Heart of Arts


Toyin Falola


Do you remember the wedding party I attended the other day? The one I saw Bẹ́kùnBẹ́kùn at? Yes, that one. I called it Ayamatanga! Google it!! I saw something else too. The bridesmaids’ dresses looked like they had a mission to seduce. Indeed, two of them were looking at me, and it reminded me that my father married my mother when he was almost 60. I looked back at them, telling myself that a product of polygamy can never be free of sins. I was even thinking in my mind of an appropriate verse for a sermon:

“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:9-10).

I looked further, from head to toe, via the middle. The clothes clung tightly to their bodies, and cleavages in various colours and sizes were put on their faces. I saw breasts fully exposed, although I was told in New York that if you have not seen the nipples, you cannot claim to have seen the breasts. Nigerians, be warned. Oyinbo people have defined the meaning of breasts, so all the upper parts are now classified as chest extensions (skin làsan ni). How did this lean girl get to wear a size 40 D? I wondered whether she would not trip! God works in miracles. The one behind her, a heavy woman, had the orange (òroñbó) sizes, but perhaps she had no money to buy a foam breast pad at Shoprite.

The Aso-ebi ladies were worse. One lady’s breasts threatened to jump out of where they were confined. And oh, the slits! So high you could have seen their privates if you cared to look. I did, and she was wearing red underwear, which did not match the Aso ebi colours (pardon my manners, my curiosity pushed me). Where did I get the idea that colour combinations must include what we see and cannot see? The bride was not any better. With her low cleavage, probably because the dress material finished there, I worried about the Priest joining them in Holy matrimony. Could this explain why the Priest lost coordination? Our Priest forgot to read Matthew 5:30:

And if thy right hand offends thee, cut it off, andcast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee. that one of thy members should perish, and not. that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

He did! I don’t know; just guessing. It is impossible for a priest who calls you a sinner once a week not to know this important biblical passage. But what wicked God will mandate a Priest to pluck his two eyes for the lovely pastime of looking at the breasts of our new Ìyàwó? After all, she will soon be discarded the side chicks after three babies and baby fat that will disfigure her body—the flat tummy of today will become the big belle of tomorrow (well, not in all cases, sha). Many ends like that—the wedding day is when they are at the peak of beauty. I have recommended that marriages become like a driver’s license, which must be renewed after three or five years. You cannot marry a man with full hair on his head and not throw him away when he becomes bald, making God his barber.

As the world evolves, manners seem to deplete. Moral and cultural values are neglected. This Gen-Z generation needs to be called to order on their belief systems. Every generation is unhappy with the current: your grandfather was unhappy with your father; your father is unhappy with you, and you may not be happy with your son. The systems of belief of a people are seen in their culture, in their mannerisms. Sadly, the modesty culture has been perverted recently, all in the name of fashion trends. If God makes this Gen-Z the end of what we know since no other alphabet follows, we can sing in praise and shout hallelujah! Perhaps we will start all over with Gen-A, creating fully naked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Fashion has transitioned into the live display of immodesty, especially with women’s outfits. The vast majority of females cannot dress up without revealing some skin. It is old school to wear full-length skirts and high-neck tops, but it is not old school to dress decently. When I attend social gatherings, weddings and birthday ceremonies especially, I sometimes cannot help but wonder how many yards of fabric was used to sew certain styles worn by some ladies; I would often ask myself if the styles were an attempt to manage the fabric or the dress mistakenly got torn in the sewing process and it had to be sewn that way. Every mistake is a style, they say. In the part of the world where I am from, an ọmọlúwàbí, meaning a responsible person, is expected to dress in a manner that is not only presentable but covers all sensitive parts of her body.

