[Preface (because what’s one of my blog posts without one): I don’t expect to be popular by my thoughts on this issue. And it’s okay if you disagree. And I won’t be rattled if you don’t like me. But be forewarned, you’ll find it hard to pigeonhole me. And please, for Pete’s sake, if you’re going to make a point or argue or post a comment, please please please actually read the actual words I’ve actually written, not what another blogger advocated or what your Granny said or what your friends think. Deal? Stellar.]


Oh my GAAWWWWDDD, you’re thinking. Another post about LEGGINGS! Eye roll! Eye roll!  Well, before you get your tight little pants in a wad or Duggar skirt all ruffled, read on. (Because really. Do you think I’d actually write an entire post about a clothing article? Psha.)

I have this personal blogging rule for Hot Topics Du Jour in which people have already gabbed ad nauseam. Even when I do have quite a few thoughts on a matter, I choose not to blog on every one. For one, if it’s already been said, then it’s already been said. And I can’t stand plagiarism of thought. It’s boring. Useless. And offers up nothing that hasn’t already been offered. But secondly, I don’t presume that anyone cares about my opinion on any given topic (though having a blog obviously necessitates a smidge of said presumption, yes?)

So like I was saying, I’m not going to write just to write or post just to post. Too much clutter in cyber world already. BUT BUT BUT, when I think that I might possibly maybe somehow be able to put forth an entirely alternative angle to a given matter or provide a platform for discourse about something that nobody wants to talk about, then you’ll probably find me huddled up with my laptop after the kids are in bed and pounding away my thoughts on the keys.

So no, this post is not about leggings. Or Spandex. Or cleavage. Or pantylines. Or tight jeans. It’s not about what you should or shouldn’t wear. Or what you should and shouldn’t care about. Nope. Not at all. This ain’t a sermon. And I am not the self-appointed head of the Modesty Task Force.

But ever since some poor Mommy blogger wrote about why she stopped wearing leggings and it went even more viral than California measles (Lord bless), I haven’t seen one single Facebook friend or blogger offer up the approach to modesty that I will here. I’ve been reading. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been curious.

My Personal Preference for Modesty

I’ll tell you up front: I’m a huge proponent of modesty. Huge. In fact, I’m personally quite “prudish” compared to most of my friends. I love style, clothing, and self-expression (heck yeah, I do!), but for almost all of my childhood, most of my teen years, and all of my adulthood, I’ve been careful about what I wear. (I haven’t always been consistent, but I’ve tried. My apologies for my previous mishaps and naïvetés.) And these days, well, I feel very strongly that modesty is a lost art.

{And not that my personal rules matter, but for those curious who will ask anyway, let me save you the time. I personally choose not to A: show cleavage, B: wear tight pants without covering the butt, or C: wear bikinis. Because A: I wanna keep private parts private. B: It draws attention to a place to which I don’t want attention drawn. C: It feels like public underwear. (But that’s just me. Feel free to cheer, judge, mock, or find areas of contradiction, hypocrisy or utter ridiculousness.)}

As far as my own “prudish” rules for myself (and our daughters), I know I’m not alone on that. I know these standards are true for many of you, that a lot of women care about modesty. And if I ask you Why?, I’ll probably hear something about how we don’t want to make men lust. How we don’t want our clothing choices to be stumbling blocks for our brothers in Christ. How we don’t want to distract men or bring them down to a base level. In short, I’ll probably hear how you don’t want to cause our male friends to sin.

And then I have other friends whom I super duper love who fall on the other end of the modesty spectrum. Who believe that women aren’t responsible for men’s actions (in deed or thought). Who say that as long as they are comfortable in it, they don’t care what anyone else thinks. Who say as long as their husband says it’s okay, then it’s cool with them too. A few years ago I had a friend tell me I should dress sexier since “you have such a nice body, Heidi! Why do you hide it?” (Thanks, single friend. But I don’t think my husband would agree that I’m hiding it from the the only person who needs to see it.)

