There's a pervasive problem sweeping across our high schools. I'm not referring to bullying, but to scantily-clad young women. These midriff-baring teens were enough to inspire freshman Saige Hatch to start a Modesty Club at her southern California high school. While the group may be gaining momentum — it boasts 1,000 members worldwide, and 17 at her relatively small school — the club reduces students to their wardrobe and alienates those who enjoy dressing a certain way.
Like many high school freshman, Hatch likes to "play piano, sing, read, watch movies, babysit, and spend time with [her] family," according to the Modesty Club website. The major difference between Hatch and her female peers is that she feels their clothes are too revealing: "I noticed from elementary school to middle school, and now in high school a lot of girls were dressing immodestly. I wanted to bring awareness and remembrance to the value of modesty." Hatch plans on pushing the school to enforce its dress code or require uniforms, petitioning the entertainment industry to include more modest clothing in productions and magazines, and asking designers to increase manufacturing of modest attire. That's quite an ambitious set of goals for a 15-year-old high school student.
To promote the group, Hatch's younger brother Hunter (who founded the No Cussing Club) appears in a rap video describing the Modesty Club's mission:
"My sister started this club, and it didn't come from her, it came from heaven above," he sings, pointing to the sky. "Ever since I was small, I'd turn on the TV. I'd have to close my eyes because you know what I would see."
Actually, I don't ... It's okay to honor a religion at school, but this is the Modesty Club, not the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The mention of heaven could turn away those who like bundling up but don't necessarily identify with that specific faith,as the two don't always go hand in hand.
Another major issue is the club's list of standards, which are pretty off-putting and rigid:
If it’s too tight, it’s not quite right. It’s best to flirt in a knee length skirt. Shoulders and busts are graciously covered. Revealing lines are warning signs. Clean and neat catches eyes on the street. When I pass this test I’ll be dressed for success!
"If it's too tight, it's not quite right"? What's wrong with telling the world, "Hey, I'm thin and in good shape!"? And what makes tank tops so scandalous? I hate to be the one to say this, but the street isn't the best place to pick up significant others.
These are kids in southern California, which is warm year-round and scorching in the summer and even fall months. Some students dress down to avoid overheating and others use attire as a form of self-expression. During my junior high days, we endured plenty of surprise May heat waves in northern California, but even on the most suffocating afternoons, I avoided tank tops because I'd seen countless female classmates go to the principal's office or get sent home for coming to school in spaghetti straps. They weren't looking to ruffle feathers or draw attention to themselves, but to cool down.
No matter the reason, no one deserves to be ostracized or categorized as "bad" for the way they've chosen to look. Last year, Jennifer Moses did just that with her Wall Street Journal column titled, "Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?" Moses asked, "Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards? ... We wouldn't dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: 'Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven's sake, get laid!' But that's essentially what we're saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they're still living under our own roofs."
"What a girl wears never makes her a bad person. Clothing does not suggest behavior; it suggests…clothing. There is nothing inherently wrong with girls wearing revealing clothing. The problem is why they’re wearing it. Girls are targeted by billions of marketing dollars that tell them their worth comes from their sexuality."
Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams echoed Simmons's sentiment, noting that she wouldn't want her own girls to believe "their sexuality is a performance, or that how they feel about themselves and their partners is tied to how provocative they look or act. I want them to value themselves and their peers — to not judge other girls as skanks, to not view boys as those creatures whom they have to guard against at all times … [I]t’s not the length of your skirt that matters; it’s what’s going on between your ears."
I applaud Hatch for advocating for an issue near and dear to her heart and even for getting the mayor to create Modesty Week in her honor, but telling fellow teenagers that they can only demonstrate self-respect by sporting turtlenecks and shapeless skirts is naive and totally unhelpful.