Today I read about Lauren Jayne's Modesty Experiment, in which she covers up and swears off makeup, shedding fashion to let her inner beauty shine through.
This is bullshit.
Cultural appropriation aside - and make no mistake, there is one heck of a lot of that going on here - for North American women who are not of a religion or culture that requires certain types of clothing, not wearing makeup and covering up isn't taking off the costume that society foists upon us as women, it's wearing a different costume to hide from it. Any body confidence you feel when you cover up isn't because you're not conforming to beauty standards by being covered - it's because no one can see the parts of your body that don't measure up. It's like painting a forest scene on the wall of your prison cell and declaring yourself free. I covered up that way for years, although I didn't ever try to pretend I was empowering myself.
I'm fishbelly pale, with dark, dark hair and incredibly sensitive skin. My legs should look marble-smooth and creamy white once I've shaved, but instead I'm peppered with visible black specks just under my too-transparent skin. Maybe to you they're not so obvious, but to me they are a ten-foot-high neon sign that flashes the word "ugly" over and over. I am incredibly clumsy and bruise easily, so my legs are almost always marred with yellow-brown blossoms.
I started hating my legs when I was twelve. I stopped wearing shorts then, and I only wore skirts with opaque tights underneath. If I felt brave enough, I'd wear fishnet stockings, because I felt like they created some kind of optical illusion, that people would notice them and not the ugliness underneath.
In covering up my legs, I didn't learn to love myself as I was. I learned that I could love myself if I made myself different enough, if I made myself able to pass under the radar of beauty standards.
I began to put my love for my body on hold. I'll love my body, I thought, when I figure out how to make my legs prettier. When I lose some more weight. When I get that varicose vein fixed. One day I will be perfectly beautiful, I told myself. That was when I would love my body. Until then, I would cover up everything I could, hiding the imperfections so that I could pretend they didn't exist and feel like I was pretty.
Last week, I had somewhat of a revelation. I'm 34. I'm not going to get more beautiful. Even if I have a lot of cosmetic surgery, even if I fix all of the things I hate about my body, I will still find new things to worry about, new reasons to cover up. I'm already too old by the standards of beauty that our society has decided. I need to figure out how to love my body as it is, not as I think it should be.
This is, then, a sort of anti-modesty experiment, an immodesty experiment. In the same way that the Modesty Experiment had nothing to do with avoiding indecent behaviour, this is not about showing as much skin as possible. It's about learning not to be ashamed of my body, and hopefully, by extension, to eventually learn to love it.