Friday, January 17, 2014

Modest, Plain, Ugly, Oppressed

I want to talk about this because I've seen it so much. I'm probably going to go all over the place, but let me get this out anyway. I'll watch a video on a lovely new way to wrap my scarves, or a blog post of someone explaining why they cover and, somewhere in the comments, there is almost always someone who does not want to understand. Somewhere, there is someone who feels the need to express their ignorance.

The first is one I often see in response to ladies who say they cover for modesty. These ladies, every one of them, look beautiful in their coverings and usually their coverings are beautiful garments on their own. The comment is often one of confusion, someone who did not realize that modest does not have to be plain. Plain, in my understanding, is neutral colors, no adornments, simple shapes and lines. Plain is not fancy and not decorative, it is muted and simple and practical. Modest does not have to be those things. Modest can be bright, it can be decorated, patterned, flattering. Modest can be decorous while still being pretty, while still allowing one to express one's self. Separate those two in your mind right now. Plain is modest, but modest does not have to be plain. Pretty and beautiful are not the opposite of modest.

There is more at work in dressing in a modest fashion than just covering up your skin and hair. You can dress modestly and not cover you hair. You can dress modestly and wear pants. You can dress modestly and still have lovely jewelry. Modesty is personal. It's owning your body. It's recognizing that you are a sacred being and holding that being sacred. It is being comfortable in how you dress, in how you move, in what you do. That, in and of itself, is beautiful. When you do that, when you own your self, everyone around you can see that beauty. And that's where the ignorant comments come in. If someone thinks a lady dressing modestly is beautiful, then that lady must be doing something wrong, something not modest, to make someone think that. Those people are looking at the wrong thing. It's not about the outward appearance at all. A woman who feels confident, secure, and happy looks beautiful. That is her spirit, her self that you are seeing, that you are recognizing as beautiful.

Similarly, plain does not have to be ugly. Plain is also beautiful. Have you ever seen someone in a black abaya and a white hijab? Is that not plain? Is that not also beautiful? I've spent a good deal of time in Amish and Mennonite markets. Ladies in simple dresses, some are colored in pastels or patterned in delicate flowers depending on the community, with hair twisted up and a prayer cap pinned on top. They are happy, confident, in control of their bodies. They are beautiful. Separate that in your mind too. Plain does not mean it must be ugly.

Now, there is a sort of catch 22, and that also seems to be where some of these comments I see come from. Part of being modest or plain is not drawing attention to yourself. In this modern world we live in, anything different draws attention. That is just the reality of this age. Modest dress gets attention because it is different. It is not what everyone else is doing, so people notice it. That does not mean that the person dressing modestly is doing something wrong. That means you are perceiving them through your own standards, through the standards that society says you should have. It's not your fault, don't feel bad. Just stop judging those who are different, ok?

The last bit...that's always the tough one. I see it all the time, most often in response to a Jewish woman who says she covers her hair for her husband or to a Muslim woman who says she covers because her faith tells her to. "For your husband" carries with it the incorrect belief that she does it because her husband told her to, and that is oppression. Yes, that is. If your spouse says he wants you to dress a certain way and there are consequences if you don't, that is oppression. If your spouse asks you to dress a certain way without consequences and you want to do it to please him, that is not oppression. In the same way that your spouse asking you to make him a sandwich and you do it because you want him to eat and you know full well he would get up and do it on his own if you didn't is not oppression. If your religion advises you to dress a certain way for the benefit of your spouse and you love your religion and you think it's a beautiful gesture for your spouse, that is not oppression. So many people seem to not understand this. When you do something because you want to do it, because it means something to you, it is not oppression. It is taking an idea, a recommendation, an ancient law even, and deciding to embrace it and to make it your own and deciding it is relevant in your life. That's not oppression, that's making a decision.

I was watching this video. At about a minute and thirty, they discuss why they cover. She said "look at us. Do we look oppressed?" Of course not! They look beautiful and happy and so in touch with why they do it. I saw a comment (on a different video) where someone was going on and on about how sad she was for the lovely lady who was only explaining why she veiled, how it was a beautiful thing she did for her husband. The commentator said something along the lines of 'if it's not oppression, the men would do it too.' In some cultures, the men DO do it too! Jewish men might wear a kippah, the Qur'an has instructions for both men and women to dress modestly, Amish and Mennonite men may have dress restrictions, the requirement of Sikh men to wear a turban is the biggest example of this. It's not all on the women. Once again, people need to stop judging a culture from their own standards.

I do not wear a veil for my husband, as I have none just yet. My betrothed has made no demands on my appearance whatsoever one way or the other. He has never asked me to veil, and he has never asked me not to. He compliments me when I look nice, but he pretty much says that every day. I couldn't tell you if it's because he likes the veil I'm wearing that day or if it's just that he loves me and thinks I'm beautiful (I know the latter is true, I do not know if the former ever is true). There are no specific tenets of my faith that recommend dressing modestly or wearing a veil, though the reasons I do it are faith-based. My decisions with regard to my wardrobe are entirely up to me. That can't possibly be oppression.

I just used a whole bunch of words to say one simple thing that I wish more people would learn: Modest and plain dress does not have to be ugly and are almost always not oppression.


koko said...

this post brought to mind something I've encountered in my body acceptance work. People often ask me why I wear makeup and dye my hair, if I stand for women being beautiful the way they are naturally. My response is that I wear makeup and dye my hair for myself! I don't do it because society tells me to. I do it because it is how I want to look, on MY OWN terms. It's personal.

Kaede Fyrecreek said...

Yes! Good for you! That's exactly it! I still dye my hair with henna, because I want to. Almost no one sees it because it's covered when I go out and I don't care. It's not for those other people, it's for me. I love the process of coloring my hair with henna, I love the feel of it, and I just love the resulting color when it's done. Even veiled, it's important to love who you are underneath. If 4 hours with mud on my hair makes me happy, I'm going to keep doing it. I am in control of how I look every moment. It's completely up to me. Talk about owning your body!

MoxieWeaver Fireheart said...

I love this. You put it so well. You've inspired me, to start doing it with my hair, not because I want to be modest, per se, but because I find it so beautiful. I want to do it for me...Although when I did it for the 1st time last nigh, my husband said he REALLY liked it and it was pretty....