An Alternative

But somewhere in the midst of the legalism, the sexism, the mockery, the shaming, the free-for-all, the finger-pointing, the immaturity, and the whole crazy debate, is an altogether unique perspective. And one that I’ve had yet to hear a single person put forth. But one that seems so entirely obvious and instinctive to me.

Modest Feet

There is an alternative motivation for modesty here.

To be honest, I popped out of my mom’s womb a screaming feminist. Now, I come by it honestly, as both my parents (who are also followers of Jesus) claim the label as well. I’ve got a passion for justice flowing through my veins. It’s part of who I am. It’s how I’m wired. How God made me. And how my mind thinks. I see injustice where others might not, and I.MUST.ADDRESS.IT and DO something about it. {I realize this comes with a Hello, I’m a Freak tag on my back, but it’s okay. Nice to meet you.}

So when it comes to gender equality and oppression, I react strongly. It’s my God-instilled filter. My lens for looking at the world. But it’s not just in my DNA. A lifetime of some pretty wicked experiences of being mistreated as a girl or a woman (or being witness thereof) have compounded a natural penchant for gender justice. What experiences? Well, here’s (just a fraction of) the running tally. I have faint memories as a very little girl of being molested by a relative. Recent events have caused these to resurface. I was exposed to extremely pornographic magazines in that same relative’s bedroom when I was in only second or third grade. When I was in third grade I learned about sex when a classmate (a foster child) told me her dad tried to make her have a baby when she was two.

When I was in sixth grade, I learned that my mom (who suffered from eating disorders for decades) had been violently raped at the age of twelve by two men. That same year I first became the object of severe sexual harassment from a slew of boys. That would continue in two other schools through the tenth grade by entirely separate groups of boys. I had my clothes pulled at. My backside pinched. My bedroom windows peered into. I went on a few too many first-and-only dates with guys in high school who only wanted to talk about my body and attempt to take advantage of it. I was reputed to be either a snob or a game-player by guys who were forced to accept NO as an answer (because I am a stubborn girl, apparently). When I was seventeen I dated someone, though nice and genteel, whose primary focus was the shape of my figure.

But it gets worse. Ten years ago a very good friend was convicted of molesting his daughter. I also learned that he was extremely sexually abusive to his wife, my best friend at the time. At times he made inappropriate comments to me. I’ve heard a few-too-many catcalls as I’ve walked by groups of men. I’ve been hit on by married men.

And that’s just ME. My own little world. A microcosm of a far larger picture and problem.

But macroscopically, the assessment is even worse. Sex trafficking is rampant. Sexual crimes on college campuses are a very real concern. Men are addicted to porn like never before (and it’s more readily available than anytime in history). And much of primetime TV should carry an R-rating (if not worse).

Little girls are now wearing sexy panties. (I mean, what is THIS?) Blow jobs are commonplace party favors in the seventh grade. And teenagers no longer just make out. Sexting is all the rage and sex tapes are popular and considered “entertainment.”

And as if that horrific list is not enough to highlight a significant (and sick) problem in our society, Fifty Shades of Bullcrap Gray is now opening at the theater. The cover of the newest swimsuit edition of Effing Sports Illustrated just came out. (Seriously. Don’t go looking at it.) I wish Magic Mike would use his “magic” and just disappear. And Facebook has been known to ban certain photos of breastfeeding women while buxom women baring nearly all is TOTALLY OK AND ACCEPTABLE. (After all, what’s sexy about a nursing mom? Sigh.)

Like anyone with ears, I have a lifetime of hearing females degraded and sized up. I’ve seen girls oppressed for being girls. And women abused for being women. I’ve argued against sexism in the Church for an entire lifetime and been criticized because of it. AND I KNOW THAT MY EXPERIENCES ARE NOT AT ALL UNIQUE. I repeat: MY EXPERIENCES ARE NOT AT ALL UNIQUE. In fact, I think I was spared a great deal of more extreme mistreatment and abuse, a feat that I can only attribute to the grace of God. And I bet almost every one of you female readers has your own litany of abuses and near misses. Despite what anyone says, THIS ISSUE is no small thing.

