Why Modesty Matters in the Body-Positive Movement

Most of us have seen those posts making headlines across the internet: a woman, for some reason or another far from our society’s perception of traditional beauty, wearing a bikini. Or a revealing dress. Or maybe a plus-size halter top. She’s a size eighteen, or has had three kids, or maybe just doesn’t think she’s pretty enough, but she conquers her insecurities and she does it – with photographic evidence –  because she wants to show the world that she loves her body and isn’t ashamed to show it off.

I have to admit, I thoroughly appreciate the message behind this growing movement: love yourself, love your physical appearance, because it doesn’t really matter what other people think about the way you look. You have a beautiful, functioning body that’s fulfilling its purpose of keeping you alive, and it doesn’t matter if that body is skinny, fat, or somewhere in between. I consider all of these things resoundingly true, and the world does, indeed, need to hear this message in this era marked with Photoshop and cosmetic surgery literally changing the way we perceive our own natural bodies. Women, now more than ever, need to know that it’s okay to carry fat in your arms, or stretch marks on your waist, or cellulite on your thighs, because those things matter so very little over the course of a lifetime.

But I have reservations about the way this idea is portrayed so often in the media. Instead of showing us that, yes, a fat woman can be healthy, intelligent, powerful, flirtatious, confident, or demonstrate any other number of stereotype-defying qualities, these outlets are telling us that larger women may, in fact, show off their bodies just like anyone else.

And that’s frustrating. See, I’m fat. I’ve been fat my whole life. You can tell that I’m fat whether I’m wearing a baggy sweatshirt, or fitted blouse, or my one-piece swimsuit. I’m fat when I eat well and exercise, and I’m fat when I eat junk food and sit around all day. It’s not something I’m trying to hide from the world, if that were even remotely possible. How would going to the beach and wearing a bikini change any of that? Would it really give me more confidence? Would it somehow convince you, the onlooker, that I’m more attractive than I actually am? Does my nearly-translucent stomach-skin really have that much power, and if so, how can I harness it most efficiently to take over the world in all my pasty glory?

Future aspirations aside, all I see when I look at pictures of women my size or larger wearing what I consider to be revealing clothing is extra flesh. It’s not gross, or disgusting, and it’s not particularly attractive either, but that’s certainly not because they’re fat. I’ve simply been raised in a faith-based culture that encourages me to dress modestly, and have happened to grow up and mature in a way that’s led me to understand perfectly good reasons for both men and women to embrace modesty that transcend my particular religious traditions.

If we really want to teach the masses to understand and appreciate body positivity, we should be showing pictures of plus-size CEOs in designer pantsuits, or yoga-pant-clad mothers holding healthy, happy children. I would love to see a viral blog post about everyday women, size two or twenty-two, eating healthfully, establishing careers and rewarding lifestyles at home or abroad, living life without concern for their love handles, because that is what inspires me in real life. This is what the world needs to see glamorized in the media, because even a seemingly-perfect-looking body is worth significantly more than the layers of fat, skin, and glamour visually apparent from the outside.

Every one of our bodies is miraculous in function – input, output, respiration, perspiration, air in and air out, brain waves and hormones, nerves, blood flow, and cell production – so many tiny mechanisms we couldn’t ever dream of living without, at the risk of literally being faced with death. Our bodies, and the life that keeps them going, are beautiful, positive things, without any regard to the clothes and makeup that end up coming off at the end of the day anyway.

As a modest, larger-than-average woman, I dress myself thoughtfully. I choose clothing that complements my body type, and I’m lucky enough to live in a time period where large, flattering, fun clothes are accessible if you know where to look. I’m not living in a fashion world solely comprised of Hanes’ “Just my Size” sweatsuits, shapeless T-shirts, and elasticized boot cut jeans, though I wouldn’t dare say there’s anything wrong with those things. I have every opportunity to wear tank tops, booty shorts, or deep-v necklines, but I actively choose not to, because I don’t feel like I’m respecting my miraculous body (or, let’s get real, my family’s tendency toward skin cancer) by making those wardrobe choices.

And that shouldn’t disqualify me from the unashamed-large-person party. I happen to think school dress codes (applicable to both sexes, of course) are a good idea. I also have this radical notion that showing off one’s body doesn’t prove a thing about an individual’s self-confidence. Your bikinis mean nothing to me, dear plus-size models, but your positive examples do, and I want others to start seeing you in the same light. This doesn’t make me a slut-shamer, or a backwards product of my conservative upbringing, or anyone but another one of those young women trying to figure out how my body and portrayals of other women’s bodies impact my life and the lives of those around me.

I want to make it clear that I don’t cover my shoulders, chest, midriff, and upper legs because I’m ashamed of them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I cover my body in all the traditionally-modest ways because I respect it, and I think it’s special. I cover my body because I’ve been taught that it’s a good way to show my Heavenly Father that I love him, and respect his plan for me and the physical frame that comes with it. I cover my body because I love it, and its divine potential to not only support itself, but to create and sustain new life in the future.

Every woman should have the right to wear whatever she wants, at the risk of whatever consequences may come of it, but I don’t think that’s the point of body positivity. You can still foster fiery hatred for your cankles while wearing a g-string in front of a selfie stick. The true message of self-love should come from within; you should love your body and yourself whether you’re looking at yourself naked in the mirror, or wearing a marching band uniform, or swimming laps in a public pool. The clothes really shouldn’t be the end-all.

Don’t love your body because you can choose to cover it with varying amounts of fabric in locations of varying publicity, regardless of shape or size. Love your body because it’s yours, it’s amazing, and it’s the only one you’re ever going to get.

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