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Can modesty and tolerance coexist?

By Arianne Brown, KSL.com Contributor  |  Posted Jul 20th, 2013 @ 8:07am


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SALT LAKE CITY — A recent YouTube video titled "The evolution of the swimsuit" has sparked an enormous debate about modesty.

As one who was raised in — and continues to practice — a faith that teaches modesty, I was intrigued by the video, which features Filipino-American actress and designer Jessica Rey talking about studies that show that men view women as objects when they're wearing bikinis.

Even more than the video, I was interested in the many comments that were posted throughout the internet, especially comments in response to ksl.com's article. There were a wide array of opinions — many applauding the message and others discounting it.


Although my sleeveless dress may be far from the bikini issue discussed in Rey's speech, my experience at that dance made me decide that I would never say or do anything to anyone about the way they dressed — especially in a manner that made them feel the way that I was made to feel that night.

The comments that stood out to me the most, however, were the ones that fueled the battle back and forth between sides. One commenter would say that girls who dressed “immodestly” were somehow asking for it, while others argued that people should be free to wear whatever they wanted.

As I read the comments, I found myself sitting on the fence. As someone who doesn't generally sit on fences — they are rather uncomfortable and wobbly places to be, both literally and figuratively — I was somewhat surprised to be in that very spot.

How can I be a fence-sitter on such a hot-button topic?

It boils down to this: I have been on both sides of the debate at one time or another in my life.

As a young teen, I remember what it was to like to be ridiculed for what I wore to a formal dance. At the beginning of the night, I felt very pretty in my new dress that I had carefully picked out with my mom. It was a light-purple, satin dress with a high neckline that went just below my collarbone and then flowed all the way to the floor. It was too long for my 5-foot-4-inch frame, making it imperative that I wore 3-inch high heels.

Oh, and one more thing about this dress: It was sleeveless. Not strapless, not even spaghetti-strapped — just sleeveless.

Online Poll

How do you feel about the modesty issue?
1. Women need to dress modestly to protect themselves
2. Women should be able to dress however they want without judgement
3. It's a personal decision
How do you feel about the modesty issue?
1. Women need to dress modestly to protect themselves
2. Women should be able to dress however they want without judgement
3. It's a personal decision

My confidence quickly dissipated when a few of the kids in the group — both girls and boys — looked at me and laughed. When I asked them what was funny, one of the girls said, “We took bets to see who would be dressed immodestly, and you were the one we picked.”

I felt so small the rest of the night. I wasn't embarrassed or ashamed of what I was wearing. It wasn't bad, revealing … nothing of the sort. What was said to me, however, made me feel worthless and dirty.

Although my sleeveless dress may be far from the bikini issue discussed in Rey's speech, my experience at that dance made me decide that I would never say or do anything to anyone about the way they dressed — especially in a manner that made them feel the way that I was made to feel that night.

It has now been nearly 13 years since high school, and I have recovered — thankfully. However, I now find myself in the wonderfully challenging position of being a mother.

I look at teenage girls dressing in clothes that I don't want my daughters wearing. I find myself watching television with both my sons and daughters when Victoria's Secret commercials showing women dressed in almost nothing come on the screen.

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In both instances, my instinct is to turn their heads away from it all, or in the case of the Victoria's Secret models, turn off the TV or run in front of it so that I can block what I don't think is appropriate for their little eyes. However, this does nothing other than to pique their interest more — “What is mom hiding?” — and/or make them look at those girls and think that they are “bad.” Neither of these reactions are going to illicit a positive result, let alone one that I intended.

The question I am now asking myself is: How do I teach my kids to dress modestly but to also be kind, accepting and tolerant toward others?

I am still so new in the game and don't profess to have any answers. Is it possible? Can we be fence-sitters on this issue? Can we teach modesty while at the same time, teach tolerance? What do you think?

Arianne Brown is a graduate from SUU, mother to five young kids, and an avid runner. Contact her at ariannebrown1@gmail.com, go to her blog at timetofititin.com or follow her on twitter @arimom5.

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