Some Thoughts on Modesty

After reading another really good post on modesty that made me rethink my own views and realizing that I failed to properly clarify some things, I felt the need to edit this post. To be honest, when rereading some of the things I said, I realized they sounded quite arbitrary. So if you read the original version of this post, I deleted or edited a few things and added some new points.

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. |1 Timothy 2:9-10|

Modesty is a fairly big deal to me. I know some Christian girls don’t really think about modesty or don’t view it as a significant topic, and I think this is kind of a shame. Yes, there are people who take it way too far, and that can be super off-putting. But we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

But before I say anything more, let me clarify one thing: Honestly, I think Christians need to stop obsessing so much over clothing. God doesn’t call us to be conformed and to become like the world and the culture, but He also doesn’t call us to distinguish ourselves from “normal people” by wearing weird, frumpy clothing that just looks strange and out of place and alienates us from those around us.

The Bible doesn’t make a big deal out of clothing because, well, it’s not really that big of a deal. We should be focusing on more important things. If our hearts are in the right place, we’ll have discernment about less significant things like how to dress. What boggles my mind is when Christian blogs spend more time talking about modesty than they do important spiritual topics.

Jesus didn’t say people would know we’re His disciples by our modesty and conservatism, but by our love for each other (John 13:35). That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about modesty, but it does mean that we shouldn’t blow it out of proportion and certainly shouldn’t become legalistic.

I think an important word to keep in mind when thinking about modesty is balance. Now this is just my approach, and I know there are a lot of people out there who would disagree with my opinions.

I don’t believe in harsh, concrete rules about hemlines and how much should be covered, but I’m also not one of those people who think we should wear whatever we feel like wearing without having any standards of modesty.

In this day and age, you see half naked women pretty much everywhere. On Instagram. In magazines. In movies. Out in public. You’re almost considered weird if you don’t wear bikinis and don’t show off your body, because our culture is telling us that dressing provocatively equals confidence. Heck, my college even has “naked week” where students run around campus in the nude to promote body confidence (because apparently you can’t be confident in private). In the last couple years, it’s even become trendy to wear swimsuits that show your whole butt (which would have been weird a few years ago).

Most feminists will tell you that you should show your body off because that means you love yourself and are empowered. Even a lot of Christians think it’s totally okay to post bikini shots on Instagram. So basically, our standards have gradually gotten lower and lower. We put our confidence in all the wrong places and derive our worth from our external beauty and sex appeal, and we’ve been conditioned to think this is normal and good.

Isn’t it hard to find a balance? Most people don’t seem to care about modesty at all, while the people who do go way over the top and make you feel bad for showing any skin. You’ve got people on one extreme telling you to wear skimpy bikinis (or run around college campuses naked), and people on the other end of the spectrum telling you it’s sinful to show your knees.

I happen to fall into the category of people who care about modesty but also don’t think showing your thighs is inherently provocative. A lot of people would probably think I’m fairly modest, but I’m sure there are also a few people who would judge me for some of my fashion choices, as I don’t follow concrete modesty rules (such as only wearing skirts that are a certain length and avoiding mini shorts and ripped jeans). (If you want to see the type of clothing I like to wear, you can look at my fashion board on Pinterest.) I personally think that modesty isn’t always an exact science. Whether or not an item is modest can often depend on the style of clothing, your figure, and how you wear it.

Quite honestly, I tend to think concrete fashion rules are silly. I’ve watched videos of Christian women dogmatically saying that you shouldn’t wear short shorts or skirts above your knees, you shouldn’t wear ripped jeans or leggings, you shouldn’t ever wear low rise tops, and you shouldn’t show your shoulders (just to mention a few strict rules). I find this way over the top and actually quite legalistic.

In the blog post I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Emily from Scandalous Grace points out that a lot of the modesty rules imposed on women can’t be found anywhere in the Bible. This is so true. They’re extremely arbitrary. When looking for scriptures to back up my points about modesty, I couldn’t find many because modesty isn’t something that’s mentioned a lot in the Bible (hence I only included one verse).

Now, does that mean that Christian women shouldn’t care about how they dress and present themselves to the world? I don’t think so. I can’t imagine God encouraging us to dress in a way that draws the wrong kind of attention and gives people a bad impression of us. But we need to be careful about making absolute statements that can’t be backed up by scripture.

I’d like to make it clear that although it’s important to pursue modesty and to make sure we’re not sending out the wrong messages with our clothing, it’s perhaps even more important not to get judgmental and self-righteous about our clothing. I have to admit it: I’m definitely guilty of this. I’ll see Instagram profiles where girls say they’re Christians in their bio, but then they’ll have a bunch of pictures of themselves in skimpy bikinis or really revealing clothing, and I’ll immediately start inwardly judging them.

