Real Beauty is Modesty: Part 3

Are we morally obligated to other people to dress a certain way? I say no.

In my opinion, as long as someone has their basic hygiene met so that they are not emanating an odor into others’ personal space that’s all other people really owe the world.

What about in church? Aren’t women morally obligated to dress modestly? After all, if a women were to wear reveling clothing to church it could distract men and then they would not be able to concentrate on the service.

Even at church I stand by this statement: we are not morally obligated to other people to look a certain way.

I may wear a knee-length skirt to church with a short-sleeve top. Most people would think that my outfit is fine but others may think it is still too revealing. At that point, after I made a good-faith effort to dress myself based on my definition of an appropriate church outfit, I cannot worry about pleasing other people. If I am a distraction to men, it is not my problem, it’s theirs.

In church, we should look into our own hearts and think about why we are there. We want to listen to the service and learn something. Maybe we want to look nice too. Or maybe we just threw something on because we are stressed out and care more about making it there then dressing up. Our goal probably shouldn’t be to look sexy. However, it is not our job to determine what other people’s intentions are.  From time to time, we may see someone dressed a certain way and our initial reaction is something like, “Hey, that’s distracting. I came to church to hear the sermon and she is not letting me.” Instances like this can act as a reminder for ourselves. Really? Are you sure? How is she stopping you?

It can remind us to come back to ourselves and think, “I treat everyone with respect. I need to focus on myself, God, and the sermon. I need to remember that this other person is not just a female body but another human being.”

The Mindful Mean Girl

“Real beauty is in the inside.” We have been taught this since kindergarten and many of us would agree that it’s true. We try our best to remember this yet every now and then we just can’t help it: we analyze, we critique, we judge.

For example, I see a woman in shorts and a T-shirt. I make a snap judgement and label her as beautiful/not beautiful or whatever and then move on.  If the judgement I made was negative I sometimes feel guilty and then try to chase away those guilty feelings with thoughts like, “Why should I care? She is a stranger after all,” or, “No big deal. It’s not like I said that out loud. All that matters is that I’m nice in real life.” Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. If I still can’t shake the guilt I may go so far as to full-on repent like, “I know that was a mean. I’m sorry. For now on I’m going to stop judging people.”

Stop judging. Right. No matter how determined or sincere I am when I say it, I’m starting to realize that it cannot be done. My theory is that as humans we are constantly analyzing our surroundings as the primitive parts of our brains try to protect us from potential threats. The primitive brain has not gotten the memo that it’s the inside that really counts. It seems to me that the answer is not to deny that we judge each other but rather recognize it and use it as a reminder to come back to ourselves and think deeply.

Again, see the woman in shorts and a T-shirt. Why did that woman choose that outfit? Maybe that woman saw an advertisement for a similar outfit and she wanted to look like the model in the advertisement. Now that thought may lead us to think, “Well, wanting to look like a model is a little arrogant.”  Okay, sit with that thought for a moment. Wait for the next thought. Another possibility is that maybe she wanted to look like her friends. That makes our hearts soften a bit and we may think, “I do the same thing.” Then we look over at her friends or imagine what they may look like in our minds. That may cause us to think, “They have expensive stuff. Maybe they’re rich.” This may make our hearts harden again. We may then think, “Maybe they come from a privileged family and never had to work a day in their lives.” If we have negative thoughts that’s okay for now. If those thoughts cascade into negativity and become more and more mean and vicious so be it. It’s okay. You’re okay. Everyone is okay. Just let all those thoughts and feelings wash over. Let them float by without censoring them or criticizing.  Sit with them a bit. Think until the thoughts stop coming. Breathe. Feel the feelings. Wait.

I think that in doing this we can give the brain a chance to start putting pieces together. Instead of dismissing emotions when we feel them we can give ourselves the opportunity to actually feel. The brain will start to process.

