Friday, June 21, 2013

Bikinis: The Modest Truth

A little while ago, this video came to my attention. In this video, Jessica Rey talks about bikinis and modesty.

I’ve seen the link for it on Facebook for about two weeks, and, admittedly, I was a little put off by what I was hearing about it, but I finally watched it. My feelings about this video are incredibly mixed.

My first thought about this video was that she was completely wrong! My second thought? She was completely right! (DON’T STOP READING HERE! Whatever your opinion on this video is, hear me out on this!)

She is completely wrong. She raises a lot of points in this presentation that seem compelling. She talks about the invention of the bikini. The bikini was, in fact, considered so scandalous that the only model that would wear it was a stripper. She also mentions a Princeton study where the researchers showed pictures to men of women in bikinis and the part of a man’s brain that associates with tools and objects lit up. Writers at National Geographic concluded that bikinis inspire men to treat women as objects.

So what does this all mean? Well, in short, nothing. Let's look at the allegations that only a stripper would wear a swimsuit like this when it first came out. The fact is we haven’t always dressed like we do today, whether or not that is good or bad. Knee-length skirts or pants on women are seldom considered immodest, but the truth is at some point in history women wouldn’t be caught dead in either garment. Just because a stripper was the only woman who would wear a bikini back in the day does not mean that bikinis are a great social ill.

Secondly, the conclusion that she—and others—draws from the Princeton studies is that bikinis inspire men to treat women as objects. I understand that we can’t really control the way our brains react to certain stimuli, but I do, however, think that concluding that men will sexually objectify a woman simply because she is wearing a bikini trivializes men’s abilities to have control over their own thoughts and actions.

In reality, we’re all the authors of our own fate. We as a culture can’t make excuses for other people’s choices to treat people as objects, and this kind of argument dangerously excuses a man’s choice to treat a woman as less than human simply because of the way she dresses. This kind of argument also encourages women to believe that their bodies are dangerous and something to be ashamed of.

She is completely right. At the end of this video she explains that modesty is not about hiding oneself, it’s about “revealing your dignity.” Even though I didn’t like some of the points she made in this video, but I can’t help myself but agree with her on this one point.

Before I go on, I want you to indulge me in my love of art, so look at these paintings.

Le Déjuner sur l'Herbe by Édouard Manet. Musée d'Orsay.
This painting was incredibly shocking to the French public when it debuted.

Pastoral Concert. It might be by Titian. It might be by Giorgione. No one really knows.
Regardless, it's behind the much more famous but much less interesting Mona Lisa.

Admittedly, I love both of these paintings partially for the artistic value; partially because they’re both housed in Paris; and partially because I can’t help but giggle every time I think about how much they reveal about our culture even today.

The other day I was driving past the mall, and I saw a group of youngsters consisting of one woman and two men. They were all dressed in a culturally appropriate way. The men were both wearing t-shirts; one was wearing jeans while the other wore shorts extending to his knee. This woman, however, was dressed in incredibly short shorts and a low-cut, spaghetti strap tank top (yet again, let me stress that this is normal and culturally appropriate).

This image immediately made me think of these two paintings. What is interesting about our culture is that women almost always are expected to wear less clothing than men. One could come up with a million reasons why, but I would assert that it’s because we have a strange fixation with the female body.

To us, the female body is an object that is supposed to be adorned, stripped, looked at, scrutinized and fixed, and it isn’t regarded as something that can do good things. Because a woman’s value is perceived only to come from sexual appeal in this culture, women will divest enough clothing to feel like they are considered valuable and powerful.

I would also go further to say that our culture’s acceptance of the steady removal of the square footage of fabric from a woman’s wardrobe is incredibly oppressive and undignified.

In conclusion, I don’t particularly care if a woman wears a bikini. I do believe, however, that there is a certain power and dignity in modesty (whatever that means to the beholder) that needs to be considered when picking clothes.

And now, since this IS a fashion blog, here is a requisite fashion tip: Don’t dress modestly because you are being looked at. Dress modestly because of your value as a human being.

(Oh! And as a side note, good work Jessica Rey on your swimsuit line! You did a good job, and you are doing good things in the world! Here is her swimsuit line: Click here)

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