Dear the Internets,
This is a cautionary tale.
Let’s say you have a kid at college.
And let’s say that college is in Hawaii.
Let’s say your kid chose that college because, OMG, BEACHES.
And let’s say she’s using those beaches to her full advantage.
Let’s say she has an Instagram account.
And let’s say it’s full of beach and bikini pics, because that’s apparently her area of giftedness.
Let’s say you’re scrolling through one day and you see a pic of her with underboob. UNDERBOOB, friends.
Let’s say you think to yourself, “Self, you are the mommy. Self, you should DISAPPROVE. Self, it is IRRELEVANT how adorable she looks in this pic. Self, you taught her to never, EVER, put boobie pics on the world wide webs. Self, you should DO SOMETHING.”
But then let’s say you think, “Self, she’s an adult. Self, she gets to make her own choices. Also, Self, because you can see how very white her underboob is, now you know she’s not been sunbathing topless. So HOORAY! LOOK AT HER MODESTY.”
Let’s say you call her and congratulate her on the underboob pic. Because that’s what a mommy does, right? That sounds like appropriate Christian leadership.
“Nice underboob,” you say. “I see you haven’t been sunbathing topless, so I guess there’s that?”
Let’s say she agrees with you entirely.
Then let’s say you decide, because you lack overall good judgement and common sense, that you think it would be the Very Best Lesson for her if you were to duplicate her shot, except with your own, fluffy, 43yo mom bod.
But let’s say when you tell your kid about your plan, she thinks it’s HILARIOUS and not embarrassing at all, because apparently you have embarrassed her So Many Times already, you’ve burned the ability out of her.
So let’s say you go to Hawaii and do it.
Because the world is a horrible place right now, and God knows we all need a laugh.
This, friends. This is why you DO NOT TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR. It leads to this type of behavior, and God knows SOMEONE needs to save you from your Good Ideas.
To make matters worse, my kid has friends who are equally unembarrased by me, and duplicated this pic…
…with me on a public beach, because their judgement is as questionable as mine.
God, I love them.
(Also, that’s a lot of fabric I pulled up my ass.)
Except for this bonus twinsie pic, because that’s what we do around here. #MotherDaughter #CantTellUsApart
And also this twinsie pic.
It’s a real mystery, I tell you. I mean, who’s who??
In conclusion, we can pray a special prayer for the poor college boy who had to take these photos. He’s the real victim here.
And Now Here’s the Longest P.S. Ever and the Story Behind These Pics…
P.S. Once upon a time, a few months ago, my eldest child graduated, utterly relieved, from her Very Conservative Christian high school. It was the one with the dress codes. The one where the book, The Purity Principle, a horrifying account of how a man’s lust inevitably leads men to pedophilia, child abuse and prison (um, what??) was assigned as a biology textbook — yes, A BIOLOGY TEXTBOOK. The one where my kid was cited for the time her sweatshirt fell off her shoulder to reveal a (don’t be alarmed) Bra Strap. The one where she decided to henceforth quit wearing bras altogether because she is Willful and also Her Mother’s Daughter and so Logic dictated if Bra Straps were a Serious Problem, she would eliminate them entirely, bless her Rebellious Heart. The school where there are far More Stories like this one, from both my kid and others.
Now, to be fair, the school had some lovely, wonderful things about it, truly. There’s no doubt the staff there Meant Well. There’s no doubt they were dedicated to their work. There’s no doubt they were working hard to shape a generation of people who can change our world for the better. Unfortunately, their views on sexuality, women, and modesty rules were simply Not Some of those wonderful things.
Nevertheless, the summer before my daughter’s senior year, she signed the Dress Code. Her mommy stood beside her, telling her if she wanted to attend This School, she had to not only sign it but agree to abide by it without complaint. It was a prerequisite for attendance, and if she didn’t agree with it, I told her, I’d happily sign her up for a different school. She could choose, but she needed to choose to live by the rules if This School was her choice.
She signed it.
Then, in early October, five weeks after school began, the administration issued a new dress code. New rules. New specifics. No warning. Just a sudden shift of policy.