By feeling and processing we may come to realize something about ourselves.  Something like, “The way she looks reminds me of this girl who bullied me at my first job,” or, “I remember struggling when I was in college and not being able to afford a similar colored shirt. I felt really bad.” Our negative thoughts may be tied to something in our past. We all have old wounds that are buried away and our primitive brain makes connections to things we see in the present to try to protect us. Now that we can identify this with our intellectual brain we can heal and better move on. It is healing to have compassion for ourselves and where we have been in our lives. Also, we may recognize, “Hey, this isn’t her crap, it’s my crap.” Which is fine. We all have crap. Gaining such insights help negative thoughts dissipate. The primitive brain can release the notion of thinking that person is a potential threat.

Now let’s look at that woman again. She certainly looks dressed up. That leads us to remember the times that we’ve dressed up. We felt happy and excited. Maybe this woman is dressing up because she wants to feel happy too. We can relate and understand.

When we gain that moment of being able to relate to this other person, then something happens: we can suddenly really see that other person.  We are able to realize that that person is not just another body but another human being. And in gaining that moment of understanding we cannot help but to feel caring for that person. Even though that person is a stranger. Because we realize that we all follow similar motivations and patterns and do the same things. In her we see our self.

When our inner mean girl creeps up and whispers something catty in our ears we can presume that she may be just trying to protect us. Let her have her piece and listen with mindful breathing and compassion. She may lead us to heal something in our past and learn something new. Let yourself heal and let go.  Be left with peace. Peace inside and out, for yourself and others.

Real Beauty is Modesty-Part 2

“For women, real beauty is modesty.” This statement is from a book I’m reading and there is something that bothers me about that statement.

I can imagine the author seeing someone in reveling clothing, like an actress on T.V who is dressed less-than-modestly, and then saying “Remember, real beauty is modesty” as if she has to override her natural tendency to think that that woman is beautiful.

Let’s say I’m walking around with my 3 year daughter and see a woman walking down the street wearing extremely revealing clothing. My daughter says, “She’s pretty,” and I answer, “Remember, Alisa, real beauty is modesty.”   Would that be the correct response? Well, I think I can do better.

Foremost, I would say, “She is pretty!” We should encourage that response in our children and others instead of trying to tear each other down. I wish I could leave it at that.

The reality of the situation is that as a mother I have to teach my daughter that there is a certain way to dress in certain situations. If a women dressed in very reveling clothing and walked down the street men would likely catcall or honk their car horns or even approach her and say disrespectful things. This is not a safe or pleasant situation to be in. Although I would like my daughter to dress and express herself how she wants I have a duty to tell her, “If you dress in this way this is likely to happen to you.” You will be judged and harassed. The issue in this situation is not, “real beauty is modesty.” The issue is not about beauty at all. Who is ugly in this situation is not the woman for wearing revealing clothing but how some men treat women who wear revealing clothing.

Real Beauty is Modesty: Part 1

“For women, real beauty is modesty.” This statement is from a book I’m reading.

Hmm. Let’s think about this statement literally.

I think of people I’ve seen who are covered up.  In some Christian denominations, women wear long skirts.  Nuns wear habits, Amish people wear Amish clothing, and Muslim women wear long skirts, sleeves and headscarves.  Modern American women sometimes dress modestly too like wearing a sweater over jeans.

Women who are dressed modestly can certainly still look pretty. Jeans and sweaters can look nice. Some long skirts are colorful and gorgeous. There are ways to intricately tie a hair scarf so it looks just striking as the fanciest hairstyle. Nuns, Amish people, and others who are dressed plainly can still look beautiful since simple dress can really makes a naturally beautiful face stand out.

Now what about people who wear revealing clothing?

I see people walking around in dresses and skirts in various lengths.  I see women at the gym wearing shorts, t shirts and tank tops. Women wear bikinis at the beach. I think many of them look beautiful too.

Do I see people who are not beautiful? Sure.

Reveling does not always equal attractive. Some who are dressed in revealing clothes don’t look so great. Sometimes the style is not the most flattering to that person.  Sometimes I see a woman constantly pulling down their skirt or pulling up their shirt to cover her cleavage and she just looks very uncomfortable rather than attractive. Sometimes it’s freezing out and girls are shivering in short skirts.

