Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cecily Versus Her Body, Part 1: Introduction

My Dear Reader,

If you're like me, you are likely surrounded by messages about body image of some kind or another. If you're not seeing a hyper-sexualized body on a magazine cover, you're seeing a post on your Facebook feed decrying hyper-sexualized images. If you're not watching an ad for a fitness regimen, you're listening to a friend explain the importance of body acceptance.

It used to be that the one place you didn't see anything about body image was this blog. Sorry about that.

I realize that a lot of the things I'm about to say have already been said, but I'm a Mormon, and have therefore been trained to tackle topics that have already been beaten to death.*

So, despite the fact that I deal with Clinical Depression™, I've always felt like I, over all, have had a pretty healthy relationship with my body. And that's how I really see it: as a relationship. Because, also due to my Mormonity, I believe that I am not my body. I, Cecily, reside within my body. I, Cecily, was sent here to Earth to get a body and learn how to make good choices. My body is a thing that I have to learn how to deal with and use, thus the need for a relationship. In contrast, I don't have a relationship with my spirit, because I am my spirit.

But I also have this problem in that my body is the part of me that is actually visible to other humans. This creates some confusion and difficulty. I get judged by my appearance, and I also judge myself. I try not to, but I have my moments. Everybody has their moments.**

But you know what? If there were no such thing as a mirror, or even if the whole world were blind, I would still have to have this relationship with my body. I would have to worry if it was working properly, and if it's getting enough to eat. It's not like the moment you can't see yourself, you transform into some ethereal nothingness. So that gets me to thinking, if we thought about our bodies as they are, and not only about how they are perceived, how would that change our understanding of our own physicality? How would that change our opinion of ourselves? How would that change our relationship with food, clothes, and exercise?

For this past year, I've been focusing on improving my physical health, and I've dipped into all three of these areas. And you know what really shocked me? I started to realize that maybe I didn't have as great of a relationship with my body as I thought, and suddenly there was a lot of work that I needed to do. So, instead of writing about it, I've been doing the work.

But I feel like I've done enough work and research now to actually talk about what I've been going through. And as I started writing this entry, I realize that I have a lot to say about it, so I'm going to split this into a series of posts, each addressing a sub-topic of body identity. But before we get to those, why don't I give you a preview of what I learned? Here are the bullet points:

  • Ignoring my body is not good for me
  • My commitment to my faith includes a commitment to my body
  • My commitment to my body influences my happiness

I'll address these points in each forthcoming post. Until then, I hope that when you are confronted by all of these body image messages, you can take some solace in the fact that these messages aren't really addressing you. They're addressing the condition of the fleshy covering that surrounds you. Okay, maybe that's not that much help. I'm new at this.

Regards, best wishes, and I hope you know what I meant,

-Cecily Jane

*I once was asked to give a talk (that's Mormonspeak for sermon) on faith, then found out that three other people had also been asked to speak on the same topic on the same day, and I was the last speaker. I have been prepared for this day.

**It occurs to me that this idea of body-as-self has permeated our language, creating words like anybody and everybody. What would this world be like if we used words like anyspirit and everyspirit? Wait, that's weird and creepy. Abort protocol! Abort!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I Have Strong Feelings About Salad, Okay?

My Dear Reader,

I mean it. Sometimes salad makes me mad.

I attribute most of this to the fact that I don't like salad dressing. Like, the smell of ranch makes me want to vomit. That's what I mean when I say that I don't like it.

And I realize that this is just a quirk of mine, and some might even say that this is a fault. I'm picky, in this way at least, and I'm making life harder on everyone around me by disliking something that everybody else loves. I won't dispute that argument.

But what I will say is that when you live life dressing-less, you start to see the world differently. Well, at least you start to see salad differently. And let me tell you something: a lot of you don't realize this, but what most people call salads aren't really salads.

Most so-called salads are really just lettuce with gobs of oil and fat poured over it.

We have been had!

Sometimes, the salads I get served at restaurants just make my blood boil. Did I just pay $2.99 for a couple of leaves and a few slivers of carrot? Yes, yes I did. Something is wrong with this world.

Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a particularly calorie-conscious person. One time, I was in the check out line at a grocery store and, to my horror, I discovered that I accidentally picked up a reduced fat gallon of ice cream. I may have screamed audibly.

