Friday, July 23, 2010

Mental Self Image and Modesty

I was talking with two other women at the gym last night as we were sorting through a bunch of clothes. One of the women, Nancy, has been seeing the same personal trainer as I have, and she had a bunch of clothes that were too large for her, so Julie Anne, my trainer, suggested that she bring them in for me and Mae, who will be losing weight *into* those sizes, which will save us from having to shop, for a while. So Mae and I split up the clothes, which worked out really, really well for me, since my tastes and Nancy's are apparently more alike, so I got a *ton* of clothes. Mae took what she liked, but she doesn't wear patterns, and she doesn't wear things without sleeves, or short sleeves, etc. So there wasn't as much there that she would ever wear.

So we were talking about our fitness, and weight loss, and the odd places that weight's been disappearing from. Mae says she's gone down in shoe size from the weight loss! I know that I've lost weight in my hands, which I found weird, since I never thought of my hands as being fat... Nancy was talking about how she's had to go shopping, and she still finds herself buying clothes for her *old* body, which means they're too large for her now. And she said, she *knows* how much she weighs, and she *knows* what size she fits into, but in her mind, in her mental image of herself, she's still bigger, and she picks up the wrong clothes.

Which reminded me of, well, me. Only in reverse. For years, I've known my weight. But I didn't see myself as how I really was. I'd watch the very beginning of the Biggest Loser show, where everyone shows up and they weigh them, and they tell their story? And some of the women weighed *less* than me. Some of them more, or about the same. And I'd sit on the couch and think, '*wow*, they're *FAT*!' and 'well, but I *carry* the weight much better. *I* don't look like *that*.' Right, well, here's the thing. I did. But I didn't *see* it.

I'd avoid getting my picture taken, and if I had to, just say, oh, well, I don't photograph well, or it's the light, the outfit, the...'insert excuse here'. Fat on the arms? Long sleeves! Cause *nobody* can *see* that your arms are fat if they're covered by cloth! Not true. They're still fat, and everyone can see that.

For me, I suspect that much of my fascination with 'modesty', with dresses and skirts and loose, loose clothes, covering from the collar bone all the way to the floor, was an effort to hide me from myself, and everyone else. And that's just wrong.

While modesty is, in part, about your clothes, it's more about your attitude and how you present yourself to the world.

I read a post earlier where the author was remembering being in a shop in the ME and *everything* in the shop stopping for the niqabi at the counter. And how she was so modest, and yet her every gesture was feminine and commanded the room. Which, okay, maybe it's just me, but if your goal is modesty, how is it modest if the way that you act/speak/move/whatever basically stops traffic? This just proved to me that it's *more* about you and how you act than what you're wearing. Because you can obviously be covered head to toe, and still draw attention if you want to. And women *know* when we're doing that. We do. It's *deliberate*.

So I'm wearing jeans and a sleeveless top to work. :p


  1. Cool header!

    I once saw a niqabi I would describe as "stunning". She was with her husband and wasn't doing anything, but there was just something about her, and I could tell even with the niqab that she was slender and delicate and beautiful. You just can't hide beauty with fabric... it isn't one-dimensional. So much of it is about personality too. As long as we are ourselves, our beauty will show, and it is there to be appreciated. To me, immodest just means egotistical and vain and attention-seeking and superficial.

  2. LOL I love you and your rants.

    Modesty is so more about how you act than how you dress. I've seen some hijabis in abaya act pretty immodest and that is about as covered as you can get!

    Congrats on the loosing weight and the new clothes. My God make it easy for you :)

  3. You! You....hussy!! Baring your arms like that! And wearing jeans!

    *hides face*

    Loved this post! I remember a time I lost weight and half a shoe size. I thought maybe it was just the shoe style. Interesting how maybe your modesty (by covering) "phase" may have been partly because you wanted to hide your weight.

    "While modesty is, in part, about your clothes, it's more about your attitude and how you present yourself to the world."

    Really good thoughts here. Glad you shared! :)

  4. Well, that said in your post about how you act etc. if your boobs or thighs are hanging out no one is going to pay attention to your additude, ya know? So actually: yes, clothing does matter. You don't have to swath yourself head-to-toe in a bag. Or veil your face. That's not a necessity to be modest. But it is decent clothing + additude that brings modesty. You can't ditch the modest clothes, go about with parts hanging out and claim, "I'm modest because I don't sway my hips!"

    And there's nothing immodest about *femininity* and that is what the lady in the shop displayed: beautiful femininity... she wasn't sexual. She wasn't moving like an exotic dancer. She captivated the room with her natural, clean femininity. Which is something that a lot of Women in the West have lost. And why??? I have no idea except that for some reason it seems that being feminine is the sin these days ~ and immodesty is perfectly acceptable.

    No matter what, no matter how fit you become, how much weight you loose, you can't escape the fact that modesty here, in the West, is very heavily connected to the clothing that you wear. It's not just how you act ~ it's also how you dress while you act modest.

  5. Sarah,

    *nods* There's a clothing component, to be sure, because if your clothing is tight enough or low cut enough, you're still going to be immodest, imo, but there's so much more to it than just the clothes. It's the attitude of the person wearing them that can make it or break it.

  6. LK,

    So glad I can amuse! :)

    'Modesty is so more about how you act than how you dress'

    That's the conclusion I've reached. It's not enough to cover what you believe needs to be covered, you have to act out your modesty, for it to be real.


  7. Susanne,

    'You! You....hussy!! Baring your arms like that! And wearing jeans!'

    You forgot 'shameless'. But it's really just the arms that are new. I wear jeans all the time. They're nice and loose and comfy. :)

    'I remember a time I lost weight and half a shoe size. I thought maybe it was just the shoe style.'

