by Merry Gordon
Dear Not-Quite-Tween Daughter:
It’s early, I know. The fact that you’re a girl barely registers with you. You still smell of recess and little kid sweat and school cafeteria and it’s all I can do to get you to brush your hair once a day. Knots of whispering females are cropping up under the bleachers at snack time to trade secrets and lip gloss, but you’re still out there on the soccer field kicking the collective rear of every boy in your grade—you are not the kind of girl who’ll be sidelined by your gender, and for that I’m grateful.
But a time will come in the none-too-distant future when we will bond over PMS-fueled ice cream benders and watch YouTube videos on how to best conceal a surprise zit on class picture day. You’ll borrow my mascara in the mornings, steal your dad’s razor to shave your legs for the first time…and eventually you might try to sneak out of the house wearing an outfit that raises an eyebrow. Maybe you’ll wriggle into your seat at church and tug on a too-short dress or shake your hair over a strappy shirt. It’s possible you’ll test boundaries; most kids do.
And if this happens, your father and I will both take a deep breath.
He will sit down, clean his gun collection and make a mental note of any boy over the age of twelve who has so much as glanced at you in the past six months.
I will put on my best MomFace and consider my next move.
What I won’t do is tell you ‘modest is hottest’. This is why: I spent years preventing your Hannah Montana-loving eyes from seeing the “Wrecking Ball” music video. I steered you away from hyper-eroticized fashion dolls. The last thing I’m going to do is confuse you with a cute catchphrase implying that covering up will make you physically desirable.
I also won’t force you to change your outfit. I don’t own your body. You have been endowed with the sublime gift of agency, and I will not, even in that lovingly passive-aggressive way mothers have, attempt to take that away from you.
Oh, we’ll still have words about modesty and why it’s important—don’t get me wrong.
But maybe before it gets to this point, we should sit down and have an honest conversation that doesn’t dodge the tough stuff and couch doctrine in platitudes. I owe you that.
So here goes…
Let me tell you something. I have great legs for a woman my age. I could still rock a mini like it’s nobody’s business.
I just choose not to.
Maybe you’ve heard someone say that women should be modest because they don’t want to tempt boys into immorality, but that’s not what makes me pass up the Daisy Dukes and bandeaus.
I don’t dress modestly because I feel some kind of obligation toward male moral agency—and I don’t want you dressing modestly only so Johnny keeps his eyes on his math notes instead of on your backside. Making men the sole focus of modesty gives license to the idea that they are no more than club-wielding cavemen incapable of controlling their carnal urges, and I have a little more faith in humanity than that.
Here’s why I choose to cover up. I dress modestly because I believe that one way to close the gender gap is to stop giving so much importance to the thigh gap. My contribution to the world goes beyond cleavage: I will not objectify myself. But most importantly, I choose modesty because I understand my divine nature. I believe that my body is a temple. I believe in glorifying God with my body—and with my spirit, which is the far harder lesson. I believe that modesty is more than what I wear.
You are ten now, all scabby-kneed body joy and breathless with hope. But I can’t keep you little forever: crushes and stick-on nails are just around the corner. They lurk there in the shadows, with Temptation and Doubt and all the other trials that cross the path of teenage life and make you wonder if it’s worth it to hike up your skirt a little for the attention.
Before that time comes, a promise:
I will show you how to be beautiful and not merely hot.
I will teach you that your body is a miracle, not something to be afraid and ashamed of.
I will talk to you about sleeves and necklines, but also about modesty in thought and in word, the kind of grace that calls attention to your divine potential as a daughter of God and helps you focus on what is truly meaningful in life.
All of my love forever,