So, that said, when you eat a salad without the dressing, you experience something that a lot of people hardly ever experience. You find out what lettuce actually tastes like. And man, some of it literally tastes like dirt, so I don't really blame you. But at the same time, I wonder if lettuce tastes like dirt for a very simple and obvious reason.

Maybe going dressing-less makes you wash your lettuce a little longer than other people. Just saying.

But yeah, I definitely know what lettuce tastes like. I also know what tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots taste like. And I am happy to eat them solo. But I know a lot of people who never do that, and that really worries me. I mean, not to judge you as a person or anything, but if you can't eat a vegetable without drowning it in fat, then maybe it's healthier to not eat vegetables at all? And that's kind of sad?

To sum up, I would like to propose a few food rules:

1. If you're going to eat ice cream, you should just eat the darn ice cream
2. A salad is not a salad unless it has more than two ingredients that are neither lettuce nor dressing
3. Lettuce should not taste like dirt

and

4. We should all know what common vegetables actually taste like by themselves

Okay, now that I have that off of my chest, I'd like to thank you for your time. Please feel free to add your own food quirks/rules in the comments.

In the meantime, I will continue my ongoing attempts to convince my family that while preparing a salad for a group, you can just leave the dressing on the side. That way, people can choose how much of which dressing they want. And the dressing doesn't get soggy. Everyone wins!

Regards, best wishes, and really, this isn't that hard,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cecily vs. the Glass Box

My Dear Reader,

My sophomore year in college, I had a roommate who, at that time, was one of the most confounding human beings I had ever met. I'm not into naming people on this blog without their permission, so I'll call her Sarah.

Sarah confused and frustrated me, not because she was a bad person, or because she did anything wrong. She confused me because she was a punk rocker. And a Mormon. Usually those two don't mix, and if they do, it doesn't end well.

I remember being very concerned for the welfare of Sarah's soul. It kept me up at night. I heard her dark music, and the dark movies she liked, and the way her clothes were more like costumes than anything, and I was so worried that she was going down some path that was as dark and angry as her taste in, well, everything.

And yet, at the same time, she would go to church with me like it was the most natural thing in the world. And even though I expected her to be ignorant of gospel topics, she always held her own when we talked about it. Actually, sometimes her understanding just blew me away.

You see, I grew up in California, one of the most diverse places you can find these days. I met all kinds of people who lived all kinds of lifestyles. I had friends/acquaintances of every race and religion. Punk rockers? I knew a lot of those. And they had a strong tendency to sit in the halls during church and complain about how their parents forced them to go. And a lot of them were actually pretty awful to me. Not all of them, though. Just a lot of them.

Of course, at the same time, I was in the throes of my Great Battle with Clinical Depression, and a lot of the dark music was a mirror for what was happening in my heart. I had gone through the worst of it by then, but I hadn't figured out how to manage my condition. When I moved in with Sarah, I was pretty messed up. So maybe it wasn't just Sarah I was worried about. Maybe I felt like I was climbing out of this great, deep hole, and I was worried that Sarah would pull me back into it.

And one day, I don't know how, or why, but I must have said something weird, because Sarah came right out and called me racist. RACIST! I was so shocked that I think I just blinked at her. Sure, she was Latina. I mean, that was obvious. But I grew up in California. I took Spanish in high school, where I was one of three white kids in the class. My parents were both fluent Spanish speakers, who lived in Portugal and Argentina as missionaries. I knew what a bombilla was and how to use it. I could make my own dulce de leche.

I mean, come on. How could I be more accepting of her skin color?

I knew lots of Latinos (still do), enough to know that they all came from different circumstances and had different strengths and weaknesses, just like all other human beings. The idea that Sarah's race could even effect our relationship in a negative way just boggled my mind.

So I knew that I had to tell her. I knew that I finally had to say what I had spent months trying not to say. I told her it wasn't her heritage that bothered me; it was her subculture. And I told her that it wasn't really her clothes, but her soul that I was ultimately worried about.

It's weird, sometimes, how one simple truth can change everything. Her truth, that she saw me as racist, changed my entire perspective of our relationship. Of course she saw my confused expression as a scowl. (I was deeply unhappy with my life. Most of my expressions looked like scowls.) Of course she saw me taking my distance, and saw it as disgust. Of course that was the source of the tension in our relationship.

Of course.

Only, it wasn't true. So when I shared my truth with her, how I was really feeling, she changed her perspective, too. Instead of being offended, she understood that I just didn't get it. So she explained it. She explained to me why she liked those bands and those specific songs and why Tim Burton was so great to her. She told me that she knew she didn't dress or act the way that other people did at church, but that didn't matter. As long as she followed God's commandments (and she did, that also confused me), she didn't care about conforming to the rest of it.

