burqa_vs_bikini

I don’t know how it happened to two solidly average looking people, but our daughters are showing signs of being “Honey, get the shotgun” beautiful. They run the gamut in the modesty department, from refusing to wear anything that shows even half a knee, to the child who, when forced to at least wear undies one hot, summer day, fashioned them into a thong. At this prepubescent juncture, I try to keep them undied at home and ask them to follow Mormon dress standards in the presence of those outside the immediate family. We explain that the way we dress when we’re in public helps others feel comfortable around us.  It’s also a way that we show respect for our bodies. And undies are just more hygienic than naked buns. Easy, understandable, no fuss.

For a girl, part of puberty is discovering the power of her body to influence others. Some girls discover that power sooner, but puberty is when I’m expecting to have a more interesting talk about modesty, and these are the ideas I hope to convey –

Your body is changing. It’s sending signals to every male that comes in contact with you. These signals are a big part of the reason humans have been so successful as a species. They make men and women stop thinking about anything but making babies. They’re very useful, and they’ll be an important and enriching part of your life if you can harness them. Harnessing them takes some real effort, but it’s worth it. If you fail, you’re much more likely to be treated as an object. When I interact with men, I know that I have to overcome their first biological reaction to me. That biological reaction is all about determining my potential as a mate. Of course, most men aren’t consciously giving me the up-and-down. Most of the time, I doubt they recognize what’s going on in their own heads, but it’s there, just as it’s there for me. There’s a difference between looking at, say, Brad Pitt during his Thelma and Louise days (excuse me, my knees are getting weak) and, I don’t know, the guy from Blue’s Clues. The difference doesn’t really have anything to do with their views on Iran Contra, as I’m sure you’re aware.

A woman who sees a man as a potential mate can feel compelled to act silly, unintelligent, affectionate, submissive and weak.  A man who sees a woman as a potential mate can feel compelled to act overbearing, protective, macho and aggressive.  Conversely, a man who dismisses a woman as a potential mate can feel compelled to act just that way – dismissive.

Young women are at an even greater disadvantage than Brad Pitt when it comes to having their views and ideas heard and respected. It’s even more difficult for young men to overcome their biological reaction to you than it is for me to overcome mine to J.D. What I’m telling you, is that if you want to be heard, you need to be modest. If you want men to take you more seriously as a person than as a possible planter bed, you need to tone down those signals. Walk with confidence, don’t pretend to be stupid or helpless, draw attention to what you have to say and what you can do, not what your body looks like.  And then be bold and courageous.  Let your presence speak so loudly it cannot be ignored.

You own your body. No one has the right to determine how to use it but you. If you use it wisely, you are less likely to experience the grief of an emotional and physical connection to someone who doesn’t care about you and you are infinitely less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease. You only get one body; treasure it. Be careful with whom you choose to share it. Make sure he’s someone who shares and values your goals and aspirations.

Here are some things I will never say to my girls, nor will I act in ways that give them to understand these lies as truth:

You will never find an eternal companion if you’re not a virgin.

Sex makes you dirty and undesirable.

Kissing before marriage is morally equivalent to sex before marriage.

Your body must be covered to keep men from sinning.

Your body belongs to your parents until you give it to a man, then it belongs to him.

Honestly, I doubt that this conversation will happen all at once.  These are lessons we learn best by example, by experience and from parents who watch for the circumstances that make their kids receptive, then swoop in with words of wisdom, kindness and love.  I’m looking forward to the lessons my girls and I will teach each other and I hope I don’t miss too many of those golden moments.

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