Well, I thought I was done with the topic of clothes here, but further review proved that not to be the case. I’m not sure how many readers took the time to read the comments following “Mirror, Mirror” part 1, but know that it was through reviewing and pondering that short conversation that has led me to say a few words more on this subject.
Now let me be clear: I stand behind everything I wrote in my post and my comments that followed completely. I think the opinions that I approached the issues with are sound and reasonable. And while I appreciate commentary and friendly encouragement to attempt to come across less, ah, critical of the pertinent issues, I – like Pilate – have written what I have written. Therefore I will not be changing anything about the body of text in that post.
Upon meditating on the conversation and trying to figure where I went wrong, if at all, I realized I had indeed made a dreadful mistake. It was not a mistake of commission, but of omission. I forgot to look at the big picture.
Indeed, I became so focused on one area of the problem I lost track completely of the other. It is interesting to me how this could have happened, given where I live, for reasons that should become clear shortly.
What I mean is this: I spoke entirely to the sector of the population that tends to be overly liberal in their dress, while giving the sector of the population that tends to be overly conservative a pass.
Or, said a different way, I was too busy with the bikinis to notice the burkas.
Typical male, huh?
I don’t think I was at all wrong to give my opinion that the Bikinis could stand to gain from being more conservative, but it was an oversight not to give my opinion that the Burkas could stand to gain from being more liberal. As a consequence, I’m afraid that to some ears I might have come across like a bad parody of John Lithgow in “Footloose”.
Therefore, to correct my mistake, let me now turn my attention to the other extreme of female fashion (the Burkas) and give them exactly what the first group (the Bikinis) got: my simple, straightforward, honest opinion, albeit in a different format than the last one.
(and let me also say thank you to Jessie for the dialogue which led to this post)
Consider the burka: the shroud that covers anywhere from 80-95% of the surface of a woman’s body which is mandated attire in many muslim countries. How many Christian men secretly (or not-so-secretly) wish that their wives and daughters would dress in this way? How many would, if not for being stigmatized by their friends and labeled a crazy tool by their social circles, mandate this dress-code for the women under their roofs?
The number would surprise you.
It might even surprise me, though I think I’ve got a little bit of a handle on it.
Oh yeah, believe it. There’s a lot of men out there who, for one reason or another, would give their right hand to be able to enforce a burka (or something altogether like it) on the women in their lives. For some it’s control and jealousy, for others a false sense of piety, and for still others it’s all in how they were raised. But whatever the underlying cause, whatever the secret root of the desire to hide women away under a wall of cloth, on that I refuse to spend this post speculating.
It is consequences I’m worried about today.
Every time I go to Wal-Mart I can almost bet on bumping into an enclave of Mennonite women out doing their shopping. As you may know, the Mennonites have been probably the most successful stateside group at getting women to don the strictest garbs. Barring a possible tie with the Amish, Mennonite women are probably the most across-the-board conservative dressers in the United States of America.
And I hate it.
I hate the tight little hair buns.
I hate the knee-or-above high socks.
I hate the little black boots that look like they were rescued from the 1930s.
And most of all, I hate the cookie cutter one-size-fits-all dresses.
I mean, really. Think about it, where was the last time you saw everyone in a group matching so totally and completely that they almost blended into one another because of the cloned clothes they had on?
That’s right, a prison yard.
There is such a thing as being too conservative. Meet me at Wal-Mart here in town next time and you’ll see.
At this point it’s really tempting to go off on the individuals responsible for enforcing this kind of thing and smack some heads – but as I’ve stated already, to do so would be to step outside of the realm of this post, and indeed out of this series in general. So instead of talking about WHO has gone wrong and/or WHY, let me instead focus on WHAT is wrong and leave the other rant for another day. (although you may be interested in reading my last rambling on overly-patriocentric and controlling men – what I would do here if I wasn’t holding myself back would look mostly like that)
Is there such a thing as “too conservative”?
Yes, Virginia, let me tell you about it.
The human race thrives on beauty. Take it away, say, by keeping someone in an ugly room with no windows, and they will go crazy. Sooner rather than later, too. Why do you think so many prisoners have a talent for art or music? They have so little beauty in their lives they learn how to create it for themselves to keep sanity nearby.
We need beauty. And specifically, we need feminine beauty.
Have you ever seen old pictures of war planes decorated with scantily-clad women? Have you, like me, seen an old vet with a leggy, blonde babe tattooed on the sagging skin of his arm? Do you know why the soldiers in the wars of last century carried photos of women they didn’t even know around in their wallets as they marched off to confront the enemy?
Yeah, for beauty.
It’s tough fighting for your life in a land not your own where the only pretty scenery is marred from blood and bombs. If a pin-up you stole from the magazine in the recruitment office is the only beauty you’re going to see for a while, you take care of it like it’s gold. Lose it and have to live without, and the madness just runs faster at your heels.
Now, I’m certainly not advocating the objectifying of women, let’s get that straight before we go on. I don’t think it’s right to lust after a photograph, tattoo, or even a painting on a plane. But although what those soldiers were doing wasn’t completely excusable, it WAS imminently understandable.
