, they will have a decade of mommy-brain-washing behind them telling them that they can be wonderfully attractive people and have intimate-as-well-as-appropriate relationships, no matter what they look like on the outside.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: got any additional ideas of ways to teach our kids to be the right kind of attractive? Or for us to cultivate the right kind of attractiveness? Please leave a comment!

Modesty: the protector of intimacy

It would seem that Modest(y) is (the) Hottest topic these days.

I have read some very thought-provoking articles on modesty in the past weeks: what it is, what it isn’t. I’ve read about whether it’s wrong for women to wear bikinis, about how much women are responsible for their dress as opposed to men being responsible for their lust, about how love should be the controlling principle in how we dress.

Against this backdrop, I have another thought on the topic of modesty to add to the discussion: that modesty is integrally related to intimacy. Modesty is, I believe, a protector of intimacy.

Intimacy involves “a close association with or detailed knowledge of” a person, subject or place. It includes the idea of privacy – something shielded from the ‘public’. Intimacy involves being close, familiar, sharing affectionately in a loving personal relationship. As such, intimacy is a word used for the closest of relationships: emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, “let me not to the marriage of true minds” intimacy.

Couple-Holding-Hands1

I would suggest then that modesty is a word we can use to describe behavior which protects intimacy. If intimacy is about being known and revealing ourselves, then modesty is that behavior which shields the private, which keeps the intimate “covered”.

Physical intimacy involves seeing and touching one another’s bodies. It is private. The bible uses the word “knowing” as a verb to describe sexual intimacy. Modesty protects intimacy by keeping our bodies “unknown” and saving that knowledge for a privileged relationship.

Emotional intimacy involves knowing one another’s deepest thoughts and feelings. We use similar language to describe these relationships: we BARE our souls. We REVEAL our secrets. We EXPOSE ourselves. We UNCOVER truth. The process of building emotional intimacy involves letting down our guard and “letting someone in”.

There is a  corollary to this modesty-intimacy connection: that being that if we have “shown it all”, it is much harder to build true intimacy. If everyone knows my secret, then there is nothing truly special and “bonding” about me telling it to you. However, if there are things about me which no-one-but-you know, then you and I both know that that privileged and private information has forged intimacy between us.

Similarly, if everyone has seen Joe Bloggs naked because he is a well-renowned local streaker, then for Joe Bloggs to reveal himself to me would not build intimacy between us. However, the knowledge that I am the only person who has seen my husband in all his glory does add to the preciousness of intimacy.

I believe  modesty involves choosing behaviors which form a boundary to protect intimacy. The word modesty has fallen on hard and controversial times. Not many want “modesty”. But intimacy is something we all want: we want to be closely bonded, to know and be known. Not by everyone, but by a select loved and trusted few.

The way I see it is this: modesty is more than a clothing choice. Modesty involves choosing to protect what we reveal of our body, mind and soul; and by choosing modesty, we create a protected space for the true joys of  intimacy. 

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