Girl Talk: Modesty & Objectification
By Marah Grant on in Personal with 3 Comments
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Can I take a moment to have a little girl talk with you? It’s not a girl talk that means only girls are welcome to read, but a talk centered on girls and what is happening to them. Boys, you’re allowed to be here. Please, make yourselves a home!
You haven’t read very much yet, so I assume the first thing you might be asking yourself based on the title of this post is “what does this have to do with photography?” Two things. First, I firmly believe that I am part of an industry that is doing a huge disservice to girls and I’m here to fight it. I have a voice. I’m here to use that voice to argue against that which I believe to be wrong and unfair. Today I’m using my voice to advertise. I watched a documentary last night that changed my life. I want to encourage as many people as possible to watch it an learn with me. More on that later. Secondly, this is part of my heart beat. This post is about who I am. I plan to be very vulnerable and honest in this blog. Some of you might like what I have to say, some of you might hate it. I know that some of you might chose to hire me in the future to take photos of you. I believe that by sharing the deepest parts of me on this blog I am building a relationship of trust with you so that when I take photos of you, you will know that I am fighting for you and with you to help you look your best. That I want to represent the truest, most beautiful, honest, and vulnerable parts of your spirit. I want to show you your own beauty.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I’m a smart witty girl who believes in the power of women. I’m slowly becoming more of a feminist and I believe that’s a good thing. I’m learning that feminism isn’t a dirty word. It’s about embracing the full potential of womanhood. God is teaching me that he has created me to be a strong woman and teaching me how to fully embrace that roll. One of the biggest influences leading me in that belief right now is this book. I recommend it.
In addition to being a woman who believes in the God-given power of women…
I’m curvy and feminine and I will boldly, honestly, but shamefully admit that I have knowingly wielded the sword of my looks for evil. (I believe that any courageous woman would admit that she too has done so.) I have received both wanted and unwanted attention for my curves and I’m sure I have reacted both appropriately and inappropriately to both sides of that attention. I have feminine wiles. We all do. I try to keep that side of me under control. In my 30-some years have worn skirts that are too short, I have worn tops that are too low, I’ve worn materials that were too thin. On the flip side, I have had wardrobe malfunctions that were beyond my control. I’ve ignorantly worn things that were a problem and then felt guilty for innocent mistakes. I both understand and yet still underestimate the power that my appearance can have on the opposite sex. I fight with myself on this topic. Daily. I fight with department store dressing rooms. I fight with my closet. I fight with my insecurities. I fight the thought pattern that runs through my head when I stand in front of a mirror wondering “can I get away with this neckline?” or “will this skirt be ok when I sit down?” I’ve spent a lot of time losing the battle of modesty and insecurity with myself.
This. is. tough. There is no doubt about it.
Additionally, I acknowledge that men fight with this issue too. They struggle with temptation. I believe that for the most part they don’t maliciously objectify, but I also don’t believe that it’s not completely beyond their control. Men aren’t all rapists, pornographers, or pimps in the making. They also aren’t brainless or completely instinctual. Men should not be reduced to mere mammals with urges. To claim they are such is insulting, demeaning, and sexist. Men wrestle with keeping their minds pure in a culture where they are bombarded with imagery designed to distract their minds and hearts. They need help understanding respect, boundaries, love, and equality.
Bottom line: We’re all fighting to stay kosher. We’re all trying to define respect. We’re all trying to make a black and white line in an area that is pretty darn grey and subjective. I’d like to think that we’re all on the same team here. I hope we are. I hope we ALL want what is right, true, dignified, fair and equitable. I write with that assumption in mind.
If I may, I’d like to declare that… It sucks. Culture sucks. Temptation sucks. Grey areas suck. Let’s not pretend this is easy. It’s really hard.
I’m a girl who grew up believing that I could do anything that men could do. Within reason. (I mean… can we all agree that the movie where Demi Moore becomes a Navy SEAL is just absolutely ridiculous?) I thought, for the most part, that the feminist movement of the 1970′s had done its’ job and that I was now liberated and free. YAY! However, the harsh realities of my involvement with Destiny Rescue has quickly taught me otherwise. Not only are we losing the battle for gender equality globally with rampant gendercide taking place in countries like China and India, but one can hardly know much about the world without seeing that women and children are being trafficked, prostituted, enslaved, gang raped, stoned, and suffering all kinds of violence and injustice. Additionally, where flagrant violence is not taking place educational and employment inequality is.
This week has been a week when I’ve heard so much about “twerking” and “slut shaming” and “fat shaming” and “rape culture” that I’m starting to feel stressed and nauseated by it. (I’d encourage you to follow that link and read carefully about Rape Culture if you have the time.)
I keep seeing posts online about “modesty” for girls. Posts that largely place all the responsibility on women and girls… as if no man has ever raped or objectified a woman in a burka. Some of those posts turn into fights, but for the most part I see folks nodding along in wholehearted agreement. Posts that legalize and stigmatize without recognizing that modesty is a state of heart not a state of dress. As if it’s all about clothing. As if “modest is hottest” is not just another form of objectification! It’s not about the amount of skin. It tooooootally is, but it mostly isn’t… Are you with me? Maybe not. Let me illustrate my point by saying this: Trust me! A woman wearing a thick baggy turtle neck and an ankle length skirt STILL has the ability to walk swinging her hips, to giggle and flirt, and a do a million other things to gain sexual attention. Don’t believe me? Here’s where we get ugly and honest again- I’ve done it! I went to a Christian High School with a strict dress code. I could still get attention in my Christian School Clothes! My biggest issue with these blog fights and counters and retorts is that the conversation focuses on WHAT girls are doing and posting and don’t seem to ask WHY girls are acting out with attention seeking behavior on social media sites. Let’s stop talking symptoms and start talking disease.
