Friday, June 21, 2013

Is Selling Modesty Dangerous? Critiquing Jessica Rey's Swimsuit Evolution

The Evolution of a Swimsuit video is rocking Facebook feeds.  I gave in and watched it.  Boy oh boy was I appalled?  Is this what we are teaching our daughters? 

Haven't seen it?  Click this link.

 As a Queer Theorist I am trained to be critical so for all of you who need me to “overthink” and “overanalyze,” here you go.

My Argument:  Selling “modesty” is as dangerous as selling “sex.”


First, let’s start with selling.  Do not confuse yourself with this Jessica Rey’s intent in this video.  She is SELLING her swimsuits.  Of course she is using pseudo-science to do so (we’ll get to this next) but her intent here is not to guard women’s heart.  She is not educating. She is a SALESPERSON selling her wares.  Buyer Beware.

What is she selling?

She is selling modest swimsuits to women.  Now click this link and go to Rey Swimwear.  Look at the models.  She is selling swimsuits to thin, white women.  Racial Queer?  Plus size?  Based on this site, these modest suits are not for you. 

Now remember these suits were inspired by Audrey Hepburn, a classic icon of classiness.  Remember though, despite how lovely Audrey was, how modest her dress, and how humanitarian her efforts, she still struggled with self-image and food.  Modesty does not guard one from biting expectations of a society that demands women be beautiful and then punishes them for it.


The basis of Rey’s argument is the results of a study done at Princeton that has never been published in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal.   The study examined 21 male undergraduates (hardly a sound representation of the male population in general and very likely the reason no research based journal would touch this biased study).  The findings jump to a lot of conclusions.  There might be a correlation between a part of the brain shutting down because of bikinis but correlation does not mean causation. 

Here’s an example.  Back in the day when Polio was more rampant, people assumed Polio was linked to soda because as soda drinking increased, so did Polio.  There was a correlation.  HOWEVER, there was no causation.  Soda does not cause Polio.  There was a link, though.  People tended to drink more soda when it was hot.  Hot weather made conditions ripe the spread of Polio.  Correlation is not causation.

While there might be a correlation, between brains shutting down and bikinis, it does not mean there is causation.

The whole basis of this Jessica Rey’s “science based talk” is nothing more than pseudo-science, a claim presented as research-based and scientific but that lacks academic and scientific rigor, reliability, validity, and has yet to be replicated to support the findings.

Believe what you want about how men think or the findings of this study but please do not refer to this as “science.”  This is no more scientific than the belief that people of African decent are less intelligent than white people based on bumps on the head (EGADS, people really did believe that.  It was “scientific.”  It was also “science” that the sun revolved around the earth).


One of the most disturbing portions of this video is this:  Rey says women wear bikinis to feel empowered BUT THEN questions what power women are getting because all bikinis do is make men (at least 21 of them) think of women as objects (which is the wrong kind of power, in her opinion).

Conclusion #1: Women’s power only comes from the esteem of men.  Without men’s approval, women have no power. 

The problem with this conclusion:  Rey says that as long as men think of women as objects, women cannot be powerful.  I say that as long as women need men’s approval, esteem, or permission to be powerful, we won’t be.  Also as some sweet irony, Rey is missing something.  If a woman looks so good that she makes a man’s brain shut down, that kind of super power is amazing.  Kinda  like Professor X but without the male chromosome.  Boom!

Conclusion #2: If women dress in a way that causes men to think of them as tools, women are at fault for objectifying themselves OR at least putting themselves in a position to be objectified.

The Problem with this conclusion: Victims of abuse and oppression are never to blame for their   objectification (repeat that until it sinks in.  It is NEVER the victim’s fault). Women in mini-skirts are not asking to be raped.  Little girls are not asking to be molested with their dimpled smiles.  A woman in heels is not asking for men to cat-call her.  Women are not to blame for the abuse aimed at them. Here's a good rule: If a woman doesn't actually ask for it, she isn't asking for it.

Conclusion #3: Women should only consider others and how they will perceive them when they get dressed.
The Problem with this conclusion: Women’s bodies are not public domain.  The public has no       right to choose what I can, should, or do wear.  Yes it is human nature to police the wearing of garments but that does make it right.  No woman should have to fear that the clothing she chooses to put on will make her the target of public debate.  Women should wear what makes them comfortable             and confident. End of story.


Jessica Rey wants women to be modest.  I actually have no problem with this.  Modesty is not a four-letter word at my house.  I’m all for nice blouses and pencil skirts. 

The problem is equating modesty with respect and esteem.

Is Rey seriously telling me that if I have an additional 10 inches of fabric between my breasts and my pelvic bone at a beach I have more dignity and deserve more respect? 

If that is what she is claiming, SHE IS RIDICULOUS!  The man who esteems, respects, and values me more than anyone else in the world has seem me with nothing on so clothing is not the only key. 

If my dignity and worthiness of respect are ever the result of a measly yard of fabric, I don’t want you to think me worthy or dignified.  You are also NOT the kind of person I want to respect me.

The root of this gender problem is not clothing and the answer is not modesty.

Some women, based on their religious convictions, are clothed head to toe.  For example the wearing of a Burka does not give these women equal rights or shield them from sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.

