Miscellenia

Why loving your body doesn’t have to equal revealing your body

This is a follow-up post to my post on the phrase ‘real bodies.’

I’ve noticed a big trend lately for loving your body = revealing your body.

You see it in shows like “How to Look Good Naked”, where women who hide their body under baggie clothes learn to celebrate it by doing a ‘boudoir’ photoshoot that is displayed on large screens in public places.  It’s a big part of the burlesque community, where you celebrate yourself by taking your clothes off.

And these are fine, and there is something great to be said for anything that helps women to feel comfortable with who they are, but I’m not entirely comfortable with their message, both for personal reasons, and in a wider societal context.

Personally, I’m quite a private person.  I don’t really tell people what’s going on with my life.  I hold new people at a distance until I really assess my character.  I hide my privacy in real life, and on the blog, with ‘public’ stories.  It’s amazing how people think they know you if you mention that you just had a dreadful cold, hate fringe and tell them what a merkin is.  😉

Along with being private, I’m private about my body.  I feel funny showing you fitting photos where I reveal my stomach.  I almost always wear surf shorts over a swimsuit.  I wear tunics over pants, not leggings, and avoid tight jersey clothes.  This isn’t about not liking my body (well, mostly), this is about feeling that my body is mine.  It’s private.  It’s like my private thoughts and feelings:  I only want to share them with people I really know, and like (and of course I like you guys, but who knows who else is on the internet 😉 ).

So that’s my personal reason for preferring to dress a bit more modestly.

In a wider societal context, I see the trend to promote loving your body through showing it off as part of a bigger emphasis on sexualising women: on our worth being based on how alluring, and available, we make our bodies.  Once again, it bases our perception of worth around our bodies on how other people view them.

I can see this movement having real value when it helps a woman who has never seen herself as alluring and desirable to feel that way, and to experience that about herself.  At the same time, I think its very important not to focus on ‘sexy’, on ‘alluring and desirable’ as the most important attributes of a woman.  We’re so much more than that, and any movement that can’t get that across, and can’t celebrate all those other things, is selling us short.  Because I want all women to feel that they can love themselves, even without being sexy.

I’m not advocating dressing like a Quaker from 1840: sometimes focusing on dressing non-sexually and modestly can put just as much emphasis on it as taking everything off.  Both are about how the outside world sees you: not how you feel about yourself.  I’m advocating taking control of your own body, and celebrating what it is, in any way that makes you feel comfortable.

So I’m going to wear  things that make me happy.  Skirts that end below the knees (though I got quite brave in Oz and bought two dresses that end above the knees).  Necklines that dip quite low, because I don’t have enough bosom to feel sexualized and ‘revealing’ in décolleté.  Surf shorts over my one-piece swimsuits.  And I’m wearing them for me.  Because they make me love my body.

And those are my thoughts on dress and revealing your body.

I have a hard time writing posts like this, because they are very revealing about me.  They break my privacy barrier.  But while I don’t think that the only way for women to celebrate themselves is through sexualising their image, I do think that it is important to learn to celebrate yourself by trusting the world and showing them who you really are.  So this is me taking off my metaphorical privacy sarong.  Please ignore the mental cellulite.

27 Comments

  1. Stefanie says

    I agree on what you say about, accepting your body is more than just feeling sexy. On the other hand, to me, being nude and showing off my body, isn’t necessarily connecting to being sexy. I accept my body, and I’m not afraid of showing it. I pose for different artists etc, and I feel very comfortable doing that. But that has nothing to do with feeling or being sexy. To me being nude is just very natural.
    But I totally respect what you say, everyone experience their body in their own way and people should do what they’re comfortable with.
    And I enjoy reading these posts. 🙂

    • Thank you 🙂 And yes, I completely agree that being nude isn’t the same as being sexualised. Often it’s actually the little bit of clothes that make it so much more provocative than fully nude!

  2. I don’t like showing off my body either, for very similar reasons like you. It’s mine, and I don’t want to share it with everybody; I don’t believe I’m meant to either.
    I do care about the message I send to the outside world, though, in a way that’s intertwined with caring about my own attitude. As in, there’s showing your beauty and there’s showing off. I don’t want the latter, obviously.

  3. Jenny Wren says

    I agree- women shouldn’t feel pressurised to cover up OR strip off. It shouldn’t be an issue! Thanks for these articles- they’re great ^_^.

