Why I don’t make rules about modesty for my daughters

The discussion leader at our Women’s Retreat was incensed. She smacked the podium, leaned into the microphone and demanded: “How? HOW can you call yourself a Christian woman if you’re wearing a push-up bra?”

Right. Because when you line up at the gate of Heaven? St. Peter is gonna determine your worthiness by checking to see if your bra is padded.

I don’t know what it is about the topic of female modesty, but it seems to rile up even the most gentle of souls. It’s sorta jarring, really, to hear someone who might speak in somnolent tones about, say, a diet high in fiber to then suddenly launch into a scathing diatribe against the perils of immodesty. Pretty soon they’re making wild speculations about Western decline as indicated by female immodesty.

Before you know it, cleavage is a sign of the End Times.

I know this because I grew up around these people.

I remember sitting in a painfully awkward youth group meeting where a rather embarrassed male leader was trying to explain why a girl’s visible panty line was immodest but how solving that by wearing a thong was even more immodest.

“What if no-one knows you’re wearing a thong?” some brave soul dared to ask.

Our leader looked stumped for a moment. But then his wife, a truly helpful helpmeet, came to his rescue:

“Well,” she proclaimed, “God knows if you’re wearing a thong!”

That little phrase, God Knows If You’re Wearing a Thong, was absolutely irresistible to me. It was a multi-use sort of phrase, and it came in handy for a variety of purposes.

I started scribbling secret notes to my friends that changed Bible verses into things like: Man looketh at outward appearances, but God looketh at your thong!

I scrubbed many a dirty floor and ironed many a wrinkled dress shirt as punishment for my smart mouth.

But here’s the thing: the problem with rules is that they tend to beget more rules. And nothing breeds rules faster than rules for modesty. No sooner do you suggest tight shirts as immodest than someone is bound to ask: how tight is too tight? Or, how short is too short? Pretty soon you’re creating complex protocol for skirt lengths, bra types and factors for determining tightness.

And, oh, did we have complex protocol. Our rules for modesty were, as far as I could tell, entirely arbitrary, subject to change and about as complicated as the Tax Code. These rules didn’t just apply to the clothes we wore, but how we wore them. Everything was scrutinized: how we walked, how we sat, how we bent over, how we carried our purses.

I guess these experiences are part of the reason why I don’t really make modesty rules for my daughters. Sure, I talk to my tween about dressing appropriately for various occasions–you know, like the difference between what you wear to the beach vs. what you wear to school. And since she’s a dancer, she already understands the importance of comportment and gracefulness. But that’s a far cry from heavy-handed moralizing.

I mean, the only thing I ever learned from rules about modesty was how to have an overly critical, harsh view of my body. My body, I felt, was always betraying me.

Modesty rules also gave me an overly critical eye about the supposed immodest dress of other women. Even as a very small girl, I was able to point out women who were dressed immodestly. I could spot a miniskirt from a mile away. (UGH! Is there anything more distasteful than a self-righteous, holier-than-thou five year old?)

Extreme modesty is inherently dehumanizing and that’s precisely how it affected me. I stopped seeing people as people–but as a series of outfits: Modest or Immodest.

Nowadays, I just dress for comfort. And I pretty much let my daughter choose her own outfits. Mostly. Sometimes, though, you might hear me ask is: “Honey, don’t you want to wear a jacket? You might catch a cold in that!”

  • http://www.smalltownsimplicity.blogspot.com Lydia

    I’ve been beginning to try to formulate my own thoughts on this topic – my little girls are only 6 and 4, so this is the first time I’ve really had to think about it. I was raised required to wear skirts to church (but during the week jeans were totally acceptable). For the most part, I was allowed to wear what I want, except what my dad called “belly shows.” That extended to bikini wearing, although in high school I bought a few and hid them at a friend’s house (yes I was THAT kind of girl).

    I really have no plans for rules regarding modesty with my own girls, but I did have to ask my daughter take off a skirt the other day that was just too small for her (and really, REALLY short).

  • http://angelaambroise.blogspot.com Angela

    Yeah. I dress for comfort too, but I do dress for looks as well…vain…so vain I know. I don’t sweat, or rather I try not to sweat the small stuff. I think which ever way you feel God’s conviction you should move accordingly. Some think my girls nor I are modest enough, as others think we are too modest. I’ve learned from experience that you can’t please people so as long as you’re comfortable in your heart and aren’t going against your convictions… do it!

    Nice post. So many women get mad at me for saying I’m not teaching my daughters to be “stay-at-home moms like me.” I have nothing against women who stay home and work (I do). I think they should be pursuaded in their own heart based on the relationship that they have with the Lord.

    What I am certain to do is teach them how to love their home and family, and to put that first and care for that, but if they want to work outside of the home…that’s between them and the Lord. There’s a lot more I can say about that, but think I better “hush” now.

    Thanks

    • Renee

      “So many women get mad at me for saying I’m not teaching my daughters to be “stay-at-home moms like me.” I have nothing against women who stay home and work (I do). I think they should be pursuaded in their own heart based on the relationship that they have with the Lord.
      What I am certain to do is teach them how to love their home and family, and to put that first and care for that, but if they want to work outside of the home…that’s between them and the Lord. ”
      *LIKE* :-) I feel the same way! I am thankful that I actually wanted this life because it was the only “godly, biblical” option I had in my Patriarchy-influenced upbringing. Sometimes I wish I had had a CHOICE, though. I want my three daughters to have the freedom to choose, to be led by the Spirit.

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    modesty legalism is just conservative objectification of women. ick. we are more than our bodies or our clothes, for the love.

    • http://UntanglingTales.com Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

      Fascinating, Susanna. And I can agree too.

      It’s just that I’m realizing “objectifying” any human being seems to be a human M.O., despite sex or mode of dress.

      I caught myself evaluating a woman’s (impeccably-dressed) figure, rating approval and raising my gaze to see if the face was as good, and being horrified to realize I did this to someone I recognized.

      That pretty much broke me of it (for now), but it’s made me more aware of the broader application of “objectification.”

      • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

        you are right, the cult of beauty is so deeply enshrined! even babies are drawn to beauty–how do we become those people, like God, who truly eschew the outward appearance for the heart truth?

        i pre-judge/objectify, too, and i hate to be that vain.

    • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

      to clarify, i hate the legalism but am a fan of modesty. i just returned from a water park and probably half of the little girls/tweens were wearing sexy triangle top bikinis and it made me sad. little girls should be little girls. they will lean about impossible beauty ideals and sexiness soon enough. why the hurry to sexualize childhood?