My Primary Motivation, Like it or not

So what does this catalogue of damaging history and current realities have to do with my propensity towards modesty? What does all of this sexual perpetration, oppression, and perversion have to do with my feminist take on this topic? EVERYTHING. For me at least, EVERY SINGLE BIG AND LITTLE THING.

Now, I suppose if I were more conservatively fundamental (or fundamentally conservative?) and far more Sunday School-like, I would give the noble (but for me, far incomplete) explanation that I don’t want my brethren in Christ to falter because of my plunging neckline or hiked up skirt. And if I were wanting to sound selfless and thoughtful and super spiritual, I would tell you that it is my honor as a woman to put my male friends’ purity above my own need for self-expression and choice.

And while it’s true that I don’t want to be “that woman” who is seemingly okay allowing our men to stumble around like primal fools, I’m also just not that noble. Or selfless. Or thoughtful. Because to be truthful, while those are worthy motivations, I suppose, they’re just not mine.

And yes, I personally believe that breasts and butts should be kept more private, so no matter the company I’m around (even if only women), I’m going to err on that side of modesty.

But STILL that is not my motivation. I do not choose modesty primarily for the benefit of others or because I have a certain rulebook on what I should or shouldn’t expose outside of my bedroom.

No, I choose modesty because I am a feminist. Plain and simple.

Now I know some of you are gasping for air right now or waving your metaphorical (or literal?) finger at me or dropping four-letter words or screaming “Hillary” (Oh no!) or “heretic”(Egad!) at me, so let me calm you down a bit. It’s really not that alarming.

Feminism for Real

Because the truth is, feminism—no matter what any news network, preacher, or Christian author tells you—is merely the belief that men and women are of equal worth, value, and potential. The conviction that both genders bring to the table intellect, personality, and strengths. That neither sex should be oppressed. So for anyone who claims the title, a feminist refuses to allow women to be treated as less than by anyone of the opposite gender. (Such being the case, the label is fitting for any man or woman with those convictions.) And let me be clear, because this is seriously important: Just because you don’t agree with all of the beliefs of some who bear the name feminist doesn’t mean you have to eschew the title. (After all, don’t you still call yourself a Christian even though some people who wear that label give that name a really really really bad connotation or have beliefs with which you don’t totally agree? Me too. And exactly.)

So for me, I choose to dress modestly because I demand respect from the male sex. (You better believe, I do.) I choose to not reveal parts of my body to the world because refusing to do so forces men to notice my intellect, to hear my words, to treat me as an equal. EVEN IF THEY DON’T WANT TO.

Now of course (because I can already hear your argument), I can’t ultimately control how a man views me. That he can still lust after me even if I’m in a burqa. That men will simply use their imaginations. And even though those are true statements, those are extremely weak arguments against modesty.

If I know a man would rather see my chest than simply imagine it, WHY would I show it to him and allow him that satisfaction? If it’s possible that a man would hope to see my shape in too-tight jeans, then WHY would I give him that pleasure? If it’s likely that men would be more impressed by my body than my mind, WHY would I share my sexier elements with them?

For me it’s all about power. Not that I want power over any man, but I definitely don’t want them to have power over ME. And having been victimized enough by the selfish whims of men (even if just in their minds), the LAST thing I want to do is to give them any more of my God-given power. No, I will be empowered by the way I dress, walk, carry myself, and engage with the opposite sex.

For the moment a man (besides my husband) finds pleasure in looking at my body, I am no longer Heidi Weimer. I am an object. And the moment I become an object is the moment I am no longer empowered. It is the moment I become oppressed. Because even if you don’t realize you are or disagree with the reality, you are oppressed the moment you are an object to another. And I REFUSE TO BE OPPRESSED as far as I can control it.

Am I responsible for men’s lustful thoughts or persuasions? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is a young woman “asking for it” if she shows up half-clad to a frat party? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If a man is focused on my outfit at church instead of on the Lord, is the burden on me? ABSOLUTELY NOT. (Let’s just clear up that once and for all, mkay?)