  4. Natalie says

    Well written; thank you for taking that issue head on, yet not loading it up with moralities.

    Am in a similar mindset, by the way, and have been for years. It’s a good place to be.

    Sometimes I have to laugh, though, that as quiet as I am about everyday clothes, how fascinated I am with costuming and costume history. Many people would not connect the two.

    Very best,

    Natalie

    Very best,

    Natalie

  5. Late fall seems to be the season for body image acceptance in the blogosphere; Katie Jacobs recently did a post about loving yourself whatever you look like. Even on TV shows that feature “real” women (I’ve starting using the quotation marks ever since I read your post on that topic), I’m pretty sure that the studio makes efforts to make the women seem attractive.

    While we are taking off our metaphorical privacy sarongs: for a long time I had only seen sexualized breasts, and I thought mine looked really weird, and it took a long time to realize how normal I am. This whole “take off your clothes” campaign really isn’t helping if you try to make it sexy.

  6. I love this post! For a long time I was pretty modest, because I was uncomfortable in my body. Now I dress to feel and look good (and stay warm lol) Shorts over my swimsuit too, I don’t like to have to reveal that much.

    Every woman has her own beauty that shines out when not covered by clothing. Between sexualization of every inch of skin and shame over our bodies this takes daily work to remember. We’ve lost our sisterhood, too, to remind each other how beautiful we are.

  7. This post is great!

    I completely understand what you mean. There is also the matter of people (men) assuming you want to be stared at if you’re wearing anything sexy. When I wear tight jersey clothing it’s for dance practice so that I can move and my coach can see every little flaw. Just today I had a guy tell me that I shouldn’t be sexy only for dancing. I suppose you can figure out the rest of the conversation 😉 I managed not to slap him.

  8. No one can argue that women are overly sexualized and objectified in the media, but at the same time there is an incredible lack of diversity in the people we see on tv. I find great power in seeing the bodies of women who look like me, especially as I, personally, am not shaped like the majority of women I see represented in the media. It means a great deal to me to see diverse shapes and sizes presented in a positive light in the media even if I could do without yet another one-dimensional representation of women as sexual beings. Because as it stands now, the lack of diversity literally erases people from media that heavily influence and inform western culture. So for this reason I’ll take what diversity I can get while still hoping for more change.

  9. I dress modestly because I have some extra curves that are not seen on the photo shopped and surgically altered girls. I don’t think they are very attractive. BUT I think I would still dress modestly if I were a svelt size 2 because I don’t think sexual clothing does anything for a womans reputation and it doesn’t encourage people to take you seriously. Who cares if you have a brain if there are a pair of boobs staring at you. If I’ve got a full panoramic view of some woman’s boobs I’m too busy thinking “cover those puppies up” to hear her profound thoughts! She could be telling me the solution to world peace and I wont notice. I’m not saying hide your womanhood under a boxy man’s suit…it is OK to show the female shape….just not every square inch of skin (unless you are at a nudest beach) And if I can tell what kind of underpants you may or may not being wearing…your clothes are either to tight or too short and that is just icky.

  10. Lynne says

    I did enjoy this post! I am now sixty-five, so I was a young woman at a time when we were casting off the restrictive clothing our mothers had worn. I was given my first girdle – high-waisted and really solid – at about sixteen, but within two or three years, we were not wearing such things any more. My mother felt undressed without one for daily wear until much later. I was a teacher, so we had an unwritten expectation of dressing modestly, though I am a little aghast now when I look at photos and see how short my skirts were! They had become ‘normal’ – I used to make my own clothes, and used to check skirt length ‘decency’ by stretching both hands above my head and making sure my underpants didn’t show!

    A personal concept of modesty and decorum is important for all of us to feel good and not feel exploited. Now, I would even more strongly add an awareness of aesthetics. There are many more bits of me, that while I am perfectly happy about them – they are ‘me’ – I no longer feel add to the beauty of the environment. Old upper arms. Old legs. Cankles. All can be becomingly and effectively covered by pants and long skirts.

    It is all about moderation and balance, again, isn’t it? I rejoice in the freedom to wear what I want, but I need to modify my choices to fit the world I live in.

  11. Thank you.

    I really appreciate you saying things like this. I’ve basically been raised to dress modestly, though I make that choice for myself now. It’s been quite disparaging to see the trend towards more risque’ clothing lately that it’s encouraging to find other people with similar ideas.

