7.03.2013

Well THIS is unexpected:

People are pissed off about the experiment!

Well, that's not strictly true. People are pissed off because they misunderstood what I'm saying (for the last time, I AM NOT SAYING THAT MANDATORY HIJAB IS A GOOD THING, nor did I simply steal one religion's modesty requirements, I made my own modesty rules), or they think I'm doing this for the attention (if I wanted attention there are a lot better ways to do it), or that I'm just trying to make money (again, there are way better ways to make money than this).

What's most interesting, though, is that I'm catching flak from feminist sites, most notably Jezebel.com. I love Jezebel because it's snarky and pro-woman, but the negative reaction really shocked me-- I would have thought they'd be all about the experiment, at the very least because I decided to find out for myself how it felt not to adhere to the standard Western beauty ideal. Apparently, though, I did it wrong. I guess they're revoking my Feminist card. Ah, well.

Another complaint is that no one believes me when I say that in America, covering is often a choice, or that covering could possibly be anything other than oppressive. Here are my sources:

1) Haddad, Smith and Moore, Muslim Women in America: The challenge of Islamic identity today. Page 10: "For many American Muslim women, dressing Islamically-- which in its most common form means covering the hair, arms and legs-- is not about coercion but about making choices, about 'choosing' an identity and expressing a religiosity through their mode of dress."

2) Pretty much all of The Veil: Women writers on its history, lore, and politics, edited by Jennifer Heath. This collection touches on hijab but also talks about Jewish and Christian modesty practices in nuanced ways (covering is never portrayed as either all-good or all-bad). What really stuck with me about this is Mohja Kahf's essay: according to her, veiling is actually prohibited in many Middle Eastern countries. She says, "We hear story after story of the poor woman forced to veil, and she exists, yet forced unveiling has been the experience of the last century for far greater masses of Muslim women.... But this violation of women's freedom usually draws no protest from the West, or from secular Muslim feminists. Indeed, it is often applauded in the same quarters that purport to advocate women's rights." (p.31)

I suspect that the issue is not women's lib: I think the real problem is the Western association between exposed female sexuality and our definition of "liberation." I'm not the first to say this-- see my most favorite source evar, Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture.

I think that as a culture we get uncomfortable when a woman denies us the opportunity to look at her. That's what I did, and that's what many women choose to do for themselves-- and that just pisses some folks off.

So to the haters, I say: do your thing. (WARNING: Contains offensive language. So if you have sensitive ears, please don't go here now and then write me angry letters later.)

P.S.: My agent recently had a baby and is down to part-time, so I need another. Takers?


39 comments:

  1. Your experiment is awesome. Just from what I have read on google anyhow.
    I am a new mother and have MANY self image issues currently. So to explore the root of those problems and finding self confidence, well, I applaud you.
    Thank you for writing about it. I look forward to reading your blog, hopefully learning a little and gain some perspective on my self image.

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  2. I think your experiment is awesome! I recently converted to Judaism and while taking classes and furthering my own research, am now proud to dress more modestly. Mainly because my skin is so sensitive and I'm too lazy in the mornings, I also rarely wear makeup to work or get my hair all fancy (generally in a bun or pony tail).

    As you said, it is each woman's preference and choice as to how we dress and expose ourselves in public. To be a feminist and liberated, I do not NEED to nor do I feel the need to expose as much of my body as before. And it does feel liberating! Granted 10 years ago I felt a lot of my self-worth was in my image and my appearance. So I dressed quite differently. But now that I am older and comfortable in my skin, I know my beauty will shine through without the trendy clothes, "perfect" hairstyle or celebrity style makeup.

    The people who don't get this decision will not get it much less understand it until they can think outside of their own identity and culture. I know a lovely woman who converted to Islam and now dresses conservatively and wears a head scarf. One of the things that struck me was how beautiful her face is. I always found her pretty. Yet I never noticed her facial features before. But when that is pretty much the only thing exposed, you are not distracted by anything else that is exposed.

    So, Thank You. For your experiment, your experience and most importantly, for having the courage to do it and share different perspectives on how other cultures and religions view our freedom in our modestly. :)

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  3. I found it particularly....interesting that readers of jezebel would be so willing to shame a woman for her clothing choices.