We need beauty or we waste away.
And as true as it is that men need beauty, it is paramount for women. Women need beauty in their lives like fish need water, like a dog needs squirrels and mailmen, like a kite needs the wind. And just like men, women need feminine beauty. But for her it’s even more specific than that.
She needs her own beauty.
Without it she withers like a fern in a drought.
So what do you think happens when you deprive her of feeling pretty by dressing her to make her as completely bland and plain as possible?
You’ve just dried up the Nile, bub, that’s what.
What to do?
Obviously based on my last post I don’t advocate strutting your stuff with short sports-tops and short-shorts to get your beauty kick. There are certainly other ways to demonstrate your beauty than getting out your Daisy Dukes and going for a spin. So what do I recommend?
#1 – Don’t be afraid to show your shape
Right, so last time in discussing skinny jeans I bemoaned the TMI factor. I stand by that. However, this does NOT mean that I’m against your shape! Not at all!
Skinny jeans are to your curves what high-powered magnifying glasses are to insects. Ladybugs might be adorable little critters as they crawl around and tickle your skin, but up close and personal…
See what I mean?*
However, wearing something that shows off your shape in a tasteful way is a great thing to do! I’m all for dresses, gowns, pants, skirts, blouses, and shirts that make it perfectly clear that your form is feminine to the max. I’d stay away from anything skin-tight (unless it’s for practical reasons like a leotard) for the reasons just discussed, but likewise I would shun anything that makes you look like God used a box as a template when designing your figure.
In other words, dress to look like a woman, but not a pin-up.
#2 – It’s okay to bare your skin
In the last installment I made it perfectly clear that too much thigh and too much chest on display is not what I’d prefer my Christian sisters exhibit. However, there ARE plenty areas of skin that are non-sexualized (to the extent possible in this fallen world) that are more than appropriate for you to have showing. I know you’re proud of your youthful, glowing skin, and I understand why you consider it beautiful. So here’s what I’d recommend:
Obviously the face is the main area I’d tell you to keep uncovered (skiing trips excepted for other reasons, of course). In fact, I’d go so far as to tell you to get a hairstyle where your bangs are not continuously in your eyes. I’ll talk more about hair in a later installment, but the less of it obscures your face, the prettier you will be!
Hemlines too high on the leg is a problem as touched on previously, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have skin showing all the way up to a little above the knee. Skirts needn’t touch the ground to be appropriate, nor should capri pants become the standard over shorts. Test them out in a variety of positions (sitting, standing, crouching, or whatever you think you’ll need to do in them) and pay attention to where they fall. If at their shortest they only come up to lower-to-mid thigh, it’s all good!
Arms is the big area I would point to for skin-baring experimentation. In general, my position is that everything up to and including the shoulder is fair game for exposure. It lets you display yourself in a much more tasteful (culturally and sexually speaking) way without compromising your brothers’ integrity.
In passing: personally, I’m not a big fan of spaghetti straps (something in me for some reason thinks that’s pushing it – but what “it” I couldn’t tell you for sure); however, I will leave the determination of that one up to a more individual assessment and hopefully avoid a legalistic bent (which even I can be prone to 😉 ).
#3 – Decorate yourself
Hey, like I said in the last installment, don’t let me talk you out of anything jewelry-wise. I have my preferences, which interested parties can always refer back to, but I again emphasize that I’m not dogmatic.
Feel pretty in those gold hoop earrings? Put ‘em on.
That body glitter looks cute? Have at it.
That necklace is a little gaudy, but you want to wear it anyway? Don’t let me stop you.
It’s a moderation issue, jewelry is. Just don’t go all Mr. T on me and I won’t complain. You might think about limiting yourself to one or two items at a time (especially if they’re the flashy kind), unless, that is, you like the gypsy look.
Bottom line here: keep it tasteful, but not so toned-down you feel like it’s not even worth it.
Ladies, as a Christian brother I encourage moderation. I advise you strongly against the extremes of both Bikinis and Burkas. For different reasons, neither are places you need to be hanging out. There’s a lot of room in the middle of these two for you to experiment – more than you could ever need in a lifetime. You don’t need to go to the Bikini to feel beautiful, and you don’t need to don a Burka to protect your brothers’ wandering eyes.
Don’t be afraid of dressing to be attractive; its practically your prerogative as a woman. Nor let anyone shame you for trying to look your womanly best.
In the end, care enough for your brothers (and yourself) to abstain from needless flouting, and care enough for yourself (and the world that desperately longs for non-cheap beauty) to abstain from hiding under plainness and mediocrity what God made as a beautiful work of art.
*Of course, the difference is that, while ladybugs are UGLY up close and personal, your legs are TEMPTING up close and personal. Same basic principle of keeping something at a safe distance for everyone’s sake, but for much, much different reasons.
(and on a completely random note, my internal soundtrack went from West-Side Story to Weird Al Yankovic repeatedly in the writing of this post.
“I feel pretty living in an Amish paradise”.
That is all.)