To be clear, modesty has never been a subject I have taken super seriously. I mean, I don’t wear clothes that are too revealing; and I don’t wear anything I would be ashamed of my mother seeing (but that’s partially because half of the time my mom has a better eye for what works in a outfit than I do…but that’s another post ). But when it comes to things like a bikini—come on. I live in Southern California. Everyone wears bikinis. And it’s just not that big of a deal…right?
Again I will say it: the Catholic university I go to pretty much rocks. I’ve had an awesome experience here, and for the most part I have embraced the rules and regulations that are in place and have really thrived from them.
The dress code was a different story.
Oh, I complied with it. But I definitely had a section of my closet at home that was referred to as “School Appropriate Clothing” (and it wasn’t exactly the largest part of my closet). Still, that was mostly because I needed to look more “professional” in order to attend class (as opposed to looking like a high schooler in shorts and a t-shirt), which I appreciated. My main issue was the part of the dress code that banned bikinis in the pool at the student apartments and at school-sponsored functions at the beach. I can still remember my thoughts, echoed by I’m sure a handful of other girls at my school:
We go to college in Southern California and they expect us to not wear bikinis? …Seriously?
So, for the longest time, I simply gritted my teeth, found a “modest” (which, in my mind translated to: not-nearly-as-cute-as-a-bikini) swimsuit, and dealt with the rule—but only when I had to. When I went to the beach with just my friends, I wore my bikini and got my tan on.
I don’t know that I can point to a moment when things changed. All I know is that last summer I was in a bikini, and this summer I’m not. Several months ago, I hardly thought twice about what the effect of what I am wearing will be on the men I meet out in public, and now I never leave the mirror in the morning without thinking about it.
I have come to realize that we live in a world in which guys are virtually expected to objectify women’s bodies. Of course, there is a difference between “appreciating” and “objectifying”—one is natural, the other is sinful. But that line is really thin for a guy, and it’s pretty hard to control—especially when he’s walking down the beach on any given Thursday in August.
This doesn’t mean that every guy who sees you in a bikini is objectifying you—it just means that it’s probably really hard for him not to be, at least on some level. From a Princeton University Study:
Another study performed on undergraduate students at Princeton found that when men are shown images of women in bikinis, they associate the women with first-person verbs, such as I “push,” “handle,” and “grab.” When shown images of modestly dressed women, the men associated the images with the third-person forms of the verbs, such as she “pushes,” “handles,” and “grabs.” In other words, the fully-clothed women were seen as being in control of their own actions, whereas the immodest ones were to be acted upon.
But I can’t leave this post without coming back at my most-used argument for why wearing a bikini was ok. It went something like this:
Guys are going to see girls in bikinis anyway, so they should just get used to it.
First of all, this is just not a very nice thing to do to guys we say we care about. It’s essentially saying, “yeah, I know you struggle with this; and even though I can, I’m not going to make this any easier on you”. Talk about selfish.
But more to the point, this argument is right in some respects. There are still going to be women in bikinis out there. For most guys, it’s a struggle to control their glances when they are surrounded by girls in bikinis (and can you blame them? Everything is out on display!). However, if I choose to cover up, then I am inviting the men I am with to be more present with me—not simply my body. Wouldn’t you rather have a guy paying attention to the conversation he is having with you than struggling to control his glances?
(Don’t feel like you have to buy an ugly swimsuit to be modest. Here is a link to a company that designs modest swimwear—and there are a ton of other options, too.)