Sarah and I actually became really good friends. She had a lot to teach me, not just about subculture, but about mental health. She had dealt with a lot of trauma in her life, and she had turned to punk as a way to live out her emotions. She was going through her own stuff, and she had learned a lot, and she was actually really patient with her emotionally broken roommate (me). We had a lot more in common than I had ever expected.*

I honestly don't think I would have ever been able to be the person I am now if I didn't know Sarah. She helped me so much!

And Sarah isn't the only "Sarah" I've run into over the years. I've met other people who were as confusing to me as Sarah was. I still do, really. Sometimes I have to explain to them that that look on my face is not judgement as much as it's a "Huh?" Well, maybe there's a little judgement in there; I'm not perfect, yet (still working on that). It's just that I need to find a way to adapt.

But we all get used to the way we see the world. We like to surround ourselves with other people who see the world the way we do. And then someone comes along that we can't fit in a box, and it breaks that glass box we were in. You know, that glass box that you trap yourself in, without knowing it, where the people you like are on the inside and the other people are on the outside. And then it shatters, and you're not sure that you knew it was there in the first place. That glass box.

Racism can be a glass box. I wasn't racist towards Sarah, but that's because I had met so many people before Sarah, who challenged my perceptions and forced me to change the way I see things. Or the way I was conditioned to see things. Glass box: shattered!**

Sometimes, I wonder if I live in a series of glass boxes, like a Russian nesting doll situation. I shatter one glass box, and I think I'm done. All the people on the outside are now on the inside. I'm free! Until I get to the next glass box, which is bigger and more complex. I walk right into in one day without knowing it was there, and I realize that I have to shatter that box, too. And another box. And another one. Will I ever get out of these boxes?

Is this some kind of glass spaceship, and when I shatter the last one, I'll find myself in the nothingness of space and all of us will suffocate and explode?

Okay, probably not. But sometimes when you're standing in front of your glass box, and you put your hand on the panes, it can feel that way. It's really scary to give up our mindset and open ourselves up to change. But we all have to do it if we want to be better than we are. If we want to really see the world the way it is.

It's funny, now, to think of me inside my glass box while Sarah was in hers. How wrong we were! But we were smart, too, because we were willing to get ourselves out of those boxes and actually see each other.

Hopefully, I will get the chance to truly see many different people.

Regards, best wishes, and unlikely allies,

-Cecily Jane

*Sometimes, I look back on my life and wonder why, after all the pain and anguish I went through, I didn't go through a punk phase. Or a goth phase. Instead, I buried myself in musical theater and science fiction, and refused to wear any other other than blue. That's just weird.

**I'm not saying that I'm 100% un-racist. I don't know that anyone is. It's an ongoing process. I'm just, you know, trying.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Difference Between Conservatism and Liberalism

My Dear Reader,

Life is getting political again. Or maybe it always is. Maybe I just manage to ignore it the rest of the time.

Anyway, I have a lot of friends that have opposing political viewpoints. I've lived in California, Utah, and Oregon, so I feel that I can say that with perfect honesty. Some of my friends agree with my political viewpoints. Some of them don't.

And you know what? That's fine. I've always thought that if everyone thinks the same way, then maybe no one is really thinking.

But that stops becoming fine when people get mean. And it seems that mean is all people get these days. I feel like there used to be a time when people could see a member of an opposing political party and still think of that person as good and moral. This time may have been before the advent of cable news. As I grew up with cable news, I'm not sure if this period of political politeness is real or myth.

But whether or not it ever existed, here's the thing: most people want the world to be better. Like, ninety nine percent of us. Most of us want to be happy, and we want our neighbors to be happy, too. We want everyone to be happy, really. Most of us don't like problems, and we'd much prefer it if those problems would go away.

Really, if you don't see people this way, I challenge you to get to know more people. I challenge you to set aside your prejudices and find someone who is very different than you, and honestly try to understand their viewpoint. It's not an easy skill to master, and most of us (like me) only develop this skill when we have to. Like when someone we love decides to step into one of those groups that we don't understand or that we despise.

