Quick disclaimer: this post is basically just a less eloquent version of one that Gemma of Lipstick, Lettuce & Lycra wrote a couple of years ago – you can read it here.
I agreed with that post wholeheartedly when I first read it, and I found myself thinking about it again this week, when I opened up the Instagram app on my phone, and discovered that one of my outfit photos had been regrammed by the account of a religious group aiming to promote the concept of “modest” dressing.
And it really freaking annoyed me.
Now, I should say here that, under normal circumstances, I don’t have any problem whatsoever with people regramming my photos (Assuming they give proper credit, obviously). In fact, for the most part, I’m just incredibly flattered and grateful when it happens.
This time, though, the use of the photo – plus the caption and hashtags that accompanied it – strongly implied that I was:
a) A member of this particular religion – which I’m not. (I have no axe to grind with religious people, by the way – I just resent having beliefs attributed to me that I don’t share, and I think it’s pretty dodgy to use someone’s photo in that way without their permission. I’d feel the same if it was a political party, say, using a photo in a way that implied I was One of Them…)
b) Someone who puts a lot of emphasis on dressing “modestly” – which, nope, not into that either. Whoops.
And, I mean, the fact is, I DO dress in a way that I guess could be described as “modest”. I wear a lot of midi skirts, I don’t normally show much skin, and the closest thing I own to a mini skirt is still considerably longer than the kind of thing the words “mini skirt” probably suggest to most of you.
So, yeah, I guess by some standards, I dress “modestly”.
The thing is, though, I don’t do it with the intent to be “modest”, or because I believe women’s bodies should be covered up at all times, and I definitely don’t do it because I subscribe to any kind of worldview that likes to dictate how people should dress. (I’ll just stress again here that I have absolutely no problem with people who DO dress “modestly” for those reasons – it’s just that I don’t.) No, I wear midi length skirts because I like the way they look. I normally have my shoulders and arms covered because it’s often FREEZING here, and I can’t stand the cold. I wear one-pieces to the beach because I love the pin-up inspired style of them, and my necklines are generally high because I like them that way, and think they suit my figure better than lower ones.
But I also sometimes wear bodycon dresses and form-fitting skirts. I’ve been in flats or sneakers a lot recently because they’re more practical for my current lifestyle, but I have a large collection of 5″ stiletto heels, and you’ll have to prise them off my cold, dead feet. Oh, and I might love my retro one-pieces, but I also own a selection of bikinis, and I’m not afraid to wear them. (OK, I actually AM afraid to wear them right now, but that’s because I’m not feeling particularly body-confident at the moment, not because I believe women’s bodies should be covered up…)
So, while many of my outfits are what you might describe as “modest”, I would never describe myself as a “modest” dresser – and I’m always a little taken aback when I see other people label me in that way: like the Pinterest user who’s turned more than one of my outfit photos into a graphic declaring that “modest doesn’t have to mean frumpy!” and who uses it to promote an ebook on the subject, say. I realise that not everyone who chooses to dress “modestly” does so for religious reasons – I know a lot of people who do it for exactly the same reasons I do – but, well, that Instagram account that used my photo without permission? They posted it directly above a quote post which said, “WOE TO WOMEN WHO DRESS IMMODESTLY.” And seriously, I don’t want to be associated with that kind of mindset. It’s not a belief I share, and, to be perfectly honest, I find it pretty offensive.
I’ll just stress again here – because I have a feeling that this post is going to be taken the wrong way – that I’m well aware that not everyone who describes themselves as a modest dresser DOES subscribe to those kind of views. I know that, for lots of people, it’s just a handy shorthand they use to describe a particular style of dress, which they favour for any one of a hundred different reasons. There are enough people using the term because they DO believe so-called “modest” dressing is morally superior to whatever they’d term “immodest” dressing, however, for me to feel really uncomfortable when I see people label me that way. I mean, I guess if my style of dress is deemed “modest” then anyone who doesn’t dress that way must be immodest? YIKES.
So, I commented on the Instagram post and politely asked them to remove it (Which they did), and I’ll continue objecting any time I find people attributing beliefs to me that aren’t mine. Because I may dress “modestly” – most of the time – but it’s a fashion choice rather than a moral one, and while I’ll defend anyone’s right to dress however they want, for me, that has to include allowing people to choose their own labels – if they want to – rather than doing it for them.