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Modesty vs. Provocavity: Choosing to Dress Modestly

By Catherine Wang

“Girls are supposed to look beautiful, ” Society teaches.

As the young, elementary school me gazed upon countless movies, fashion magazines, and clothing ads, I became immersed in the idea of appearances. The figures of women I saw in media told me that I needed to be like them. From a young age, I felt the pressure to measure up to the invisible bar of being a “good looking” girl. Do these pair of jeans make me look fat? What colors look good on me? Will I look weird if I wear this? These thoughts ran through my mind when I was at the tender age of 10 because I wanted to fit into society’s definition of “looking good”. While society strongly emphasized an extreme standard of beauty, my family and culture strongly emphasized modesty and simplicity. This pulled me in two directions leaving me conflicted between contrasting opinions on fashion and female identity.

I think this story begins with my parents. My parents came from a time and place where warmth and comfort was a luxury; the Western beauty standards were non-existent in China, unlike America. At first I felt the constraints of modesty because my parents dressed me. During the winter, I had to wear bulky layers of pants and I would never buy trendy “short shorts” or the types of clothes that all my peers would seem to wear. To specify, “short shorts” to me meant shorts shorter than my mid-thigh. I would often have to change if my parents disapproved of my outfits. Despite my parents’ best intentions to keep me warm and modestly dressed, I wanted to fit into the Western society in which I was immersed. I liked the look of ripped jeans and short skirts, but of course I wanted to listen to my parents. Deep inside, I felt that dressing modestly was unfashionable and I could not see its benefits.

However, as I got older and approached the end of my high school years, I realized the empowerment of dressing modestly and its joyous freedom. Whenever I chose to dress modestly, I felt comfortable and safe in my own skin. I felt empowered to receive compliments about my clothes and not my body. I felt safe and happy in receiving attention based on admiration of style rather than sexualized thoughts because I found value within myself and figured out that I am more than an object for exhibition.

While dressing provocatively may allow women to take pride in their bodies, dressing modestly allows women to realize that their self-value goes beyond their appearance. When I dress modestly, I can focus on pursuing my plethora of interests and discover the beauty of life and friends, but when I wear clothes that emphasize my breasts or butt, I am constantly worried about how other people judge my appearance. I realized that there is so much value in simply being alive and there is limitless potential within someone to create change and explore the world’s abounding horizons. Perhaps most importantly, dressing modestly prevents self-objectification. In dressing modestly, I no longer need to live under society’s superficial standards of beauty. While beauty and attractiveness continues to be important in many societies and cultures, from choosing to dress modestly, I have learned that outer beauty is not so important to me and neither is others’ opinions.

While movies, fashion magazines, and clothing ads may advertise that women can only be beautiful by dressing provocatively, girls and women should not be afraid to dress modestly in fear of looking unattractive or old-fashioned. There is a kind of beauty in modesty’s simple and elegant aesthetic.

I found an inward perspective which has initiated my road to happiness and self-love and I hope that modest fashion can lead others there too.

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