Growing up in an incredibly religious family, I was continuously being fed the idea that to be worth something you had to be modest. Not just modest in the way you dress, but modest in the way you act and how you speak.
Aside from always keeping my body covered and knees together, apologizing for things I hadn’t done and taking responsibility for others discomfort became regular occurrences in my day to day life. There are many instances where a male presence in my home (and the woman who agreed with him) has been far more critical than my own, and I wouldn’t be able to name them all. One instance, in particular, has stuck with me for far too long.
It was just after High School Musical 2 had been released and I was fascinated with the image of Sharpay’s outfit from the scene where she and Troy sang “You Are The Music In Me.” You know, the one after she took off the hot pink trench coat to reveal her turquoise top with the jean skirt that reached about mid-thigh and the silver belt. The thing that really got me though was the hot pink tulle cascading from a single point at the bottom of her skirt, all the way to the floor. I spent hours recreating this look in my bedroom and one Sunday, as I was dancing around to the HSM2 album with my brother, I pulled the front of my skirt up to the middle of my thighs, to see how it might feel to be Sharpay.
The argument that followed went along to the tune of him asking me to put my skirt down because it made him uncomfortable and then going to our parents when I refused. Apparently “Why?” isn’t a good enough response to being told how to clothe your body and “So?” isn’t an acceptable response to someone letting you know that the amount of skin you’re showing isn’t accommodating enough to their comfort levels.
When I was about 16, my dad was one of the accompanying male leaders on a camping trip with all of the girls in our neighborhood between the ages of 12 and 18. One morning I decided to wear the shorts I’d slept in down to breakfast. Here’s the thing about these shorts though, the only thing they covered was my ass. Instead of letting it go when I refused to put on something “more appropriate” or acknowledging my right as a human being to clothe my body how I please, he decided to sit on my legs so that none of the other girls would have to look at my skin.
Certainly, there had to have been a better reaction to that. Right? I guess my question is, why the hell have we allowed ourselves to go on for so long, teaching our children that the burden of our sons’ impure thoughts lies on our daughters? I have never gotten a solid answer as to why I should dress modestly other than “That’s just the way it is.” or “To make sure the male figures around you are never tempted to act impurely.”
I call bullshit.
Two days ago, I was driving around with a new friend of mine when we decided to go to a hot spring near Fillmore Utah. On our way there, she asked me if I wanted to stop and get a swimsuit. Years of convincing myself that being covered was a comfort went out the window during the moments her question was hanging in the air. It wasn’t long before I heard the words, “Fuck it, I don’t need a swimsuit.” leave my mouth.
I planned to only go in my underwear and the shirt I was wearing, which is what I started out doing. I mean, it was 12 am, I was quite a ways from home, surrounded by drunk men I didn’t know, soaking in a puddle of warm lava water and dead skin that used to belong to total strangers. But as I looked up at the sky, I could see the entire milky way. All of a sudden, being held responsible for the thoughts of the guy sitting next to me was the least of my worries. So I took my top off. And for once in my life, my mind was finally quiet.
As I was driving home with a girl I’d just met that afternoon; the craziest thing happened, she cared about the things I was saying. This girl didn’t just let me talk without telling me to shut up, but she asked questions and was actively engaged in what I had to say even though it was often, super depressing. It was the kind of undivided attention; not even my mother has ever given me.
And that’s when it hit me. People don’t need to go to church to be happy. Keeping your body covered won’t make you any less susceptible to sexual assault/harassment and removing your clothes doesn’t make it okay for someone to do those things to you. Church will not make you happy if you don’t want to be there and you are not a good person just because you show up to mass once a week. Getting married won’t suddenly make you any less lonely and having children isn’t a second chance to fulfill your aspirations in life.
The only things you can control in this life are your actions and reactions to things. But the most important thing to know is that you don’t get a second chance at this life. I wish I would have realized that sooner in life.