woman wearing cute outfit and bending over laughing

It really is hard to wear clothes as a woman. If you wear anything cuter than a giant paper sack, you risk being judged for revealing too much. But if you go for the giant paper sack, you risk being judged for being too dowdy.

As a result, many of us opt to wear cute clothes, but then restrict our movements so as not to reveal too much. And sometimes we feel the need to restrict our movements even when wearing the giant paper sack. Honestly, it’s not so easy to find a shirt that reveals absolutely nothing when you bend over to weed the garden bed. And if you do find that shirt? Well, it’s probably so tight that you end up revealing everything anyway.

Tara Westover describes this womanly dilemma very clearly in her memoir Educated. She writes of the disparaging comments her dad and one of her brothers repeatedly made about women who dressed or acted immodestly, in their estimation. As a young woman who wished to do the right thing, she took these comments to heart:

“I worried that I might be growing into the wrong sort of woman. Sometimes I could scarcely move through a room, I was so preoccupied with not walking or bending or crouching like them. But no one had ever taught me the modest way to bend over, so I knew I was probably doing it the bad way.”

These words she uses, “the bad way,” are so very revealing (ha—no pun intended!). These words seethe with the judgment of others and the shame of oneself. Westover has drawn a perfect picture of what it’s like to be a teenage girl in America. Her family veers toward the religious and conservative end of the national spectrum; but this attitude is not so different, I posit, from that of American families that veer in other directions.

Our culture, unfortunately, teaches us that women should be careful to be simultaneously cute and modest. It’s a pretty impossible task.

What is so bad about having a body? What is so bad about wanting to look good? I have been obsessed for the past two decades with a culture that placed no restrictions on women as regards covering their breasts. What must it have been like to live in this society? I’m not advocating that we suddenly cast off most of our clothing; the situation is not quite so simple. But I do agree with Westover that we must do a better job of casting off the judgment and the shame. (Here’s why you should never be ashamed.)

Women have bodies. It’s not something we can exactly help. If a woman bends down to weed a garden bed and flashes you, don’t jump to the conclusion that she is a slut. She probably just wants some tasty veggies. And if she is, in fact, bending over purposely because she wants to turn you on? Well, that’s a nice compliment. Veggies or a compliment: this is a win-win!

What are you cultivating in your garden of perspectives on yourself and others?