Christian mom and blogger Veronica Partridge posted an entry to her blog earlier this month, detailing her decision to stop wearing leggings. What’s notable about the post are the reasons she gives for this choice — reasons that we see echoed throughout the “modesty” doctrines of the Christian community, that teach women that their clothing choices and the appearance of their bodies are responsible for the thoughts and actions of other people.
Now, before going further, I do want to be clear that I’m not criticizing Veronica, or calling into question her right to dress however she likes, for whatever reason she wants. I’m also not suggesting that she was hostile or anything of that nature in her post; she actually goes out of her way to stress that these are her thoughts and not a universal moral injunction against yoga pants. My problem isn’t with Veronica at all — but with the religious teachings that can convince her that wearing an item of clothing of which she is very fond is a sin, and can in turn cause other people to sin. My problem is with “modesty culture.” Veronica’s post is simply a good illustration of how women internalize these teachings, and the impact they have on a person’s thoughts.
Veronica writes that she had “been having a conviction weighing heavy on [her] heart” regarding tight pants, but one discussion in particular, with a set of both male and female friends, really struck her:
The conversation was about leggings and how when women wear them it creates a stronger attraction for a man to look at a woman’s body and may cause them to think lustful thoughts. God really changed my heart in the midst of that conversation and instead of ignoring my convictions, I figured it was time I start listening to them and take action.
The first course of action was soliciting her husband’s input on the question troubling her:
Was it possible my wearing leggings could cause a man, other than my husband, to think lustfully about my body?
This type of question is problematic because it saddles women, in this case Veronica herself, with the responsibility for controlling another person’s thoughts, in a fashion that we would never apply to other scenarios.
Until, modesty culture teaches us, we’re talking about women’s bodies. Then, all of a sudden, a person isn’t responsible for his own thoughts — yoga pants, and the women who wear them, are.
This is thinking that both Veronica and her husband Dale seem to buy into — as Dale’s response was in the affirmative, noting that he found himself struggling to keep his eyes off of similarly clad posteriors.
If it is difficult for my husband who loves, honors, and respects me to keep his eyes focused ahead, then how much more difficult could it be for a man that may not have the same self-control? Sure, if a man wants to look, they are going to look, but why entice them? Is it possible that the thin, form-fitting yoga pants or leggings could make a married (or single) man look at a woman in a way he should only look at his wife?
And at that moment, I made a personal vow to myself and to my husband. I will no longer wear thin, form-fitting yoga pants or leggings in public… I have been following the vow I made to myself for the past couple of weeks now and though it may be difficult to find an outfit at times, my conscience is clear and I feel I am honoring God and my husband in the way I dress.
This sort of guilting is what modesty culture excels at. It convinces women that the female body is something that a righteous woman will conceal, because to do otherwise is to dishonor God. A woman’s body does not belong to her, but rather to God — and her husband. It convinces religious men that their own feelings are the woman’s fault (or the teenage girl’s). It teaches young women and girls that something as simple as their choice in pants can define them — as either godly, or ungodly, a good girl or a “prostitute.”
The impact to Veronica’s life in giving up yoga pants is relatively small; the real problems are the underlying religious ideas of modesty that have burdened her, and women everywhere, with being responsible for how others think and act — and the accompanying guilt that arises when that doomed endeavor inevitably fails.
(Image via Shutterstock)