A friend and I were at the mall recently and found ourselves discussing why neither of us wear shorts anymore. This is odd, particularly for me, the girl child who argued fiercely with her mother to wear the fashionable cut offs in high school that gave Daisy her “dukes.” She found it equally so since growing up in California, she often showed off her ballerina legs.
We were both used to living in the conservative culture of the Middle East for several years and perhaps that was the most obvious reason. That plus the slowing of our metabolism as we raced towards becoming thirtysomethings.
The truth is I loved wearing short things in my teenage years which I spent most of weighing no more than 100 pounds. And then, as I became part of a committed spiritual community in college, I gave up the short hems as anything higher than the knee was frowned upon. Thus it was that the wild child of adolescence willingly forsook the shorts, bikinis, and other scanty wear of young shapely women the world over as a twentysomething.
Now on the doorstep of thirty, living in the Middle East, unexpectedly finding myself eating, traveling, and sitting next to women in hijab, I’m reminded again how much in common conservative cultures the world over have in common, regardless of the religion. For hijab means so much more than just the headscarf that is so viciously debated (a senseless debate if you ask anyone, because you aren’t going to make anyone stop wearing it). Hijab means covering the ears, the neck, arms, breasts, and hips – in short creating a cloak of modesty which covers the woman.
Coincidentally these are very similiar to the areas I was lectured against exposing at various faith based conferences in college; we were urged to be modest in our dress and looked in sympathy on immodestly dressed girls at those same conferences. They would learn if they wanted to stick around.
Religions all over the world want to cover women up – to encourage men to think on other things – and in addressing women’s clothing Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims are surprisingly in agreement. Modesty, each of them preaches, is essential to social order, to well behaved men, to protected women.
Not that I support the direction that young women’s fashion has headed in the last few years. A woman does like to have some secrets, after all.
But where is the line between what someone chooses and what is enforced, either socially, legally, or morally?
How do we develop our codes? From our families, our communities, or our own sense of what makes us feel right?
Some combination of all three?