A Year of Dressing Modestly Changed My Life

Lauren Shields (courtesy of Lauren Shields)
Lauren Shields (courtesy of Lauren Shields)

For nine months, Salon blogger Lauren Shields adopted a modest style of dress, much like that of Islamic women, because she disliked the daily routine of putting outfits together. To her surprise, she found it liberating.

… One day, a woman came to my “Women in Church History” class. She had spent some time in the Middle East with her husband (who is Middle Eastern) and children, and while there she had been required to cover her hair and adhere to particular clothing requirements.

She was there to talk specifically about hijab, the modesty requirements for many Muslims, and its effect on women. To a classroom full of vocal, educated feminists who were eager to prove themselves, this lecture might have been your typical Islam-slamming discussion on whose fault it is that men desire women (it’s men’s, in case you’re wondering). I was ready to go to battle.

Instead, it was a shock to all of us …

This was not the podium-pounding, acrimonious discussion I had prepared for. Instead of feeling self-righteous and angry, I felt inspired — and profoundly unsettled. I didn’t know it then, but what I had learned about modest dress was teaching me about my own hypocrisy.

After class I retreated to my favorite couch — the one on the fifth floor the faculty didn’t usually catch me napping on — and buried my nose in that week’s reading assignment, “Muslim Women in America.” It’s not possible, I thought, that women would feel freer dressed modestly, that women would choose to be ashamed of their bodies.

But it wasn’t shame, I soon learned. In fact, for many women, it was pride. It was a desire to be considered for things other than what their hairstyle communicated, or whether their butts were shaped right — a desire that many people, not just women, share today.

In America, Islamic dress is often a choice, and the women who make this choice are declining to endorse Western Imperialism and the sexualization of their bodies. It’s a way of expressing modesty and resisting the pressure to be scrutinized against Western standards of beauty.


Read Lauren Shield's entire piece at Salon.

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