  • http://grittygrace.com Martha Brady

    i couldn’t agree with you more re all the modesty rules. the result of all those rules does result in more rules and self-righteousness. (cf. pharisees!) i was in a boarding school in hi school that had very strong views of what “modesty” looked like. unfortunately, girls who were big-busted or big hipped had much more difficulty looking “modest” according to those standards. i was in hi school in the 60′s when mini-skirts were coming out. ours had to be below the knees. it was almost impossible to even buy clothes where the skirts were that long!
    i also appreciate what you had to say about seeing other as people instead of modest or immodest. it was difficult to unlearn that but for the most part i think i have…by God’s grace!
    i do think it is helpful to let our daughters realize at age-appropriate stages, that the way we dress does have an effect on men. we can’t get tied up in knots over it, but it is good to be aware. i think many women are totally unaware.
    modesty begins in my heart. am i primarily wanting to strut my sexual stuff? doesn’t sound too modest. am i willing to change clothes if i am aware that what i am wearing is affecting someone over-the-top negatively? i don’t need to be all tied up over possibly “causing someone to stumble” in an exaggerated way. i do need to care about my weaker brother realizing that i do not carry 100% of the fault if he has impure tho’ts. he is also able (with the Holy Spirit’s help) to not think those tho’ts. but you know that already. compassions and respect for each other goes a long way!

  • rox

    really honestly when you look at it realisticly it is just pure ignorance .
    God gave all peoples the proper apparrel for thier climate . really should a Christian in the amazon jungle wear a turtle neck ! so are the inut of the north more christian then apache just because they wear more clothing lol
    since when is nakeedness ungodly anyway ? isn’t it like saying being born the way you were made is sinful . being naked is not sinful ! it is our actions/behaviours while naked or clothed that make us sinful or not .
    honestly how can these people even believe this is what God would be asking them to do with thier time ! telling people they are not Christians if they wear a bikini or read a vampire book etc.
    you know what I thought when you mentioned ST.Peter . isn’t he always pictured wearing a dress ;-)
    so if we are all to be dressed as Mary was why are good Christian men not wearing tunics ?
    I would love to wear East Indian cotton dresses and buffalo sandles everyday but we live in the north .In winter long johns and plaid shirts make sence !
    why not go help out at the food bank instead ? if they are so worried about helping people wear clothes why not collect clothing and send it to Japan ! who is the real Christian after all ?

  • http://scitascienda.com C.L. Dyck

    “Everything was scrutinized: how we walked, how we sat, how we bent over, how we carried our purses.”

    Now THAT seems like an unhealthy environmental factor for young girls. I would be a mama bear toward anyone who initiated scrutiny of my daughter’s bent-over backside.

  • http://www.coffeestainedclarity.com Bethany

    I have heard more than my fair share of sermons on modesty, and while some of them insisted that modesty is a celebration of womanly beauty by protecting it from scrutiny, I took away an entirely opposite message: My body was shameful. Hiding it was top priority for me as a Christian girl. If it ever attracted a man’s interest, it was my fault.

    In a sad twist of irony, my baggy jumpers and wide lacy collars (just call them bibs, people!) and clownish swimsuits attracted stares everywhere I went. Boys would ask me what I was wearing underneath, and I had my swimsuit yanked off more than once. Far, far worse than this, I learned to despise my body which has deep consequences in my marriage.

    Like you, I refuse to raise my girls under a set of modesty rules. You put it so well about teaching them to choose clothing that is appropriate for the occasion, and thankfully, that’s been a fun experience so far with my 6- and 3-year-olds. I’m sure we’ll hit challenges along the way, but if I can teach them both that their bodies are beautiful and worth taking care of AND that their value is not contingent on what they wear, maybe they can avoid the pain of thinking that their jumper-clad torsos are sending men to hell.

    • Sylvan

      “Far, far worse than this, I learned to despise my body which has deep consequences in my marriage.”

      I am so with you there. And my husband just has no idea what it really means, that *this* is how deep being brought up in a cult has impacted me…

  • http://www.coffeestainedclarity.com Bethany

    And one other quick note — Boys who are raised in that modesty-intensive environment? DO tend to stumble when they see a hint of a curve through all that denim.

    • http://artsymuffin.blogspot.com Leanne

      This is reason #567 why I love my husband – his commentary on the whole “causing men to stumble” argument?

      “It is not the responsibility of the female population of the world to keep me from lusting. The Bible says that’s my job!”

      I live in the midwest – not a lot of opportunity to “bare it all” around here, anyway :) – but I like to think I have the common sense to dress appropriately without comments from the peanut gallery. And those who don’t have that common sense deserve our compassion, understanding, and LOVING guidance – not our judgment!! I’m not talking about girls/women who don’t pass the strict fundie “modesty tests.” I’m talking about those who have been hurt/abused/neglected and are seeking attention using their bodies, or those who don’t think that they have anything to offer the world BUT their bodies.

    • http://www.emuf.blogspot.com Emily

      HA ha! Well put.

  • Renee

    WHAT?! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!!! I would so have been in TROUBLE in your group, EE; I have been wearing padded push-up bras since my EARLY teens when I realized I was done, ahem, maturing. :-)p And I today am in LOVE with my Victoria’s Secret ones and will not part with them for anything! Ha!
    “Man looketh at outward appearances, but God looketh at your thong!”
    LOL!!!! That is so my favorite quote of the week!! :-D Ha ha!! I love my thongs, too.
    I don’t call myself a “Proverbs 31 wife;” I call myself a Song of Solomon wife.
    FREEDOM in Christ! That’s what we have! Do these fundies ever read Song of Solomon?

  • Joy Speights

    Some young teenage girls don’t realize what those nice round boobs sticking out of their t-shirts do to a boy. A discussion about that isn’t a bad idea.

    But in the end, really, it is about moderation and heart attitude. Not just on the side of the one wearing the clothes but also the one looking. If we can only see the clothes, then we really can’t see the person. And that’s the heart of the matter. How can we ever expect to get off of our high horse and love on those who don’t know Christ? I have heard ‘Christians’ tell non believers how they need to change their dress or cut their hair, etc.. I have even heard them tell them they shouldn’t read a Bible unless it was KJV. GOD HAVE MERCY!
    Elizabeth, this article was right on. Your “(UGH! Is there anything more distasteful than a self-righteous, holier-than-thou five year old?)” just made me laugh so hard!

    Thanks for the very well written article!

  • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea

    1. I hate padded push-up bras because they are crazy uncomfortable. (ducks any flying objects flung my way)
    2. I am in some ways glad I don’t have girls because I just don’t even want to have to navigate this minefield. All I have to worry about is convincing my boys that green t-shirts and aqua striped athletic pants don’t match.

