I was raised to dress modestly (in a way that would not tend to arouse male attention).
Mum taught us to bend over in the change rooms so we could see how much cleavage would be exposed, we weren’t allowed to wear bikinis and Mum told me I couldn’t wear a certain outfit out as I looked like a hooker (Okay, that only happened once and she did apologise for saying it later. And, in hindsight, I did look like a hooker. Thanks Mum!).
Despite there being moments of teenage attitude (“This is SO not fair!” *stomp*) and rebellion (there were a couple of tops I wore as a 14 year old that I can’t believe I got away with), I am so thankful to my parents for laying the foundation of modest dressing for me. And for teaching me that my body is a beautiful thing, but it is meant for only my husband (future, at that point).
I’ve been noticing a lot of articles about modesty crop up in the Christian blogosphere recently, approaching the issue from both sides.
The arguments seem to be either:
“Christian women should dress modestly because men are visual and if we don’t, we will cause them to stumble in lust.”
“Men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions – Christian women can dress how they like.”
Neither of these arguments sit right with me.
It isn’t right to make women squarely responsible for men’s lust, simply because of what they wear. See Matthew 5:27-30
However, to say “men are responsible for their own lust, therefore I can dress how I like” seems almost… callous to me.
Here’s what it comes down to for me.
1. Love for My Brothers in Christ
Being married and having some frank discussions with my husband have illuminated for me just how difficult it is for men in our culture who wish to keep their thoughts pure. They are constantly bombarded with advertisements and real, live women baring flesh and curves designed to make them think sexual thoughts. My husband has never blamed these women or advertisers for the times he does have lustful thoughts – he fully owns that – but he finds it that much harder to keep his thoughts pure when faced with this constant temptation.
Hearing his heart perspective on this has made me much more aware of the effects my clothing choices have on others. I don’t want to add to the problem. How can I proclaim to know Christ and to share in fellowship with other Christians on the one hand, while declaring my personal freedom to wear clothing I know will tempt them, on the other? Love requires sacrifice. It’s as simple as that.
2. Our Bodies Are Not Our Own
Putting aside the issue of loving our Christian brothers with our clothing choices, no Christian has complete freedom and ownership over their body. This means that how we cloth our bodies is not merely a matter of personal preference.
In her widely read article on the topic of modesty, Rachel Held Evans concludes that when shopping for swimmers, instead of focussing on “modesty”, women should “find something that makes you comfortable… …and revel in this body and this world God gave you to enjoy.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
So, yes, I agree with Ms Held Evans that God gave us this world and these bodies to enjoy, but even this enjoyment must come under the lordship of Jesus. I wonder how we would all dress if we asked ourselves the question “does this honor God?” of each outfit we tried on in the morning (or better yet, at the shop before we bought it!). This leads me to my next point…
3. There can be no ‘Standard’ of Modesty, but…
Public nudity is out. Ha!
Okay, seriously (no, wait… I was being serious!) following the creation and fall of man, the Bible repeatedly links nakedness to shame, judgement and desolation. (If you search “naked” on Biblegateway, you will get a sense of this.)
Interestingly, even post-redemptive references to nakedness talk about being clothed, rather than a return to the pre-fall state of “naked and not ashamed”. (See 2 Corinthians 5:1-3 and Revelation 3:17-18)
So we know that, at a basic level, God requires us to be clothed.
The difficulty comes in when we try to define modesty beyond that. Cultural standards of modesty vary widely across time and nations. Even within one culture, what might tempt one man to lust, will not even make another man turn his head.
We can’t therefore try to cater to every single man’s definition of modesty.
But I think some good ground rules are that sexual areas should be appropriately covered. And I think that our standards should be evolving as we grow in the Lord. I think we should be open to rebuke from fellow Christians if they find our clothing inappropriate.
What do you think?