  12. I get that. I totally get that. About being “private.” As a person. When I blog, I feel like I show a tiny pinhole look at who I am and I’m comfortable with that.

    One of the things I tend to work hard to downplay is that I’m a fairly sexual person. I don’t go trolling for men or anything, that’s not what I mean. I like my man, I rather enjoy what we have and I’ll leave it at that. But the fact is that my “body type” is perceived as sexy unless I do cover up like an 18th century Quaker. On top of that, I rather enjoy my (private) sexuality.

    When I’m covered up, I look dumpy. So I often feel like I have a choice between “vixen” and “frump” though I try to walk the line between the two. It’s very limiting, stylistically, because I feel like I have so much more to offer as a person.

    Has anyone read that old old post by Selfish Seamstress about how she deals with being “cute”? I remember that post really struck a chord with me and I can’t find it. I’m not “cute,” my body is a continuous collection of curves and I know I need to watch out because of it. It’s less an asset than a liability.

    I don’t talk about this often, but you brought up the subject and it’s kind of been at the forefront of my mind these past few weeks.

    Very interesting, very revealing post. Thank you for it. There’s as many ways of being womanly as there are women in the world. I might need to write something along those lines soon… 🙂

    • I definitely see how your body type is sexy to men, though I think (from what I have seen) that your demeanor and the way you dress, even when you are showing quite a bit of skin, keep you from looking too provocative. This is something to think about…sexy or not being as much about how much you wear, as how you carry yourself.

      Based on your posts on halternecks, it looks like you are expanding your comfort zone, and idea of frumy-ness/vixen-ness, and that’s good!

      Did you find that being married, and then a mother, gave you bigger scope for dressing? In that you didn’t have to worry how men saw you?

      • I’m so relieved that someone who lives outside my head thinks so.. Thanks for that, I try to carry myself decently…

        No, I don’t think becoming a wife and a mother gave me a broader scope of dressing (though I’m interested to hear why you’d think that…). I was 22 when I married, very brainless about bodies and modesty and so forth. It was like a switch suddenly went off in my head and all the things I’d formerly worn and not thought twice about felt cheap and nasty and salacious. I didn’t like the way I felt in those clothes.

        That’s why I turned to sewing for myself seriously, and to vintage styles. I like older styles because the designs tend to flatter the female form without putting my body on display. It’s about the clothes, and it’s about the skill that goes into making and fitting them.

        Hmm.. Not sure if I put it “just right…” But I’ll leave it. 🙂

  13. Also, I *really* hope you don’t mind me saying so in public (please take it down if you wish, I don’t mind), but I was SO surprised when I met you. I wasn’t at all prepared for the exceptionally glamorous, beautiful lady who showed up at my door with sunshine pouring from the ends of her hair. I knew we got along well and I WAS prepared for your warmth, wit and intelligence, but not for “the whole Leimomi package.” I hope you let the pretty lady show a little more, she’s utterly charming. 🙂

    • wAwwwww …thank you! 🙂 That’s such a wonderful, lovely thing to say!

      Do you mean I should show myself more on the blog? Or with how I dress? Because I don’t want to brag or be vain! I do think I dress prettily on a daily basis – just slightly more covered enough. Enough for Mr D to sigh and say “You are going to be 60 someday, you don’t have to dress like that already” 😉

      • fwiw- I don’t think posting more of yourself and your personal style would be vain or bragging (ahem) and that’s what I mean. That’s not really what The Dreamstress does, The Dreamstress is very smart and researches textiles and makes exquisite gowns. 🙂

        But…. Well… Why not? We’re unlikely to be all like “Oh Boy, Leimomi’s turned into an ego-maniac/narcissistic monster with delusions of grandeur… More likely that people like me would think “She’s got style” and pick up new/useful ideas.

        /end meddling

        • I learn from your photos. I’m new to historical clothing. The couple of peices I’ve done and the corset I have started to wear daily (because it helps my back pain like pills never have) have convinced me my body type is better suited to Victorian styling. I’ve been playing with the idea of sewing my own everyday clothes a la victorian (shirts at least) for that reason. But, I need to learn how to do that without looking frumpy or like a crazy lady or like I”m in a costume. I’ve been following Steph for that reason. I’d like to see you Dreamstress and your style more often because I”m sure you do well in that regard yourself.