    I was raised in an environment that was not nearly as strict as yours, but the inherent message was ‘your body is shameful and should be covered’. Shorts to my knees, no tank tops, nothing too body hugging, mini skirts were only worn by loose women (that’s not exactly the word my mom used). And then came college and spring break choir tour to Florida and I bought a swimsuit I loved, the first time I’d ever bought one on my own. That summer when my mom say it the shit hit the fan, to put it mildly. One piece, but oh, those scandalous French Cut legs. She accused me of getting it only to get men to look. No, I got it because I LIKED it. She forbade me to wear it anywhere around my brothers. (Would these be the same brothers that peeked through the register vents to watch me changing…the register vents you refused to allow me to block off?) That broke our relationship in ways that have never been repaired, and I spent my remaining summers living on campus, working at school.

    Yeah, big feelings about ‘modesty’.

  • Karen

    I agree. I only have boys, but I don’t want them growing up thinking that women who wear pants are going to hell or anything like that. When we joined the Orthodox church, for a while I went through my ultra-modest phase–I wore long denim skirts (with leggings underneath in winter), and long sleeved shirts. I noticed that I got MORE attention from men–specifically the older men on our block–who would comment how nice it was to see a woman in a skirt, right in front of the jeans-clad moms who lived on the same block. I felt immodest, because I was calling attention to myself.

    I went back to jeans and modest shirts. The attention died down, and I felt more modest.

    I have a sister in law who insists her daughters wear skirts all the time. The problem is, she didn’t teach them until they were about six years old that it’s not funny to flip your skirt up over your head and pretend it’s a veil and you’re a nun. I remember visiting when the g irls were four and six, and they kept doing this, showing their underwear, and asking me to look, until finally I said (while their mom was standing there with a bemused/embarassed look on her face) that big girls didn’t show people their underwear. They had NEVER heard this before.

    Simply wearing a skirt does not equal modesty. Modesty, for me, is dressing in a manner that does not call undue attention to myself, in any way. My uniform of jeans and dark shirts does me just fine. :)

    I wish those who were so hot on the topic of modesty for women would address modesty for men. My brother was for some reason allowed to walk around the house without a shirt on, and sometimes he would stretch this to no pants (he’d walk around in his underwear). He was allowed to sleep in just his underwear, my mom would get on my case for not wearing underwear under my pajamas.

    We have three boys, and my husband is very modest. He doesn’t take his shirt off even for mowing the lawn, and so far our boys have followed his lead. Well, except for the one who is potty training, he will run out of the bathroom with his pants in his hand, looking for help to get them back on!

    • Jack

      Karen has made a point this fellow Orthodox was thinking.

      The big purpose of modest dress is to not draw attention to oneself.

      There may be times when women SHOULD wear shorts, or a bikini, or a push-up bra.

      And equivalent rules apply to men.

      • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com erin

        like, it would be immodest not to wear a push up bra? I’m not sure I’m following this one. :)

  • Amanda

    I agree that stringent rules tend to breed legalism and also miss the point of modesty – which like everything else in Christianity – is ultimately about the heart.

    That said, I really don’t think it wise to have “no rules” either. We have guidelines in our house, (pretty much, ‘not too tight and not too revealing’) and ultimately, Daddy gets the last say on what that means. (*Gasp* I know, trusting my husband to judge my and my daughter’s outfits? Don’t I have a mind of my own?!) I seek to dress in a God-honoring way that doesn’t needlessly entice men to stumble and we’ve never had a disagreement yet about what that looks like.

    The key, I think, is the context. I’m not ashamed of my body, but I understand that it is not supposed to be a means to attract ungodly attention. It is only to be enjoyed in its beautiful entirety by my husband. I also have a realistic view of how men think (I’m married to one, after all) and am happy to dress in such a way that does not entice them needlessly to stumble. (And I know, there are guys out there who will lust after a woman in a burka… I’m talking about not dressing in a way that ENCOURAGES them to do so – especially brothers in Christ who are seeking to live in a God-honoring way.)

    I understand where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to do, and I think it’s mostly good – I guess I would just be careful of being so turned off by what happened during your childhood that you swing in the complete opposite direction to the other extreme.

    For example, is there any outfit that your daughter could come to you wearing that would cause you to say “Nope. That is not appropriate for any occasion.”? I think you implied that you do ultimately have guidelines about what’s appropriate to wear – you’re just avoiding the strict rules. Correct me if I’m wrong…

    (P.S. I appreciate what you said about not using ‘modesty’ as a means to measure other people’s ‘holiness’. I agree that we need to view people as people… not outfits.)

    (P.S.S – Thong’s are so uncomfortable! That said, I’m all for getting sexy for your husband! I think that’s another important thing to teach our daughters, that’s often neglected… it’s okay to look ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’ – just only in the context of your marriage.) :)

    • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea

      I wonder though if we really can narrow it down to one defined way of how men think. Every time this topic comes up and I discuss the issue of modesty with my husband he looks at me like I have two heads. Because he just. doesn’t. see. it. There have been times I’ve worried that my t-shirt is cut too low so I’ll ask him for his perspective and he just laughs.
      I think for me it is akin to expecting someone to put all of their beautiful things away when I come to visit if I struggle with envy (and I do). When we start putting the burden on others to make our issues ‘easier’ we take away our responsibility for dealing with them ourselves. I navigate a world where I must constantly throw myself at God’s feet to deal with lusting after things…maybe its time some men started doing that as well.

      • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

        Such a great insight! I, too, am uncomfortable with this de-facto belief that EVERY man thinks one way. It’s unfair to MEN!

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      Yes, we have general guidelines–probably akin to general school dress codes. But this is much different than telling my daughter to dress in a “God-honoring way.” In fact, I don’t even use words like that because the reality is, there is not one gold standard for what a “God-honoring way” of dress is. It is entirely subjective and may change based on location, occasion or how hot it is outside.

      Essentially when anyone claims to know what a “God-honoring” way of dress is? They’re not being honest. It’s really just their own opinion.

      And if I had a dollar for every time someone warned me against “swinging to the opposite extreme”….well, I’d be a millionaire by now!

      • Amanda

        I see your point about men and I understand where you’re coming from – that’s why I specified about not wearing items that ENCOURAGE men to sin. I suppose it can still be subjective… but I think that there are certain things that most would agree encourage people to lust after you. (Going to the beach in a g-string bikini with pasties on, for example.) And I could be wrong, but I have a feeling if you tried to leave the house in something resembling lengerie, your husband *might* have something to say about it then, where perhaps an inch or two in length doesn’t phase him. It certainly can be subjective, but it’s up to each of us to decide – we let my husband have the final say, but I wouldn’t expect someone else to consult his opinion in the same manner.

        (Sidenote: I’m not just basing ‘the way men think’ on my husband, but also numerous other testimonies from men who have pointed out that a lot of women have no idea how much they are tempting men to lust with their attire.)

