In Christian circles, no discussion can get more contentious than the modesty debate. And yet, I am going to wade right into it. This is a minefield, and I hope I don’t blow it!
Modesty discussions make me want to scream.
There are two extremes generally presented. One extreme (this is a slight caricature!) goes: Men are hormonal creatures, who, when presented with the image of an unclothed (partially or fully) female form, lose all control of themselves. While many times, they may never act out on these impulses, their brains replay the visual and they fall into lusting constantly. These ladies, to try to help their Christian brothers with their proclivity to sin, wear long skirts (pants outline the legs which may cause lusting) baggy tops and never show bare arms, anything close to cleavage, etc.
These women take responsibility on themselves for the thought lives of others and worry about tempting someone else all the time. I understand the angle at which they are coming, and I appreciate their consideration, but I do not agree that someone else’s thought life is my full responsibility. I also fear that young ladies raised in this mind set can be overcome with guilt if they accidentally have a wardrobe issue or are sexually harassed or even raped.
The other extreme of modesty (another caricature) is “Wear whatever you want. Heck…go naked if you like. Let other people worry about their own sin and you enjoy yourself.” This view is the opposite extreme and I feel is a little inconsiderate and somewhat unrealistic. Of course, people can be distracted by our clothing. This is why in professional environments, there is a dress code for men and women alike. Also, this view can set up, in Christians, the idea that we have no responsibility to those around us, to portray ourselves as God-honoring people.
And yet, in my own family, the idea of “modesty” as a reason to choose or not to choose a certain item of clothing just doesn’t register very often.
Thankfully, my daughters have plenty of sense when it comes to how they dress. We do have a few issues here and there, but it’s not because of “modesty” per se. Generally, it’s due to my middle school aged kids figuring out what works for their own bodies and what items of clothing are both cute and functional.
See, that’s one thing that frustrates me about “modesty rules.” Different body types look different in certain styles. What works for the tiny, 5 foot tall skinny girl, looks totally different on a curvier, taller, more mature body form.
Here’s another problem with “modesty rules.”
My daughter gets very frustrated at the summer swim rules at Christian camps. She wears a tank top type swim top with board shorts. Nothing in her midriff ever shows, and she’s covered from shoulders to mid-thigh. But because her swimming attire is two pieces, she has to wear a t shirt over it. However, a young lady in a traditional one piece swimsuit doesn’t, despite the fact that more skin is showing.
Rules don’t take common sense into account. They don’t take individual body types into account.
Modesty rules can’t make a person with a lustful, flirtatious heart pure.
Modesty rules can’t keep men from lusting.
Modesty rules can make young ladies ashamed of who they are and how they look.
Modesty focus helps men (and women) avoid their responsibility to “not look” and avoid the blame for their own undisciplined minds.
Modesty rules make people judge the hearts of others without getting to know them, based solely upon the clothing that they wear.
And most modesty rules focus solely on women and how they dress, while permitting guys to dress however they want. They deceive women into thinking that lust is only a sin that guys commit.
This is why I steer away from a set of “rules” about modesty.
So how does it look in my family?
We try to dress appropriately for the activity. Jean and tees are for around town or working on the farm. It’s not modest to climb fences and ride horses and jump on a trampoline in a dress. Swimwear means we wear clothes that work well in the water (a wet, clingy tshirt is not any more modest than traditional swimwear). If we took ballet or gymnastics, we’d wear clothing that was appropriate to that activity. Trying to cover up with yards of fabric at an activity when everyone else is wearing something form fitting draws more attention to oneself than just wearing the appropriate attire. (of course that is a generalization, I know. Use common sense in this area)
We value comfort.
Prom dresses= no strapless. We’ve been to weddings and parties where we’ve noticed ladies continually pulling up the tops of their strapless dresses and that’s just tacky. So we find something that won’t fall down when my girls move. And we don’t throw out our common sense about our clothing just because it’s prom season.
We wear long tanks under certain shirts because nobody wants to see back/crack. We wear tanks so when we bend over so people aren’t flashed. Skirts—When you cross your legs, what shows? When you bend over, what shows? If you’re going to be onstage in a skirt, you need to wear a longer one, so the audience won’t see up your dress.
When we choose clothes we think past just “Does this look cute when I’m standing in front of the mirror?” but also, “How does this look when I move like most normal people move?”
I focus less on “modesty” or “messages we send to guys” as I do on what looks lovely. What works for the activity. What portrays respect for those around me and for my own body. What’s comfortable without having to be constantly tugging. What won’t be distracting to others. (Including both guys and girls because too much of anything showing on a male or female body is distracting to everyone) What will help others take me seriously as an intelligent person. And here’s my biggie: What is flattering? Because many styles, while they are stylish, just aren’t flattering to most body types.
So that’s my take on modesty. It’s not only about certain types of clothes. It’s really about the heart.