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Women’s Experiences with Modesty

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I’ve always been baffled by how a subjective concept like modesty can be compressed into minimal interpretations. How one chooses to express their physical, spiritual or emotional modesty can differ from person to person. It’s such a broad term, yet people tend to link it only a few things to modesty: women, oppression and religious extremism. 

I spoke with a few Her Campus writers to understand their views and experiences with modesty. 

Asha Swann, 24

Asha is a true believer that modesty is a personal choice all individuals should be allowed to determine for themselves. She removed the textbook definition of modesty from her dictionary and switched to one that doesn’t correlate modesty with religion, but rather simplicity. Growing up nonreligious, she felt more pressure from the fashion industry to show more skin rather than pressure from her parents to cover up. 

“At stores, you find tons of options for shorts and dresses of all lengths that are trendy, but when I was in high school, the only options for teenage girls were basically short jean shorts, but then also we would all get in trouble for wearing short shorts.”

Due to her love for cropped tops and short skirts, she doesn’t think of herself as a modest dresser. However, she thinks she deserves to have the option of wearing whatever she likes.

“It was very much about being super skinny and wearing low rise jeans, basically showing off your stomach like it’s an accessory. Which I think is fine if it’s your own choice – I have a belly button piercing and I love wearing crop tops, but I also like having the option to wear baggy shorts and cover up if I want to.”

Sania Ali, 19 

In rejection of the stereotypical definitions of modesty, Sania thinks that modesty isn’t only about how you dress. It’s about having humility in your actions and thinking. She recognizes how modesty is often portrayed as oppressive, but she believes that it is the forgotten form of empowerment and feminism, especially when you make your own decision to become modest. Although she is a Muslim who wears a hijab for religious purposes, she feels like it fits her modest style perfectly while making her feel more comfortable.

“Nobody in my family wears the hijab except for me, but that’s something that I feel helped me through my journey to being more modest. I didn’t have any influences that pushed that upon me.”

She constantly feels inspired to uphold her religious standards while maintaining her liberation. 

“I’m gonna be honest. Ever since I started wearing the hijab and started dressing more modestly from that decision, which came into full effect in the first year of university, every time I dress more modestly, I feel liberated.”

Nashra Syed, 20 

Nashra has experienced cultural pressure upon women and she’s not afraid to speak up about it. As a non-hijabi Muslim woman, she believes that modesty is more enforced by the culture rather than the religion itself and that the two usually get mixed up.

“I’ve been told literally by random men on the street that I’m a nonbeliever because I don’t have a scarf over my head. I was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt. I was wearing sweatpants.” 

She still finds comfort in dressing more modestly, even though her friends don’t understand how she can layer her clothes in the summer. The media and pop culture have also contributed to Nashra’s difficulty maintaining her modest style. Shopping for a basic t-shirt and jeans that aren’t ripped is more challenging than people may think.

“Modesty is nowadays viewed almost as a very taboo subject. If you reveal too much, then that’s wrong. But if you cover too much, then that’s like you’re oppressed.”

Sonia Tumkur, 19

To eliminate any judgement towards women’s modesty, Sonia believes that by embracing how you are, in whichever lifestyle that comforts you, you’re a step closer towards empowerment. She argues that no matter how you incorporate modesty into your life, people’s opinions will be harsh, so you might as well dress and act the way you want.

“You’re cognizant of how people may perceive you, and so you dress to make sure that no one perceives you in a negative way based on a stereotype. I’m fully aware that that’s not the right definition, but I think in the way I’ve grown up that was [how] I was always told to view modesty and being modest as a good thing.”

Putting your comfort first and being clear about being the way you are is what Sonia swears by. She says that vocalizing her likes and dislikes in terms of modesty to people she shares an environment with would spare you the pains of peer pressure and judgment. 

“I will read the room if I’m going out with my friends. I can understand the setting and know what to wear, and this is if we’re talking about clothing. But, if I’m going to a place of worship, obviously I will read the room and go accordingly. I don’t think you have to lose out or anything of that nature.”

It has always intrigued me how other people think they have the right to control, or even judge, other people’s way of living. Modesty to me is a way of living.

Angi Kallas

Ryerson '24

Angi Kallas is a Palestinian Canadian aspiring journalist procrastinating her way through life. This is her first time getting a chance to get her work published which both excites and scares her. She prioritizes her sleep first, so in her free time, she likes to write, read, psycho-analyze people, and chat with her cat Tubas.
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