        Also, it’s absolutely a man’s responsibility to not lust, however, it is also our responsibility to not tempt people to stumble. It may not be right for you to EXPECT someone to put all of their beautiful items away… but what a blessing to you it would be if they chose to do it of their own accord because they didn’t want to tempt you. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say… we shouldn’t dress modestly because some arbitrary authority gave us a list of rules… but because we want to honor God and we WANT to help men to be pure in thought.

        EE – Notice I didn’t clarify exactly what ‘God-honoring’ means… there can be a lot of ways to dress in a ‘God-honoring’ way, just like there are a lot of ways to dress that can dishonor God. It’s up to Christians to consult their Bible’s and use common sense. I think we should be seeking to honor God in all areas of our lives… just because there isn’t a ‘gold standard’ of how to do that doesn’t mean we just disregard Him completely…

        • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea

          “but I think that there are certain things that most would agree encourage people to lust after you. (Going to the beach in a g-string bikini with pasties on, for example.)”

          And yet there are cultures where people do not bat an eye at topless beaches. It isn’t a thing to flaunt, it is simply the cultural norm. I think that our ideas of modest vs. immodest stem more from our cultural mores than from any biblically defined rules about what constitutes modesty. (After all, in how many eras have braids been considered the ‘modest’ way for women to wear their hair when in fact to my recollection it is the only immodest hairstyle mentioned in the Bible…)
          I’m really not advocating an ‘anything goes’ view of what we wear, I just think we’ve placed the burden on women’s shoulders that was never intended to be placed there. Is there really any other sin area where the responsibility is placed on ME to control someone ELSE’S thoughts and actions?

          • Amanda

            I agree that you shouldn’t be responsible for controlling other people’s thoughts… but you ARE responsible not to TEMPT people to stumble.

            I agree that our culture plays some part in how we decide what is ‘modest’ or not. I just think in our hyper-sexualized culture, we need to be aware that certain fashions are meant to invoke lust and we need to be conscious of that when we’re deciding how to dress. Men are tempted to lust just about everywhere they look and we should seek to not be a part of that. Of course they are responsible for their own thoughts, but out of love and care for them, we should seek to dress in a manner that doesn’t add to their already numerous temptations.

  • kj

    I loved this post. I was raised to be very modest but being blessed with an above average sized chest in high school proved that nothing ever looked modest and truthfully still doesn’t. I remember in 9th grade I was wearing a Steven Curtis Chapman t shirt that said “for the sake of the call” on the front and my friend told me her dad wanted me to know that it was an “eye trap”. I asked her why her dad was looking at my boobs and I left.

    My dad was pretty strict but not as strict as the denim jumper families in our homeschool group. I didn’t even own a two piece bathing suit until Spring Break in college. But because I was always told to cover up I was always afraid of making someone stumble b/c of my boobs. Or that I would look slutty. By the time I went to college I realized that people came in all shapes in sizes and I was going to dress to feel confident about myself not about how it made others feel.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    I’m pretty sure that I won’t be making modest rules either. I just want my kids to learn to respect their bodys and the bodys of others. I also grew up in an environment that criticized every little thing, length of sleeves, height of neckline, length of skirt, looseness of clothing, how we walked, how we made eye contact. I still have trouble hating my body. I’ve written about it here http://ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com/2010/08/excessive-modesty-makes-me-feel.html
    It’s funny, I actually mention a self-righteous 5 year old in my post too! :)

  • http://ainesahm.blogspot.com Canadian Anne

    Excellent post, Elizabeth.
    I think, as some have commented already, that modesty starts in the heart. I can wear a potato-sack, but if my point in doing so is to attract attention from men that is inappropriate, it wouldn’t matter. In the same way, there are men who will lust after women no matter what women wear.
    I guess I would say this, for how I view modesty and dress:
    1) I want to look feminine and nice.
    2) I want to dress in a way that makes my husband appreciative of me, and not ashamed, especially in front of his peers.
    3) I do not want to PURPOSELY wear something that I know will be an eye magnet, for the express purpose of attracting other mens’ attention. 4) For me, the word “tasteful” is more in keeping with how I feel, than modest. And tastefulness also applies to the situation.
    5) Call me old-fashioned, but I have seen so much AWFULNESS of dress at our family-swim time at our local pool…inappropriate-ness abounds. Stuff getting exposed that shouldn’t be…teenage girls wearing ittybitty bikinis and most of them flaunting…women wearing one piece bathing suits that did not fit at all…women wearing underwear as a bathing suit (yes…you read that right…t-shirt type bra and a pair of ill-fitting running shorts that almost didn’t cover what should have been covered). I guess my deal with bikinis is this: would I wear my underwear out & about?
    6)I have a 7 year old daughter, and I am SICK to death of the angst I go through in finding clothes that are appropriate. So much out there is just awful…I don’t want my 7 year old dressing like a “tart.” Nice and appropriate girls’ clothing is very hard to come by, I’m finding. (Any helpful hints would be great, btw).
    These are just my thoughts. Great post, though Elizabeth…I loved your changing the verse with regards to the thong…hee hee!!!

  • http://laurennicolelove.com/blog @laurenlankford

    THANK YOU for writing this, Elizabeth.

    I grew up in this as well and it destroyed our family’s ability to deal out grace and love to anyone who didn’t fit our definition of modest/pure/clean. It messed me up for awhile in other areas as well.

    Seriously, thank you. I’ll be sharing the hell out of this.

    - lauren

  • http://theincorrigiblegingers.blogspot.com Rachel

    What so many Christians don’t understand is that modesty is completely cultural. Having grown up overseas, I saw this first hand. If you wore shorts at the mall in the city where I lived, you can bet your booty that men would stare, comment, and ogle you like crazy. However, women everywhere would pop their breasts out to nurse a hungry toddler and no one would bat an eye while they just hung those milk jugs out there for the world to see. I saw lots of boobs in church. It’s cultural! I’ll happily wear a tank top and shorts here in Chicago in July and no one will care (alright, maybe like .0002% of the population would care), but you better believe that I wouldn’t dream of doing that in Pakistan. Modesty in Paul’s day looked like women having long hair; modesty in Chicago today looks like me not wearing a bikini to the grocery store.

    My guess is that many Christians who impose strict modesty standards have not traveled much or have little to no understanding of the vast cultural diversity in our world. In fact, I kind of hope that they don’t get a chance to travel, for fear of the associations with the label “Christian” that they would bring with them. Great thoughts, EE!

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      YES! Standards of modest ARE cultural! Here in the U.S., mothers are STILL being taken to task for nursing their babies in public (with a cover-up on!).

      • http://www.thecottagechild.blogspot.com the cottage child

        Isn’t that the truth? – you could wear a sheer blouse that showed everything but nipple and it would be considered perhaps a bit too revealing, but feed a baby under a cover up outside the Wiener Hut at the mall and get arrested. I didn’t nurse, but I would usually give my babies their bottle under a blankie just so they would have some privacy and fewer distractions – people would assume I was breastfeeding and the gazes of horror would commence. I just let them keep thinking there was a boob under there, because I’m Jesus-y like that. Dorks.

