Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

A “modest” girl in Naked-Town: Anecdotes from the lake


One of my favourite Bloggers, Incongruous Circumspection wrote a post about modesty, inspired by yet another blogger, Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings (post here). Both of the posts brought back memories, good and bad, so I want to join in and talk about my experience too.

When I was a small girl, I loved dresses and skirts in every form. I didn’t mind the strange, old-fashioned prints they had. They were flowy, wavy, girlish, and I felt like a princess, strolling through a kingdom in which I was the only girl wearing pretty clothes. When the sun was shining, I would go out and spin spin spin to hear the dress flow, quietly, giggling.

But this changed even before I hit puberty. I was able to do ANYTHING in a skirt as a small girl, but the realisation that many things like climbing trees looked terribly immodest hit me like a bus – and BAM, my beautiful, flowy skirt was my prison.

At a certain age, sometimes 8, sometimes 10, sometimes 12, girls start being really picky about what they wear, developing their own tastes and styles. I wasn’t allowed to do that. My mother bought our clothes without asking for much of an opinion. The dresses WE liked weren’t good enough. My mom would pick out dresses with huge flowers on them. One of my person highlights of terror is the fact that they had those HUGE collars. I dreaded them. I looked ridiculous in them. One time, my mom held out one of these to me at a shop, and I begged “Mom! Please! Not one with collar! I’ll look like a sailor!” Mom lovingly ignored my concerns and when I tried it on, she made sure to point out many times how beautiful I looked and how the collar perfectly accented my tiny shoulders.

Whenever I went outside, I envied the girls in normal clothes. Many of those were beautiful, too. I wished so badly to find a certain pattern or a certain cut I had seen on the worldly girls at the thrift store, only to find myself standing there trying on burlap sacks with huge collars once again.

As I grew older, I learned to ignore the fact that I looked ridiculous most of the time. I learned to overhear the giggles and whispers. And I found a way to work my way around the worst dresses. My secret were denim skirts. Out of all the modest “fashion” you can buy at thrift stores, the denim skirts are the prettiest. You look somewhat fashionable, and many people wear denim skirts, so you don’t look like a parrot among chicken. I reasoned this to my parents as “Denim is so sturdy and lasts for years! I can do harder, dirtier work without having to worry!” It worked, but nevertheless, denim wasn’t nice to wear on those humid, hot summer days.

I had accepted my fate as the girl with the denim skirts. I still envied, almost hated the normal girls, but I was somewhat at peace with how my denim skirts and shirts looked. When we went to home school conventions, I saw those girls at my age, 16, 17, still wearing those ugly old flower dresses with the huge collars. I so pitied them. I gave my ego a boost: There were girls who wore much uglier stuff. I looked at myself and thought “Those denim skirts aren’T that bad!”. I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel proud, but I did. I was proud to look a bit less like I was part of their freak show which was supposed to show all those terrible people of the world how it’s done. I felt like, if someone approached us and asked about the ugly dresses, I could say “I’m not that bad! I’m ok looking! I’m not a Victorian era freak!”

A thing that really bugged me was my body. In the movement, there is this very weird reception of female shapes. Most importantly, you need to hide it as well as you can. I know of girls with rather large breasts who just couldn’t hide them. No matter how many huge shirts and jumpers were layered, you’d still be able to see their very feminine shapes. I was on the other side of the fence: I’m a very skinny girl with next to no femininity about my body. I don’t have those big sexy hips and I don’t have those admired big breasts either. While I prefer the term “petite” to describe my body, many others found a better expression: They called me the fish bone.

I know many girls in the movement really hate their bodies and torture themselves in multiple ways, I had a natural gift of eating whatever I wanted and not putting on weight. My bones just show on many places, particularly my neck and collar-bone. On one side, this came in handy as I never had to be afraid to look too sexy, because you really have to put an effort into looking sexy with this body shape, on the other hand, people didn’t consider me female enough. And the clothes I wore didn’t help. I looked like a little girl and on bad days, I felt like I looked more like a boy. You’re not supposed to look boyish, so while others considered certain shirts too tight to be modest, they were just right for me.

Whenever I saw worldly girls with my body shape, I admired how feminine they could look. I never felt like I was that… feminine! Standing next to them, I felt childish, undeveloped, unattractive, in short, I felt like the fish bone everybody said I was. I envied the girls with feminine bodies, while they envied me for not having to worry about big breasts and looking immodest. It’s such a crazy system that nobody can be who she wants to be, that nobody is allowed to feel good about their bodies because there are always something sinful to pick on.

