So I’m sure you all know by now that I love camp. For a multitude of reasons.
But there is one thing I hated about every summer. It was the night each year when I had to do the “Girls’ Talk”.
The “Girls’ Talk” was when one lucky female full-time staff member got to meet with all the female summer staff members, and talk about dress-code, and dating, and anything else related to “appropriate” female behaviour.
I kept doing it year after year for a few reasons: No one else wanted to do it, I generally love speaking/teaching publicly, and I loved those summer staff girls like crazy. I would do just about anything to save them from making the same mistakes I made when I was their age.
There was just one problem: Nobody wants to be saved from mistakes. They want the freedom to make them, or whatever other choices they need to make at that age.
Actually, there was another problem: I happen to possess controversial views on dress-code. My views have been labelled “very conservative”, and are usually unwelcome.
I really dislike the labels “liberal” and “conservative”. But that’s a whole different blog post. I will just say this: I used to dress in ways my mother would not have approved of. When you wear cut-off jean shorts, you can cut them any length you want. You can also change before you go home. Or unroll the cuffs to a more appropriate length.
I was 18 and independent, and I didn’t see anything wrong with wearing very short shorts, even though I was brought up in a home where modesty was taught.
I never tried to flaunt any cleavage though, because I’ve never had any. Who knows what would have happened if I did.
But there were a few events in my life which changed how I felt about the way I dressed, which I will share with you, although I still hate to talk about modesty. I think I’m emotionally scarred from trying to stand up for something I have experienced to be true in my own life, knowing it usually brings discomfort to those hearing it. This is not my desire.
My desire is for an open discussion, and for Christian women to ask what it means to dress in such a way that we are in the world but not of it. I may be totally, and completely wrong in my opinions, but I can have a story. Here’s what I’ve learned from my story:
1) Ogling has no age limit.
What women put out there, men will enjoy, whatever their age.
The summer before Ben and I got married, it was a hot summer, and I was still wearing my very short shorts. Ben’s job for the summer was running a franchise for College Pro Painters in Winnipeg. In order to get customers, he would hire people to go cold calling – going door to door, asking if people wanted a free estimate on a paint job. I helped him with this as often as I could.
It was the first summer I wasn’t at camp. At camp, short shorts meant a second look from cute boys my age, and I had always enjoyed the attention.
But that summer, as I went door to door, I was exposed to a completely different flavour of men than I had ever encountered before. I found out how different it felt to get a second look from men much older than me, and it was not enjoyable.
My wardrobe quickly changed.
I’m not saying my looks are so magnetically beautiful that I got loads of attention wherever I went. What I am saying is that if you dress to show a lot of skin, people will look at it. I hadn’t really given it much thought before, but suddenly it became very clear to me that I didn’t want attention from anyone but Ben, and I was pretty sure a few extra inches of fabric on my shorts would not make me that much hotter in summer.
Years later, when we were living at camp, I was driving past a nearby beach. There were two very beautiful girls in very small bikinis walking along the road, and I watched as two older men in a convertible pulled up behind them, and followed them very slowly down the road. Their facial expressions and hand gestures made it perfectly clear how much they were enjoying the view.
I am not interested in being a view enjoyed by random old men. Or any age of random men.
2) The mind automatically completes a picture.
It’s not something we need to consciously do. If we ever see a partial picture, we will fill in all the details.
This means that when women show men a partial picture, it will most likely be mentally completed. If you look around, it is amazing how many styles today are made up of incomplete pictures – bra straps can lead to picturing the whole thing. A bare stomach or a strip of exposed underwear make it easy for the mind to continue that mental image in greater detail.
I think it’s hard to fully understand this as women, because although it’s a huge generalization, we just are not wired in the same way.
Nevertheless, I experienced my own “completing of the partial picture”, and it was nasty. I was at a beach a few summers ago, and happened to see an older, very large woman wearing an extremely low-cut shirt which wasn’t leaving much to the imagination. Her shirt partially revealed a tatoo on one of her large, saggy breasts.
Trust me when I say I had absolutely no desire to mentally complete that picture, but before I saw it coming, there in my mind was a completed picture of this woman’s tatooed breast. Ew.
After this experience, it became personally clear to me that mental images can happen so quickly, there isn’t always time to stop it before it’s formed.
Shortly after Ben and I were married, we went to a wedding. As we sat down, I couldn’t help but notice the woman sitting a few rows in front of us. She was wearing a strapless dress, but the pew completely covered any trace of a dress, and at first glance, it looked as though she was sitting there completely naked.
Of course we all know she wasn’t attending that wedding in the nude. But it looked that way. And she had especially nice shoulder blades. I confess to spending a good amount of time wondering if Ben was noticing the woman with nice shoulder blades who appeared to be naked, even though she wasn’t. In my world, we were taught not just to avoid evil, but the appearance of evil as well. I’m not saying strapless dresses are evil, but I am saying that you should be careful how you sit if you’re wearing one.
Or maybe don’t wear one if you are concerned about men sitting behind you, imagining you naked. Or admiring your shoulder blades.
The point is, our culture rams the message down our throats that it’s okay for women to wear whatever they want, and they are not responsible for men’s thoughts. Which leads to my next point…
3) Pornography is a ridiculously huge problem.
There is a statistic claiming 80% of all Christian men will struggle with pornography at some point in their lives.
After 10 years of working with youth, I would say our experiences have supported this statistic. Having lived a very sheltered life, and somehow managing to marry a man from the 20% category, it is very difficult for me to fully grasp the truth of this.
But it breaks my heart. I have seen what pornography can do to a Christian home, and I really don’t believe it’s possible to do too much to help men with this struggle.
I have yet to hear a convincing argument for why women should be able to wear whatever they want when there are men desperately fighting to control their thoughts and temptations.
I am not suggesting by all of this that women should spend their summers in long skirts and turtleneck sweaters. But I would like to suggest an openness to consider what is at stake, and what simple steps we can take to make a difference, and promote purity of thought and wardrobe.
So…any thoughts or comments? You are most definitely allowed to have a different opinion than me, and we can still be friends!