    Love the blog :)

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  4. A year ago I made the decision to only purchase clothing made in the USA (it's not as hard as it sounds). The result of this has been me purchasing less because I can't simply walk into the average mall and pull anything off the rack. And the result of this means I have many pieces of clothing that are considered "out of style". I think when you have a purpose or desire which is more important to you than a societal norm, it becomes easy to loose the self judgment.

    Bravo to you!!!

    And for all of those who chose to share their negativity with you, I wish for them the lesson of "True, Kind, Necessary". These are the gates our words should pass through before we release them out into the world.

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  5. Rock on! So glad I found out about this!

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  6. Haters? Wha....? Just found you and think this is an interesting idea and experiment. That's a drag that Jezebel is being twitchy... sometimes pack mentality sucks everyone into the idea that 'liberation' only comes in one form. Sad, really... Looking forward to reading the blog and book and following your adventures.

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  7. Jezebel is far more interested in page views than anything else. I lost respect for their site when they decided to allow their commenters to body shame thin women.
    I love make up and clothing bc I use it as a creative outlet (I'm an artist), but I love your experiment :)

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  8. Your posts made me appreciate my hijab even more and it made me realize how beautiful it makes a girl feel! Thank you for the motivation and valuable lesson!

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  9. We at NAILMEN are disappointed at your modesty. Don't you know we like women looking sexy in public and in the mass media even though the sexier she is the higher the statistical and probable chance that there will be more men with an increased level of arousal on our streets, in our sisters' neighborhoods and around our daughters' schools.

    NAILMEN
    (National Association of Immigrant & Local Men)

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    1. Sorry, Ben. I'll get right on making myself more available-looking. :P

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  10. Hi, I am a muslim from Malaysia. I think you are very brave and inspirational. I am 19 and I cover myself except for my face and my hands. I also wear very loose clothing and I usually wear my hijab so that it drapes over my breasts so that people wouldn't have the slightest idea about it's size. Although I do this because of my faith (I actually do believe with all my heart and soul that this REALLY is what God wants me to do, just :) just to let everybody knows )

    I always laugh at the fact that people from the west thinks I'm oppressed. Because I have mutual feelings towards them too. I just want to give my heartiest thanks to you for voicing out the true voice of hijab. Because when us muslims say that we're not oppressed, this is the true liberation, we're doing this by choice, no one is forcing us, they're going to say we're brainwashed. There we go again.

    So, thank you so much for this experiment. I am a little less than 5 foot tall, a little overweight, I have chicken pox scars on my face, but never once have I felt I'm ugly. I feel that God made me beautiful the way I am and I think that every single person is just as beautiful as I am.

    I know how to put make up on, I know how to do my hair, I go to salons to get nice haircuts but I do it for myself and I learn those things so that when I get married my husband would be the only person on earth to see the other side of my beauty. Because make up and having nice hair can make you look and feel like a princess lol.

    In islam, modesty isn't just for the women it's for the guys as well. There's also another thing in Islam that I wish perhaps a western guy would experiment on. And that is lowering his gaze. Although that sounds crazy I know plenty of muslim guys who really don't look at girls who do not dress modestly. They would avoid going to places which they knew there are women who do not dress modestly, they do not watch pornography or even regular TV shows and the only reason they would be looking at a woman's skin is by accident and they would turn away immediately. And the only reason they do that is to please their Creator. This same ruling applies to both men and women just as modesty is. Like for myself I do not watch hollywood movies where there are handsome actors and when I talk to guys I would make it as brief as possible and try to avoid eye contact.

    One of the significance of this is that when two person who do this get married, they are going to love each other because they have no one to compare their spouse to. In their eyes, their spouse is perfect even if society says the otherwise.

    To all those haters,
    The reason why I cover myself is to please God, because I know that He made me beautiful and because of that, only the Man who chose to devote his life to protect me, love me and provide for me would have the VIP access to see my beauty.

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  11. Continuation :

    One of the significance of this is that when two person who do this get married, they are going to love each other because they have no one to compare their spouse to. In their eyes, their spouse is perfect even if society says the otherwise. Divorce would be the last thing that would happen between them.

    A healthy marriage would also produce a healthy family. Healthy families would produce a healthy society. So us muslims don't just do this for ourselves but we look at the bigger picture.

