Can you see too much chest? What about legs? Is this too short? Will people be able to see my stomach if I raise my arms? Does this make my butt look too big?
Will people think I look like a slut?
I have asked myself these questions a million times, whether when I am getting ready in the morning or shopping for clothes. The questions consume my thoughts and if I can answer “Yes,” or even “Just slightly,” I would change into my fourth different outfit of the day or put the clothes in the heaping not-buying pile.
This mindset I have is not new. Starting at 6 years old in my small Baptist private school, I was taught that “modest is hottest” and it was up to girls to make sure we do not tempt the boys or men at school.
We would never be found wearing tank tops because it would “show too much and tempt the boys” but rather due to the school leader’s instructions, we would have to wear fingertip length shorts and dark-colored shirts over swimsuits. All the while, the boys could walk around in whatever they wanted.
The dress code was strict and strongly enforced by faculty and as a girl with long arms and legs, by the beginning of seventh grade, I had lost track of how many times me and other girls in middle school were lined up against a wall with our hands at our side, having faculty check to see if our shorts were too short. They were so thorough; they would press down on our shoulders forcibly to make sure we were not scrunching them up.
All of these moments and people enforcing this modesty and purity culture on an impressionable little girl may not seem like a huge deal and that it would help us be better and “more-Christlike” women when we become older.
But that is not what I got after having my shoulders pushed down a thousand times.
Rather, as I have realized as a college student, it has wreaked havoc in my brain, having me walking over eggshells in my mind when deciding what to wear to class since I now have that freedom.
I had always thought I was alone in this intoxicating psyche, but it is quite the contrary.
Over the past few weeks, I have talked to dozens of girls about my experience and what I was going to write about. Every girl agreed with me and told me their individual horrifying stories due to purity and modesty culture and how it has impacted their mental health negatively.
So, what is the point of me telling you my own story? Why would I even want to expose you to the darkest and anxiety-ridden part of myself?
Yes, part of it is to call out the two-faced and dark nature of purity and modesty culture. To let people know how it sets in motion a toxic culture that says it is not men’s fault when they look at a woman inappropriately or harass a woman because her skirt is a little short and her neckline is a little low.
But rather, I want to tell women that if you have been hurt physically or mentally by this culture, you are not alone. So many girls have, even here at ACU, gone through this and have emerged with their scars. It took me finding these girls, relating to these problems together and eventually, reaching a point of healing or supporting each other as we try to heal and move past these toxic experiences in our life.
Though I will feel the negative effects of purity and modesty culture my entire life, I can put my mind at ease more often now that I have a group that is there for me and supports me. I also hope that if you struggle with this, you can find your support group, even if that support group is with me.
Because, when you find yourself with your back against the wall, feeling the pressure and negative effects of modesty culture, there is nothing better than the same group of women whose backs have been against the wall, to come alongside you and stand up against it, together.