And modestly dressed people have the same issues. Sometimes the style not so flattering. A woman may look uncomfortable, stressed out, sick or tired. Having negative feelings will register on our faces and then we do not look as beautiful.

Sometimes we can cover up skin issues or dark circles with makeup, try to dress a certain way, do our hair and force a smile on our faces so we can still try to look nice even when we are not feeling well on the inside. If one does not believe in wearing makeup or showing her hair she would not have the hair/makeup options. However, that type of person also saves on time and the stress of going through these cover-ups and can save her energy to work on whatever her real issues are at that time.

Neither modesty nor showing some skin can guarantee beauty. It seems to me that real beauty depends on being happy, healthy, confident, and at peace on the inside.

Let’s Talk About Donuts

I saw a show on PBS where kids were making necklaces. A little girl said, “I picked these beads because they look like donuts. I like them because I remember going to the donut shop with my dad.” I thought, “Me too!” As a child, I loved going to the donut shop with my dad.

When I was little, my sister, dad, and I went to this donut shop next to my Grandma’s house called Evergreen Donut.  We would pick one donut each and my dad would get coffee. It was family owned we played with the owner’s daughter who shared her Spirograph set with us.

That donut shop is still there to this day.  It’s under new ownership and the new owner’s daughter is about the same age as my two daughters.  Now it’s me taking my kids there and telling them to pick out whatever donut they want.  We all eat our donuts and I drink a coffee while my girls play with the owner’s little girl.

When I was a teenager I read an article that said donuts are the worst food you can eat.  It said, “The word ‘donut’ would make any nutritionist shudder.”  We all know that donuts have sugar, fat, and white flour. After reading that article, I did not touch a donut for years.  I tried to think of ways to make healthy donuts. Something golden, sweet and round with a hole in it but healthy.  Then I realized that’s already a thing-it’s called pineapple rings. Sigh.

I realize that these days there are all kinds of drama around food. Especially for women. People struggle with food addictions and poor nutritional habits. Plus there are food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies. The emotional attachment and relationship with food is what makes eating healthy hard sometimes. I imagined myself as a teenager, when I was most tortured by my food drama, making necklaces with those kids on T.V.

Teenage Allison: “These circular beads remind me of pineapple rings. And these square ones remind me of protein shakes. I don’t know why, but these red ones remind me I should go to the gym.”

Little girl: “The circle ones look more like donuts to me than pineapple.”

Teenage Allison: “Now this whole thing reminds me that I hate myself.”

It appears to me, when we say that a certain food is “bad,” especially when we had wholesome childhood memories of that food, then we reject a part of ourselves. This can be confusing and damaging.

Now I realize that donuts are not something to be feared. I think of Evergreen Donut where a nice family makes donuts fresh everyday with simple ingredients. Going to a donut shop once in a while can be a nice treat for families to do together.  If you go with mindfulness-thinking of your childhood, thinking of the nice family who made the donuts, thinking of being present there with your children as they make their own memories-then that donut will nourish you.

Let drama go and don’t be scared of anything. Not even donuts.

The Psychology of Cleaning

Some days, it is very hard to meditate.  My mind keeps thinking about this or that and I feel very irritated with everything and everyone.  When this is happening I realize it is not because of any one issue or person but it’s just my brain being irritated in general then running around from thought to thought trying to pin the cause onto something tangible.

During those times, what helps me is to start cleaning and bagging stuff up that I don’t need to take to Goodwill.  I believe that there is some truth in the expression, “A cluttered house is a cluttered mind.”  Our primitive brains may register piles of junk with anxiety.  Although our intellectual brains know that the pile of junk is not going to hurt us, the primitive brain cannot tell the difference between those piles of junk and piles of rocks that can topple over and kill us all. And that mound of laundry waiting to be put away?  Our primitive brain might be thinking that deadly insects could be hidden in the little crevices.  It will then releases stress chemicals until the laundry put away. The primitive brain is only trying to save us!