    I wish people can try to put themselves in my shoes and see why I love Islam so much. I wish people would look at every thing with a clean slate and with pure curiosity and try to understand each other better with no prior negative perception whatsoever. (the reason why haters hate is because they don't do this)

    Islam is such a beautiful religion but everyone is reducing it to bombs and oppression when no such thing ever existed in my vocabulary and - I consider myself a true muslim. No. I AM a true muslim. I don't need people to agree with us. I just want people to understand us and be okay with us.

    I am perfectly fine with every person from all kinds of background, people with different ideologies no matter how much it contradicts with the principts of my life. ( As long as they are not doing something that is obviously wrong like killing or corruption) I believe every person has a different and unique journey of life and everyone does the things that they do because of what they have went through. I love people and I hope that everyone loves everyone too :)

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  12. Jezebel ran a blog post I wrote a few years ago that also received a lot of negative criticism from readers. I wrote about the cosmetic Westernizing of a Mexican-American singer (Lila Downs) as well as my disappointment in her new look. Needless to say, I was taken apart for it and oddly enough the only positive feedback I received came from Latinas. I am intrigued with your experiment and taking flack is just part of the process. A few years ago I also conducted an experiment where I would dress/behave like a stereotypical 'man's dream' for a year: a 1950's housewife. I received a lot of negative feedback (mostly from women in love with the 50's) and was sadly so exhausted by it all that I lasted 100 days instead of 365. If I were redoing the project today I wouldn't have backed down so easily, so please don't let the negativity get you down. I wish I'd realized back then that these comments aren't personal and come from misunderstanding. Can't wait to read your book! (Have you read "A Return to Modesty?")

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  13. I had to stop reading Jezebel because of things like this. With "feminists" like that, who need the patriarchy? Anyway, I'm intrigued by your experiment and can't wait to read more about it.

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  14. I just found out about your experiment through yahoo and I am thrilled about it. I use to wear the hijab and I was at the happiest point of my life when I did. I have quit trying to dress to please the public and I feel free. I don't wear make-up, I still wear a headscarf every now and then and my clothes stay a little loose. My husband even enjoys it a whole lot better then what I use to wear. Keep up the good work.

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  15. I have just heard of your story on Yahoo. I have not read any of your blog...yet...or the comments to this post.

    I do want to tell you that I am proud of you for sticking to what you set out to do! Not only have you inspired other women to challenge themselves to be comfortable in their own skin...you have demonstrated follow through! Something that so many young people (like I should be talking, I'm only 33. haha) about what follow through and commitment really mean. You set out to do something and you followed through, no matter what other people thought!

    So, Ms. Lauren Jayne, stay true to yourself and keep inspiring other women!

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  16. I think it takes courage to explore like you have. Sometimes when I leave the house without make-up I hear that little voice that originated from other woman, "No wearing make-up means you're lazy." Which is far from the truth.

    And if you're ever browsing on netflixs... watch "Blue Like Jazz" it's a fun movie, but there's a girl in it who's refusing to buy new clothing for a year :) Made me think of you.

    And back to the haters, if you've got them- it means you're doing something right. Not to mention if someone's got time to talk about you, what does that say about them?

    Only love from Ohio! :)

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  17. I imagine that the anger directed at you is driven by deep insecurities (i.e., fears) on the part of those expressing the anger. Fear is an unpleasant emotion to feel, and anger covers it well since it directs one's attention from her or his interior (where the fear resides) toward the external things that trigger that fear.

    Consider, for example, the well-established finding (consistent through multiple experiments) that homophobic men who self-identify as heterosexual are sexually stimulated by gay pornography, and self-identified heterosexual men who test low for homophobia are not stimulated by gay porn. Clearly the homophobes are fighting to deny something they've been taught is shameful, so naturally they are angry at homosexuals who by their presence bring up the fears the homophobe is trying to quell.

    And, like homophobes, the people expressing anger at you are probably unskilled in introspection and self-analysis, so they will not really understand the roots of their anger. But I can imagine that many are fearful that they cannot live up to social demands/expectations regarding (e.g.) fashionable beauty.

    - Leisuregy

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  18. I just heard about you and your experiment. Love it.

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  19. What a neat experiment.