This happened to me once. Well, more than once, really. But one time it happened in a way that I could not ignore. Someone that I love dearly, who I always thought was on my side, suddenly moved to the other side. And s/he did it in such a dramatic way that it ruined our very precious relationship. So, out of desperation, I decided to try to repair that relationship by any means necessary. And one of those means happened to be sitting down and trying to figure out why s/he did it. And trying to figure out how a person could do that and still be a good person.

And, in this specific case, part of the change was political. I'm a conservative. This person used to be, too, until s/he decided to adopt a staunchly liberal viewpoint. It didn't happen overnight, but it seemed to. It took me by surprise.

So, because of this and because of other aspects in our relationship, I spent a lot of time feeling betrayed. I spent a lot of time really hurt. And I'm not going to say that this was all in my head, or that I was stupid, because the truth is that my feelings were real, and they came from things that were done and said to me. But, after a while, I decided that it was time to heal. Pain gets tiresome after a while, you know? So I did something drastic: I applied the principles of the gospel of Christ and I made a sincere attempt to love my new enemy. And that included trying to understand liberalism.

And you know what I found? Pretty much everything I mentioned above. That people are good and want to world to be better. Even liberals. Because it took a lot of time and effort, but I figured out why liberals are liberal (and why conservatives are conservative). And that changed the way I looked at the people I oppose politically. Here's what I learned.

The difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives want to affect change via private methods (charities, private businesses, private organizations, etc.) and liberals want to affect change via public methods (government programs, etc.).

And what is the change that liberals and conservatives are trying to affect? Often it's the same. I mean, it's the same if you look at the big picture. It's not if you look at specific issues, seeing as conservatives and liberals are often at odds when it comes to almost any specific issue you can find. But when you talk about values, the big difference isn't a what. It's a who. It's who is going to solve this problem.

And when you start to look at it that way, a lot of the stereotypes and all-around nastiness just falls away. Conservatives, like me, aren't cold-hearted tightwads who want everyone else to live in poverty while they raise themselves to excessive wealth. Conservatives simply would prefer it if the task of solving problems was in the hands of the individual citizens, and not in the hands of the government. Liberals, on the other hand, aren't lazy money-grubbers who want to force you to solve all their problems. Liberals simply believe that the government is better equipped to solve the problems in America than individual citizens are.

That's how I look at all of this. That is how I look at all of us. That's how I can find the good in the people who oppose me. But this viewpoint doesn't only help you understand the people in the other camp. This viewpoint is why I can call myself a conservative and still feel free to disagree with the political party that I'm supposed to be a part of. That's how I can disagree with other conservatives.

It's my core understanding of the role of the government that makes me what I am, politically. It's the other parts of me, the religious and experienced parts, that shape my views into specific beliefs and lead me to push for specific methods to achieve specific outcomes. But, you know, I'm not the only person who can say that. Everyone should be able to say that.

It's my hope that one day, we can get to a place where we can respect those who disagree with us. I hope that one day we will look through the eyes of our enemy without a fear that it will demean or debase us. My journey to understand others didn't change my values; it made me strengthen and better understand the values I already had. It actually made me a better person.

And really, we should never be afraid of applying the teachings of Christ into our lives. Not ever.

Regards, best wishes, and the courage to understand,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All I Needed to Know About Men I Learned from Jane Austen, Part 6: Mr. Elton

"I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please, every feature works."
-Emma, Chapter 13

My Dear Reader,

In my continuing endeavor to read twelve classics in 2014, I decided to read one of the few Jane Austen novels I hadn't gotten to yet: Emma. And you know what? Jane is still right on the money when it comes to men. (And women, really.)

A while back, I wrote a series of posts outlining the male characters in Pride and Prejudice. Today, I'm going to add an Emma entry to that collection: Mr. Elton.

In Emma, Mr. Elton is the local vicar, a man of God who is well-liked by everyone. And while Emma is not interested in any romantic endeavors for herself, when she wants to find a match for her dear friend Harriet, she thinks that Mr. Elton perfectly fits the bill. After all, Mr. Elton is liberal with his time and attention. He knows when to give compliments. He provides service at the slightest hint of a need.

Indeed, Mr. Elton is quite gallant. At least, he is if he wants something from you.

The problem is that a Mr. Elton only uses kindness as a means to an end. If he wants to you like him, he will act nice when you are around him, or when he is around people who are close to you. It is only when he is safely alone that he reverts to his usual, selfish self.

So, you may be deceived by him. Lots of people may be deceived by him, actually. But really, this guy is going out of his way to deceive you, so I don't think you should beat yourself up about it.

