Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Detriment of Modesty

That title got your attention, didn’t it?  Well, it was supposed to.

I think we can all agree that a fixation on anything can be a bad thing, and a fixation can make a good thing bad, right?   Good.  With that in mind, I am going to make my startling statement of the day, one many people will probably not appreciate but needs to be said regardless.
Modesty has become a bad thing. 

Now wait and hear me out before you all flood my inbox or the comment section below.  I haven’t lost my mind.  In fact, I have been dwelling on this topic for a while now, which is why I’ve been a bit silent on the blog, as of late.    

There are people who think that women get caught up in the modesty movement because the modest clothing allows them to “let themselves go”, due to its generally concealing nature, and they never have to think about their appearance.  How do I know that some people think this is why women get caught up in the modesty movement?  Because I’ve not only heard people say this exact thing, but I’ve also heard people say this is one of the reasons why they love modesty.

However, before I continue, I want to assure you this blog post is not going to be about modesty causing women to have low self esteem (I really dislike that argument).  Nor am I going to approach this topic from the position that modesty thrusts women into an intimate relationship with Ben and Jerry because they don’t care what they look like.  Rather, this blog post is going to be about the doctrines and philosophies behind the mainstream modesty movements.
You see, what most people don’t realize is that modesty isn’t really a dress code, but a philosophy, and like any philosophy it can become twisted and warped.   And that my friends, is what has happened.  Modesty has become a bad thing because we have warped what modesty should be, according to God’s word.  And because of this, our modesty doctrines are impacting the minds of young women, and men for that matter, in real, devastating ways.   

Now, I realize that you are all probably really confused at this point, and may even think I’ve gone off the deep end.  After all, I believe in dressing modestly, don’t I?  Absolutely!  What I don’t believe in are the doctrines and philosophies of modesty that have been created by legalistic men and women of the church, specifically the conservative church.
So, what exactly are these modesty doctrines and philosophies that have me so worked up, you might ask?  Well, the philosophy behind modesty, as described to us by the majority of men and women conscious of modesty, is first and foremost that young women need to  be sure they are not a stumbling block to their brothers in Christ.  How do they make sure they aren’t a stumbling block?  By ensuring they are not sexually attractive, because if they are they will sidetrack their brothers in Christ from purity of thought.

Let me ask you, what does this philosophy equate to for the woman?  It means they have to always be on guard when buying clothes, putting them on, maintaining their weight (after all, can’t have things getting too tight), and they have to be careful of their body movements at all times.  Which means, inadvertently, we are training our modest girls to be obsessed with what they look like.
Furthermore, you know what else this philosophy is teaching girls?  It teaches them that they are always on display, which causes an unhealthy focus on your body.  This modesty philosophy, instead of offering believers an alternative to the sexual objectification of women, often perpetuates this mindset, just in a backdoor kind of way.

See, the doctrines/philosophies behind modesty says that women are to cover their bodies because the female body is perceived as both a temptation and a distraction to the Christian community. The female body is beautiful, but in a dangerous way.   
Here is my issue with that thought process.  Instead of instilling pride in our young women concerning who God has created them to be, this mindset causes them to be ashamed.  They become ashamed of who God has created them to be and what He has created them to look like.  It is this type of shame that causes girls in the modest community to have eating disorders not because they want to have a tiny waist, but because they want to get rid of the fat pads on their chest because they have been told those fat pads are an evil thing (I know a young woman in this situation, so I want you all to know I’m not making this up).

Shame is great at behavior modification.  That’s why it is so effective, and that’s why these concepts and thought processes should raise huge red flags in our minds.  Shame is a tool of the enemy and should not be used in our arsenal.  Jesus never shamed women for being women.  In fact, He gave worth and value to women in ways that their culture did not.   
This approach to modesty, and these ideals, only perpetuate the objectification of women, just in a pietistic form. It treats women’s bodies not as glorious reflections of the image of God, but as a source of temptation that must be hidden. It is the other side to the same coin: one side exploits the female body while the other side is ashamed of it. Both sides reduce the female body to a sexual object.  Neither are healthy.

