some revealing snapshots

Ms. Joan Harris

I can speak only for myself
and a few of the women whose secrets I hold
but I will tell you anyway:
in the South our mothers still raise us
(in the words of Ms. Joan Harris)
to be admired.
To be successful and strong,
yes, our mothers taught us fearlessness
along with class
(which doesn’t bear defining,
but you’ll know it when you see it).
We learned to stand up tall,
to wear high heels,
to hold doors and thank door holders,
before the age of eleven.

We should have been forces to be reckoned with.

But reckon they could not. Things changed –
we changed –
and men came to us,
we fierce new Southern women,
to tell us our beauty was too much for The Visual Ones.
They used the pulpit
and compassionate older women
and slogans –
Modest is Hottest –
that rang so false even I, obedient and trusting, felt betrayed.

Even our mothers had learned to fear their eyes –
suddenly, “Not in those shorts, you don’t!” –
and covered-up was not a choice
not classy
but armored,
against men and sin and our own wrong bodies;
you could incite lust
or you could be sexless
but inviting admiration?
That ended the day you changed
the day you didn’t know what to do with yourself
the day you stopped twirling in your dresses
the day they taught you shame



Tell me which I am to invite, while staving off any possibility of the others. Do not tell me I can be appreciated for myself, but not my body. There is no self without a body. We are human, breath and clay. We must not make this more than it is.


“Ugh, that old woman just eye-f***ed me. I feel like I need to take a shower.”
– a male friend, last Friday

What a novelty. How funny. Do you feel attractive? Powerful? How many times would this have to happen every day before you just felt dirty all the time? Before you just felt used?

I didn’t say this. I fake-smiled instead.


Young women are rare on the food pantry/soup kitchen scene; I wear T shirts and loose pants. I enter rooms and eyes follow me. Watch me. Bore into me. Swallow me. This is lust; I am powerless to stop it.

I walk tall. I do not forgive them. Is this wrong of me?

I am surviving.


If I had a class of middle-school boys, there are things I would not wear to that class. Middle school is hard enough as it is; we have all been powerless before our hormones. I would be conscious. Respectful. Compassionate for those half-grown.

Those grown will see me beautiful-strong. I will not fear my body for their sake.

One can be angry without violence, without ceasing to love. Anger does not overpower mature adults;

Likewise attraction.


If I were needy of self-esteem, I could dress to incite lust, confusing predatory desire for appreciation. I could let others use me in hopes they would validate my being.

No one here is arguing for such a sad thing as that.


If I were power-hungry, I could dress to provoke. I could prey upon the weaknesses of men and seduce. To one I would bare a shoulder; for another I would curl my hair; for another I would recite poetry and ride a motorcycle.

No one here is arguing for seduction. And no one here has ever heard a youth group sermon against boys who prey on girls’ emotions. Rarely is “immodesty” so violent as they.


If I were me, Lyndsey Graves of 2013, I could wear dresses with laughter and digninty, and thus reflect the glory of God. I could leave behind uncomfortable bikinis for sports bras and shorts and then I could really swim.

I could scour thrift stores for vintage clothes and jewelry that did not exploit the global poor, and I could call it modest. I could cultivate awareness when my mind puts too much stock into appearances, and thereby try to curb my vanity.

Put down pride for a moment; assume you don’t know the story behind the miniskirt. There now, I will tell you –

This miniskirt, accessory to a woman who used to fear sexuality but desire intimacy, who wounded others deeply in action while remaining modest in dress. She learned by her relationships there is more than one way to be viciously inconsiderate.

She used to regard her body with suspicion but desire to be beautiful. She learned by doing yoga that her body – herself – is  lovely, and strong, and more.

She used to fear mistakes but desire to take great risks. She learned by creating art that mistakes are part of the journey to all the best-made stuff – that only the smallest safest things can ever be perfect.

She used to fear judgment but desire approval, and she is learning by wearing miniskirts that only God’s is worth anything at all.

And no one will teach her shame anymore.

finally throwing out these disjointed thoughts, a little shake in my voice yet (and a little doubt about the poetry), for the Modesty Synchroblog today at From Two to One. lots of great ideas and perspectives shared over there today.

EDIT: This was my personal/impressionistic/not-in-the-mood-to-argue post on modesty. I still have some thinking to do, so join me for my more systematic/analytical series on Modesty here.

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Leave a comment


  1. I love the way you use words. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for this. Many things to ponder.

    • Thanks for your perspective too. Such a positive post when some of us are still trying to tear down negative messages we’ve received.

  3. Morgan Guyton

     /  July 5, 2013

    Poetry really teaches a lot better than prose. This taught me a lot. Thank you.


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