BUT BUT BUT! If I KNOW that some men will be degrading me in their mind (because some will), objectifying me with their imaginations, and finding pleasure in my body parts, you better believe I’m not going to give them that visual opportunity. NOT because I’m so concerned with their personal struggles (you choose to lust, people), but because I’m absolutely concerned with my own power and control. And, I have a slight issue with men feeling superior over women, exerting their power or demanding control over them.

Bottom line is, I’m going to do everything in my power to force men to look me in the eyes, pay attention to my words, hear my thoughts, notice my intellect, and treat me as an equal. If they do choose to treat a woman with baseness in their lustful thoughts, that woman is not going to be me AS MUCH AS I CAN HELP IT.

Yeah, Right.

“Oh, come on, Heidi. That’s totally ridiculous. And honestly, it sounds like you’re just ashamed of your body because of your personal experiences of being objectified and mistreated by males so you think you have to hide it.” Wrong on that, sweet sister. I have no body shame. I have never really struggled with body image issues. I don’t cover up because of any embarrassment of my female physique. (Heck, I’m darn proud of this womanly figure that grew and birthed and nursed four babes for the better part of nine or so years.) And I am more than happy to unveil it to the only one who deserves to experience its magic powers. (Yeah, I said it. You’re welcome, Kirk.)

“Well, Heidi. It sounds like you have a trust issue with men. They’re not all like that.” Yes, it’s true. On both of those statements. But I’ve had nearly four decades of good reason for any suspicion and skepticism on my part towards men. And I’m no ignorant fool about the state of women in our world these days. But do I think all men are out-of-control lust-o-maniacs? IN NO WAY. I’m married to proof that nobler ones are out there. Men who treat women with dignity, in their minds, with their words, and through their actions. In fact, some of my closest friends are male. I trust them. They treat me with equality and dignity, and I do the same them. I feel incredible gratitude for the truly good and godly men God has placed in my life. (You know who you are. Thank you for existing.)

“But OhEmGEE! You’re totally judging those of us who don’t mind a little cleavage!” No. I’m not. I’m not telling you how to dress. I’m not treating you as less than me. And I’m not condemning your choices. (That being said, I do have six sons. So please keep your boobs away from their eyes. Gracias.)

So What, Then?

What’s my responsibility, then, as a woman with this particular M.O.? What do I actually do to implement these personal convictions? Well, for starters, I’m going to be careful about how I dress. Obviously. I won’t obsess, but I am going to lean over, look up and down in the mirror, and do a little spin-around before I exit the privacy of my bedroom.

Secondly, we’re teaching our kids to respect women. We train our boys to hold doors for women. Because women are helpless? No, because they’re deserving. Like royalty. In our family, it’s “ladies first.” Our boys understand that females (no matter how old) should be treated with respect and honor.

Third, I (try my best to) practice what I preach. With few exceptions, I won’t see R-rated movies. Because I’m sheltered and can’t handle it? No, because I’m well aware and refuse to. We’ve taught our sons to turn their heads when women aren’t properly covered. I love me some Katy Perry (seriously, I think we would be besties), but you won’t find my sons watching her close-ups on TV.

Fourth, we teach our girls that their bodies are their own and no one has a right to them, whether mentally, visually, or physically. We don’t tell them to keep covered up because there is anything shameful about their bodies. No, we teach them modesty in what they wear because we don’t want them to experience inevitable degradation by boys or men. Likewise, we teach our boys to look girls in the eyes, to avoid those who make that more difficult, and to not watch movies that capitalize on women’s bodies.

Fifth, I (hope to) demonstrate by my own clothing choices that a woman can look absolutely in style and perfectly current and wear totally rad outfits without having to appeal to her sexy side. As the mom to five daughters (four teens/teenish and one tween), it is rewarding to see my girls walking out the door looking super cute in their individual styles, yet not using their changing bodies to make a statement to the world. No, their “statements” reveal that they are confident girls who are comfortable in their own skin who don’t need to bare it to prove it.