    • http://thelinkbetween.wordpress.com Jody Fernando

      I’m married across a culture, and we travel frequently to my husband’s country. In his country, showing ‘belly’ isn’t at all immodest (like it would be considered in America). However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t standards of modesty and appropriateness of dress.

      I do tend to think we need to teach our daughters to understand modesty – perhaps not with legalist rules like those recounted here – but with a sense of the culture and people around us and what is appropriate for our context. Our daughters DO need the skills of learning appropriate dress, e.g. it’s not appropriate to wear sweats to work. The idea that we can wear whatever we want without regard to others is also a very American notion rooted deeply in our independent nature.

  • http://www.kellysauer.com Kelly Sauer

    Go you. You seriously enable me.

  • http://rockangel.co.uk Han

    When I was in the youth group at my church I can’t remember how the conversation came about but we were talking about what was suitable to wear to church. Now the church I grew up in was very much about wearing dresses to church on Sunday because that was the done thing. Until I was 13 and moved church – jeans were not allowed at church.

    I know my Mum definitely commented on what I wore, but I think I then kinda set my own rules with her guidance as such, vest tops were okay within reason and not for church on Sundays – a vest top was okay if I had a jumper or cardigan over it or if there was a normal t-shirt underneath it.

    On the other hand my house mate has been brought up with the idea that long skirts are a better choice – she also has long hair similar to that of Brethren ideas

    I don’t think you have to walk round in a potato sack to cover your modesty just because you’re a Christian.

  • http://hollyhousestudio.blogspot.com Jennifer

    Well, now I’m all fired up! The point you make about our bodies betraying us is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. An essay I wrote about it appearing in a book even, but the thing is: I didn’t ask to be well-endowed up front. I didn’t beg for curvy hips. I got them. They are mine. How do these rule makers expect women to change the very physique God gave us? It boggles the mind and confuses young girls. I could go on and on….but I won’t. Thank you for writing this.

  • http://studyinbrown.com tonia

    Great post, EE. You already know I love it. :)

    I will say, though, that as the mother of a 15 yr old (and 17 and 18 yr old boys), you will probably revisit this topic about 100 times between “tween” and adult. My rule of thumb is always to speak to the heart of the child. If their heart is immodest it won’t matter if they are wearing floor length denim or a bikini.

    My girl went shopping with friends recently and came home with a dress that I probably would have steered her away from if I’d been there. But she truly has such a pure and modest heart that I didn’t say anything to her this time. When she actually wore the dress, it was its own lesson. She came home talking about her discomfort and things she realized she didn’t like about the length and the exposed shoulders. I’d bet that next time she will choose a little differently and it will be because SHE wants to be more modest, not because I’m forcing her.

    There is a lot of experimentation when you are a teen. And for some, anything that gets attention is attractive…so if we as parents or a church give a ton of attention to rules, then it becomes fun to break them. Whereas, if we simply *live* beauty and dignity, that in itself can be a guide for our children. It’s always, always the heart that matters and teens are EXPERT hypocrisy meters, so if you want a modest teen, be truly modest yourself: pure of heart, pure of motive,pure of thought, honoring to your marriage. A lot of times that finds its expression in our clothing and kids will recognize that.

    (sorry….I am so wordy! )

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      YES! Speak to the heart of the child! Remember that scene in Little Women where the oldest daughter gives into the temptation to wear one of her rich friends’ fancy dresses? She later regrets it when she realizes the message that dress sends is not in alignment with her modest, pure heart? Your story reminds me of that. The heart is the issue–not the length or tightness or whatever.

      • KatR

        Ok, going totally off topic, but I LOVE that book. It’s one of my comfort books. When I get sick or sad I like to curl up and read it.

        • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

          Watching the movie is soothing, too!

          • Maryann Faro

            Except when Jo turns down Laurie!

    • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com erin

      Thanks for sharing your story on this, Tonia. That was helpful for me to here your example.

  • http://www.tina.thejobes.com/2010/10/someone-elses-law/ Tina

    Excellent post, EE. I hope you don’t mind if I share a post I wrote about my daughter, a victim of some modesty judgment at the age of 7!
    http://www.tina.thejobes.com/2010/10/someone-elses-law/

  • Kristy

    I think you should just use common sense. Should a six year old be concerned about if they are ‘turning’ on someone, hell no! It should be age appropriate. A teenager should at least be thoughtful about what he/she is wearing. It’s a parents job to make sure that teenagers have common sense by the time it should be an issue. As far as adults go, you’re an adult…. But my pastor and his wife actually teach (at marriage seminars) that you don’t have to try and be ‘ugly’. You want to keep your marriage hot, so do what you need to to keep it that way. It’s our jobs as parents to know what is appropriate for our little boys/girls. To teach them to search their hearts for the reasons they want to dress a certain way and to let them grow up with the ability to think and reason for themselves, choice of clothing included.

  • KatR

    My church wasn’t quite this strict, but still a lot of attention about what women wore, and not making men “struggle”.

    I’m realizing that I’m uncomfortable with the slightest bit of positive attention from men, and I think that’s because of the unspoken lesson that the whole “modesty” culture inadvertently teaches about men. I mean, who wants to encourage attention from out of control sex maniacs???

    • http://www.ariellateater.blogspot.com Ariella

      I agree. What a view of men! How can we teach our girls respect for their brothers in christ (and sisters) if we are teaching them that all men are at the core an unredeemable flaming hormone?

  • Matt Herman

    Very ineresting and something I’ve been trying to figure out how I will handle in the future. Right now my daughter is 11 months old, and with clothes that are modeled after adult fashion, I’m already asking myself, “Do I want my daughter how to dress like that?”

    I want my daughter to grow-up with self confidence in herself and her body, but I also have a “father instinct” that says I hope she never wears short-shorts or pants with “sexy” printed on the butt. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, I just hope to find that balance that let’s my daughter be her own person and me not to worry about everything she wears.

  • http://baking-with-granny.blogspot.com/ Vicki B

    You are just the cutest thing ever! I’m howling with your twin video. And you have very good insight. Plus, being empathic is a blessing and a curse, but really, it’s a blessing, it just doesn’t feel like it sometimes. But it can truly be a life savor. The trick is in not talking yourself out of what your gut is telling you. Especially when it makes no sense to other people.

  • http://www.emuf.blogspot.com Emily

    Great post, EE. I’m learning to not be ashamed of my body, even after all the years it spent in denim skirts and shirts buttoned to the neck. Does anyone else watch “The Office”? Do some of Angela’s outfits give anyone else flashbacks? :)

    Thanks for your insight.