Photo From Here

Women in the 50’s (a time ripe with sexism, racism, and heterosexism—hardly the “good ol’ days” for those who didn’t have the “luxury” of being straight, white men) who dressed modestly did not enjoy gender equality and were targets for verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Photo from here.  Also, I love to cook.

Women in the Victorian Age, arguable modesty in the extreme, were denied the right to vote, the right to hold property, and were sexually, emotionally, physically, and verbally the target of abuse.

Photo from here

Clothing styles have changed.  Modesty has changed.  One thing has stayed the same (regardless of whether it is the midriff or ankles that are causing a stir): gender inequality.

If you want to dress modestly, more power to you.

If you want to wear a one-piece (although Jessica Rey is selling Tankinis too), more power to you.

The amount of clothing you have on your body does not and will not guarantee you equality, respect, or esteem from men looking at you. 

In fact, women are now out-graduating men and largely out-earning them.  Has this gained women respect?  No, in fact now people are claiming women in these positions are actually ruining men and family (I love this man's reply, Vagina's Need Not Apply.  Read it.).   If work and education don’t get women respect, please don’t delude yourself into believing a nice tankini will do the trick.


I actually believe that selling modesty is as dangerous as selling sex. Here's why,

  • Selling sex teaches women that they are objects of pleasure for men.
  • Selling modesty teaches women that they will be objects of pleasure for men unless they meet specific requirements.
Whether it is sex or modesty, both make women objects dependent on men and on society.  Both approaches make women public domain.

  • Selling sex tells women that they must look, act, or behave a certain way to get a man.
  • Selling modesty tells women they must look, act, or behave a certain way to get respect from a man.
Whether it is sex or modesty, both require women obey certain rules in order to get a man and his respect.

  • Selling Sex tells women that their bodies are public domain, open for the viewing a critique of others.
  • Selling Modesty tells women that their bodies are open for public access, viewing, and critique. Women do not belong to themselves; they belong to others (like all useful objects)
Whether it is sex or modesty, women are told their bodies are not their own but are open for the debate and critique by society.  Women are subject to the masses, not themselves.

  • Selling Sex objectifies women, making them objects to be used for sexual pleasure only.
  • Selling modesty objectifies women by blaming them if men perceive them as being used for sexual pleasure only.
Whether it is sex or modesty, the policing of women’s bodies makes them targets for objectification and then BLAMES them for their victimhood.


Of course there is a Christian religious side to this and like most things, what the Bible says about modesty is a matter of perspective. 

Women should not adorn themselves with braided hair or jewelry (1 Timothy 2:9) (I must ask Beth Moore and Joyce Meyers about this one.  They seem pretty darn adorned to me).

Women should honor their temple and glorify God (1 Cor. 6:19-20) (Is it possible a woman would dress in a way that demonstrates her acceptance and celebration of the temple God gave her?)

Beautiful women should have discretion (Prov. 11:22) (Which means they can choose without insight from men, right?)

We should not indulge the flesh but serve one another (Gal 5:13) (My hubby prefers me to serve him in a bikini … lighten up, I’m just joking.  But not about the bikini).

Yes, those scriptures are there.  But so are these ones (the rest of the story):

Do not judge by appearance (John 7:24)

Clothe yourself with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5-6) (read: it is more important to be humble to others than to judge them … Just keep reading that until you lose your need to be someone else's Holy Spirit.  Thanks. )

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) (Judge all you want; keep the verdict to yourself).

However you use religion, if you use it at all, use it on yourself.  Let it guide YOUR decisions. 

Do not force people of the world to follow your read on the Bible. 

Let God look at their hearts and whatever you do, do it to glorify God (the God who loved prostitutes rather than condemned them).


Here’s the deal.  I hope my daughter dresses modestly.  More than that, I hope my daughter comes to love and accept who she is (especially in Christ) without feeling the need to be affirmed by men (or society or women who want to sell overpriced swimsuits that apparently garner the immediate respect and attention of men).

I am not warring against modesty.

I am at WAR against beliefs that women who are not modest are at fault for the way men may (or may not) view them as a slab of meat.

I am at WAR against the belief that women are the guardians of men’s minds and that women are responsible for protecting men from seeing too much skin.

I am at WAR with the belief that men are insipid animals incapable of thinking of women as equals—incapable of NOT raping a woman whose shirt is too low.

I am at WAR with the notion that a woman’s dress in an unequivocal yes.

So what am I teaching my kids?

My son will learn to look women in the eye.  He will learn that women are his equals, especially his sister.   He will learn that it is the content of character, not the presentation of breasts (or not), that gives people value. 

My daughter will learn that her body is her own.  She can cut her hair, choose her style, and primp (or not) to her preferences because her body is her own.  Period.  Men may choose to cat-call her.  They may choose to view her as an object.  She is not to BLAME for either of those situations. She is in control of herself.  End of story.  Period. Dot.

What I am not teaching my kids.

My kids are not learning:

  • That modesty will solve gender equality problems.
  • That men can’t help but to objectify women.
  • That powerful women are harmful to men or anti-Biblical.
  • That covering the belly button (or not having tattoos, or low-cut shirts or colored hair or make up or nail polish or high heels, or ...) makes one more pleasing to God.
Speak your peace in the comments but keep it intellectual.  The first one to call names loses and I reserve the right to remove comments that attack others.  This is my blog.  Get over it.