An Elton is distinct from other masters of deception, such as Wickhams, because Eltons manage to deceive themselves. If they had to describe themselves in one word, that word would be "gallant," or "selfless," or something like that. They might even label themselves as "heroic." Man, those Eltons put themselves on a pedestal. And when they see that you have something they want, they put you on a pedestal, too.

They praise you. They help you. They do daring deeds in order to impress you. They even do these things to your friends, because they know that you will never like someone who is mean to your friends. Everything is about getting you to like them. Everything they do is about building up an image that you will not be able to refuse.

But this can be confusing, because if he's being excessively nice to everyone, including your friends, it can be hard to tell where his true desire lies. But if you have any misconceptions about him, they will not hold for long. Eventually, he will come to claim his desire, and he will not allow you to misunderstand exactly what it is that he wants. He will do everything in his power to convince you that he deserves the object of his desire. After all, you owe him, because he's been so nice.

And if you do refuse to give him what he wants, you will be surprised at how quickly your world changes. This kind, chivalrous, pleasant person is gone. Maybe even literally. Maybe he goes somewhere else to find someone who will feed his desires. But either way, you will see a dramatic change in him. You will see, finally, the person that he really is. You will see how he despises people that can't benefit him. You will see how he views himself as better than anyone else, and how he truly believes that he can treat people badly because of how superior he thinks he is to them. And really, the worst thing that you will discover is how much he despises you. You will see that he blames you for refusing him. Because you did not give him what he wants, he has taken you off of that pedestal, and he is even now trying to crush you under his foot in any way that he can. He is only sorry that your own personal dignity is preventing him from doing more damage to you.

But if he can damage you, he will. If he can hurt your friends, he'll do that, too. But he won't do anything that will hurt his image, because after all, he still has things that he needs. So his damage to your and your friends will be limited. The real sting comes in the lack of warmth, and the realization that any previous warmth was fake. The real blow is realizing how wrong you were to trust him.

In the end, I find Mr. Elton to be a very fascinating character. I feel lucky that to date, I have never been the object of one. But I have been the friend of someone an Elton objectifies, and that is no fun at all. Lots and lots of ice cream is requisite for healing from the damage an Elton does. I'd advise you to keep your distance.

In my opinion, and in my experience, it is much better to be around someone who is honest with you, even if that honesty is not always flattering. And if you can find an honest person who also respects you, don't you ever let that person go. I think that's what Jane Austen would say, if she were still around today. That's what she was saying when she wrote Emma. Flattery is nice, but honesty and respect are far more valuable.

Regards, best wishes, and maybe a Mr. Knightly,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

C. S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and Love

My Dear Reader,

I think about love a lot.

Not romantic love, necessarily. Just love in general.

If you've never read C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves, I'd highly recommend it. The four loves he talks about are: brotherly/familial love, friendship, romantic love, and unconditional love. Each kind of love has its own parameters, but they are all love.

And when we talk about love, we talk a lot about selflessness. We talk about sacrifice, duty, and honor. But the more I think about it, the more I think that these might be bad descriptors of love.

And, in a weird way, some of these thoughts were inspired by the ideas in Atlas Shrugged. Not that I really like any of the romantic relationships in the novel. The way that Ayn Rand depicts all versions of love in the novel is one of the things I hate the most about the book.* But I really like the things she has to say about selflessness. It's really odd, the way Rand can do that.

Anyway, Atlas Shrugged preaches the idea that selflessness and sacrifice are amoral. But Rand also defines selflessness in a different way: as giving something up without receiving anything in return. Ever. In this context, a man who works tirelessly to achieve a goal is not sacrificing. He is paying the necessary dues in order to achieve a certain reward. A woman who goes hungry to feed her child is also not sacrificing, because she values the child more than she values herself, and is therefore giving something in exchange for a desired result.

I think that's it. I think it's that image of a woman going hungry to feed her child, and not calling it a sacrifice, that is making me think about how I define love.

True sacrifice, according to Rand, would be to let your own child starve so a stranger could live. That is what she defines as immoral, because you are giving away something you value, and getting nothing in return. Why? Because you don't value that stranger. You don't love that stranger. At least, you don't love the stranger as much as you love your child.

So if love means that you receive something when you give to someone, I guess you could say that love is inherently selfish.

Actually, you could probably say that love is selfish and selfless at the same time. But that's not a great way to say it. It's more accurate to say that love merges your well-being with the well-being of another. If you love someone, their happiness is your happiness, and their sorrow is your sorrow.

