Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber have six daughters, ranging in age from 5 to 18, and a baby on the way in the fall. With all that experience, they’ve learned a few things about parenting, which they share on their family blog and Facebook page, Beyond Moi.
Among lighter parenting fare, the Martin-Webers frequently discuss topics such as sex positivity, body autonomy and consent, and the toxicity of gender roles for boys and girls. All these play into their recent Facebook post on why they don’t enforce a modest standard of dress for their six daughters.
“We were asked yesterday and have been asked before what are our standards of modesty in how our children dress and how do we enforce that,” Jessica began the post, which included a photo of herself and two of her daughters in summer clothing.
“Here’s the short version: we don’t teach or enforce any standards of modest dress for our children,” she wrote.
She goes on to explain that while the family follows the dress code guidelines of places they visit, such as schools, outside of that they do not believe in “modesty” as a concept.
“Modesty is too subjective and true modesty is about attitude and our heart. To us, enforcing modesty standards is about controlling people and we have found that is counterproductive and undermines our commitment to respecting bodily autonomy,” she writes.
Jessica points out that while some would find each of the outfits she and her daughters are wearing in the photo modest, others would find them unacceptable. Instead of adhering to an arbitrary standard of modesty, she uses a series of practical guidelines that her daughters can take into consideration when choosing their clothing.
For instance: “Can you participate in the activities you will need to do without worrying about your clothing?” and “Is it practical for the weather?” For older children, the conversation might include something like: “Are YOU comfortable with the parts of your body that are showing and that others may notice those parts and though we are not responsible for the actions of others, how will you feel if someone says something about that?”
Jessica says the couple is often asked by friends and readers of the blog how they approach teaching their children to dress modestly, so she decided to write a post on the subject.
“We really just wanted to show that there is another option in how to approach this topic without promoting toxic ideas that the human body, specifically the female body, is dangerous and to be controlled, hidden and punished for being sexual,” Jessica told HuffPost.
Jessica herself feels so passionately about the topic of body autonomy because of her own experiences. She grew up with a set of extremely rigorous standards of “modest” dress that led her to fear her own body, and yet that didn’t protect her from experiencing sexual abuse. Still, she took a similar approach with her own children, until two of her daughters were assaulted at ages 3 and 5 by a family friend. That’s when she and her husband realized that emphasizing “modest” dress actually contributes to rape culture, by “teaching that we are responsible for what abusers think and even what they do.”
“This was just one way the abuse changed our parenting,” she told HuffPost. “Instilling in our children that they had the say over their body couldn’t be in lip service only, it had to translate in every aspect of their lives.”
“As their parents, we aren’t responsible for controlling their bodies but rather for guiding them to eventually be able to make those decisions for themselves,” she continued. “It takes more time to dialogue with them and guide them while respecting their autonomy but we believe that is worth it in the long run and we have personal experience that enforcing rules like what they should wear doesn’t actually work to keep them safe.”
Jessica feels that doing away with modest dress standards has not only helped free her children from the pressure of dressing for the “male gaze” and equating their worth with their sexuality, but it has also helped them find the confidence to dress solely for their own approval.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how thoughtful our children have been over their clothing choices,” she said. “They aren’t making their decisions to please their parents, their friends, or anyone but themselves. Turning it into a respectful conversation rather than a set of rules has relieved a lot of tension and we’ve been so impressed with how our children dress themselves.”
The post has received over 2,500 reactions since it was posted on May 31 and has been shared over 1,300 times. And while some responses have been negative, cruel and even slut-shaming, Jessica is proud of how her parenting on this issue has affected her kids. She even asked a few of them to share their feelings on how they choose their clothing.
As Helena, 14, puts it, “It’s a way for me to express myself. I never really think about what other people will think of how I dress. Sometimes I like to dress up just because it is fun. Sometimes I like a baggy T-shirt and jeans. I dress practical for where I am but with my own little flair if I feel like it.”
Lavinia, 16, says, “I feel comfortable expressing myself. It helps in confidence and in my ability to make my own decisions. I don’t think about pleasing other people. I mean, I like compliments on my outfits but I’m never thinking ‘I’m going to wear this shirt because somebody will like it.’”
Evangeline, 9, added, “I don’t care what other people think, I just wear what is comfortable and are my favorite things.”
Cosette, 7, says, “I wear what I like but I make sure my vulva is covered.”
As Jessica sums it up in the conclusion of her post, “With our girls we never, ever tell them something isn’t ok to wear for modesty reasons. I don’t regret this decision as we watch our daughters bloom with confidence and dress for themselves rather than for the gaze of others.”
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