Authentic Modesty: Compassion Over Shame


A_SaskiaCan I tell you something?

It’s rather personal.

I rage in the face of summer’s modesty conversations.

I hate them. I never, ever respond to any of them posted on Facebook or the blogosphere, but whenever they pop up, I seethe with anger and mentally debate those mothers with their pleas to the peers of their sons or those pastors with their recommendations to young women.

You see, I first started “developing” at age nine.

I was so young in fact, when I told my mother about the small changes in my breasts, that she took me to the doctor to make sure that puberty really was what was occurring. I distinctly remember her expressing concern … “Can this possibly be happening, already?” She understood what both sides of my gene pool had already determined: big boobs were coming my way. And when they arrived, they would be making a statement I couldn’t possibly be ready for.

As a little girl, I had seen other girls just a few years older than I, fill out tiny bikinis with their tiny breasts, and I had looked forward to the moment when I too would wear a cute little bathing suit, and carry the look of “not a girl, not yet a woman.” Unfortunately, by age 11 the time for tiny bathing suits had already passed. One summer I went from girl to woman all at once. Rather shocking, to be honest. From that moment on, I was a threat. Especially to the mothers of young boys.

No matter how young my brain was, my body communicated a message I couldn’t stop.

I went from the little girl with the-name-no-one-could-pronounce, to the sexy girl with a big chest. The outfits I felt ALL the other girls could wear were inaccessible to me. I had to make sure that my clothes covered it all up. Yet it seemed no matter what I was wearing, I got the comments. Strange, older men would say “nice rack” before I ever knew what a ”rack” was. Girls older than me would make snide comments, boys older then me would ask me out, and the mothers … oh, the mothers would make sure I felt shame no matter how modest my swimming suit was. I had a body that somehow looked sexual even in a snowsuit (yes, I got creeped on while skiing all the time.)

I was often asked, “Don’t you think that top is a little too tight?” or told, “You can’t be 14; you look 18.”

Like most teenage girls, I wanted to experiment with my style; I wanted to find what was ”me.” But whatever I wore, the size of my chest was a reality I could not escape.

It was an inappropriately defining feature that told the world I was out to seduce.

Thus, shame found its place. I couldn’t really be me, the real me, so long as people first noticed one feature. There was no joy in a teenage body. (Is there ever?) I am eternally grateful for the hips of womanhood that evened everything out and made one feature slightly less featured!

Becoming all grown up is a huge relief. I get to laugh whenever I get ID’d over a bottle of wine, since now I don’t look too old, or even all that sexy. And I feel like I am me, the real me, accepting myself and my body the way it is, and dressing how I feel most comfortable. With most of the women in my life now, we discuss “owning” what we wear, not being bullied into shrinking back or wearing oversized t-shirts that add thirty pounds in order to prevent “the girls” from being noticed.

Of course, there is still a deep sensitivity inside of me.

I noticed it when an older female in my life decided to let me know how she felt about my cleavage. My response was to burst into tears. Yet as we talked it through, I realised it was her own insecurities about something not quite related that compelled her to comment. I also notice it when I see posts on summer modesty. I get angry because there is a whole lot of baggage from being seen as a body part and not as a person.

And now that I work among girls who dress incredibly sexy all the time, I have learned so much about how we choose to view a woman’s body. I have learned to look at their eyes and not their breasts, not matter how little clothes they have on. I believe it is one of the biggest traps of prostitution, that your body is viewed as your identity, your survival, your power, and not as a vessel carrying around a precious and unique soul. They are judged and viewed by both men and women for their sex appeal and not their humanity. I have also realised by walking through the red light district with both men and women, that there is a decision of modesty that we place on ourselves. I always preface our walk past the red lights with a disclaimer that, yes, these girls are beautiful and partially dressed and that can be arousing … but if you think of their personhood, their individuality, their humanity, you probably won’t be attracted for too long.

You will see them through the eyes of a modest and humble heart grieved by the things that grieve the heart of God … And if you can only see them as a sex object, we can stop our walk.

And that, I think, is the plea I wish people would start making:

I wish mothers would start pleading with their sons to see women in a way that acknowledges the heart of the person as well as their beauty.

I wish pastors would speak to the older men of their congregations at summertime instead of the young women, that they would view the girls of their churches as daughters, not potential stumbling sex objects.

I wish women would stop shaming 13- and 14-year-old girls who are just trying to figure out what to do with their new bodies, and start getting vulnerable with their own insecurities.

Imagine if we, as women who love, started talking about how we deal with harassment from men on the street instead of slut-shaming women for drawing the harassment.

My hope is that we learn to look with compassion, not lust. That we can place value, rather than casting shame. My hope is that we understand that body parts are only the start of the story, and there is so much more to be known about an individual.

I want to be a woman who celebrates those around her for the bodies God has fearfully and wonderfully made.