So, if you love someone, you help them in order to make them happy, because to you, it's the same as making yourself happy. Maybe it's better.

And that, to me, is what love is. Love is the merging of your self-interest with the self-interest of the person you love. They're the same to you. And the more you love a person, the more your needs and their needs share equal importance. All needs become one.

And that might be the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.

Because we are born separate and distinct individuals. But we don't want to stay that way. We want to connect with each other. We want to merge on one level or another, through our experiences, through our thoughts, and through our emotions. That's why art exists: to help us connect. That's why we're born in families and bred in communities. We hunger and thirst for this connection.

And when we find that connection, we call it love. But no two connections are really the same. You don't love your brother the way you love a friend. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a connection, a merging in both of those relationships.

So my theory is that the closer we get to the highest form of love, what C. S. Lewis calls "agape," or unconditional love, the stronger this connection gets. To the point where there is no difference between their pain and your pain; their joy and your joy. You truly pursue the happiness of the person you love, just as you would pursue that happiness for yourself. Because it's the same. Because you find equal value in both.

Maybe that's what it means to love someone as you love yourself. And maybe we shouldn't just strive to find that love with our spouses our our children. Maybe we can even have that kind of love for our neighbor. Or a stranger.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on love, for the moment. I'm sure I'll have some more thoughts another day.

But for now, I am thinking that Christ is even smarter than I ever realized.

Regards, best wishes, and agape,

-Cecily Jane

*Ayn Rand argues that a business associate should be more important to you than your family (if your family is a bunch of loafers), because a person's value is based on their ability to produce. I think that all people should be producers of some kind or another, each contributing to society in the way they can, but I detest the idea that this is the only way to determine worth. Honestly, I love a lot of the things she says, but some of her ideas are absolutely repulsive to me.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Modesty in Space

My Dear Reader,

Growing up in a very religious family, I was taught the importance of modesty at almost every turn. And I always thought that it was a great idea.

I'm weird, I know.

I have this theory. You know how most people have a favorite vice? I think everyone also has a favorite virtue. Modesty is mine. So when people start talking about modesty and how the very idea is shaming and degrading to young girls, well, that wasn't my experience. But, like I said, I'm weird.

A lot of my weirdness, I think, comes from the fact that along with God, Star Trek also had a big place in my life growing up. On Sundays, my family went to church together. On Mondays, we watched Star Trek together. And something the both church and Star Trek has in common? Both are very heavy on ideas. Ideas like universal equality and unconditional compassion. Concepts like agency, kindness, and honor. I got one kind of lesson from the pulpit, and another from the TV, but to me, it all seemed to be two different perspectives into one great, eternal truth. And both church and Star Trek encouraged me to find truth.

So, that was quite an education.

Of course, there was occasionally a disconnect in the message. And as much as I learned the importance of modesty on Sunday, Monday's lesson went somewhat in reverse. Star Trek is almost infamous for its basement-dwelling teenage fanbase, and though it's not very accurate, you wouldn't know it by the way the characters were dressed. Star Trek is as show about people in uniforms, and yet in almost every incarnation of the franchise, they manage to have at least one woman wearing a skin-tight body suit. Sometimes for no real reason. It's just for those basement-dwellers who supposedly will never have a relationship with a real girl, so this fictional one has been provided. Fantasize away, pimply fanboys!*

One of these catsuit-wearing female characters was Seven of Nine, a character from Star Trek: Voyager who was portrayed by Jeri Ryan, who described being "poured" into that suit, it was that tight. Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway (my personal hero) on the same show, said:
I found that that was hard, Jeri notwithstanding. Certainly, I could see with my own eyes that she was a va-va-va-voom and beautiful-beautiful bombshell of a girl. Sexuality was brought into Voyager, and that’s what I resented. I chose not to use sexuality. I thought that if Paramount and UPN and Rick (Berman) were being exceptionally prescient and brave, they would give a woman a shot at commanding without sex. “Can we do this without sex?” There are always other ways. So I resented that and I was hurt by the immediate, extraordinary attention given to this character. The numbers went up. And I thought, “Ah, you can’t argue with a business decision and you can’t argue with sex.” That’s just part of life, but all of that is very difficult for a woman, particularly an actress like me. But it had nothing to do with Jeri.
And yeah, it was pretty obvious that that's what they were going for. I mean, that costume was ridiculous. But it worked, because ratings went up 60%. And when this was on the air in 1997, I was a very, very annoyed teenage girl. I had always looked to Star Trek for powerful female role models, which were in short supply back then (some would argue they still are). At church, I was taught that women are divine beings, equal in the eyes of God and important instruments in His plan. Star Trek was one of the few places where I could actually see that in action. Well, kind of. Until they needed a boost in viewership. Then, they would take a woman and use her as eye candy. Then, her value didn't come from her choices or actions, but from what fans could fantasize doing with her. I guess women in the future are only equal when the ratings are good.

