Nov 4, 2015


For many of us around the world, how we dress rests as an important element of how we express ourselves in the world. We use our clothing to present our mood, our sense of style, our personality. I’ve learned to make an effort to be presentable but consider myself generally low maintenance. I don’t like to fuss too much or spend too much time and money on how I look. (Though I’m aware that’s extremely relative to the culture I find myself in.) I’m the kind of gal who joyously lets her gray hairs grow in. But I do prefer to look good and feel comfortable both in my clothes and in my heart.

Growing up, often that would translate to what an ex boyfriend of mine sarcastically referred to as a wardrobe of grandma sweaters. For the better part of my fashion-conscious years, I would wear outfits I deemed quirky and cute, but probably considered less than flattering. A college friend and I commiserated once on this subconscious tendency to sell ourselves short aesthetically by striking a middle ground between presenting a fashionable awareness but still covering our bodies behind our generally more slouchy, “frumpy” clothes. This was our attempt to tell the world: hey, I’m fashion conscious, but value me for more than my body.

In my early twenties living in Los Angeles, I strove to find a balance between being presentable and being true to myself. Los Angeles is one of the Pretty People capitals of the country, and the people who aren’t as genetically striking as the all-pervasive bombshells still carry a tasteful elegance with their new duds and self-confident air. Seeing the tradeoff of self-display to social value, one day I tried to flaunt a bit more than usual. I did my hair, wore a little more makeup, and put on a shirt a bit shorter than usual, showing perhaps an inch or two of midriff. I took my normal trip to the farmer’s market, feeling fabulous.

As I shrugged my canvas veggie bag on my shoulder, I noticed more often the darting eyes of men to my stomach. Of course, this was to be expected. I didn’t feel offended or blame them for noticing. It was what I chose to wear and the reaction that outfit elicited. What I didn’t expect, however, was a new feeling of how I was affected. The more attention I got, I didn’t feel good or attractive or fabulous like I imagined would happen. I realized, instead, how I was holding more energy from the looks I was getting. The more attention I was being given, the more attention I had to hold in my personal space. It felt like a weight. It didn’t feel freeing; it felt cumbersome. For me, this was an energetic tradeoff I hadn’t conceived of and wasn’t interested in sustaining.

That fateful farmer’s market visit gave me a perspective on another side of modesty people don’t often talk about: the exchange of energy that happens in how you present yourself and how it affects your personal energy. Some people might say they love the attention. But for me, the way it feels just isn’t resonant for me. And as I meditate more, these kinds of fine-tunings in my life become more and more pertinent.

Usually the conversation around modesty can become one-sided or politicized. The extremes go from feminist rights to stringent regulation on what’s acceptable. This kind of polarization can get heated. For me I’m hesitant to use the word modesty because of this tendency to verge on either extreme. But use it I must to convey the direction my style of dress has moved towards in the years since.

Modest swimwear designer Jessica Rey put it well in a speech she gave on The Evolution of the Swimsuit. She explains, “We need to teach girls that modesty isn’t about covering up their bodies because they’re bad. Modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves. It’s about revealing our dignity.” And I can’t put it better myself.

While I have no intention to be prescriptive about your clothing choices, I do invite you to pay more attention to how they make you feel and to what energy shifts occur in different environments. Observe how the attention you receive affects your inner world. How can we allow our natural beauty to emanate more from inner grace than from our surface presentation? How can we learn to let our presence speak for itself?

These days I’m less concerned with turning heads as much as I am interested in touching hearts.

Photo: Hannah Morgan

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