My daughter disagreed with much of it. No yoga pants, for example, but body-hugging, stretchy jeans were fine. Athletes could wear their work-out gear to school if they had practice in the afternoon, but my daughter and her dancer friends — despite 20 hours per week of rehearsals starting immediately after school, and long pants and zip-up jackets as gear — could not.
She felt suddenly examined, under a microscope with her adorable, fit dancer body and emerging sense of self; teachers and staff watching her body closely for rule-breaking. She began to write papers on Modesty Culture and Purity Culture and ways they lead to Rape Culture. She became grossly uncomfortable with the heightened interest in her butt and breasts and how much of those, exactly, the teachers could discern by studying them. She felt yucky every day, and she asked me what she ought to do about the new dress code. Should she abide by it? I told her she should abide by the first one she signed — the one we talked about and thought about and agreed to follow after consideration about whether she could do so. But changing the rules? Nope. She didn’t have to abide by those.
I talked to the principal. She did, too. I explained she would be following the code she’d agreed to but was not responsible for the sudden switch. We both told him how uncomfortable she was with the perpetual eyes on her body, adults looking to see if she was too sexy, blame for boys not being able to pay attention in school. This, in jeans and baggy sweatshirts. But the Bra Strap! The principal said he was “sorry she feels that way.”
The teachers, of course, were trying to be consistent and to apply the rules the administration dictated. They were wrong, I believe, but they were caught between bad rules and their leadership.
As for me, I was raised in conservative, fundamentalist Christian culture. It took me decades to unravel what modesty means, how I was responsible — or, more specifically, not responsible — for the behavior and thoughts of others, and how I might patch together a better understanding of how “modesty” relates to loving God and loving my neighbors as myself, on which Jesus said hang all the laws. The more I studied the more I realized the impetus forced on women to dress in a manner so we don’t cause men don’t objectify us, lust after us, and the more angry I became. It wasn’t only unfair, it also wasn’t what Jesus taught us about how to love one another, and it was purely subjective, utterly illogical, and always in flux. There was no way to “win” in modesty culture. No way to ever be blameless.
There’s not a static definition of modest clothing, after all. It changes, always, with the culture of the time. Christian women these days, in nearly every denomination and sect, are able to show their elbows, their ankles, their knees — body parts that were considered sexual in Victorian times. And yet we Christians forget that it was a rebellious woman sometime, somewhere — an “immodest” lady who shunned the dress code of the time, who refused to follow it — who led to our ability these days to wear capris, t-shirts, to go for a run, to swim at the beach. Instead, I watch Christians defend our current conservative culture’s understanding of what “modesty” means. As though these rules are hard and fast. As though a man lusting after a woman in leggings is her fault and not his. Elbows, after all, were once a temptation, and yet we no longer believe a woman’s elbows will lead a man to sin. You know why? Because culture changed. Because our expectations of men changed, too. If everyone throughout history believed we ought to adhere to dress codes of the time — enforced those codes and never challenged them — we would still be wearing high-necked collars, long sleeves, boots, and long skirts in our recent 90 degree weather. Thank God for the women who challenged those notions! Thank God I can sit outside while I type this, in my sleeveless REI hiking dress — knees and ankles on display before God and man, harlot that I am — and enjoy the sunshine.
Eventually, my kid who attended a private Christian school grades K-12 wanted Anything But That for college. She was exhausted by the rules meant to keep students “safe,” but which caused harm. And, in her words, “I just feel like Jesus cares more about things other than my bra strap, Mom.” Truer words, right? Truer words.
So now my kid is in Hawaii, living by the beach and wearing All the Bikinis, with her ass and underboob showing. She’s also a hard worker, conscientious, smart, hilarious, and she has a fantastic community of amazing friends who support and love each other well. She’s confident, and she knows who she is. She’s fiercely achieving her academic goals. She’s done with the bullshit parts of religion, and she clings to a Jesus who challenged cultural norms to love people well. She knows what she believes and why she believes it. I could only be more proud if she would wear a damn helmet when she’s on her boyfriend’s Vespa. (PAY ATTENTION, CHILD; THAT’S ALL I WANT FOR MY BIRTHDAY.)
