Sun's Out, Modesty Voices are Loud

I make a point of reading body positive material. And there is much to read about "beach bodies", "bathing suit season" and anything to do with the fact that it's officially hot and people need to be comfortable in said heat. This butts up against my culturally implanted mental poison of thinking my body and all women's bodies are primarily ornamental and need to be beautiful to be seen. There is a lot of material around this. That our bodies are beautiful but also functional and being in public as a woman is in no way a bid for attention towards our bodies but actually an act of living life. Believe it or not, women in the grocery are actually there to buy food, not to field comments about their asses. This season also resurrects my church issued purity culture baggage which claims my body is overtly sexual and needs to be covered because it is bad and bad things happen when I "flaunt" my female figure. "Flaunt" in this case means anything that shows that I am female. 

It's hot. The northwest does not get hot in comparison to other parts of the country. But summer is hot for us. And that is a funny thing because we've been so conditioned to not require heat or sun that when it emerges it's both glorious and disorienting. So, we sweat and genuinely feel distressingly overheated when it's 85 degrees. It's kind of cute and kind of awful. 

I spend my summer juggling my work and my children. During the school year, many rhythms are built around school and work fits nicely into that. In the summer, all bets are off. I've wavered between having structured summers with classes and camps to give us a sense of normalcy and fun and having loosey-goosey summers where I burn out because there isn't enough space for me to be building my energy back up before the sun comes up at 5am yet again. It's a tricky time. That being said, I spend my time crouching to pick up my kids shit strewn across parks and pushing littles on swings and sweating. A lot. There is an awful lot of water play and many moments of panic as I try to keep my children from drowning.  

The reason I mention my summer lifestyle is because I need a wardrobe that accommodates our activities. I like to look good. I don't want to wear cuts of clothing that make me feel fat or frumpy. I want to be cool. Airflow is a must. I don't want to wear layers, as it defeats the purpose of wearing clothes in the summer at all. I need my ass to not be hanging out (this is a challenge, having long legs). As my weight fluctuates, sometimes I prefer to have material between my thighs as I do not live in a reality that includes thigh gaps and again, it's hot. Chafing is a no. I like to wear shoes with airflow but without blisters, please. I like to have a bathing suit that covers the goods and stays put as once again, preventing drowning is my primary purpose in the water rather than sunbathing and not moving.  But I'm 35 not 65 and ideally, my bathing suit would reflect my age in a reasonable way. And boobs...oh boobs. They are a tricky, tricky thing. I love my boobs, as should every woman regardless of their size. Boobs rock. BUT modesty culture does not like boobs. Ideally, they would not exist. In spite of that, my boobs are present every morning when I get dressed. This creates regular drama for me and for all of us who get to own boobs.

As most women experience, each outfit that I own or shop for hits most of these marks but never all of them. And so this morning, I wore a pair of bicycle shorts under my dress to avoid the ass hanging out inevitability. Now, I'm in a sundress that I adore, hides my tummy and has a darling print. But there's a solid inch of cleavage. Yesterday I wore a dress that hugged in all the right places (hubby was thrilled) but it was short. I decided I didn't care and loved it all day. It was really hot yesterday. The dress is tight so there was not a real ass hanging out threat. But whenever I dress in a way I like, I wrestle the demons of old. If cleavage is showing and I'm around a friend who still prefers their ladies covered, I pull at the top the whole time I'm around them. And this has got to stop. 

I want to get to a point where I love my body. I'm doing pretty good with it. I'm really proud of the capability of my body and the beauty is so-so. It's a day-by-day thing. But I think I'm in a pretty good place overall. I have no interest in degrading or berating myself. But I wanted to acknowledge for any of the women out there who struggle to dress in the summer either because they're not a size 8 and therefore the world tells them they should not enjoy airflow in the heat or because they grew up in purity culture and wrestle with only being allowed to look so good before they hit flaunting status, you are not alone. And men have no idea what this is like. I'm proud of myself for dressing in a way that I would never have allowed myself to dress before. And I'm acknowledging to myself that this is a very big deal. So if you see my ass or my tits this summer, I'm not gonna lie. It's on purpose. 

Modesty Culture and Sexual Repression

I'm officially a theater parent now and it is awesome. We love, love, love performance and artistic expression of any kind. The thing is, I put Macy in a Christian theater program. And even though we are Christians, we are not currently attending church and if we were to attend church, it would be a really progressive church. So, I feel a little like an impostor, though for the most part, it's been great. One of the things that isn't great is that we're dabbling back into the world of to purity culture. I knew this would be an issue for me. I choose not to laugh at the offhand remarks about teens girls and "unders" which is the term for the tight clothes all the children wear under their costumes so they can change in front of each other. No mention of boys. As part of the costume committee, I witnessed girls being so self-conscious they wanted to add to their costumes because their dress (from the 1600's, mind you) showed a small square of skin in the front (no cleavage at all). It's hard to not feel angry, not at the children but at this culture. 
As an adult, I've worked intentionally to shed any shaming around my body that I learned from modesty/purity culture. This was not easy! Many of my girl friends grew up in purity culture but I don't think they took it as hard as I did because I was such a serious kid. I was the teen in a one-piece and a t-shirt! I genuinely believed that if my body was too exposed, it would harm my guy friends ability to follow Jesus. It was my responsibility to protect them from temptation. I was not about to get in their way. And while that's sweet, how incredibly harmful. And now that I think about it, it was probably why I became such a care-taking adult. It was taught to me as a spiritual value.
Through our years in youth ministry, I was required to confront teen girls about their clothing. People would whisper to me their concerns and then I was expected to be the heavy. I tried to be cool while executing this duty (I've always been more of a "good cop" even as a mother), but it was awkward. It definitely exacerbates mean girl culture when women are tasked to judge each other's clothing, especially for spiritual reasons. It creates piety. It's also wildly subjective to try to enforce a dress code (girls with certain body types get targeted). I have so many big feelings about purity culture, about how it shames women for being beautiful, how it plays into rape culture by blaming the objects of lust for being lust-able rather than the ones doing the lusting, how it cripples boys into believing they're incapable of self-control and frankly, how it sexualizes children. I don't want any part of it and I don't want my 8 year old to be taught to be self-conscious about her perfect, little girl body. And yes, I don't intend to change my stance when she gets breasts.
Once we got out of ministry, I started giving myself to permission to express myself more with clothing. I've written about art classes I've taken and that has encouraged me to identify more as the artist I've hidden. I've also tried to explore my sexuality more (which is incredibly repressed) though I haven't written about that as much as it's so personal. I might have the courage to discuss that more in the future because I know I am one of thousands who are sexually repressed because of their conservative upbringing. It's really kind of a bummer, to be honest. We were told for so long to be as asexual as possible in hopes of gaining the admiration of a godly man. And then as soon as you make a lifetime commitment to each other, you're supposed to become the exact opposite of what you were taught. Alluring, sexually available, skilled --- fully empowered. How does this happen, exactly? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm trying to engage in more sex-positive language, read more books and articles about sexuality, rape culture, feminism, etc. It's been a slow unpacking but I think it's a worthy fight, to relinquish responsibility for others' thoughts, to take back your power and to feel sexually confident. Well looky here, I guess I wrote about it. I'd love to hear anyone else's experience with purity culture. Drop me a line if you want to be heard! Maybe we'll figure some of this out as a community.