It’s easy to accuse people of being fake Christians and hypocrites if their standards don’t line up with yours, but the truth is that we don’t know what’s going on in people’s hearts. Some girls may be genuinely clueless about their clothing and don’t intend to be provocative at all. It’s not our place to judge people. All we can do is set a good example, because our lives speak louder than words.

Don’t be that person who’s always disparaging other girls for their clothing. That’s hardly loving. Yes, modesty is fairly important for Christians. But it’s not cool to judge people for their clothing, as there’s so much more to a person than how they dress. People grow and see things at different rates. Maybe that girl who dresses immodestly hasn’t yet reached the place of maturity where she understands the importance of how she presents herself to the world as a believer. Judging people will only put them off and maybe even prevent them from having a healthy perspective on modesty.

It’s so important that we’re not legalistic when it comes to our clothing. Yes, we’re expected to dress in a respectable manner, but that doesn’t mean we have to look like frumpy grandmas either. In the Victorian era people thought ankles were sexual and it was scandalous for a woman to show her ankles, but now we find that hilarious. What I’m trying to say is that to a certain extent, standards do change with the changing culture. But we should never completely adhere to those standards if they make modesty null and void.

We shouldn’t accept things just because they’re considered “normal.” Yes, everyone else may be wearing bikinis, but does that mean you should too? Everyone else may wear shirts that look like glorified bras, but that doesn’t mean that’s advisable as a Christian.

The reality is that guys’ minds work a certain way, and when they see too much of us, they respond in a certain way. Studies show that when men see a woman in a bikini they automatically begin to think of her as an object (watch this video of swimsuit designer Jessica Rey to hear this explained in more detail). If we want to be respected rather than objectified, then we should dress accordingly. Do we really want to be encouraging men to focus on our bodies rather than our personalities and overall beauty?

Now let me clarify: I am not saying that immodest clothing gives a guy permission to be lustful and objectify women. If a guy chooses to think about a woman inappropriately then that’s on him, not the woman. It is not okay for guys to use women as scapegoats for their lust and lack of respect (and it is certainly not okay to ask a woman what she was wearing when she was sexually assaulted, as if victims are somehow to blame because of their clothing choices). But that doesn’t mean we should be completely careless about what we wear, more for our sake than for guys. We should be dressing to please God, not to avoid “causing guys to stumble” (*cringes at this annoying phrase that is used all too frequently by conservative Christians*).

I’d like to make it clear that modesty is not about being ashamed of our bodies. Yes, our bodies are beautiful and we should be comfortable in our own skin (and our sexuality), but that does not mean we should show our bodies off. Biblical confidence is quite different than the worldly view of confidence. There’s something sacred about our bodies (especially considering our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit), and not everyone should get the privilege of seeing too much of us. There’s something demeaning about revealing everything to everyone.

As Christian women, it’s not wrong to care about how you look and make an effort, but our confidence should never come from how “sexy” we appear to others. We should embrace our beauty, but our real beauty should come from the inside (as cheesy as it sounds), and it should be pure and classy rather than seductive and provocative.

I have to admit that a few years ago, I wore things that I cringe to think about now. My sophomore year of high school I wore a super revealing dress to homecoming, and I even wore it with fishnets and extremely high heels (gasp). I didn’t have very high standards in my early teens and even deliberately wore things that were revealing because I wanted guys to find me more attractive. That’s so not how I am now, but that just shows you how much people can change and grow.

Don’t ever shame someone into dressing a certain way, because chances are they’ll just kick against you. Modesty has to be an autonomous decision.

So if you don’t care about modesty and think the whole concept is a joke in the 21st century, I ask you to reconsider. As Christian women, how we present ourselves to the world does matter. We’re not just living for ourselves, but we’re living as ambassadors for Christ. Do we really want to be a poor representation of the faith in how we dress?

On the other hand, if you’re overly concerned about modesty and it has become an issue of pride in your life, I ask you to look at your own heart. Being judgmental isn’t cool. We need to stop making certain issues bigger deals than they actually are. Take it from me, you can be seemingly pure and self-righteous on the outside while a load of filth is festering in your heart. I used to be like that, then I realized that I’m only responsible for myself and it isn’t my job to be the modesty police.

Live by example and always be considerate of other people’s feelings and struggles, and remember that there’s more to people than how they dress, and a lot more to Christianity than a bunch of rigid rules.

One thought on “Some Thoughts on Modesty

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