On Wednesdays, I write letters.
I’m not sure how to speak of you these days. No one seems to agree on what exactly you are, calling you out in varying situations as if you are a chameleon, changing to suit your surroundings. You’re covered ankles in Bangladesh or covered cleavage in Iowa church services or skirts-to-the-knees at a choir concert or a two-piece swimsuit at the local pool. Different things to different people. Yet, I call you conundrum. Are you state-of-mind or state-of-dress? Or both? Is that you, sauntering off in a floor-length maxi skirt and a braggy ‘tude? Or is that you, innocent and unself-conscious in a bikini?
I can’t help but feel that it’s more state-of-mind (the wearer’s and the beholder’s) than it is state of dress. And yet, how do I explain why I won’t let my daughters wear the shorts with the 1-inch inseam and the teeny bikini with the fringe hanging down from the top? (All of their friends have bikinis and wear short shorts. All of them, they tell me. They’re social pariahs in tankinis and one-pieces.) And it's hard to explain my "no" without sounding like I'm problematizing their bodies or their motives by saying they’ve joined forces with your nemesis (Immodesty). And, I refuse to denigrate the boys by suggesting they have no capacity for non-objectifying thought.
I’m just left with my own unequivocal discomfort and the fact that I just don’t want to see them that naked. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, Modesty.
I mean, we’ve spent all these years keeping them covered, from infancy until tweendom, protecting their soft delicate skins, dressing them in coordinated colors and cotton fabrics that evidenced our care, our investment in their soundness and their put-togetherness in the world. What’s it mean now, to string on a bikini top—a skinny bit of fabric that might pop down or up or untie or get caught and leave them exposed and vulnerable. And those shorts—those shorts—how could they possibly even be comfortable, those shorts whose sides stop at the crotch? No. Make them sit in those? Make them ride their bikes in those?
My daughters need a better barrier between their private parts and the outside world. For comfort’s sake. For the sake of all things safe and reasonable.
But in your name, Modesty, so many call prideful what is not. So many shame what is innocent. Of course I don’t want my daughters strutting around with a vendetta to get checked out like some rotating display at the department store. But that’s not them. I have a hard time believing it ever will be. And if it is, let’s make a deal: I will mention you then. I will remind them that Bragging to Get Attention is sort of the litmus test for an insecure human being, and are they really that insecure? And, aren’t there better ways to go about gaining self-confidence?
But generally, I think I’m going to leave you out of the conversation. How does one judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart? My girls want a bikini because they’re cute and because their friends have them. Materialistic they may be. Immodest they are not.