When the purpose of a thing is unknown, abuse is inevitable. The unique purpose of clothing is to cover one’s nakedness and reduce vulnerability to nature. The only set of humans who are scantily clad or wear rags are termed mad and have lost their sense of consciousness. If a madman had the right senses, he would have clothes on. That is why when a madman recovers, the first thing he becomes aware of is his appearance, and he takes cover immediately, as he can no longer bear the shame of being naked. However, it is baffling that even people in their right senses today no longer seem comfortable covering their nakedness. The new normal is to wear clothes for sexual attraction and attention in disguise of fashion and style.  The funniest part that keeps baffling me is how a lady will jealously protect her phone by wearing it in a pouch and also use a difficult-to-guess password to deny it access but feel free to make it easier for all to gain access to the areas that were supposed to be confidential in her body.

The problem of indecent dressing in our society today is rooted in civilization and the adoption of foreign cultures. In their bid to explore and express creativity, designers have set a new fashion trend, forgetting the core value of decency and morality. Crop tops, miniskirts, sleeveless dresses, bikinis, backless dresses, crazy jeans, and all kinds of revealing outfits are the bane of fashion today.

It is alarming that ladies do not even wear bras anymore; they confidently wear a dress without a bra underneath to reveal their nipples and seduce the opposite sex. We would always blame men for being promiscuous, for wanting to get into anything under a skirt. If men must have control of their sexual desires, ladies must also be modest in their appearance. But you will be shocked that a woman’s indecent dressing fuels another woman’s sexual desire.  The rate of immorality and promiscuity today is largely based on the level of indecent dressing in society. One does not have to get to the internet to see pornography; it is easily accessible, and you can see it anywhere; step out of your home, and you would count at least 5 half-naked people on the street. Although some men cannot be helped, even if one wears a sack, they would run after her as long as she is a woman. But indecent dressing only makes everything worse. (May God deliver me from all temptation).

A woman’s wedding dress is supposed to speak purity, elegance and modesty. If your reason for revealing sensitive parts of your body is to attract a suitor, mission accomplished, you have finally attracted one, and it is your wedding day already, so why pick a wedding dress that pops all your breast out, revealing all that is supposed to be yours and your husband’s? Should I mind my business and rejoice with you? Okay, but I feel for the husbandman sha. Wait o; it seems he does not care too. A day earlier, on his Bachelor’s Eve, he had sex with one of the rented and half-naked guys.

A woman can dress stylish and elegant yet still be conservative and modest. It is a cliché that modest dressing reflects old school and is unattractive. Women do not have to wear oversized and non-fitting clothes to be modest. Everyone dresses with respect for his/her individuality. It is a common saying that how a person dresses is how they will be addressed. You should look like what you say you are; your dress tells people more about who you are even before you open your mouth to speak. Stop confusing your identity; for example, you say you are a doctor, yet you wear a policeman’s uniform. It does not in any way correlate. People will only be confused about the container and the content. You cannot dress promiscuously and not expect to be harassed by the opposite sex; even if you wore the dress to look good, you have innocently sent the wrong signal. Modest dressing is also about being comfortable with what you wear. Ladies would wear short gowns or skirts and start dragging them down as if they were not aware that it was short before putting them on. Dresses that make it difficult for a lady to sit down, sit on an òkadà, bend to pick things from the ground and do other basic things. Why have you chosen to make life difficult for yourself?

There are different ways to dress for different places and occasions. For instance, if you are invited to a meeting with the Queen of England, you would not dare to strip yourself half-naked or dress like a queen of the coast to meet the Queen of England, the same way you would not wear a suit to a clubhouse.

