SALT LAKE CITY — In areas with a dominant religious culture, snappy phrases regarding standard of dress have come increasingly popular.
Boutique clothing lines are cropping up, donning logos such as, “Modest is Hottest!” and “Sexy Modest,” as a way to market swimwear and clothing that cover the shoulders and stomach.
While the pure religious rhetoric of modesty is not harmful, some would say the way it has become culturally reinforced is detrimental to how women feel about their bodies.
That’s why Lexie and Lindsay Kite of Beauty Redefined, a non-profit organization based in Salt Lake City, are speaking out against the idea that “modest is hottest,” and all notions that a woman’s worth is defined by her body.
Lexie said she believes teaching modesty as a form of self-objectification, meaning emphasis is placed on the body instead of the woman as a person, is detrimental to helping women find their self worth. She argues that “covering up” for the sake of deterring the attention of others is harmful, as the focus is only on the body.
“I don’t think we should ever frame modesty on how people feel when others look at them,” said Lexie. “If you feel your daughter is dressing immodestly, don’t come to her with the notion of, ‘What are people going to think when they look at you?’...Frame it about how she feels (about her body) and not how an outsider would be looking at her.”
Lexie said she understands modesty is an important aspect to the teachings of many religious faiths as she and her sister are practicing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the good intentions of parents, religious leaders and youth advisers may lead to furthering the damaging cultural definition of modesty. When taught as a way to “keep men in line,” Lexie said modesty reinforces the objectification of a woman’s body, as an ornament to admire.
“If we are teaching the girls in our lives that the primary objective of modesty is to keep themselves covered so boys and men don’t think sexual thoughts about them, then we are teaching girls they are responsible for other peoples’ thoughts and they are primarily sexual objects in need of covering,” the website states. “No girl or woman’s body is sinful and no one should be taught that. Modesty, as an ideal, can be about so much more than shaming females into covering up.”
That’s not to say Beauty Redefined stands against modesty. Rather, Lexie said she values modesty as a personal choice in a world where the sexualization of women runs rampant.
“We see why suggestions regarding the length of hemlines and the depth of necklines are important because we live in a sexual world where even the youngest of girls are sexualized to an extreme degree and they are told their “sexiness” will bring them popularity, love and happiness. Studies show girls as young as six years old are sexualizing themselves because media messages show them being sexy yields rewards.“
No more body shaming! Big or small, none of us are beautiful if we tear others down to build ourselves up! Agree? RT! pic.twitter.com/ml3SxcjHwx— BeautyRedefined.org (@TakeBackBeauty) July 23, 2014
When discussing modesty with young women, Lexie asks parents and leaders to remember that modesty is too personal to be defined by inches and lengths; it should be used as a way to respect the body, never as a way to shame it. To help members of the LDS Church teach this concept, the Kites created ”Modesty Redefined: An LDS Lesson Plan,“ which can be downloaded from their site.
“Modesty has to be a personal thing,” she said. “It has to be for your own personal power. It can’t be for anyone else...If you’re going to subscribe to modesty, it’s because it’s empowering for you.”
A post on the Beauty Redefined website, “Modest is Hottest? The Revealing Truth,” has received thousands of Facebook shares and received national attention via sites such as The Huffington Post and Upworthy. The twin sisters, originally from Idaho Falls, have been featured on talk shows, in magazines and other news publications for their efforts to “take back beauty,” and fight against a million-dollar industry that capitalizes on women’s insecurities.
Lexie and Lindsay started their non-profit as part of their masters thesis while attending the University of Utah. But, it was while sitting in a classroom at Utah State University that Lexie said she first knew this would be her life’s work. On the first day of “Media Smarts,” a class dedicated to media literacy, she remembers feeling “goosebumps” when her professor, Brenda Cooper, discussed the negative portrayal of women in the media.
“It’s all built on these industries that profit on our feelings of failure and anxiety,” Lexie recalls. “I knew that what I was learning was really important, and I felt in some weird way that I could make a difference.”
And now that Beauty Redefined has become nationally known, Lexie said she’s received positive feedback and negative push-back from her stance on modesty.
“It’s hard to critically examine things that you've believed and taught your whole life,” she said. “But it is so important for all of us to rethink the ways that we are thinking and acting and judging. This has been our most popular post that we have ever written because it resonates with people, and I know it’s true. It can change the way we talk to and teach girls and women about modesty and their bodies.”