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Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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May 23rd, 2011

Prudish and Proud

 
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prudish-flash1Several people have called me prudish for writing my “i love boobies” post.  I’m totally comfortable with this label because I believe our girls are growing up in a hyper-sexualized world.  If someone thinks I am overly sensitive about modesty, well, someone’s got to push the other way, right?

When I taught at a Catholic high school, I was in charge of monitoring the girls’ dress code.  What a great gig – extolling the virtue of modesty to teens everyday.  As I would walk down the hallways, girls immediately started checking the buttons on their shirts to make sure they weren’t unbuttoned too low or tugging at their skirts trying to make them longer.  This was good for them.  There was a voice in their head telling them to cover-up among all those voices telling them to bare it all.  It is all too common for a teenage girl to believe that her power lies in how sexy she is.  Being “hot” and making boys “want them” is the goal, not being kind or smart or funny.

And I’ve known all this for…pretty much as long as I’ve been alive.  I remember being really young, like 7, and knowing that if I rolled up my shorts to make them shorter, maybe that cute boy with the glasses might like me.  I was 7!  I had no idea why that would make him like me more, I just knew that’s how people on TV did it.  I didn’t know I was buying into the sexualization of women.  I just knew that a force (i.e. the media) out there was telling me I could get a guy because of my looks instead of being an interesting conversationalist or a good basketball player or a really great pog player.

Recently, Olivia and I were walking along a strip mall to pick up something for lunch and we passed by a tanning salon.  This salon had a HUGE picture of a woman in a bikini on the outside window.  It was larger than life.  The woman was probably 8 feet tall, tan, so skinny you could clearly see her ribs, and wearing a skimpy triangle bikini.  I noticed it because of its sheer size but really gave it no other thought and continued walking.  Olivia stopped dead in her tracks, let go of my hand, and gawked at it until I called her.

Having two little girls, I’ve thought a lot about how to raise them in a way that they are empowered by their talents and abilities rather than their “sexiness”.  I figured that once they started nearing middle school we would start talking about body image and such.  This incident made me realize, no, we need to start talking about body image right now.  Of course, I don’t think Olivia quite knew what she was looking at and was probably more impressed with the size of the picture, but this is how it all starts, right?  From the age they are able to identify what pictures are, girls (and boys) are bombarded with being skinny, being hot, having big “boobies”, etc.

I began doing some research on how to raise girls with self-confidence and a good body image.   I was really surprised by some things that I read.  Apparently, the average age that girls start dieting now is 8.  And while the media does its part, parents are a huge factor in how girls see themselves.  I read about how buying them clothes, even at this young age, will affect how they see themselves.  How we should dress girls in a way that makes them look like kids, not like little versions of sexy adults — women don’t get “good mom” points because their 4 year old looks hot.  How Brandon and I constantly complaining about our weight will affect how our girls see weight issues.  How we should be praising Olivia for how well she can run and jump rather than how pretty she looks in her Sunday dress.  Some pretty common sense stuff — but good to hear so we can be reminded.

As parents, and as people who have young girls in their lives (nieces, goddaughters, granddaughters,) we can do our part to make sure our girls know that God made them to look like themselves and not like an ad on the tanning salon window.

So if I come off as being prudish, fine.  You can thank push-up girls’ bikinis.

 
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The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Maureen

    I am glad to know there are others out there who think like me. I thought I was the only prude left, now I don’t feel sso lonely. I have a little girl and would like some more communication with others in this line!

  • Angelique

    Bravo, Vanessa. I truly enjoyed and admired your original article as well as your perseverance to take this stance. I, too, am prudish and proud. I regret wasting my years in my 20s not being so. The funny thing is I probably got more attention — and the polite and more welcome kind — from men when I was better covered up. Too often, women are taught to use our bodies to our advantage, to get noticed, to manipulate even. But the only body part that we should be using is our brain, which which works a lot better anyway.

  • Megan

    p.s. I forgot to say in regards to the breastfeeding toddler — I am occasionally told that I am “immodest” for feeding her in public. How is it that using women’s breasts to sell everything from tobacco to motorcycles to cheese sticks is acceptable, yet using them for their intended purpose is “immodest”? Is it possible that we have completely lost our perspective on the appropriate use of the words “modesty” and “prudery”?

  • Megan

    I guess I should be glad that my 2-year-old is still nursing. Like your little one, she also gawks at photos of women in a bikini or a bra advertisement, but for different reasons — she usually points to them and exclaims “Milk! Milk!” :)

    I don’t think it’s prudery to demand that women’s (and men’s) bodies be respected and honored rather than displayed for profit. I don’t take issue with what people choose to wear (or not), but I take SERIOUS issue with how heavily we (women and girls, especially) are pressured to dress/behave as sex objects by a marketing-saturated media culture. This is not prudery, it’s self-respect.

  • ck

    Well said! I am a guy and I totally agree. Like many of the posts above I see similar things at Mass, Restaurants, Stores, etc. Three examples: 1. Kohls has Brittany Spears selling Candies clothes to kids/teens. Seriously, what can’t she do before she is not a good role model? 2. TV has become horrible. I flip through the channels and shake my head. I see woman reporting the weather in miniskirts with extremely low tops. Sorry to say but Spanish speaking channels have really headed in this direction. Not that English speaking channels are any better. 3. Why do children/teens need to dress like adults? Check out your childhood pictures and compare your clothing to what you see now. Was your childhood destroyed because you didn’t have the latest fashion? Last, this is really distracting and unhelpful to men, especially the ones who are trying to be modest themselves. And no, I am not just blaming women. A whole separate story could be written on men. I know this. Bottom line: men will not respect a woman who does not respect herself.

  • Gaby

    What’s really awful is that it may be getting harder and harder to dress young girls in a way that ISN’T sexy, simply because of the kinds of clothes that are being sold. Remember when Abercrombie (I think) sold thongs for younger girls? And now push-up bikinis are out there? And shorts so short they barely cover the backside? I see clothes on young teenagers that I, as an almost-twenty-year-old, don’t feel comfortable wearing. They don’t even have the bodies that those clothes are made for, frankly. So why do parents dress them/let them dress themselves like that?

  • Cindy

    THANK YOU! Thank you for saying the things that I have been worried about for 10 years. My teen is no worse off for having missed out on the heeled shoes at 7, push-up swimsuits at 9, thong underwear at 11, and plunging necklines at 13. So proud fo the clothes she picks at 17 and the confidence she exudes.

  • AnitaH

    Last Sunday I saw a girl leaving Mass in a dress, and I’m using that term loosely here, that was strapless and barely covered her back side. I’d put her at jr high or first/second year hs student. And she was with her dad! This dress was so short it should have been a top- and even as a top it was out of bounds for proper attire at Mass. I wouldn’t have made it past my bedroom door in that dress/top when I was her age. But now it’s accepted to wear to Mass? I don’t think so.

  • Angela

    I like your stance of “someone needing to push the other way, too.” A real eye opener for me was Dove and their “evolution” and real beauty workshop stuff for girls. While I am probably less sensitive to some things, I do think we need to be aware of this and the messages that we are passing on, esp. to our young who have the exposure, but do not yet have the tools to deal with it all. I will be forever grateful for the classes in highschool and college that talked about ad techniques. It makes me more mindful and aware when I am confronted with certian messages and images.

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