Miss Independent

And finally, we make sure ALL of our kids are surrounded by and exposed to strong and mighty women who use their minds and gifts to make a difference. I firmly believe that if our girls and boys see the true value of women as people, they will be less likely to believe the lie that women are only as appealing as their bodies are sexy. My middle school daughters spent a year studying Sixty Significant Women in World History, a curriculum I wrote for them. They’ve written letters to Hillary Clinton, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, and other important figures. We’ve promised our kids that we will drive all the way to D.C. whenever the first woman is inaugurated as President. And we make sure our kids sit under and listen to powerful women preachers and teachers.

But does it really matter?

So who cares? Are we making too much of this? What does it really matter what I wear? Does the issue of modesty really matter when there are supposedly far more things to get angry about than leggings? Of all the important matters in this world—poverty, trafficking, war, disease, hunger, and lack of clean water, should we even really be talking about this?

My justice-driven mind hears you and understands. I mean, when it comes down to it, leggings are far less urgent of an issue to tackle than other seriously tragic realities facing our world today, right? Obviously. That’s an absolutely gigantic DUH.

And the focus on modesty can make us so uncomfortable, because too often we feel judged by those advocating for it, like the Pharisees are out in full force and anyone in a v-neck top is subject to stoning. Legalists have a flippin’ field day with this issue, and those of us who work hard to make sure all feel welcome in the Church get nervous (and even angry) when there’s any chance of finger-pointing or ostracizing of others who don’t necessarily live (or dress) exactly like we do.

But in our quest for inclusion (which is a worthy ideal), in our aim to ensure that even the worst of sinners feels welcome crossing the threshold of our churches, in our goal to counterbalance the stone-throwing of the religious elite, we must be careful we don’t swing the pendulum the other way and tell ourselves that anything goes. Should a stripper be welcome in my church? Yes. And they most definitely are. But it doesn’t mean I need to expose my own body just because I don’t want her feeling judged.

Because while it’s true that justice and mercy and grace should be on our breath and apparent in our actions, personal holiness should be in our hearts and obvious on the outside. And just because we humans are prone to judging based on our exteriors, it doesn’t mean we neglect those matters altogether. We can have strong convictions and live accordingly without judging others for their own (or lack thereof). It can be challenging to keep that balance, yes, but Jesus expects no less.

Because ULTIMATELY…

As in all facets of my life, in every area in which I can make a difference, I strive to hasten the day when His Kingdom comes and His will is done. On earth as it already is in Heaven. When the lion lies down with the lamb and men and women live in harmony and mutual respect. When girls aren’t subject to harassment from pubescent boys and teenage girls don’t know what date rape is. When girls aren’t trafficked and women aren’t prostituted. When a man can look a woman in the eye and see her as the apple of God’s. When females aren’t comprised of body parts but instead intellect and passion and curiosity and will. When debates over leggings don’t explode into arguments over a false dichotomy between two extremes that do more to bring women down than elevate them. When women are valued because they are HUMAN BEINGS.

I believe that day is coming, and though it might not be until Jesus comes back to make everything right, I will live my life with that day in mind. Every action. Every thought. Every choice I make. All in an effort to support that ideal.

And if you want to join me, come on board. Let’s march on together as women and men, feminists and those-who-believe-in-equality-but-are-scared-to-call-themselves-feminists. Those who are willing to listen, open to changing, and striving to understand. Let’s figure out how we can most effectively hasten that day. Together.

Come one, come all. In those pesky leggings or long denim skirts or anything in between.

Because we’ve got some work to do, in our hearts and in the world. And we’ve got some matters to consider. Strap on your boots. Let’s go.

