Last weekend, we were coming out of The Palazzo in Las Vegas after seeing a brilliant performance of Jersey Boys. The night was cold, the lines for the valet were backed up, and right at the top of the escalators was one of the hottest night clubs on the Strip. I stood there with Kevin in my Buckle jeans, Anthropologie top, and Eddie Bauer sweater, which, after watching the women prance out of the hotel, I realized were so NOT what everybody was wearing for a night out on the Strip.
Judging from the outfits, I believe that the outfit de nuit was a bodyhugging, sleeveless, mini-dress with platform, gladiator sandals—the kind with four bondage-looking straps across the foot and a hideous ankle strap that make anybody wearing them if not proportioned like Kate Moss look as if they have cankles. The great thing about this dress was that it was, virtually, a uniform for the under thirty set. Just about every woman I saw was dressed similarly. (This is not a discussion of the fashion industry, so withhold judgment for a second.) Doesn't matter her shape, her size, the winter-pale of her thighs and arms, the fact that some could hardly walk in their gladiator platforms and clomped forward like a parody of Frankenstein. Here they came, down the escalator, hair pomaded into shape, lips glossy, and eyes bright — fancy flocks of women out for a night on the town.
In particular, I remember a group of women (girls really), in their early twenties, none of which, bar an Asian woman, had to be under 200 pounds. Never you mind. One had on a grey-and-pink large horizontally striped mini dress which clung around her really ample middle and didn't quite cover her dimpled thighs. Her friend, shaped like those bodies that look really skinny side-on and then when they turn front-on, the hips are a foot wider on each side than the knees, wore a black, leather mini-skirt with a white tank-top and a wide, silver-buckled belt. Her pointy high-heels reminded me of Ducky in Pretty in Pink. Together with about five other friends, they came down the escalator—owners of the night.
I couldn't help but smile at their excitement, at their struts, at the stumble one to took as she got off the escalator and then clung to her friend's arm, the two of them laughing at both the stumble and the realization that she was not going to be able to walk on her own in those shoes up and down the Vegas Strip.
As I watched them leave the hotel, shivering as the wind met them through the portico doors, I wanted to raise my right arm in the air, pump my fist, and bark that woof! that seems to mean "You go girls!" I marveled at their enthusiasm and their whole-bodied embrace of the mini-dress (or is it the other way around, the mini-dresses gallant embrace of their whole bodies?). I wondered if they looked in the mirror when they went out and actually thought, "Dang girl, I look good!" I hoped so. Because they were just so vibrant and so alive that they deserved to feel as if they were just as good as they hoped they were.
As I was sinking into this reverie about how great it was that there were women out there who didn't listen to what society told them about who got to dress fashionably, one of my friends turned to us, shaking his head at the feathered ladies and said, "What is the world coming to?" I looked at his facial expression. It was a mixture between amusement, disapproval and disbelief. I thought of a passage in a book I had just read, about an injured WW2 soldier in a hospital who received a magazine with the famous picture of Rita Heyworth kneeling on her bed. In his amazement, he shook his head and either he or the narrator commented, "What is the world coming to?"
I looked at this friend of mine, and thought about the contrast between our two reactions. Why had he looked at these women with a mixture of disdain and amusement? Yes, none of those women was conventionally beautiful. They were neither skinny nor pretty. They weren't even really physically attractive. There was maybe a nice nose, a set of collar bones, some bouncy hair between the five of them, but none all on one person. (They all had great smiles, though.) They were just women. Was it the bare flesh? (Which if it had been 125-pound bare flesh would not, I'm convinced, have evoked such a comment.) Was this flesh somehow unseemly or improper? If not, then why would a group of women dressed for a night out signify a threat to the stability of the world's order?
I sat in a Sunday School lesson about the law of chastity a few months ago. What could have been an insightful discussion about what it means to lust, what it means to cleave, what it means to go after in your heart, and why the verses contained language that was gender specific, such as "if a man looketh up on a woman . . ." ended up in a discussion of how we should cover up our little girls in one-piece bathing suits and skirts below the knees. How a principle of emotional and physical self-control and discipline which needs to be mastered by adult men and women to help create a strong union devolved into a list consisting of one-piece bathing suits, no sleeveless tops and stockings on Sundays for our female children, I don't know. Well, I do, but the discussion shouldn't have ended up there.
I do remember that the question that sparked the list was "How can we teach the law of chastity to our children?" I thought perhaps a really frank discussion of how men and women get turned on, and what works for women and what works for men. Maybe teaching your teenage boys that when you hold a girl's hand, it means far more to the girl than just holding hands. It means, for most girls, an emotional commitment. It means that she thinks the boy really likes her. It does NOT mean that she knows that you just want to hold her hand right now, and that if you feel like kissing her later, you might try to do that, and then when that gets boring, you'll go home to make yourself a turkey sandwich and play NBA Live. I would tell my sons this, and then say, "So, when you reach out, my boy, reach out gently, and honestly." If my boys know how girls work, then they can operate within appropriate boundaries without making promises they don't intend to keep.
I would tell my girl that her body is hers and hers only. That it is a beautiful, strong machine. It can do whatever she pleases it to do. It can hit home runs; it can shoot three-pointers and go up strong for rebounds; it can stride out across red rocks to the top of the canyon rim; it can make love and bear children. It can double-back handspring, and pirouette. It can do all these things without having to have breasts and buttocks a certain size, and it can do it virtuously in tank top and sports bra.
It can go, if it wants, out on the town in a pink-and-gray striped mini-dress hugging thighs that would be great behind home plate because they can generate enough power to thrust up out of the squat and throw out the runner at second base. This body is hers, and it is beautiful without needing a man or a male society to approve it. That is what I would tell my girl about her body.
Then I would give her as many opportunities as possible to find out just what her body can do, no matter its size. Knowing that, she would begin to feel that she controls what her body does and how it is perceived. She would, hopefully, begin to sense that her body is far more than what it looks like, that it is valuable for what it can do, and that she and it are partners (not enemies) in her journey.
I would also tell her that if she wants to kiss a boy, then to go ahead and kiss him. But, to remember, that to her a kiss is more than a kiss, and to him (generally) a kiss is just a kiss. I would tell her that boys are visual, that boys get out of the starting blocks going 60 mph, that boys are pretty simple to keep happy. Knowing that, she is better able to make wise decisions about herself, her feelings and her body.
But, if you're not going to have those kinds of discussions about sexuality, which is the root of chastity, then I guess the best we can do is cover her up. She will probably feel, in some unarticulated place in her soul, that there is something wrong with her body, that it contains feelings and urges and sights that are untrustworthy, even dangerous, but that's what happens when you hang the preservation of our society's moral values on the length of a skirt.
Title: from Manfred Mann, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy."