Blogger Dresses Modestly for Nine Months, Gets Book Deal, Goes Back to Wearing Whatever

Lauren Shields was working as a receptionist on Fifth Avenue and dreaming of becoming a filmmaker when she found herself growing more and more resentful of the rigid beauty standards and style rules preoccupying her and her colleagues.

“Every morning I would shoehorn myself onto the train with thousands of expensive-smelling, coiffed women who somehow managed to keep their hair looking great under wool caps in winter and despite hot, stinky gusts of subway backdrafts in the summer,” writes Shields in a piece for Salon. “I hated every second of it.”

You don’t have to be working on one of the world’s chicest streets to feel the burden of unattainable beauty standards, but Shields was so bothered by what she perceived as constant pressure to look good that she quit her job, moved to a theological seminary in Atlanta and designed a challenge she dubbed “The Modesty Experiment.” For nine months, Shields resolved to cover her hair and forgo makeup, nail polish, and clothing that exposed her knees or shoulders. “I took my cues from Jewish, Muslim and some Christian modesty practices in order to loosen my death grip on the idea that youth and beauty were prerequisites to relevance,” she explains.

Over the course of her experiment, Shields discovered that “you do get more done when you’re not obsessed with your shoes”, and that the “right” guy won’t care if you don’t conform to the latest trends: She even met her fiancé while wearing her “modest” costume.

Shields has gotten a book deal out of the experiment (despite promising she didn’t blog about it for attention — wait, isn’t that why people have blogs?), but she’s also met with some criticism. xoJane calls Shields’ project unoriginal, pointing out other, similar experiments. Katie Baker of Jezebel really hates it, calling it “superficial and silly” and accusing Shields of “putting just as much time and energy into her appearance as the vain women she pities.”

“I love Jezebel because it's snarky and pro-woman, but the negative reaction really shocked me," Shields writes in response. "I would have thought they'd be all about the experiment …Apparently, though, I did it wrong. I guess they're revoking my feminist card."

Now, I can’t help being sympathetic to Shields here, because Katie Baker of Jezebel once tried to take away my feminist card, too.

But although I hate to agree with Baker, I think Shields’ experiment is pretty flawed. You can’t just randomly appropriate bits of different religious codes for a fixed period of time and expect to discover why the Hasidic women you see in Brooklyn “seemed to be focused on something else, something more important than what was trendy.” (Not that she’s romanticizing them, or anything.)

And the experiment doesn’t seem to have had much lasting impact on Shields; she blogs about planning a “Labyrinth-themed masquerade” to mark the end of her nine-month makeup fast, and writes about being “SO EXCITED” to “go back to dressing ‘normally.’”

By the way, what’s this “nine months” business? I’d have more respect for Shields if she’d at least made it a solid year.