The Skin Gap: A Pervasive Gender Inequality You’ve Never Heard Of

Forced modesty clearly subjugates, but what about the pressure to uncover? With summer nearly upon us, newsstands are replete with magazine covers instructing women on how to get the “perfect beach bod,” but this is not a seasonal phenomenon. In an age when gender equality is on everyone’s mind, there is a discrepancy between the sexes that no one is talking about — call it “the skin gap.”

The skin gap is the difference in the amount of skin men and women are expected to show in the same social setting. Images of the nearly flawless, scantily-clad female form bombard girls and women year round via billboards, ads, TV shows, and movies, subliminally conveying how a woman ought to dress and how her body ought to look. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between girls and women viewing such pictures and female body dissatisfaction. As many as eight out of ten women (more than twice as many women than men) are unhappy with their figures, leading to depression, obsessive dieting, eating disorders and plastic surgery.


The skin gap begins in toddlerhood as mommy-blogger of BinkinesandBriefcases.com, Stephanie Giese, writes in her viral blog post: “Do you see something wrong here? These are shorts for 4 year olds. Both size XS (4-5), Shortson top – Cherokee Girls vs. Shorts on bottom – Shaun White Boys. Inseam on the girl’s shorts was 1 inch, Inseam on same size (XS) shorts from the boys department was almost 7 times longer.”

Giese also discovers that the inseam on the (size 7) shorts found in the Women’s section was not even 2 inches – less than 1 inch longer than the shorts intended for toddlers.

Writer Bethany Mandel explores the not-so-simple task of finding shorts for herself where the crotch is NOT the longest part of the garment in her New York Post article Where does a girl have to go to find shorts that aren’t obscene?

The skin gap only closes when a woman has exceeded a certain number in either age or pounds (remember when Carrie Fisher returned to “Star Wars?”). Once they no longer fit the Western Beauty Standard, our society encourages its “plus-sized” or women who are “too old” to cover up.

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1. Aren’t you slut shaming?

We are not trying to and hope we haven’t offended anyone. We believe that everyone should live self-actualized lives and treat all people with dignity. In the Western world it is completely normal for a woman to wear more revealing clothes than a man. Our objective is to create awareness that this imbalance exists and to start a conversation about whether this is damaging to women. Everyone knows that forced modesty subjugates a woman, but there is rarely talk about how a cultural and psychological coercion encouraging women to expose themselves could be equally harmful. When women feel pressured to display their bodies more than men do, there is a danger of women being judged more by their appearance than by their character, personality and talents.

“As a secular American teen, I was so excited to get my first bikini and pair of Daisy Dukes, because it was a sign of being ‘grown up,’” said Allison Josephs, Founder of Jew in the City (and writer and director of ‘The Skin Gap’). “But something unexpected happened: I’d always feel gross when random men would give me the ‘up down.’ I never did anything or said anything because I had no language to express what I was feeling.”

“A few years later, I became an Orthodox Jew and started covering up purely to follow ‘the rules,’ and I discovered something fascinating: covering up actually made me feel empowered. The first time I wore a long skirt and a random guy at the mall gave me the ‘up down’ but had nothing to see, inside I screamed, ‘Yes!’ No one can deny that the skin gap exists, and if this video helps one more woman feel more empowered about her body, then we’ll consider it a success.”

2. Why did an Orthodox Jewish website make a video about gender equality? Don’t you have some of your own gender equality issues?

What most people don’t realize (and what we publicize at Jew in the City) is that there are many super accomplished Orthodox women leading fulfilling, self-actualized lives and that there is an undeniable amount of respect and value given to women in most traditional Jewish sources. To name a few: the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt and will merit the final redemption due to righteous women, Eve is last in Creation, as woman is considered to be at the pinnacle of creation (by the way, many Orthodox Jews also believe in science), Sarah was considered a greater prophet than her husband (Abraham), women are guaranteed sexual satisfaction as part of their marriage document – a document which is thousands of years old, and though polygamy was once permitted thousands of years ago, the rabbis elected to ban it. As it happens, there is no skin gap in the Orthodox Jewish community. Men naturally almost always cover their upper arms and upper legs and everything in between. Women are expected to dress according to the same standard.

Even with all the positives, though, there are of course some challenges vis a vis women and Orthodoxy. Some of those challenges – like how a Jewish divorce occurs have very successful solutions, which we promote. Even so, not every aspect of women in Orthodox Judaism will ever fit completely into a Western gender model, and we believe it is fair for every woman to work through these issues and choose her own way. But these challenges are well-known and often discussed. No one is talking about the skin gap and that’s why we are.

3. What about לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה: כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה?

We asked a shailah and were given a psak that for chinuch purposes it was permitted.

4. So then what’s the solution to the skin gap?

It seems that the first step is to create awareness and for consumers to vote with their pocketbooks. The skin gap is EXTREMELY pervasive throughout all of Western society, but every woman can take this information and use it as she sees fit. If enough women care to change the “norm,” we believe change could occur.


Related Posts:

1 If Beauty Pageants Are Passe Why Aren’t Scantily Clad Cheerleaders

2 Why Orthodox Men Don’t Wear Wigs

3 How Dressing Modestly Gave Me More Confidence About My Body

Christina Aguilera and Husband Split: Why Modesty Might Be Sexier than “Naked Sundays” 

American Psychological Association – Sexualization of Girls

Dove – Hyper-sexualization of girls – The Role of Media

The Washington Post – Goodbye to Girlhood

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  • Avatar photo Kate Friedman says on June 7, 2016

    Hi Allison, great article on a really important subject. Can you clarify in more words about your “FAQ” with the “beged ish” Hebrew passage- it’s unclear what you asked a shaila on.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on June 7, 2016

      We asked if we were allowed to switch up male and female clothing which normally would be prohibited. We were told for purposes of teaching it was allowed.

  • Avatar photo Robin says on March 1, 2021

    I really appreciate you commenting on this! Growing up as a girl, I naturally ended up showing more skin than boys my age. It didn’t bother me much until middle school when two things happened: I would start to get the “up-down” from classmates and even teachers, and I would get “dress-coded” and punished for wearing the only clothes that the stores sold for girls. Why was I being punished for wearing the only things that were available to me?

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with showing more skin, but there definitely is when that dress is the default. About five years ago, I started to dress more modestly and I feel so much more confident this way. I don’t get stared or whistled at by strange men nearly as much, and when people look I know they can only see what I give them permission to see.

    • Avatar photo Bracha says on July 29, 2021

      Wow, this article really validated my experience today! I was shopping for my 2 month old and I was very disappointed. I couldn’t find one long sleeve outfit for her besides pajamas! I literally looked at every item of clothing sold for baby girls. I was so shocked. Personally I don’t mind my baby wearing short sleeves or sleeveless, but even in terms of warmth for the fall. I found myself in this situation in a couple of stores. I checked the baby boys section and they had long sleeves in many options. Why is it that from day one of life girls are expected to dress in skin revealing clothing. There are so many cost stretchy options for baby boys, yet in the baby girl section it’s nearly impossible to find a full long sleeve footed stretchy that is not pajamas. Baby girls are expected to start wearing full on sleeveless and shorty short/ bloomers outfits from the minute they are born. In my opinion I don’t even understand why the stores even create anything that’s NOT a full long sleeve footed stretchy for sizes newborn-3months. Even a baby born in the summer has to dress warm in order to keep there internal temperature stable. They physically cants regulate their own temperature.


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