  • http://downrightdomesticity.blogspot.com Maria D. @ Downright Domesticity

    Oh, man! Your post brought back memories of attending a summer music camp at a well-known Christian college in Pensacola! They had some ridiculous dress code standards– your shirts could be sleeveless, but NO TANK TOPS!! Shirts couldn’t have writing on them, and slits in skirts couldn’t go higher than the knee. And forget about pants until you were out of the city! I heard that the female college students had to wear pantyhose at all times– can you imagine, in that Florida heat??

    Anyways, I was super glad to attend camp there, if only so I had warning not to go to college there later. The thing I’ve noticed is that if some entity is legalistic about clothes, you can bet your calf-length culottes that they are legalistic about a slew of other things.

  • http://www.ariellateater.blogspot.com Ariella

    I hear you! I remember being berated because the strap of the spaghetti strap tank top that I was wearing (under my tshirt so that my bra lines wouldn’t show) was peeking out of my collar. sigh. The best way to show no underwear lines is to just be nude!! =)

    I agree that the idea that a girl has to be hyper aware of covering her body appropriately so as to not incite a man to lust after her is a great way of inspiring a view of bodies (and sexuality) as sinful or shameful.

  • Holly

    Great post! The fundie group we were in had a major thing about women having bare arms. Sleeveless dresses and blouses were not only a major cause of men lusting after women, but also a straight path the the fires of damnation. This was part of our breaking point; I couldn’t fathom how bare arms could be such a sin and my husband was very outspoken about his personal beliefs that if a man is thrown into lust by a woman’s bare arm, HE is the one with the problem.
    I especially appreciate the points you’ve made about the psychological impact. We’ve been out for five year and I find that I am just beginning to not question myself constantly, i.e, are these earrings too flashy, this blouse to revealing, these jeans to slim, etc…and I’m not an immodest person by nature, either. But the years of having that message ground into my mind caused me to come to the place of seeing my own natural feminine side as the enemy, when in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God gave us our feminine side, and I believe it’s to be appreciated. Not laid out for all to see, but not hidden away like evil, either. It’s all about balance, and the one thing I’ve learned that fundie groups don’t have is balance.

  • http://www.teamlundgren.wordpress.com Sarah

    I was a 5-year-old such as yourself, able to spot a too-tight shirt or too-short skirt…or worse, a bikini a mile away. I sat through a couple embarrassing youth talks myself on modesty at my church. Wish I could have been laughing with friends that God looketh at your thong. Instead, I was just trying to look as normal as I could under the many constraints. My oldest daughter is 2 now, so I don’t know how I will handle the whole modesty thing yet, but I am better directed in reading your truth: rules beget more rules. Tis true. I will pray for a modest spirit for my girls. I also pray for their confidence in their own feminine beauty. I like the no rules idea! :)

  • http://www.suzielind.wordpress.com Suzie Lind

    And this… yet again… why I love you. Brilliant.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      ((hugs)) thanks, Suzie my Suzie! :)

  • Katrina

    This post=amazing.

  • Theresa in Alberta

    HA!! when it comes to wearing a thong I think it belongs in the same catagory as the old “hair shirts”! I call ‘em butt or bottom flossers ;-) they cannot be comfortable.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      You must not be wearing the right thong. I’ve found some that are actually super comfy. It’s the “Hanky Panky” brand. LOL! For reals, though.

      • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com erin

        Love Hanky Panky. It’s the only way to go. I feel so comfy right now.

  • http://www.indiatoappleton.blogspot.com Nancy

    When modesty gets taken to the extreme, it has so many ramifications. I remember a sex ed “retreat” day when I was a middle schooler where each girl in my group had to pick a question out of a hat and answer it. My question was whether it was ever okay to look at oneself nekkid in a mirror. My 8th-grade self answered, “Umm, I think it’s okay for medical reasons,” vaguely remembering an article in one of my mom’s magazines about monthly self-exams. The very well-intentioned parent leader at our parish told me no, it was WRONG to ever look at yourself. I was so embarrassed and ticked off, because I knew she was dishing out bad information. That kind of fear of uncovering the female body, thankfully, was not contagious (for me at least — I can’t speak for the other girls), but it was a huge disservice to having a healthy attitude about our bodies.

  • Katharine

    I think most of what I want to say has been said in one form or another but I thought I would join in anyways :)
    I also struggled with the idea that women bear full responsibility for the modesty thing, even in the relatively liberal churches and camps I grew up in… girls have to wear shorts over their one piece bathing suits and put a t-shirt on as soon as they get out of the pool, but guys can mow the lawn shirtless in March? Double standards abound…. Although for much of my middle school years I was overly modest by choice… you know, the oh-so-attractive cargo pants and boys’ t-shirt look ;)
    While I still think modesty is a valuable concept, it’s not really on my mind, at least not under that label. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more important that I respect my body and the people around me than that my shorts are exactly however many inches in length… the person I’m becoming in my heart is far more important to me than what other people see in my actions. My heart should define my actions, not the other way around.
    Plus… I really like my skinny jeans :)

  • Christopher

    I don’t have children, but as a single guy who’s been chaste for quite a number of years, I think if a guy has to rely on women to make up for his lack of self-control, that’s pretty lame. Sure, biology will steer your eyes to places before you can catch yourself, but all you have to do is want to catch yourself and keep a mindset to respect the personhood of those you encounter.

    I saw a guy with a really weird haircut today, and for some reason the phrase randomly popped into my head “hair’s not a person, it’s just a thing. The person’s the person.” I think you can do that with other things too, so when I found my eyes glancing at women (I do my best), I said the same thing. “A *blank* is not a person. Not really important compared to the whole person. Just a small part. She’s the person.”

    It also helps to walk around with the attitude that all people are children of God. It’s hard to have impure thoughts about someone you know is one of God’s beloved creatures, because it puts you in the position of seeing them the way God does.

    • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com erin

      This is right on, Christopher!

  • http://www.tuckedintohim.blogspot.com Karen

    I’m with other commenters here – modesty is completely cultural.

    In Russia before Peter the Great lambasted their hyperfundamental ways, women blacked out their teeth FOR MODESTY’S SAKE!

