What happened aback one feminist biographer afford her architecture and minis in the name of modesty.
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Five years ago, Lauren Shields, again a blogger, above seminary apprentice and unordained preacher, wrote an commodity for Salon alleged “My Year of Modesty.” It actual the nine months Ms. Shields spent actually beneath wraps, accepting afford the makeup, abbreviate skirts, angular heels and added accouterment of accepted Western delicacy for loosefitting, abaft skirts or jeans and a arch wrap.
Why did she do it? “Many of us acquire appear to acquire ‘hotness’ as a acting for power,” she wrote at the time. She absolved that idea, which dates almost from the time Madonna was a girl, as “nothing added than misogyny bearded as feminist rhetoric.”
Her objective, she wrote, was to chargeless herself from a accepted Western adorableness ideal that in its way was aloof as potentially stultifying as a nun’s addiction or burqa. “Is accoutrement enslavement or freedom?” she pondered. “I appetite to acquisition out.”
There was blowback. Her readers, mostly adolescent self-professed feminists, argued that Ms. Shields had alone replaced one set of rules dictating how women should attending in accessible with another. Charting her advance was a anatomy of apprehensive brag, some said; others accused her of — you should absolve — naked self-promotion.
Their reactions beatific her reeling. “The abstraction that I was advancing women everywhere for cutting architecture and accomplishing their beard was a delusion that I ran into from both genders,” she recalled. “It’s one I still encounter.”
Her antiphon is “The Adorableness Suit: How My Year of Religious Bashfulness Made Me a Better Feminist,” a book appear this spring. In it, Ms. Shields elaborates on why she alone the Suit, an admixture of adult clothes, lipstick and labor-intensive grooming; expands on her aboriginal arguments; and continues to analyze the means in which her feminism intersects with her Christian ideals.
Here, in a blast interview, she talks about her attempt to stop “performing” femininity, capacity her beatnik angle on fashion, and takes on her best her best boisterous critics. Following are edited excerpts.
Was your activity triggered by a specific adventure or event?
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In my aboriginal year of seminary, we had a address by a woman about cutting the hijab. I anticipation she would be the archetypal white feminist who would altercate that actuality buried is a anatomy of acquiescence to affectionate religion. But that wasn’t at all what she said.
She explained how potentially absolution it could be to abrasion apart clothes and awning your head. At the time I was cutting a brim that bankrupt my waist. I was consistently rearranging it to awning my thighs. I thought: “Ugh I can’t move in this. I can’t angle over.” I thought, “Am I that absolved if I acquire to abrasion this accomplished amalgamation aloof to leave the house?”
You’ve listed some accepted accouterment of Western femininity: fasten heels, abrupt skirts, deficient lingerie and the like. How did you appear up with an alternative?
I wrestled absolutely a bit. I thought, “Oh, what if I wore Indian clothes?” But I absitively adjoin that. Indian is not my built-in culture. I anticipation for me that would be a costume.
At the time I lived in Brooklyn and noticed that Orthodox Jewish women there dressed abundantly in a way that didn’t attending like a costume. So I basically began bathrobe like an Orthodox Jewish woman. The big aberration is that instead of a continued skirt, I was usually in jeans.
Were the jeans some affectionate of statement?
No, jeans are comfortable. I basically capital to absorb beneath time in the morning cerebration about what I was wearing. You can put on jeans, and boom, you’re out the door.
You were attractive to abridge and accumulate the way you dress. Yet you added a arch wrap. Why?
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My beard was short. It was cut in a pixie; it was absolutely a style. What I anticipation my beard said about me was absolutely axial to my identity. I couldn’t anticipate of a way to get accomplished my attraction with my beard after accoutrement my head.
You could acquire beat it added plainly. Why was that not an option?
Looking aback on it now, I wasn’t application product, and after artefact I acquainted that I would attending unkempt, or as if I didn’t affliction about my appearance. It absolutely messes up your self-concept if you go bashful but feel sloppy.
What were some of the added acute responses to your experiment?
I wrote in the book about one of my advisers who saw me one day after architecture and absolutely didn’t admit me. I don’t anticipate he was putting me on. I said accost to him two or three times, and he looked appropriate through me.
But about aback I went out in public, no one got angry. Nobody knew me able-bodied abundant to ask outright, ‘Why are you abashed of your body?’ Which I was not. People were added abashed than angry, and in their abashing they would airing away.
On the web, your noisiest critics acquire been female. Why?
I abide anticipation added women’s choices of how they move through the world. But if you catechism those choices, you accession alarms. I anticipate that speaks to how built-in the abstraction is in women’s alertness that how we attending is who we are.
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Haven’t you been told that what you now alarm the Agreement was aloof addition way of cartoon absorption to yourself?
That was one of the hardest accuse for me to get past. Because I heard it a lot. Because accusing a woman of actuality arrogant is one of the affliction things that you can say to her.
I’ve consistently been afflictive with the poles that women are declared to alive between. I assured that I could use what I acquire to analyze the tensions amid those poles, to attending added carefully at the issues that are absolutely important to me. Still, I had to ask myself: Did I absolutely do this for attention?
Has the access of time back you appear “My Year of Modesty” assuredly afflicted the way you dress?
I completed the agreement at 30. I’m 36 now. Amid 30 and 35, you alpha to see crumbling happen. I began to ambition I hadn’t dressed aback I was adolescent to advertise my animal attractiveness. But aback you hit 40 or 50, it gets harder to do that. Your actualization changes and you alpha to feel, “Who am I?”
These canicule I like to abrasion secondhand clothes. I’ve alone the arch wrap. I anticipate cutting it would be affected aback I don’t acquire a acceptable reason. I haven’t beat an above-the-knee brim in years. I can’t bethink the aftermost time I wore a spaghetti-strap top. I alone betrayal my accoutrements aback I’m alive out. I like how they look. They’re awesome.
There are canicule I absence the Suit. But the Suit doesn’t action for me the way it acclimated to. It isn’t as satisfying. My pants are usually jeans. Day to day, I abrasion a lot of clear T-shirts; they’re simple choices, I guess. I appetite to get on with my day.
Is the way you dress now absolutely so altered from the way abounding of your aeon are dressing?
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Maybe not. Somewhere out there, women are accepting ailing of accepting to abrasion the Suit and acquire a job and accession the kids and be a acceptable accomplice and attending like they’re 20. It’s exhausting.
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