“…by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl.”
-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“…The more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”
-Emma Watson, #heforshe Campaign

CAM03876~2

12 thoughts on “On Feminism and Those Pesky Leggings: An alternative motivation for modesty

  1. Bec Dixon

    I loved reading this!!
    I fit in the ‘those-who-believe-in-equality-but-are-scared-to-call-themselves-feminists’ category. I almost didn’t read this due to my dislike of the term feminist, and also my misunderstanding it. I am so glad I did!!! Thanks Heidi for continuing to be different and so well spoken about why! I will be forwarding this on.
    Bec xo

    Reply

  2. Jenni

    This is the voice in the “debate” that I identify with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts more eloquently than I could ever verbalize mine and explaining why so many Christian women feel that they don’t fit in to the traditional mold that church sometimes expects us to fit in. I don’t wear long skirts and I love fashion but I also don’t love what’s in the stores often particularly for young girls and teens. Great post!

    Reply

  3. kate

    Great article. I never dressed super sexy at my thinnest, but the past few yrs God laid on my heart modest dress and I even wear scarves or hats out. But I don’t follow the Pentecostal sack cloth and ashes route. I use the last chapter of Proverbs as a guide. Women can be modest and stylish.

    Reply

  4. Anonymous

    I have similar clothing standards to yours, and I have always felt that way, partly because of how I grew up. I grew up in a conservative Christian home, but with none of the injustices you mention growing up with. I was treated with respect by boys and men the vast majority of the time. I probably am a little naive on how many people have experiences like yours. I have never given a lot of thought to why modesty was important to me. However, if you had asked me why, I may have given you all the arguments you say are common — I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble, etc. But after reading this I realize my real reason is because it is who I am and who I want to be. I do not want my body to be an object. I want men to look me in the eye, appreciate me for my intellect and personality, to really see me and interact with me on that level. It is incredibly uncomfortable and demeaning to have a man look at you for what you are showing them, and it does seem you are giving them power over you. Thanks for expressing how I feel like I never could, and so well expressing the best angle on this I have ever read. I will be sharing this with my teenage girls. I also never realized that I AM a feminist!

    Reply

  5. Melanie

    When did modesty stop being about self-respect? That is how I have always understood it. Yes, styles may change, but it doesn’t mean I have to change with them if they don’t add to my value and self-respect. Thanks for putting into words my own beliefs on this matter, and for clearing up that confusion about feminism so many seem to struggle with 🙂

    Reply

  6. Marjorie

    Amen, amen, amen Heidi! Modesty is most definitely a lost art. And you nailed it about why it is so important. We need to value our thoughts and intellect above our outward appearances. Society is soooo obsessed with outward appearance. It’s high time we care about how things (& people) ARE rather than caring so much about how they look.

    Reply

  7. Tara

    I’m wondering how you have six sons and five daughters when you birthed four children. Did you adopt, foster, or something else?

    Reply

  8. Ty

    yesssssss!! Well done Heidi. I’m one of those guys who has tremendous difficulty NOT making women objects. I HATE that about myself. And I am so grateful for women who call me to truth and demand more from me. Carry on strong one. I will look you in the eye all day long.

    Reply

  9. Francheska

    Very well written, and…understandable. I have taken a different approach for the same reasons. Not that walk around in a bikini year round (just in the summer when at a pool), I simply wear what I think is aesthetically pleasing to me. I like my cleavage, and my legs, and in certain pants my rear (on certain days and in good lighting) these were the parts god gave me. I doubt men check the coverage of bicept, have shirts tailored to conceal pecks, and un-tuck shirts to hide buns before they step out. Probably because they are not shamed should they get attention, and are not fearful of how far or physical that attention might make itself known. As a feminist, neither am I. I use eye contact. Dismissive thank you’s, verbal cuts…and should I ever need them, a stash of moves I picked up from the “Daddy school of soft tissue and cartilage. ”
    But I send a nod of respect in your direction, because we fight the same fight, with the weapon of our choice.

    Reply

  10. Steel

    I’m a guy, and I dress modestly. Maybe I’m weird.

    I mean, I could walk around in a tight T-shirt if I wanted, but I choose instead to wear a loose-fitting buttoned-up dress shirt.

    Reply

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