    For me, because it becomes so cultural, it has to be a Romans 14 issue – each Christian gets to have their own convictions and to go against those convictions (even on a non-Biblical issue) is a sin BUT it is also a sign of their “immaturity” that they even need more rules than the other Christians. And Christians without that conviction are free to choose for themselves (as long as they don’t cause their brothers to stumble). I love, love, love this passage because it addresses so many areas for me as a mother – homebirth versus hospital deliveries, homeschooling versus public versus private school, formula versus breastfeeding, yoga or no yoga, pretty much any controversy that is not directly stated in Scripture. :)

    Thanks for being brave. As always.
    Resting in Him,
    Karen

  • Lucy

    This is a very thought-provoking post. While I spent a lot of time in an ultra-fundie homeschooling group, we were pretty normal at home, as far as clothes were concerned. We had to look nice for church, but that was more to show respect for God than anything else (and lots of other people at our church wore their jeans and whatever). But I still managed to absorb the idea that my body was something shameful. I was self-conscious from a very early age – partly because of scars from heart surgeries. Plus, I ended up being very, very well endowed. As others have said, it is almost impossible to ever be modest with a body shape like this. And when I was a young adult and working for said ultra-fundie homeschooling group, I found out that I was almost kicked out because my blouse gaped “inappropriately” on more than one occasion. I wore a camisole underneath, but I was really upset that no one had thought to mention it to me! If a friend’s button came undone, I would tell her! Not “report” her and get her in trouble. Yeah, I hated that.

    This has had long-lasting consequences in my marriage and in my ability to handle attention from men, even now. I really, really liked what a previous poster said about true modesty not drawing attention to oneself. I think the poster is Orthodox, so it would make sense that I would like that definition, since I’m EO, too.

    But the reason this is such a struggle for me is that I have a charming, lively, active 7 year old daughter who loves to wear dresses and loves to jump and spin and whatever. I have tried to teach her modesty, but what I seem to be reaping is judgementalism already. She makes comments about people being dressed inappropriately. I’m afraid that my attempts to help her to honor her body are making her ashamed and that is SO not what I want to do! I also really don’t want her to judge other people based on their clothing! And I feel very strongly about teaching my sons about their responsibility. But I also don’t want them to see the female body as something “dirty” either. I knew too many guys who wouldn’t even meet your eyes if you were wearing pants or a v-neck. Seriously? I want my kids to believe that the human body is beautiful and amazing and confusing and all those things that we are. *sigh* This doesn’t get any easier, does it?

    • Anonymous

      Send ‘em to public school from day one. I went and there was not all this tremendous hype about modesty/immodesty, etc. And I went to public school in California during the late 60′s/ early 70′s when free love was still in the air and mini skirts and gogo boots were the thang!. And no, not everyone ended up in bed somewhere. Just a suggestion-though not a perfect one.

  • Steph

    I’m sure everyone has said at some point what I think, but I’ll chime in. I do think there is a right answer to this issue, but I don’t claim to know what it is! All I know is that there are clothes that make me feel uncomfortable to wear in public, and there are clothes that I am uncomfortable looking at on other women. But I don’t pretend to know where ‘the line’ is! For myself I struggle while clothes shopping, because it’s honestly hard not to look pregnant with 32F boobs if I don’t wear ‘form-fitting’ clothes!

    We have a family in church that has been very vocal about modesty, but their daughters are on the chubby side and their shirts are always skin-tight on account of being a size too small. So is it just immodest to wear tight shirts if a woman has a flat stomach and big boobs? Should I try to hide the fact that I have breasts? (On a side, fashion-y note, V-necks, while showing cleavage, actually make larger breasts look smaller, whereas high-necked shirts draw more attention to the breasts and make them look bigger.)

    So, I’m constantly a-wafflin’ on this one, but thanks, Elizabeth, for another thought-provoking post!

  • http://thelinkbetween.wordpress.com Jody Fernando

    So this whole discussion is very thought provoking, and I love the consideration put into the post and some of the comments… Its clearly a tough issue with no clear lines. Romans 14 comes to mind here and it seems that moderation is a guiding factor (though sadly, even the definition of moderation is debatable!). For me, it’s similar to alcohol – my parents don’t drink. I do. However, I don’t ever drink in excess, mostly just for enjoyment. Could we view modesty the same way? Perhaps too much modesty (legalism) is as harmful as not enough (seduction)?

    The one question that lingers in my mind is the reality of the growing percentage of sexual addiction among men related to pornography. Yes, I KNOW that it is not our responsibility to control men’s minds, and another truth is that we also live in a culture that commodifies women and tells us we have to look sexy to be worthwhile. Pornography clearly uses this commodification of women to seduce men. For our many dear brothers in Christ who struggle to gain control over a taboo addiction that is not very safe to admit in the church, as well as to those who aren’t even aware of how much lust they drink in from our culture on a regular basis, a second thought to the cultural appropriateness of our appearance is simply respectful in the same way that I would choose to not drink with an alcoholic friend or adapt my American attire in another country.

  • Lacinda

    I appreciate all the comments about not viewing if men as these awful, sick-minded beasts. I don’t think of men that way, but I do know that there ate men like that out there. And for that reason, when my daughters become old enough to take an interest in choosing their own clothing, there will be rules about what they may or may not wear. I shutter atvthe thought of one of my kids being the victim of a sex predatory when maybe it could have been avoided if they were covered up well. I also appreciate the comments about dressing out of respect for men–especially in a church setting. There are some wonderful, God-fearing men out there who do struggle with lust; and while it is their problem, wouldn’t it be a kind thing to not make this struggle harder for them? I agree that it should absolutely not be a legalistic thing, but dressing just because it makes me feel good about myself without thinking about how it affects others could be a really inconsideratr thing too.

    • Lacinda

      Sorry about all the typos. I was in a hurry trying to post the comment before my kids got up from their nap. Gotta love the iPhone auto correct :)

    • bea

      The thing is, though, that covering up the body doesn’t prevent molestation. Or rape. Or any other kind of attack on a woman. A pedophile cares that this is a child, not how the child is dressed. Dressing a certain way is not protection, nor, I think, should we teach our daughters that it is.

    • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

      dressing to discourage sexual predators becomes a slippery slope to victim blaming.

      as a christian, i do want to honor God and the people around me with how i dress and carry myself. someone who does not share my values may choose to dress differently, but neither of us is responsible for baiting a sexual predator, no matter how we dress.

  • sisof9

    Thanks EE!! You write the best posts!!