    I thought your headcovering idea was going back on Western history where for most of past it was impolite or inappropriate (depending on country and country) for a woman (and quite often men) to have their head uncovered.

    I didn't even think of the current day implications.

    Although the idea of wearing a hijab has always intrigued me. I'll have to ask my Muslim friends how wrap one.

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    1. go to pinterest or you tube and type in "scarf" "head wrap" or "hijab" (and maybe tutorial) i have quite a collection on my you tube channel of favorites.
      there is also www.tznius.com a Jewish clothing site that has scarf wrapping instructions
      and www.veiledbydesign.com a wonderful Muslim site ditto

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  20. Without having read through all the other comments, just your Salon piece, my main reaction is: "What's the big deal?" I'm young, and somewhat vain, but I rarely wear makeup or dress up. I'd rather be comfortable. I do exercise daily so that I feel comfortable in/proud of my body. I'm in my late 20s, and prematurely gray, and my loose-fitting gym pants, makeupless face and I get hit on regularly, so...... beauty is not about getting dolled up, it's about what you're radiating.

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  21. They are pissed off because you come off as culturally ignorant. Hasidic women may look plain to your eyes but are oten not. Many women who wear a hijab are also fashionistas underneath so to use that as your cultural basis is ignorant at best.

    Also, Quakers? Dress like "normal Americans". Quakers are very much "normal Americans"...except for the part about being staunchly into equal rights for all - so representing them as part of your "modesty" (read: code for repressed) is so far from the truth it is apalling. Quakers: at the forefront of the Underground Railroad, Civil Right movement, LGBQT movements, etc. Quaker women are in NO way repressed, nor do they wear "modest" clothing. They wear whatever they want - sleeveless, short, "slut-shaming", etc.

    The anger is not anger as much as a disgust at ignorance. Educate yourself about the women you judge before using them as a tool for your own self-repressed , emotional catharsis.

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  22. Hi Tricia,

    I had considered repeating that I TOOK MY CUES from religious traditions, but that I designed the experiment myself. I was hoping that it was unnecessary, as it is all over my blog and my article, but I guess some folks are too busy being angry at me that they don't want to read carefully.

    Also, of course I meant old-order Quakers. Why would I consider dressing like a modern Quaker at all different? I ATTENDED a Quaker summer camp as a child, and I live down the street from a meeting house.

    Thanks for proving my point.

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  23. I love this! I spent last fall in Jordan and when I came back to the States I decided to keep with the same modest dress I was wearing there. I wasn't wearing an abaya, but I didn't wear short sleeves or shorts - capris and elbow length shirts were also acceptable. I didn't have to wear a hijab because I'm Christian, but I could when I wanted to. People haven't understood the freedom this brings me. People also don't understand that the hijab can be quite freeing. Thank you for your site!!

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  24. The problem with the haters is your view doesn't fit their preconceived ideas of what the outcome of your experiment should have been - in their eyes. And they put meaning in words you don't say because they need their narrow world view to be validated somehow.

    I find this whole thing fascinating. Great work!

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  25. I'm sure it's not everyone's story, but a lot of women find this sort of modesty thing to bring up a lot of bad memories. And unfortunately it's often spun as being a choice that women make, ignoring the heavy shame tactics used to make girls and women dress like that.

    I think that what you're doing is great - you're very careful to not say that "we should all try this", let alone "everyone should have to do this". But I never had that kind of traumatic experience. (I probably knew as many girls in high school who had to wear hijab as who were asked by their parents to not do so, but it's hard to know for sure, because I'm sure that some of the ones who were asked/told to not wear it listened to their parents request.)

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  26. I love pretty much every little bit of this experiment and can wait to make time to read more about it!

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  27. Just finished reading your blog from the beginning, and I think it's awesome. I'm LDS, and we are also religiously required to be modest, although this is a choice that every LDS woman must make for herself. My favorite post so far was your HOOOOOT! post. I had to chuckle because, seriously, modesty is crazy hard in the summer.

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    1. indeed the summer is a challenge!
      i always suggest trying to find pure linen. its difficult to find but is the coolest fiber out there....

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  28. Great idea ... but hardly difficult when you are gorgeous and only 29 :-). Age discrimination in the 50+ age for women makes it very difficult to not use at least some mascara. Otherwise, as I've overheard colleagues say about other women, you just look "really tired and old." In this economy, that makes it hard to land a job.