After I left, I rethought the system of modesty. And after I moved to Europe, my standards have shifted – had to shift.

You have to imagine that I now live in a country where public nudity is not an offence. This means that when you go to a lake, there WILL be women topless. That’s fine, that’s allowed. Sometimes, people will ask the ones sitting next to them if they mind full nudity. Usually, nobody minds and you’ll see fully naked people. And you know what, nobody cares. Nobody stares. Nobody is offended.

I came from a mindset where everything below the collar-bone was a big no-no, and was thrown into a culture where a naked body is old news. When I was at the lake a few days ago, I was wearing my swim-dress which I didn’t take off the entire time. Kathy and I went to get an ice cream and had to stand in line with a huge pack of hungry kids. They jumped around, loud and nervous and full of happiness. I stepped back a bit when one was jumping like crazy, and my elbow touched something… soft. I turned around just to see a topless woman behind me and I can only guess I touched her breast. I was humiliated and I don’t even really know why. She smiled and said sorry, and so did I, trying to conceal just how embarrassed I felt. But it didn’t seem to be a big deal because she just went on chattering with her friend.

Sometimes, I feel very embarrassed for how open people are about their bodies and nudity here. Breastfeeding women don’t cover up when they feed in public. People go swimming topless. At clothing shops, people try on stuff just right in front of the shelf, not even going to a changing room sometimes. And nobody bothers. It’s really hard to wrap my mind around this, and not act weird.

Oversexualized? I’m not sure. It doesn’t have any sexual connotations to them. It’s how people are. It’s natural.

Nobody stares at the topless woman. If they stare, they rather stare at me. When I go into the water only knee-deep and splash my arms with water, not taking off my knee-length dress simply because I’m not at that point yet. I’m the weirdo, not the naked old 80-year-old lady and her equally naked husband, walking around holding hands. And somehow, that makes me laugh just a little.


17 thoughts on “A “modest” girl in Naked-Town: Anecdotes from the lake

  1. I’m not comfortable with full nudity. Never been sun burned down there and I don’t want to start now.

  2. “Oversexualized? I’m not sure. It doesn’t have any sexual connotations to them. It’s how people are. It’s natural.”

    Exactly. Here in America we’ve made things hyper sexual by covering up! In some African cultures, women NEVER wear shirts, and no one cares! It’s all so cultural and relative.

    • Yeah but you know the fundies, they scream stuff like “oooh they are so oversexualized that they aren’t aroused by a naked pair of breasts anymore and they need really hard sexual practices to find satisfaction so it’s terrible!”. Sometimes I fall back into this type of thinking even though numbers prove that this isn’t true.

      • Fundies are wwwwaaaayyyyyy too obsessed with sex. Most of the rest of the world isn’t. They need to lighten up, in my opinion and then they won’t be looking for breasts and feminine shapes out of place. I’ve even heard of some who think open-toed shoes are a sin. Elisabeth Eliot wrote in My Savage Kinsman about the tribe in South America that all they wore was a string at the waist but they were very modest. Modesty is a state of mind and being–not a state of clothed or unclothed.

        Interestingly, I recently heard of a Bible Baptist church that has banned denim among its members. Go figure.

        • Exactly. I’m trying and praying that I will stop trying to un-sex myself and have normal thoughts. I still live with my parents and my dad is of the fundie mindset that it’s ungodly for your knees and shoulders to be showing. Him and mom both went to Hyles-Anderson (most biblically stable place ever, am I right?), and for a while I considered the college. This was before the Jack Schaap scandal. But we’ve heard of the Jack Hyles scandals but my dad insisted that he was a great man, and my pastor even has a picture of him in his office.
          Anyway, I have luckily pushed boundaries enough that nobody cares anymore. I’ve always been allowed to wear pants, but I’ve always decided to wear only skirts to church, just to be on the safe side. I still wear skirts and dresses to church, but I don’t think of it as being modest really. I like to wear skirts and dresses sometimes, not for any religious reason, but because it’s a personal decision. And isn’t that what being a Christian is supposed to be? I’m tired of being looked down on by the churchy people for my musical and attire preferences. And there is nothing wrong with electric guitar or drums or bass whatever else they flip out about. Dad doesn’t want me listening to my music but he will listen to country with me (which is loaded with the electric guitar and the drums the sweet bassline. (gasp) And I no longer believe that songs are inherently evil if they happen to say something when played backwards. Because Jesus Loves Me still sounds super creepy when sung by children and played backwards. Doesn’t mean the devil is behind it.
          Good grief I ramble on about this when I get going. Oh and another thing. One could get demerits at Bible college for not wearing pantyhose. Glad they were really cracking down on the stuff that really matters. /s

    • Yes, in Africa some women never wear shirts, but you have to keep your legs covered from the knees up. It is just a different area that is “off limits”.