    I DO plan to teach my kids *girls and boys* about modesty, but hopefully in a way that is encouraging and uplifting. And Hubby and I both want to stress that our rules are for OUR family – not everyone elses. Just because Daisy is allowed to wear a bikini doesn’t mean she is bad or doesn’t know Jesus or any of that stuff – it’s just a decision she and her parents have made that is different that our family. :-)

    A thought I DID have though is I want to be careful A: to not encourage innapropriate looking at my kids (girl esp) I DO see a large number of little kids who are dressed like hookers or with not much… on. :-p I don’t want to draw attention to their little bodies and B: Not have different rules for different ages. This is something I am passionate about. I never want my kids to be embarrassed or ashamed of their developing bodies. If it’s not ok for my 12 year old then it’s not ok for my 8 year old then it’s not ok for my 4 year old… but again this is MY opinion and if Sally Q. let’s her 2 year old go to the pool topless I won’t say anything. ;-)

  • sisof9

    oh yeah, I forgot to add that when I was 14 or 15 a lady in our church came to my mom and told my mom that I was causing her husband to stumble because when I walked my breasts jiggled. so, my mom told me. I thinking when you do something wrong you are supposed to apologize went to the lady and told her I was sorry that I was distracting her husband – needless to say she was mortified and it took me years to figure out why my mom got mad that I went to the lady. :-p

    Really I needed better bras, but my mom wasn’t prepared for DD teenager. :-p

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    I don’t have ‘issues’ with modesty- but I run in pretty conservative Catholic circles- all of the girls and moms will wear one-piece bathing suits and some will do ‘modest’ ones. All will wear skirts or dresses to church- day to day it is a mixed bag.

    I think wearing a skirt to church is more a formality/special day type thing- not a modesty thing

    personally, I don’t let my girls wear bikinis (it showcases the breasts) and I want them to wear skirts to church- they choose to wear casual skirts most days

  • http://blog.neoqueenserenity.net/ Sakiina

    I have a different perspective about all of this because I am a Middle East Studies major, and study Islam from a feminist perspective (gasp!! that terrible word!! feminist!!eleventy-one!!)

    Nowadays in America, it’s considered quite trendy to blast Islam/Muslims for everything from terorrism to how “oppressive to women” it is, and of course everyone fixates on “the veil.” And nobody can even tell you the difference between a burqa and “the veil” or hijab or niqab or abaya, etc…

    It makes me shake my head because I think it’s hypocritical of Christians to call Muslim women oppressed when THE EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS FOR MODESTY are swallowed by Christian women and preached from pulpits around the country. The not “causing your brother to stumble”? Not in so many words, but it’s primarily the reasoning behind such forms of dress. That and “saving your beauty for your husband” and “honoring God” and “being pure in a hyper-sexualized culture” and being “appropriate”. Another stated reason that I hear other Christians use from time to time is that it “protects women from getting raped!” Which is complete BS because it’s actually submissive, passive women who are targeted to be victims of rape, and they are often identified because they are dressed MORE modestly than anybody else.

    So, having this perspective, I see how far the rabbit-hole goes. I see Saudi Arabia and think it’s not all that different from what America would look like if the hard-core evangelical fundies had their way. Over there, it’s immodest to simply look a man in the eyes, or speak when not spoken to– bare an ankle and the men go crazy. I hear stories about women who swim in pools in the privacy of their own homes– but their lusting neighbor viewed them from the second story of the house next door, and grew “so obsessed” that he “could not control his thoughts” because he was lusting after her 24/7. Because of this, he called the religious police and she was arrested because she “caused” him to have these thoughts– didn’t she know she had to be completely covered and out of view of strange men 24/7, even in her own home?

    If you think this is over the top– I once went to a Christian bookstore, and when I left, a woman handed me a tract. I didn’t think anything of it at the moment, but later in the car as I was reading it, it was about modesty, how any women wearing pants are going to hell, and women wearing skirts above the knee are whores and asking to be raped. You don’t know how prevalent THIS EXACT SAME PRESCRIPTION is talked about in uber-fundamentalist sects of Islam (Wahhabi, Salafi), that women who don’t follow THEIR version of modesty are asking to be raped. And though many Christians don’t say it quite so blatantly, there is always this undertone to talks about modesty, that if you don’t follow the rules, if you don’t dress to “prevent men from stumbling”, then you’re responsible for what happens to you for not obeying and inciting men to lust…

    For men, “not causing others to stumble” means that if I know of a specific person with a specific issue then I will refrain from dressing in a way that will be a trigger for that. For instance, if I know of someone who is a recovering porn addict, who was particularly drawn to BDSM, I’m probably not going to wearing my black patent leather boots with chains and buckles around this person. But I’m not going to refrain around every male, because I happen to like my boots and they go with many different outfits and for all I know it could turn other men off. I’m not going to obsess over how I might “incite” every single man in the room to lust. There’s also a stopping point for this– if I know of a man who is particularly attracted to long, blonde hair, I’m not going to cut off my hair, dye it, or even cover it up just because he might be at an event. Wear a bun? Maybe.

    But honestly? I think that prescription to not be a conscious trigger of other people’s issues goes far beyond dress. I would hate it if I said or did something that was a trigger for someone with PTSD, if my language hurt someone around me… How one dresses should be appropriate to a point, just as our other concessions should be. It should only be a very small slice of how to be responsive and considerate of others. Note that being considerate does not being assuming responsibility for their lives and thoughts and feelings… We need appropriate boundaries in the issue of dress as much as anything else.

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  • Sarah

    I loved God. He was my life, I read my Bible, I trusted him, and I was madly in love with Jesus…and then I hit my teen years. I was constantly getting scolded by my mother that my shirts showed to much, or my skirts were too short. When I was in a bikini, my mom would point out all the guys who were looking at me. My grandmother told me I embarassed her when I wore a bikini around her. And by 17 I was a 34 D so finding shirts that didn’t show tshirts was next to impossible. I started wearing t shirts all the time, and I dreaded summer because it ment having to stay inside all the time because living in south Georgia, no way was I going outside in the clothes my mom made me wear. Too hot!! I never went to the lake or pool with my family and I lost all my friends because I could never hang out with them due to the fact that I didn’t want to go out to eat on a Friday night with my friends in a tshirt. It was then that I realized thatbi did not want to be a Christian if this is what it ment. I reveled against my parents, wore what I wanted, and didn’t give God a second look. It wasn’t until I was 25 and met my husband, did I return to God. I realized that God would love me even if I was a prostitute. Showing cleavage did not meen I was going to hell. I now am 33 with 2 daughters, 4 and 2 and I hve decided that unless they want to go out in playboy tops, I will let them pick out there own outfits. I want them to know that Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus, and the Bible is the way to talk to Jesus and listen…not one big rule book with dos and donts.

  • AgnesRegina

    My older sister said, paraphrasing Chesterton’s quote on the wise use of liquor, “We should thank God for giving us beautiful bodies by not showing too much of them.” I figure that’s a pretty good rule. I wear skirts, because I find them feminine and beautiful and far more comfortable than pants of any kind. Sure, people comment, people give me looks that range from interested to weird, but I never thought them immodest. However, if there are girls who find themselves more modest/comfortable wearing pants, I won’t scream “YOU’RE WEARING PANTS YOU ARE GOING TO BURN!!!!”

  • Bob the Janitor

    If you set a good example and follow 1 Timothy 2:9-10, you will please God.  A good thing to remember is that He will judge you by your deeds (as a woman and mother) and whether you are saved.  Read your Bible and build your relationship with Christ…