20 responses to “I Duplicated My Daughter’s Instagram Feed (Because the Internets Need a Laugh, Dammit)”
I too, grew up in a Conservative Christian home with strict teachings on what women could and couldn’t wear. Yes, it left scars that I didn’t even know were scars. I am nowhere near as free as you and your daughter, btw- you both are gorgeous!!! I am finally at the stage in life of speaking up to other women who feel ashamed of their bodies and how we constantly shame ourselves for being fat. Keep talking, Beth, we are listening, and crying, and finding comfort in other women’s stories, and moving forward just a tiny bit; but at least moving. Love your blog so much! You truly are an amazing lady and I am grateful you are there for us.
[…] I Duplicated My Daughter’s Instagram Feed (Because the Internets Need a Laugh, Dammit) […]
I stand by my earlier comment about your posts taking away the power of shame by sharing the things you share. Yet here is this wonderful post and post-script, and I couldn’t be more on-board with your responses as a parent and a person. I recall being at a mainline Protestant college-age youth group and having a young man tell me I shouldn’t wear spandex pants because it was distracting to the guys. I honestly don’t recall how I responded, but I know what I thought: “Not MY problem.”
Grateful that you and your daughter survived religious shame culture with your love for Jesus intact.
[…] and am historically irresponsible. A quick search of the internet by Hawaii would have revealed this and more. So the fact that Hawaii failed to avail itself of a simple online background check before […]
I grew up in a very conservative Christian family–you know, no drinking, no smoking, no cards….with the exception of one thing. My conservative, teetotalar mom always told me my body was made by God and beautiful, and sex was great (under the provision of marriage of course!). She was smoking hot (the awkward girl I was was in awe of her) and she dressed as she pleased–never over the top, but it is hard to conceal you are a gorgeous woman, and she never did or apologized for it. As Christians, we need to stop making our bodies and sex such a negative thing. I love that my mom gave me this gift–I have friends struggling with their body image and physically with their husbands as a result of their early teachings. I love this post so much. I love that you love your beautiful daughter, but you also love yourself and you aren’t afraid of either one. Love, love, love!
Brilliant! Love it!!!
This is beautiful in so many ways.
You are amazing, and also my parenting hero. <3
This is outstanding and I hope someday to unembarrass and enjoy time with my daughter just as much as this. <3
My daughter and I laughed so hard my son couldn’t hear his movie. And the PS, holy cow that biology book-was it written by my dad. I’ve had to work thru the same stuff and it still has the upper hand on occasions. Isn’t it amazing to watch your daughters confidently wear there skin no matter athlete or padded. I’ll have to give my husband another high five for that one, parenting win
“There was no way to “win” in modesty culture.” You said it sister! We left private school a few years ago and my girls have become so much more comfortable with themselves. It’s too bad that this philosophy is out there- it’s pretty tough on everyone. We feel so free now. I’d have joined you for that awesome shoot on the beach!
I LOVE THIS. THANK YOU for saying it!!!!
Love love love your posts! They bring me back to Earth! I’m going through the same thing with my own daughter, struggling to give her freedom and to realize it’s okay and fighting against those Norms I grew up with. Extremely conservative ones. Thank you for the slap in the face that got me thinking again! LOL you rock!
These are my favorite posts! Happy to see you writing again
My younger daughter (17 and brilliant) has been noticing that shoulders and collar bones and bra straps must be “oh so sexy” if they must be covered to the extent that schools require. I think she wears tighter jeans and shorter shirts to rebel against the nonsense – and I am oh, so proud of her.
Btw, my hiney is just as pale but I am not so brave as you. But the photos made me grin. 🙂
Beth, you have cornered the market on “keeping it real.” … and that’s why I love you. : )
I love this to the moon and back. 😉
Looooooooove! Love you, love the joy in these twinsie photo shoots, and especially love the PS.
As a teacher and mom, I loathe dress code crap. Wear clothes to school. That’s all that really matters.
As a 48 year old woman, I love your ass in these pictures. Talk about something that clearly hasn’t seen much sun!
Thank you for this. This was beautifully written. I grew up in conservative, fundamentalist culture and while I know the intention was good, “modesty culture,” nearly broke me. I feel sick to my stomach remembering the obsession with how I dressed and what my body looked like. Trying to conform to that leaves devasting scars. You didn’t leave those scars on your daughter; good job.