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  29. Jezebel didn't seem PO'd about TME, it was making fun of it because of the cognitive dissonance. You created your own modesty standards, so why not allow those standards to let you stay cool by wearing sleeveless/short things? You cheated to wear a skirt with a slit, so why not wear shorts? There's no INHERENT immodesty in allowing body parts to show. One kind of misogynist body shame oughtn't be traded for another, and the rationale behind BOTH Western beauty ideals and religious modesty are rooted in misogyny. It's easy to find plain, comfortable shorts and tank tops that would easily be considered modest, if you're only looking for clothes that don't distort your figure and make you feel not-attractive-enough (and that was your stated motivation, no?). You still look for external validation of your appearance. If you didn't, you wouldn't've done an entire post about how your current significant other loved your modesty (I'm happy you met, but it's icky to frame the success of an allegedly feminist experiment in approval from a man. "I didn't need makeup and flat abs to meet someone amazing... and you might not either," re-frames the experiment as significant, in part, because of him. Helping one meet a partner shouldn't, IMO, be a takeaway from a pro-woman exercise). You spent paragraphs on a girl who said you looked good without makeup, and then mention how you didn't think about it that much. You keep going on about your skin. You decide the cure for your urge to suck in your tummy is that you need to lose weight. NONE of those things throw off the shackles of oppressive Western beauty standards. Embracing your spots, not caring whether you looked 'pretty,' or your weight. While you're critical of external validation sought from adhering to Western ideals, you look for external validation from people who approve of your new ideal, which is as strict as any other standard.

    Moving on, one of your posts involves tasteless exotification of WoC and slut-shaming of white women. You refer to women who show skin as being 'on display.' You say, "Some women were hanging out of their dresses [...] those women were all white girls with not much going on other than their flesh." NO. There's NO woman with nothing to offer but her flesh. That is sexist, dehumanizing, objectifying, racially prejudiced and SLUT-SHAMING language. The bargoers and white women at the party weren't any more on display than you or the WoC at the party. The only difference was your perceived discrepancy in dress. You make assumptions about them. Perhaps when you showed skin you did so for others. I, personally, HATE wearing any skirt longer than 12 inches, because they feel restrictive. It's definitely not for you to decide that I'm nothing but a pair of legs--but then again, I'm a WoC, so maybe I'm a little more special? I also think it's odd you think 'expressing oneself on the dance floor' ISN'T putting oneself on the display; 'expressing' is, by definition, done for others. And who goes to a party looking 'professional', as you describe the PoC?

    I think you need to take a more critical eye to your own work, and stop calling critics 'haters.' No one's revoking your 'feminist card.' Feminism is a discussion that you're not participating in.

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  30. As a woman who grew up in the Muslim world (Pakistan) and then lived in both Pakistan and Egypt as an adult I'm not sure yet what I think of your experiment. I do however feel you should look at this as one of your sources: A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America by Dr. Leila Ahmed, a well-known professor at the Harvard Divinity School. She is a friend of my husband's so I was able to meet her during the writing of this ground-breaking work. http://www.djiboutijones.com/2013/04/lets-talk-about-hijab-rethinking-the-veil/

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  31. I came to your Salon article and blog via a repost by Adnan Amin on his Citizen of an Idiocracy blog of a Ms. Muslamic wordpress post. She titled her post "Here’s what’s wrong with hijab tourism and your cutesy 'modesty experiments'”, and claims deep offense saying:

    "The entire premise of hijab tourism relies on the assumption that Muslim women cannot be trusted to talk intelligently and articulately about their own experiences.

    That Lauren Shields is now able to cash in on this reductive tourism is simply another layer of annoyance and insult to an already deeply offensive experiment and article."

    I had to go back and read your article again to see if i missed this. I couldn't find it. I read your article as honest self-examination with not a hint of cultural appropriation or distrust of Muslim women. In fact I did not really think it was about Islam at all, but much more about how a woman's identity is so deeply tied to her physical appearance.

