Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Talking About “Modest Dress”…

...what I mean and don’t mean
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 01/15/2016 at 12:38 PM EDT

For many years, I have been outspoken about my desire to dress in certain ways on the red carpet: I dont wear strapless dresses, I prefer to cover my arms, and I dont wear mini-dresses. Thats my choice. For me, I also dont believe in artificialcleavage (wearing elaborate contraptions to make my breasts look like they do unnatural things, such as stand up in a dress where normal breasts wouldnt): whatever my breasts do in a dress is what they do. Those are my guidelines for comfort and what I feel brings me the most dignity and ease on a red carpet.

My reasons are myriad. I dont believe you should have to show a lot of skin to be accepted as red carpet ready.I have a ton of body image issues. I always am super-critical of how I look, and – like many women I constantly compare myself to what the media tells us is attractive: namely very skinny women who often have no curves, a body type that most average women – especially those who have given birth to children – do not (and will never) have. The fashion industry is geared towards women who must modify their eating significantly (also known as dieting but its considered skinny-shamingif you call it dieting, I think!) or exercise enough to maintain that body type.

Many men think its normal for women to have flat stomachs when, in fact, there are organs and parts of your body in there that arent meant to lay flat at all past puberty. Fake tans, fake lashes, fake hair and plastic surgery abound in Hollywood and even outside the industry in Los Angeles. I dont look like most actresses and I know it. I choose clothing and fashion that I feel reflects my sense of style and my sense of comfort and discomfort in my own skin.

Some of my reasons are also based on religious principles that focus on highlighting the inside of a person by actively choosing to temper the outside. The idea is to stay covered and dress modestly, not to be unattractive: there are many women in my religious faith who make a career of being attractive while maintaining the standards of religious guidelines – my friend Allison Josephs (JewInTheCity) for example, and Modern Orthodox designer Adi Heyman. Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism and is known for her awesome fashion sense.

My friend Wendy Shalit wrote a tremendously important book, A Return To Modesty, about the larger sociological and personal implications of choosing to have guidelines for our outsides.

I have Mormon in-laws with whom I share some of my guidelines. I know many Christian women who share these sensibilities. At GrokNation, we published a post by a Muslim reader who believes similarly. And I also know many absolutely 100% non-religious women who want to take control of their bodies this way.

I have avoided using the word modestybecause it seems to make people mostly women young enough to be my daughters (Im 40, so these are women around 20, some a little younger or a little older from what I can tell) who get mad.

They say two main things:

  1. “Why are you slut-shaming and judging me or other women for dressing ‘not-modestly’?”
  2. “If men assault women, it’s not my clothing’s fault. I should be able to wear whatever I want.”

Here are my answers.

Slut-shaming: First, lets see if we can define that word: I dont even really know what slut means nowadays. When I was in school, in a time and place where girls were not having actualsex, it meant a girl who fooled around with a lot of guys. As I went into college, the term started to mean a young woman who had sex with a lot of people somewhat indiscriminately. (Of course there was a double standard, as many guys did this and simply were known as studs. Ick.) In any case, slut-shaming seems to mean picking on women or judging women who act or dress in a way that used to be called slutty.

If I choose to dress a certain way, that doesn’t mean that I think people who dont dress like me are sluts. Women should be allowed to wear short skirts or really, anything else they want – without being judged as wrongfor doing so. Dress however you want. Really. I choose not to dress a certain way, but lets not make a fight where there isnt one. Im not slut-shaming simply because I dont like to show a lot of skin. And people who express socially conservative viewpoints shouldnt automatically be accused of slut-shaming.

Rape is an act of abuse of power, not of sexual desire. (For some statistics about how and where rape happens and which demographics experience rape and sexual assault, see the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.) All kinds of women, old and young, of every body type and every level of attractiveness, are raped. No outfit can make someone rape someone else, despite astounding and truly unbelievable cases of men claiming that clothing made themrape someone. So, clothing does not cause rape or sexual assault.

That being said, if I walk in the street in a potato sack, I will get far less attention than if I walk in the street naked. I grew up in Los Angeles and I have been hooted at and whistled at a lot. It happened a few months ago, actually. I have been whistled at in all sorts of clothing but any time I have been in less clothing rather than more, I get more attention and most every women alive does too. The notion of an unadorned feminist is one I identify with very strongly. Its a choice I make to generally be unadorned. I dont wear tight clothing, I dont wear make-up, I am pretty plain Janein my daily approach and I like the lack of attention that brings for the most part.

Should mens whistles determine my clothing? Of course not. Should the threat of assault change my behavior? Of course not. But it does. Because as a woman, I dont always feel safe. Because as a woman, Im not always safe. When I went to UCLA, women were just starting to bravely speak up about on-campus sexual assaults that were happening, to a large extent at the fraternity and sorority events on our campuses. It was a conversation that has grown in volume and should continue to do so. (For more information, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE), read our GrokNation piece about ending sexual violence and assault, see The Hunting Ground or visit It’s On Us.)

Heres the deal. I know that my perspective may sound like Im out of touch with the mentality of a lot of young women and the culture we live in. And its true that things were for sure simpler when I was a teenager, in a time before the standards of adult fashion became the norm for young women. I didnt have to worry about smoothing out bumps or if my butt looked good; the clothing made for teenagers when I was a teenager didnt require that you have an awesome tight body like clothes do now! I didnt need a thong when I was 12 or even 16 because clothing did not require that I not have panty lines showing!

I just posted a petition by a teenager trying to get clothing companies to provide more modest options, and I was astounded at the number of women and men who accused me and this teenager of being judgmental of girls who dress in short skirts simply for trying to get more options in clothing stores so that all kinds of sensibilities can be satisfied. The name-calling and accusations of slut-shaming simply for asking for more options is, I think, getting out of control.

I am a fun person who likes to dress up and who loves my curves and loves to find ways to wear clothes in my personal and professional life that I feel honor my body, my industry, and my desire to not get attention I dont want. I also am driven a lot by my desire for comfort and not having to constantly diet or exercise every day of my life to meet the standards of the industry. But I have never and will never tell people what to wear.

If you want to know my guidelines, I am happy to elaborate on them. If you want to know what I think the value is in protecting certain parts of me, I am happy to sing the praises of the beauty of the King’s daughter being on the inside (a source text on modest dress in Psalms 45:14). I find a lot of strength in not letting my body speak before my brain does, because I have seen what happens to most men – and some women – when I wear a low-cut dress. It’s human nature to be attracted to skin. I’m just a happier person for putting boundaries around that.

If not putting boundaries around that makes you happy, by all means, knock yourself out. But lets not modesty-shame either. There are a lot of ways to be a woman, and I am grateful to live in a country where all of them are allowed!

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