  3. “Never been sun burned down there and I don’t want to start now.” Hee-hee. I HAVE been and don’t ever want to be again!!!

    Maybe you need some sort of “transition-wear.” You could try the longer board shorts (they come in feminine colors and shapes) with a cute tankini or even a rash guard (one made for a woman’s shape). I wear this kind of stuff in the water most of the time, though I wear the shorter shorts because they look better with my body type. Skinny types lcan ook great in the longer board shorts (and in most everything for that matter, lucky girl!). They are all made with fabric that dries quickly and is easy to swim in… no need to worry about sinking to the bottom with all that wet denim LOL! Personally, I am most comfortable in those kinds of swimwear, especially since it allows me to be very active and not have to worry about anything falling down or OFF or having to constantly pick at the spandex wedgie. And if you became comfortable with “modest-but-pretty” swimwear, who knows, you may be comfortable trying out some other types as time goes on. Do any women in Europe wear the kind of stuff I’m talking about?

  4. I probably wouldn’t be comfortable going to a European beach right now…but I think that’s cool. Just goes to show you how what is sexual really IS cultural!

    • If it makes you feel better that’s not that common in many other places in Europe. Also especially in places with many tourist, modesty goes up a notch.

      In Spain concretely, there aren’t that many topless women or they go topless when they are face down to tan their back. Fully nude is reserved only to nudist beaches and I think it’s illegal outside of them (don’t quite me on that :P).

      There’s conciousness about the problems of the sun so people use sunblock responsibly and actually many people people who get cancer is because they forget that cloudy weather doens’t mean safety.

      Personally, I don’t mind anyone seeing me naked but I tend to follow what’ culturally acceptable because I don’t want to feel like the odd one out (mor ethan I do :P).

  5. Reminds me of a missionary story where the american girl was considered immodest by the native ladies as she was sitting with her ankles showing. The natives were all topless…. It is a big world. Who is correct? All of us! If it is wrong to you, don’t do it, but also don’t judge anothers culture, right? I mean that in general, I know you are not judging. :o)

    • Oh I have heard before that there are cultures where ankles and wrists are considered extremely sensual and attractive. Unfortunately, the Fundies will ALWAYS come up with some “biblical” proof that it’s stupid and sinful to think that way and their way is the only way God approves.

  6. Interesting post. I really believe modesty is mostly cultural. I like the fact that breastfeeding women don’t have to cover up where you’re at. I wouldn’t feel comfortable not covering up but I’m really, really glad that breastfeeding is just a natural, accepted thing there.

  7. I liked reading your perspective on this. I’ve been writing a series on modesty and so it’s something I’ve been studying alot lately…questioning what I used to believe about it.

  8. i got my swim suit from l.l. bean and i think it would maybe make you feel a little better. it’s a camisole top with regular swim trunk shorts on the bottom. I’m the queen of feeling self-conscious about my body (long story) so i totally understand about not wanting to take your knee-length dress off. my swim suit covers all the skin that i really want covered and it’s relatively modest.

  9. This is a great post!

    I know it isn’t totally related, but I had some issues when my son was born. He is *not* a calm eater. Even as a newborn, he likes to kick, to squirm, to tug at my clothes, &etc while he’s eating. This kid literally never stops moving!

    That made breastfeeding in public rather complicated. Covering up simply wasn’t an option. Not matter how hard I try, it’s more likely that he’ll just pull my whole shirt up, exposing both my boobs, than that I’d win the wrestling match.

    I was mortified at first. I was tempted to just give up and only leave the house on short excursions between feedings. But that’s no way to live a life, so I bit the bullet and just started feeding in public. At first, I was really anxious, convinced that everyone was staring at me. But after a while, it started to become normal. Now, when I go out, I still do my best to keep reasonably covered up, but I don’t sweat it.

    It’s awful at first, but the “sink or swim” method really does work for these things. Just pretend like you don’t think it’s an issue and soon it won’t be.

  10. I was recommended this website by means of my cousin. I’m now not positive whether this put up is written by way of him as no one else recognise such certain approximately my problem. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

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