The media has played a vital role in advancing the gospel of immodest dressing. Many indecent dresses are inspired by celebrities and adopted by people. Modesty is seen in physical appearance, manner of behaviour, and speech. Offensive and foul language are immodest speech mostly adopted from the internet. The majority of song lyrics are sexualized and offensive which promotes immodest behaviour amongst young people. Music videos that showcase sex and romance and portray women as sex objects. (Let me not even start listing them). Children are not left out; they are no longer allowed to be children. They are now being taught to dress in a way that calls the attention of the opposite sex. You would see a mother dress her daughter up for a school party in a mini skirt and half tops, stripping the child half naked, then finishing it with a frontal wig and makeup. Children are now exposed to immodest dressing and behaviours through cartoons and comic books. The entertainment and movie industry also promotes immodest and immoral acts through sexual and erotic scenes. (I know your mind went straight to the Big Brother Naija reality show). But then You would hardly see a movie that does not have an immodest scene in it, even if it does not correlate with the story, just to sell their market. Promiscuity in the media has encouraged young females to sexualize themselves, making it an obligation to fit in and catch up with trends.

Immodesty is loud in the female gender, but it also applies to males. Unku, your shirt is fine o, but this one that you didn’t button up, se cold will not catch you? Are you allergic to buttoning up? Oh, it is the trend? That is why we’re seeing your hairy chest. Hian! Immodest dressing for males is such as wearing tight shirts to reveal their chest and muscle in an attempt to seduce women, sagging trousers to reveal their smelling boxers, wearing short shorts (ashawo shorts, as they call it) in public, tight jeans and so on. Some do not even wear underpants, so their dangling does not go unnoticed as they walk about, giving innocent people an eyesore. Ìranù-àbàshà.

Religious standards on dressing are deeply rooted in modesty. Truth be told, modesty cannot become an old-school topic. In an attempt to correct immodest dressing, some churches now provide wrappers for ladies who dress indecently to church, if they would be allowed to enter at all. Do not cause your brother (and sister) to sin; any dress that would arouse sexual desires in any gender is inappropriate. God indeed sees and judges us by the intent of our hearts, yet it does not mean He does not care about how we look on the outside. On the other hand, Islam instructs that a lady must cover every part of her body, including her face.

The increased rate of rape and sexual harassment, to many men, can be traced to immodesty in society. I don’t see a correlation between how a woman dresses and male sexual violence. Rapists, you are sick, and don’t blame scantily dressed women for your mental illness. It is true that even those who wear dresses that cover all parts of their body still fall victim to rape and harassment. Nevertheless, if indecent dressing can be curbed, the “lookery” rate would drastically reduce, and we can save the pastors and the priests some work to do. As a nation, we do not want to raise a generation that is not culturally oriented on how to appear in public and drag our cultural values into the mud. Or we can agree to change the culture—allow men to wear earrings, wear lipsticks, and use wigs. Let us agree to something without using violence. Irrespective of what we do, violence is not an instrument to be deployed to correct what we dislike.

To solve the problem of what some see as immorality, the correction would have to start from home, school, and religious centres and use every media possible to drum modesty into the brains of young people. The immodest dressing may be handled as a problem and not as a crime if the way to curb it is to preach to those who dress immodestly. I am not a member of the cultural police, and I will not call immodest dressing a crime and charge them with any offence. The politicians who steal our money are the criminals, not the prostitutes at Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos. Cultural, moral, ethical and religious values need to be re-taught and emphasized again. New fashion styles should be welcomed, and those who disagree can express disgust. We have to respect individual freedom. No violence and no need to burn down a club because you don’t like what you see.

As for me, my bùbá and ṣòkòtò never go out of style. It is always giving everything it should give. I dress to look intelligent and not to look handsome. There is a difference; the former brings me respect, and the latter brings me “lookery” and seduction. Upholding modesty speaks to a deeper understanding of one’s worth and respect for others. It signifies a willingness to balance self-expression and societal norms, acknowledging that personal choices have broader implications. Finally, as we celebrate the journey from “Ayamatanga” to “Ọmọkọ́mọ”, let’s also celebrate the resurgence of modesty, bringing it to the forefront of our hearts and wardrobes, all while staying true to our essence.

PS: I had this idea in Lagos while visiting nightclubs. I am grateful to the young men and women who spoke with me without inhibitions.


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