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.