There it was, in the middle of a Christian book on young women’s sexuality. The Modesty Chapter. And there it was again, a call to dress for others. Mother told Daughter she couldn’t go out in public “like that” because the boys would be staring at her boobs.
Now, I didn’t see what Daughter wore—perhaps it was totally inappropriate. But may I suggest that dressing primarily for others’ reaction is not the best motivation?
A few years ago, designer and actress Jessica Rey marketed her one-piece bathing suits by creating a video that suggested that bikinis (immodesty) dehumanize women. It has received over 2.5 million views, and even though her research has been questioned, many Christians love it—someone famous finally thinks modesty is good!
But again, Rey wants people to buy her one-piece suits not because they display a person’s unique personality, but because they somehow protect the wearer from men looking at her as an object.
And a little over a year ago, Christians were fighting about yoga pants and whether they should be worn in public. Some say they’re immodest and make men think about sex, and others say they’re just comfortable.
Conflicting messages about body image and modesty abound for Christian women. The world teaches us to flaunt sexuality and our physical bodies, and the church teaches us to not explore sexuality until marriage. These two contradictory ideas reflect a common theme when it comes to outward adornment in particular—women dress for others rather than dressing and acting in ways that are true to their unique, individual identity.
The world teaches us to dress in order to attract men, and the church teaches us to dress in a way that does “not cause a man to stumble.” Now, I am not suggesting that we never think about others when we adorn our bodies, but rather to think about our own true identity more than the unpredictable thoughts of others when we dress.
Even Stacy and Clinton in “What Not to Wear” try to understand each participant’s personality and to guide them to clothing that reflects that personality, rather than teaching them to impress others. And the clothing they suggest is generally not immodest, but appropriate for different settings.
I remember walking in the souq (bazaar) in Damascus, Syria. We walked down a wide middle aisle, and all the shopkeepers were on either side. A Muslim woman walked in front of us. She wore the flowing all-black and only her face was uncovered.
I was shocked as I saw one of the shopkeepers stare lustfully at her as she came toward him, passed, and went on. He practically licked his lips at her shapeless form and could not take his eyes off her. Here, it was clear that the stimulus was not the problem. She was not being immodest—in fact she was almost fully covered! Rather, the problem was his interpretation. It seemed that regardless of her dress or relationship to him, he understood that women were to be lusted after. And he had no need to control himself—after all, aren’t all women temptresses?
No, we are not. This wrong idea has branded us throughout history, and it must be obliterated.
But in that example, we can see that he responded lustfully regardless of what she wore.
You see, I think modesty is for me, not you, because I can’t predict how you will respond to my clad or less-than-clad body. I can’t control you. I can only control me.
I’m just starting here, but I have some ideas on making modesty for me. But it will be more strategic and take longer than, “You can’t go out like that!”
Maybe, rather than telling our daughters that boys will look at her boobs, we can teach them early on to think about who they are and how to reflect that in the way they dress.
We can teach them that certain clothes are appropriate for certain settings, and others are not.
Maybe we can teach them to respect themselves and think about what parts of their body they want to respect and keep private when in public. Perhaps we teach this alongside teaching about protecting other forms of intimacy (emotional, spiritual, etc.).
And then, maybe modesty will be for her, not for someone else.
What do you think?
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