    I have been stunned to see dozens of people reposting her criticism and flocking to support her egregious misreading of your article. In my own dialogue with Adnan, an articulate and intelligent Bengladeshi man, on his blog, I have been trying to understand this odd perspective coming from so many Muslims, and he and I remain divided on this with him giving this interpretation:

    "I disagree with you about Lauren’s premise (though not about her intention). Even [Ms. Muslamic] talked about the ‘cutesy’ experiment. But exploration of oppressive dress-codes doesn’t preclude inherent biases. I highlighted three points – from the many – that illustrate the premise of ‘backwardness’: 1) the ‘educated’ expected to ridicule Islam, 2) surprise at speaker’s tacit approval of the Hijab and 3) the triumphant discovery that it wasn’t shame – but pride – that incentivized it. While not explicitly written out, the ethnocentric, stereotype-fueled premise was offending to me and many other Muslims."

    I understood that you too were recognizing the cultural conditions and bias that they seem to decry, and were making an effort at escaping from however much of it you had integrated, even confessing to your own hypocrisy. I am stunned at how differently Adnan and I can interpret what you wrote, which is so obviously laudable from my perspective, and conversely offensive from his. I am struggling to understand this divide, which is actually deeper than I had expected.

    Ms. Muslamic and many of the other feminists who criticize you may be coming from their own snarky biases and/or understandable knee jerk projection from the emotional wounds of sexism. But Adnan is a bit different, as an intellectual Muslim man I did not expect this. I am now wondering if the history and rhetoric of oppression of Islamic countries by 'the west' has resulted in a similar psychological projection from emotional injury for a much larger portion of Muslims than I had thought. Perhaps more than tradition or ideology, this is the real divide here.

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  32. Modesty is not an experiment; it's a way of life. It's a heart thing. Women are commanded by God to dress modestly and if they fear God and believe in him and trust him then they will dress modestly. Not only is it about obeying a command from God but it's also about protecting our brothers and other men from stumbling.

    Modesty is about loving God and loving your neighbor - the two greatest commandments. You will never get the 'full picture' of your experiment if you do not actually have the desire to please God.

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    1. funny that people will often find their thoughts changing when they change their behavior....
      i find it odd that you feel the need to be so negative when someone chooses to TRY living life differently, and see what the results are.

      an experiment is just that: to do something, in order to find or verify the results.

      the experiment could just as easily been to try not missing church, or praying daily, or jjournaling daily, or going vegan... to see if they notice a difference and WHAT they notice.

      if its not your idea of a good thing, do you prefer she never tried? how odd

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  33. As an American convert to Islam (studied theology in college from both pro- and anti- Islam perspectives, travelled by own spiritual journey, lived in countries where Muslim women ARE oppressed due to male dominated culture, and made my own educated decision independently and to much opposition from my loved ones), there is just as much pressure to NOT wear hijab as there is TO wear hijab in America. I dress modestly - long sleeves, long pants or skirts and nothing form fitting, but I still get dirty looks when I fan myself on a hot summer day or go to the water park with my body covered. I fear being viewed differently at work, or losing my job altogether. I fear completely losing the friends i have who have already stepped back because I don't go to clubs with them to get drunk and judge the success of the night based on how many men I dance with. I fear that this will be the final step that pushes my parents so far away that I can never get them back.

    I love dressing modestly and I love that I feel much more like my true self - not like a primped, squished, polished image of myself. I love wearing hijab and am so happy for the times I go to worship - I have "an excuse" to put it on and feel truly liberated from the demands of our superficial culture. I ache to wear it in my daily life, but there is so much pressure not to. My heart breaks for the women of the world who struggle to break free from the bonds that society and culture place upon them. Whether those are the bonds of forced subservience or forced objectification - they are two sides of the same coin.

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  34. i belong to several modest clothing groups (mostly because finding well made clothing of any kind s difficult, finding modest clothing doubly so)
    and the amount of HOSTILITY all of us get for our choice of clothing is insane.
    i choose to wear longer skirts, or long pants... and apparently my refusal to buy into the apparent need for other people to see my legs is somehow anti feminist.
    my desire to design clothing that DOESN'T look like i am advertising skin lotion, is an "insult" ...
    sigh
    this only reinforces the view of many of the religious modesty groups that our current mode of dress is alll about forcing women to be viewed as only good for sexuality/desire

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  35. EXACTLY. A woman's body is not really hers; it's public property, to be looked at by whomever wants to, and when we deny people that privilege, they get mad.

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