  14. Thank you for a very thoughtful post on a subject that obsesses many people.

    I don’t think anyone should EVER have to defend their choices about physical presentation and modesty, but you have done so very cogently.

    My personal feelings on the display and modesty issues are very different from yours. I do not have much physical modesty and have no interest or need to keep my body private. I don’t have problems with taking off my clothing in front of others (unless there are people around who are embarrassed by this; I’ve acquired a kind of surrogate modesty as a result of my awareness that many people have issues about nudity.)

    On the other hand, I do have some issues with disliking the way parts of my body looks. It’s not so much the overall contours of my body, but the parts of me that are the fattest develop the weird cellulite-like dimpling that I detest. So, for example, I rarely bare my thighs unless I’m baring it all, because I think my thighs are ugly. I find the sight of myself in a swimsuit distasteful (and think I look much better naked). On the other hand, I cheerfully wear tight shirts and display my upper body because I’m proud of it. Mostly (my upper arms need a bit of remedial weightlifting, nowadays).

    But I recognize that these concerns are My Issues. I think it’s sad that so many people ostracize and criticize people for not conforming to the current stereotypes of beauty and health. Our bodies are part of what we are, and having a negative body image damages and diminishes people.

    You have an additional problem which may (?) be less common. You are young and attractive, but unwilling to subscribe to the cultural trend for sexualizing fashion and promoting sexual display. People should be free to engage, or not, in such displays, and the pressure you feel to imitate a licentious style of presentation that isn’t you is deplorable. I’m glad that you’ve resolved to “wear what makes you comfortable”, because everyone has that right and should not be intimidated out of exercising it.

    • I don’t think anyone should EVER have to defend their choices about physical presentation and modesty, but you have done so very cogently.

      I don’t think of this as a defense, so much as an explanation, and a way to start a discussion :-). Interesting what you say about ‘surrogate modesty’ – covering yourself up for other people’s comfort. It’s pretty much the opposite of dressing provocatively to fit in!

      And I love that you describe being young and attractive as a problem 😉 I think I’m in a (slightly) unique position, because I don’t dress quite as modestly as the specifically ‘modest’ dressers.

  15. Abigail says

    Thank you for this post! I have more or less the same reasons. I feel pretty good about my body. While I wear clothes that make me feel good about myself, I don’t dress modestly because I want to be private about my body for MY sake, but rather because I want to save it for the enjoyment of my future husband only. I don’t want every guy out there to know what my body looks like and enjoy it, I want that ONE special guy to know that he’s so special I saved my body for him.

  16. Elise says

    I’m in Oregon, going wedding dress shopping with my friend (yay!). She looks so beautiful in so many things, but she looks most beautiful when SHE feels comfortable. It’s a fun process.

  17. Nicola Lowrie says

    I am Muslim, and wear abaya and hijab always when not in front of family or women only. Underneath I can just about wear anything I like, especially if its just my husband who sees me. I have always dressed modestly, and I love wearing the hijab, the bigger scarves, draped over the bossom, and I love wearing my turkish style abayas, more like a full length tailored coats. Before becoming Muslim I was still modest, but felt frumpy. Now I feel far more happy than ever before, I save my sexiness only for my husband, and have an excuse to wear the floor length dresses and skirts I have always wanted to wear, but fashion dictated otherwise. Of course I have a particular religious belief which goes far deeper than just clothing, however, when people see me I am sure they think I am made to wear abaya and hijab, when in reality, I make the choice, and love every minute of dressing modestly. I love victorian and edwardian era clothing, and can happily wear whatever I like as generally they are modest. If I want to wear something very fitted, then I will wear some straight jacket or coat over the top to hide my shape, but take it off when at my destination if with women or family. I hope you dont mind me adding this message to you, but I was just struck by your post.

    • I get that. I loved wearing a hijab and floor length shift-dresses when I was a student in Egypt. No one “made” me do it, I tried it out to see what it’s like. It’s really cool and comfy in the heat, and I genuinely enjoyed the freedom that wearing those garments lent me. I could relax, especially once I put on my super-dark shades. It’s like an awesome “going out in public disguise.”

      I hope that’s not disrespectful of your beliefs, but it was a very refreshing change for me… I can be quite shy in public.

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