And though I still loved the show, I always rolled my eyes when Seven of Nine came on screen. I saw her as a pointless character. I knew she was being used and I felt used just watching her.

But a funny thing happened when a rewatched the series a few years later. I was in college then, and had a few more years of experience under my belt. I had taken courses on literature and had learned how to look at stories critically. And when I watched Voyager again, I saw Seven of Nine with brand new eyes. I saw past her apparel and into her storyline. I discovered, to my own amazement, that I had found one of the best characters I had ever seen in any show, book, or movie. Her story is one of healing from abuse and betrayal, of repentance, redemption, and love.

But no one ever talks about that.

No one ever talks about Seven of Nine, who was abducted as a child and indoctrinated into an oppressive culture where she was no longer an individual, but a cog in a great and terrible machine of destruction. No one talks about how she is rescued from this machine and offered a chance to reclaim her humanity. No one talks about the people who show her a love and devotion she has not deserved, patiently teaching her how to regain her agency even as she promises to betray them. And no one talks about Seven's eventual success, and how she casts off the shackles of oppression and pain and becomes her own person.

Well, I mean the show talks about it. A lot. It's just that people are too distracted by the catsuit to notice.

And that, I think, is what is missing from the argument for modesty. So many who oppose modesty say that a woman has a right to express herself, and that is true. They say that it is not a woman's burden to control the thoughts of others, and that is true. But what Seven of Nine taught me is that dressing in a way meant to display your sexuality does not express who you are.

It hides you.

It camouflages you.

It allows you to masquerade as an object instead of a person.

And while it doesn't change your worth, and it doesn't make it okay for people to mistreat you, it changes how people see you.

And maybe it changes how you see yourself.

Dressing without to respect for yourself is like strapping raw beef to your thighs and jumping into piranha-infested waters. I guess it's your choice, but it's not a smart choice. Human nature is human nature, choices have consequences, and you have to be careful. You have to protect yourself.

And there's another lesson I learned here: I was wrong. I was wrong to judge someone's value by what they wore. I was immature and shallow. Church and Star Trek taught me to respect people, to see beyond the surface and try to find a friend. I was taught not to look on the outward appearance, but to look on the heart. But I guess I didn't learn those lessons well enough. I guess that in a better world, it wouldn't matter what we wear, because it wouldn't distract people from who we are.

And maybe we need to start making that better world right now. Maybe the destructive parts of human nature need to be cast aside and forgotten.

Maybe we can teach children (not just girls) about modesty in a way that makes them feel empowered instead of ashamed. It is empowering to have the ability to choose how people see you. It is empowering to be able to see people as valuable, despite their appearance. We have to learn to use these powers wisely. We have to understand that people make bad choices sometimes, and you have to account for that. But we also have to be better in order to make the world better.

Because despite Jeri Ryan's success, despite her beautiful portrayal of a complicated character and the many roles she has taken since then, despite the fact that she is a genuine, caring person*, people still ask her about that darn catsuit. More than ten years later, people are still treating her like a cog in the machine of corporate sexuality. There is more than one thing wrong with that.

In the end, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to learn truth from more than one source. I'm grateful that I was given the chance to find my own lessons. Most of all, I treasure the ability I have to think for myself. To act for myself. Because that's the real goal of modesty, right? To be free from objectification? To be free to be your true self?

I think so.

Best wishes, regards, and kindness,

-Cecily Jane

P.S. This is really just one facet of modesty. Here's another post with a different perspective that I also agree with. It's pretty genius, actually.

P. P.S. I couldn't make this argument in the post because it's long enough as it is, but I tried to hint at it: this thinking is not only degrading to women. It's also degrading to the male viewer, because it not only is the female character being sold as an object, but the male viewer is being enticed to buy an object. Both parties are being manipulated and degraded. Both parties deserve better.

*I base this on her Twitter profile. She is awesome.