    Apparently not. I haven't noticed any difference in my shoes, though I can tell that my feet are smaller, at least on the top... Everyone carries the weight in different ways and places, I guess.

    'Interesting how maybe your modesty (by covering) "phase" may have been partly because you wanted to hide your weight.'

    For me, I think that may have been a subconscious part of it. At least the 'extreme' form of covering.

  8. Michelle,

    I did say that modesty was part clothes, yes? No doubt, if you're wearing low cut, skin tight tops and mini skirts, or skin tight pants, it doesn't matter how modest you act, you're still dressing immodestly.

    I never said that the clothing didn't matter. But, one can be modestly dressed, and be immodest in the way one acts.

    Oh, was that your post? I couldn't remember where I'd read it. Anyway. I wasn't there, but that's what I thought of when I read your description. Femininity doesn't stop everything in a room. Allure does. The way you described it made it seem like she was 'stopping traffic', and that everyone in the store was staring.

    'No matter what, no matter how fit you become, how much weight you loose, you can't escape the fact that modesty here, in the West, is very heavily connected to the clothing that you wear. It's not just how you act ~ it's also how you dress while you act modest.'

    True. And I'm not going to be one of those people running around in midriffs and shortshorts, ever. For instance, the jeans I'm wearing today are at least one size up from what fits me, so they're loose. The sleeveless top is long, so it covers the top of my jeans, opaque, loose, and the neck comes up to about a half-inch from my collarbone. The only possibly 'immodest' thing about it is that it has no sleeves. And I don't believe that the sight of my upper arms is going to attract anyone, unless I choose to act immodestly.

    But it's not just 'in the West'. Clothing is connected to the concept of modesty everywhere. Almost to the exclusion of the fact that it's not *just* the clothes, but the way you act that makes or breaks modesty.

  9. caraboska is experiencing technical lj to blogspot difficulties, for some unknown reason, so I'm posting her replies to this from her lj here, so I can have everything together. Because I'm like that. :p

    "Maybe the lady was some kind of Emirati princess or something. I've lost about 20 kg/44 lbs. over the past couple of years, and oddly, it hasn't dampened my interest in being covered. In fact, I plan to don jilbab by the end of the year God willing. Nor, on the other hand, has donning hijab prevented me from losing weight :)"

  10. I'm also including my replies to her, for completeness' sake.

    Which lady? Neither one of them was an Emirati princess, though, I can pretty much guarantee. :)'s not that the weight loss has made me lose interest in covering, or at least, I don't think so. Up until late last month, all of the weight loss was done while covering (though not in hijab, since I never adopted full hijab). And I still dress modestly, I'm simply not being as strict with myself about, it has to be hijab compliant, which is what I was doing before. My rules for myself have relaxed. Maybe I was only doing it because of my weight, subconsciously. If so, I wasn't doing it for the right reasons, and it's better that I step back from it and re-examine, yes? But I'm still dressing basically the way I've been dressing.

  11. caraboska said,

    "Oh, for some reason I thought there was a time when you were wearing hijab and even jilbab... Obviously if you were doing whatever you were doing dress-wise for the wrong reasons, that would be a good reason to stop and rethink. I'm just saying that covering doesn't have to have that kind of bad connotations.

    About that princess person, I meant the lady in niqab..."

  12. and then I said,

    I did try, in bits and pieces, but no, I never adopted a full hijab. There were one or two outings in jilbab and scarf, so that may be where the confusion came from.

    Did I come off as having negative connotations with the covering? If so, that's definitely not what I meant. I find it beautiful and reverential and modest, and I feel I came away with great benefits from my two years of it. And at the time I felt convinced that I was doing it because that's what God wanted me to do. I don't feel that any more, and I do think that one should do it for the right reasons. However, I do still cover for prayer and church, since I still feel that that is required.

    'About that princess person, I meant the lady in niqab...'

    Ooohh...duh. *smacks self in forehead* That may well be.

  13. Ohhh, that's why my shoes don't fit! I know this probably sounds dumb, but I hadn't realized. Since I've been wearing skirts more often and it's summer now, I also started wearing sandals. But the only ones I had were from several years ago, and they are way too big now. I thought maybe they had always fit that way and I just never noticed, but that doesn't make sense because they actually fall off when I walk and they never did that before. I would never have considered that I lost weight in my feet! :D Weirdness.

    I've always seen myself as bigger than I am. I remember being surprised once because I fit into a friend's shirt, and another friend was offended when I mentioned it, like I was saying that she was fatter or something. She relaxed when I said "'cause I'm huge, and she's all tiny and pretty". So I avoided pictures too, because they made me depressed and I just knew I was going to look fatter and uglier than everyone else, even when that wasn't actually the case. *shrugs* A lot of people I know do one or the other. It's weird how we have so much trouble seeing ourselves as we are.

    I like the last two paragraphs. :D Good for you. I've lightened up on the "modesty" lately too. I'm still pretty covered, but *gasp* I wear short sleeves 'cause it's hot out. No one cares. I attract less attention this way, not more. Like you say, modesty is not (all) about what you wear.

  14. I don't have much to add but that this is a beautiful post. I liked it very much - very honest!

  15. sanil,

    I never would have thought of weight loss in the feet either. You should have seen me when Mae said it. I was shocked! :)

    It's weird how our perception of ourselves can determine so much of our reality.

    That's my thing. It's not one, or the other. It's *both*. You need to have inner modesty, which shows in how you speak and act, and outer modesty, which would be the clothes. And I kind of think that the inner modesty is more important than meeting some arbitrary guideline for clothing. Situations may call for more clothes, or longer, but those are situational.

  16. Suroor,

    Thank you! I'm happy to see you. Taking a break from your break? :)


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