Let me quote a dear friend:
why do you think modesty is such a fun talk about?? It’s because we see it as a sin “other” people commit, and we fail to realize that when the Bible talks about modesty it’s always talking about flaunting one’s wealth. Do I think someone can BE immodest by way of wearing revealing clothing? Sure! But the heart is modest or immodest. Not the clothes.
As a woman without children, parents rarely want to know what I think about modesty or objectification. That’s fair. I’m admittedly an know-it-all on the sidelines. I’m aware that my opinion isn’t necessarily valued, but nevertheless I feel strongly. I’m a woman. I’m a photographer. I’m an observer. Professionally. It’s literally part of my job to watch what’s going on around me. I’m media literate. (Probably more than I should be.) I see things in a way that I think parents might not see them, because I’m able to be removed from the situation.
May I share what I see? Just a few observations? These are obviously just my opinions. Nothing rooted in statistics, research, or analytics.
First of all, it’s not all up to the girls. Enough said.
Secondly, What I see is a growing self-objectification of young girls. A self objectification that leads girls to give up power, ambition, and dreams. What I see is the voice of the media drowning out the sensibility of parents. Why? I am starting to suspect that many parents are media illiterate and they sadly cannot combat a message that they do not understand. They are some times unaware of the message that they need to argue against. To their credit, parents ARE taking action! Which is awesome! However, Some parents assume that they can best help their daughters by reassuring them that they are beautiful, (And they ARE beautiful!!!!!) but only continuing to place emphasis on appearance. Rather than emphasizing intelligence and character as measures of worth, they reinforce the message of objectification. So sad! I myself am only beginning to understand the scope of this problem. One thing I know to be true is that we need to speak to the heart, not the clothes.
The third thing I see is women fighting against women. Women accusing other women. Women attacking and belittling other women. Calling each other sluts, skanks, fat, ugly and… just stop it! Can I quote Tina Fey?
“You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
I don’t see it in real life so much, I don’t roll with those kinds of people, but just in these little internet interactions. That makes me SO. SAD. Why can’t we all be on the same team? Ladies, why can’t we mentor and encourage instead of fighting?
I’ve probably mentioned on this blog in the past that I most often identify with men. I watch television shows about men. I often prefer the company of dudes. I have worked in very male dominated industries. I’ve always felt comfortable there. However, I had a MAJOR lightbulb moment last night as I watched Miss Representation that helped me understand WHY that’s true. I’ve never been particularly catty. I’m not very competitive. I shy away from anything that makes me feel like I have to be. I like compatibility and teamwork. I’ve wrongly identified competitive and inappropriate behavior to be normal behavior of women. However, where do I REALLY see that behavior? Not in real life! (other than in internet comments) In the media!!
Cat fights. Bachelorettes fighting over bachelors. Romantic comedies where one woman is pitted against another for the affection of a single man. Again and again and again I saw the mono-dimensional ways that woman are portrayed in media. It seems like a dichotomy of either one of two female archetypes. Bitchy, competitive, catty, and manipulative. Or sexy, agreeable, and usually dumb.
I certainly do not feel like I am represented in media. I do not identify with women on tv. I do no see the multifaceted layered personalities that exist in real life. I see shallow. I see pretty on the outside and either ugly or empty on the inside.
Until last night, I mistakenly felt grateful that the “war against women” was not going on in my back yard, but after watching the documentary Miss Representation I feel otherwise. I realized that the battle in the U.S. is much more subtle, but instead of taking power from women and girls forcefully, it’s being subtly undermined. I could spend an hour writing out a summary of the things I learned from Miss Representation, but I’d like you to explore it for yourself instead. I feel like this documentary so accurately shows WHY we’re seeing such shallow attention seeking behavior in our daughters.
It helped me understand this: In order to have daughters who dress modestly and who do not self objectify we must instill in them the belief that their body is not their most valuable currency. They need to understand that they can have aspirations and dreams outside landing the perfect man. We will have to shout ourselves blue in the face to drown out an ocean of material that contradicts us. We must lead them to understand that their commodities do not lie in their visual appeal but with their leadership, knowledge, expertise, and contributions. Character before beauty! NO! Wait… Character IS Beauty! We MUST give girls value beyond curves and aesthetics!
I plead with you parents, make sure your daughters understand that they are made in the image of The Almighty. Teach them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. They have value just because of who they are.
Proverbs 31:10 – A capable, intelligent and virtous woman–Who is he that can find her? She is far more precious than jewels and her value is beyond rubies or pearls.
Proverbs 31: 25-31
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
I know I’ve taken up a LOT of your time today, BUT I’d strongly encourage you to watch this 8 minute trailer below and then go watch the full movie on Netflix.