Spiritual · Uncategorized

Why modesty has nothing to do with men.

I have been debating writing this post for several weeks. I want to tread lightly on this topic because it’s a bit of a gray area. Recently, a post circulated on social media written by the mother of several adolescent boys to young girls.

This post ignited a flurry of responses: some angry, some in agreement, and some with a mixture of agreement and concern. This post and the response to it got my wheels turning. Why is modesty an issue to which we respond with such volatility? Nothing can start a rift faster than a church camp dress code discussion (believe me, I’ve been there). As I mulled over what I was taught about modesty growing up, what Scripture says about modesty, and what our culture is telling young women, I began to think: What if we’re missing the point?

Growing up as a veritable poster child for the “good Christian girl,” I heard a lot of talks on modesty. Over the years, even though I was raised with a deep respect for authority and am by nature a rule follower, I would find myself internally frustrated by what I was being told. It seemed that most teachings about modesty centered on legalism. Your shorts must be this long. Your swimsuit may not show this. Here are some tests you can perform in the mirror each morning to determine if your outfit is modest enough. (Let me insert here that I understand the need for rules. When you’ve got a group of teenage girls to shepherd, it is much easier to say, “Shorts must be this length” and make that rule apply to everyone than it is to evaluate on an individual basis. I get that. I have a drawer full of basketball shorts from my years in youth and I would not trade the experiences I had in those basketball shorts.)

Furthermore, these rules were often followed by justification. And that justification always centered around one thing: men. When you tell a teenage girl that she shouldn’t wear what her peers are wearing, you have to tell her why. When you tell a girl with freakishly long legs that her shorts have to come to her knees, you have to tell her why. Even in the Old Testament when the Lord is giving the law to the Israelites, he frequently follows up His commands with the reason behind them. It is our nature to question why. The problem is, the “reason why” regarding modesty has almost always been: because it helps men. This justification for dressing modestly is not untrue, but it’s also not paramount.

So what’s the problem? It’s true that having rules for modesty is helpful and that dressing modestly helps our brothers keep their minds pure. The issue here is that all of this teaching is focusing on the wrong thing. And by doing so, it is communicating to young women one thing: your body is a source of shame.

What does Scripture actually say about modesty? Probably the most applicable verse in regard to modesty is found in 1 Peter 3:

“Your beauty should not consist of outward things, like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” -1 Peter 3:3-4

In Proverbs 31, we are told this about a virtuous woman:

“Strength and honor are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”-Proverbs 31:25

We are called to modesty not because of legalism and not because of men, but because of Christ. If we ever hope to convince young women that dressing modestly truly is for their good, we have to start teaching to their hearts and not their bodies. The justification for dressing modestly is, essentially, because God said so. Because he created our bodies and our minds and He gave them purpose. And He, in His infinite wisdom, knows how we should present ourselves. In the call to modesty and, ultimately, to biblical womanhood, we are offered the option to trust the Lord. We can either hold tightly to what our flesh wants, or we can take him at His word and begin to walk in obedience. It is through that obedience that we will see Him glorified and see our own hearts begin to change.

Young women, please hear me say: your body is not shameful. Your brothers are not pigs. Forget all of that. Dressing modestly is one item on a long list of ways you are called to look different than the world.

If every man on this earth dropped dead tomorrow, would the call to biblical womanhood be any different? I submit that it would not. This is not to belittle men or to dismiss their vitality in furthering God’s kingdom or their position as our co-heirs with Christ. Because God is good and merciful and does all things well, men benefit from and are sanctified by the Godliness of women. The reverse is also true. Women benefit from and are sanctified by Godly men through the work of the Holy Spirit.

But the bottom line is this: modesty is about one thing and one thing only. The glory of Jesus Christ. Until we teach our young men and young women that, our attempts to foster modesty will result in more hurt, shame, and argument.

And for what it’s worth, I thought the basketball shorts were very comfortable.


7 thoughts on “Why modesty has nothing to do with men.

  1. Amazing !!! Thank you so much for this approach to teaching modesty! My kids are still very young but we have already started these discussions! This is going to be so helpful!!!

  2. I like what you wrote, truly inspiring, especially from such a young girl. I, myself, when I was 22 tried to wear the shortest shorts to GET attention. And I got it! I was narcissistic. I was self-absorbed. Now, age 43, I GET why I should be modest. But how do I relay focusing on Christ to my 14 year old who is acting the same way I did as a teen. Wearing less to get attention. I see her falling into the same pattern as me. She feels she is competing with many girls for guys to see her. She tells me she doesn’t want to be like many school girls, having pre-marital sex, do drugs. She enjoys that we encourage her to stay pure. But I allow her some freedom with her clothing, and of course it’s short shorts. It’s revealing tops. (though she’s only 14 and not much to show on the top yet) She is at the age where church is “not cool” and though I love giving her some freedoms, I hate that she chooses to wear the short shorts. What would you say to my 14 year old about her body belonging to Christ, because right now she doesn’t even want Christianity as her title. She says “that’s for you mom and dad.” I know with time God will show Himself real to her. But should I allow her that freedom to pick clothing or do I need to step in? What did your mom and dad do with you at the early teen age? My parents have passed, so Just love advice in this area. Thanks for writing this blog! Very good perspective!

    1. Kim,
      First, I am so humbled that you would even ask for my input in this area. I am not a parent yet, though I hope to be someday, and it is an honor for you to share this with me.
      Second, I am so encouraged by your desire to parent your daughter well; to raise her up in the love of Christ while still allowing her the freedom to seek Him on her own. I know we are pretty much strangers, but it sounds like you are doing a great job!
      To answer your question:
      When I think back on myself at 14, I remember that was a time when I was really unhappy with the way I looked. I constantly compared myself to other girls. I had a distinct sense that I didn’t look how I was “supposed” to. I don’t know if your daughter is wrestling with those same things, but I do know that as she looks around at her peers, she sees immodestly as not only being acceptable, but as being expected. I think as a parent one thing you can do is communicate that you have different expectations for your daughter than other parents do for theirs in terms of dress. My mom always told me that people will live up to your expectations for them and if those expectations are low, they’re not going to try and rise above them. Conversely, if they are high, they will often feel empowered to meet them. Obviously, this should be communicated in a very loving way. She is figuring herself out. Right now, clothing is a very effective form of self expression for her and that is very valid. I think you’re on the right track in terms of allowing her freedom. It may work best to set certain boundaries and allow her freedom within those boundaries.
      Another thing to keep in mind is that, until she gives her life to Christ, she is not under His commands about modesty. So it’s not so much that she’s being disobedient as it is that her heart has not softened toward Him.
      The best thing you can do to foster modesty in your daughter’s heart is to communicate to her, over and over, that she is loved and beautiful and worthy apart from how she dresses. 14 is a hard age. It really is. It’s a hard age to be and it’s a hard age to parent. The most loving thing you can do aside from setting healthy boundaries is to be louder than the multitude of voices telling her that she is not enough.
      I don’t know if that was helpful at all, but if you have any other thoughts or questions please don’t hesitate to share them! I will be praying for you and your family as you navigate this issue.

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