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The Many Shades of Modesty

Written by Gracie Lawrence

I see you’re wearing pants today. Good for you. I chose to jazz things up with a shirt and a headscarf to boot. Too much you say?

Modesty means many things

Let’s be honest here, a whopping majority of us (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Agnostic, or otherwise) do believe in some form of modesty–of course there are those outliers who believe in nothing at all–but I think most of us would agree that those conditions are not always very sanitary.

You don't quilt in the nude? YOU'RE THE PRUDE!
You don’t quilt in the nude?
YOU’RE THE PRUDE!

We women are especially notorious for scrutinizing one another and making harsh judgments, while men generally get a pass from our scrutiny.

Is that dress too low cut for her age? Does she have the body to pull off that outfit?  How can she wear that at a funeral/wedding? … 

Usually, to men, the more naked a woman-the better. Few from this gender do protest from seeing too much. And to those that are on the opposite side of the isle exclaiming that our covering isn’t enough–it isn’t like you will ever stop looking at us regardless of what we wear–lower your gaze, brother. There is no need to call the Haram Police.

While the judgments made between women can be harsh, it is in these critical comments where we decide where we want to draw our own personal modesty line–which helps us decide what amount of coverage makes us feel comfortable ourselves and in the company we keep.

And while we can all acknowledge that the degree of modesty we expect from others around us can be dependent on conditions such as age, location, place in time; it is a shame then, that what can be ridiculed is when a person’s reason for dressing modestly include an individual’s own personal convictions (spiritual or otherwise).

For many Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women (other faiths included)- we believe that there is a precedent in how we decide to clothe ourselves. Especially acknowledging that male biology has unlikely changed very much over hundreds of years, I can see the wisdom of generations of women before me.

But it seems that living in this day and age has caused us to lose touch with where we really would like to draw our own modesty line. Hopeful for the approval of an especially tempting potential partner, bombarded with images from Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, and the judgment of other women, we keep feeling the need to hush our inner voice, thereby compromising our inner values.

And it is hard to be at peace when so very many of us are both physically and spiritually uncomfortable. Why let mainstream media or others influence us and erode the confidence in our decisions?

As one Arab-American female put it, “I get a kick out of Americans’ attitude that we’re all special snowflakes who dress exactly the way we want to because we embody the American ideal of freedom of expression, as if we don’t just witlessly wear whatever the stores are full of. I mean come on, pants? Sarongs would be much more comfortable.”

But it is not just a Western problem. True, the East and West both believe that they have the ideal standard of freedom and modesty, and they tend to look at each other as either tyrannical or indulgent.

In a country where covering one’s face is the norm, showing a little cheek (facial) can be hot. In a place where women walk around with navels in the breeze and booty shorts, topless-ness might get some disapproving stares.

hijabbcartoon1

But the truth is that women generally from both ends of the world are compromising when they cover or don’t for the wrong reasons.

Eastern Paradox: "Isn't she ashamed going out without hijab? What sort of behaviour is that?!"
Eastern Paradox: “Isn’t she ashamed going out without hijab? What sort of behavior is that?!”

In the West, we are proud of our individualism- modesty is a part of that. I just hope that as women, we decide where to draw our own modestly line for the right reasons and encourage others to do the same whether our standards are based on our own comfort or moral convictions -religious, cultural, or otherwise.

Let us contemplate the where and why of our own line, instead of imposing our judgment on others. It is in this quiet space where we get back to our true nature.

In defense of modesty, I think a fellow blogger from Meg in Progress put it best in an almost universal tone:

modestypin

Where do you draw your line? Let us know in the comments below.

Gracie Out!

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16 thoughts on “The Many Shades of Modesty

  1. Wow, what a brilliantly written article.!
    Sister gracie, i really like your way of thinking.
    But im not sure about the accuracy of this line ” usually, to men, the more naked a woman -the better.”. in my country, The so called modern boys like female friends with Immodest Dress/Modern dress ( skirt, mini skirts/ tops etc).But they want to marry a modest girl.

    By thev way, I thank u for sharing the link of meginprogress.com.

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    1. Salam Ashfak, thanks for sharing. I just meant that they (men) normally do not complain about immodest dress/clothing on women (and of course I am not talking about their daughters etc..). Yes, I agree that marriage can be a whole different issue.

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      1. Wa alaikum salam Sister Gracie…. Thanks again for writing for us . By the way, I want to follow u on facebook. is it Possible?

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  2. Don’t know what a Sarong is, but yes men can often think with their lower extremities than the higher ones that The Lord has bestowed on them with his Infinite Grace.

    Modesty is an attraction itself. What man would want a girl as life partner if she gives it up so easily. No I am stating that the only thing to a women is her virginity, but it does play a part, even in the psyche of many a liberal men.

    Good post madam, but one thing…the West is not just proud of it’s individualism, but mendaciously tyrannical about it.

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    1. There is so much variation when it comes to what men want- I dare not go down that path. As far as individualism in the West, that can encapsulate many things, it is such a broad subject- it is certainly debatable. Thanks for the comment Hyde.

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  3. I am somewhere between hijab and abaya or jeans, long sleeves and a hijab. When I am volunteering to teach at the masjid or to run a Girl Scout troop there, of course I dress in loss clothes and hijab because I am a role model to other Muslimah (but I maybe be wearing leggings under the dress so I can be more active with the children). When I work in my office I wear, cardigans, suits… business clothes and hijab, but I am less modest focusing on professionalism, proportional shapes, and classic color combinations. When I go to the high schools, middle schools, and prisons to teach I wear jeans, cute shoes, trendy patterns, bright colors, fun pins and headbands in my hijab, but I still try to keep my tops lose and hip length because I do have religious students who look up to me. When I camp I am totally like a hijab newbie with Girl Scout camp tee, old jeans, and a sport hijab, but that is because I an only with girls and I wear it in-case I see the ranger or I need to go pray. I guess I am saying that my modesty is circumstantial and not solely based on my relationship to Allah SWT, not because I don’t respect God but because I do respect ALL his children and sometimes I can get God’s teachings across better when I appear more approachable to the audience. Friends, family, and students are much more likely to understand Islam, like Islam, or even convert to Islam if they can see how it fits into different setting in their life. It is tough to keep a wardrobe that fulfills all of these needs, fits all the situations I have that day, and it comfy enough to pray in, but it is worth it make children you barely know feel at ease to talk about their tough home-lives and give you big hugs. 🙂 Peace and Blessings, JazakhAllah Khair bloggers ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand the need to do that. It is not easy to balance the many roles you speak of. Thank you for letting us know of the various variables you encounter when it comes to you drawing your own modesty line and how truly complex it can be. Allah/God reward your good intentions! Salam Alikum.

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  4. as a Catholic, and modest dresser …indeed, the Christian woman is told to dress modestly (although we do not always have as clear cut a guide as Islam or Judaism offers in all branches of Xtianity) we even have a passage in the New testament telling us to cover our hair /head when we pray!
    sadly… many of our best teachers and saints have said that the best attack against faith… is an attack on chastity and modesty… destroy the sense of modesty and you also erode the sense of many other things.

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  5. Salaam 🙂
    I am somewhere between 3 and 4 alhumdulilah. Used to be the 2nd one but as my faith has grown, I would say my modesty has grown also (Much to the dismay of certain family members and friends). May I one day have the courage to go for the full covering. (Jilbab).
    All respect to ladies who cover up and more respect for the ones who have hijab of character as that is the most probably the hardest hurdle for us all.

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    1. Wasalam, May Allah grant us the best Haya in character and clothing, for His sake. Much respect to you, sister, for your journey to modesty through iman. 😀

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