It is this type of mentality that caused some men in the 1800s to wrap their hands in robes when greeting women at the church door.  Why did they do this?  They did it in order to shield their flesh against the seductive touch of a woman.
Which leads me to my next point.  It’s not just women who are impacted by modesty philosophies.  It’s men, too.   Instead of “You have been called by God to protect women, and you should treat your sisters in Christ as just that, sisters”, young men in the conservative church often have the idea pounded into their heads that, because they are hormonal young men, they cannot control their desires, and even the sight of a woman will cause them to sin.

I’m not being melodramatic, guys, nor am I creating a straw man.  I cannot tell you how many young men I have met that cannot look me in the eyes and talk to me.  They spend all 10 seconds of the conversation looking at their shoes, the scuff marks on the floor, and the lint balls on the bottom of their pant leg. 
Maybe I’m just that intimidating (all 5’1¾” of me), you might say.  You’re more than welcome to think that, if you would like, but the reality is that these young men aren’t afraid of me because I’m intimidating(I know many young men who aren’t afraid to look me in the eyes or talk to me as an individual), they are afraid of me because I am the opposite sex.  These are the young men whose parents have indoctrinated them with the modesty philosophies.  See, the modesty doctrine is often presented to young men as “You should not look at a woman, because you will lust after her” as opposed to “You should not look at a woman lustfully”.  It gives them no credit.  It gives them no option.  It simply says they are men, thus they will lust. 

So, not only are we being unfair to our girls, but we are crippling and being grossly unfair to our men (young and old alike, because I have seen married men in a similar boat before).  We treat girls as if they are nothing more than something that men will lust after, and we tell men that they can’t avoid the female entrapment, because of course, young women are always trying to entrap them.
Absolute rubbish on all sides!

I am passionately of the opinion that the church needs an overhaul on its theology and philosophies concerning the female body. Women continue to be associated with their bodies in ways that men are not.  And, as a result of this unique association, women’s identities are also uniquely tied to their bodies in a manner that men’s identities are not.
So, you want to know how to cure all of these warped philosophies we have allowed to infiltrate our minds?  It’s really quite simple, actually.  Put Christ at the center, where He belongs.

I’m not trying to be trite or funny, I’m too embroiled over this topic to be anything other than serious.  The only way to have a proper perspective on modesty is to stop focusing on men, stop focusing on women, and start focusing on Christ. 
It is at this point that I want to ask you all a very serious question.  What does Christ say about modesty?  Not what have you read other people say about modesty.  Not what commentaries and pastors will tell you about modesty.  What does Christ, in His divinely inspired word, say about modesty?

It’s actually quite simple.  When the Bible talks about modesty, it talks about an attitude, a state of mind and heart.  And that is the crux of our problems within the church.  We have become so focused on the external, and so legalistic, that we have forgotten where our focus should be.  Because you know what?  If you have the attitude and heart right, everything else falls into place and we don’t even need to worry about a girl’s neckline.  If she is truly seeking after Christ in regards to this topic, she will learn where God wants her neckline to be. 
So, if you want to have a biblical perspective, stop looking at the hemline and start looking at the heart.  See, a woman’s wardrobe is a public statement of the inner workings of her heart.  Is she a woman of modesty and self control (1st Timothy 2:9), or is she the wanton, clamorous woman so often spoken of in the proverbs?  They are both very distinctive women, and even if you placed both of them in a gunny sack, you could still tell which woman was the wanton woman, and which is the woman of modesty and self control. 

Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is, essentially, humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others.  Which means immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride on display by what you wear.

Self-control is, in a word, restraint. Restraint for the purpose of purity; restraint for the purpose of exalting God and not ourselves. Together, these attitudes of modesty and self-control should be the hallmark of the godly woman’s dress.

For a godly woman, modesty and self-control are to be distinctly present in the heart. The question is, are they distinctly present in the hearts of our young women?  If they are, such an attitude will make all the difference in a woman’s dress and the things we nitpick to death will fall in line with accordance to God’s standards just by natural progression. 
As pastor John MacArthur has observed:

How does a woman discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and dressing to be the center of attention? The answer starts in the intent of the heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood?.... Is it to reveal a humble heart devoted to worshiping God? Or is it to call attention to herself, and flaunt her beauty? Or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually? A woman who focuses on worshiping God will consider carefully how she is dressed, because her heart will dictate her wardrobe and appearance…
Any conversation about modesty should starts with the intent of the heart.  There’s an inseparable link between a person’s heart and their clothes, and it’s not just in regards to women, either.  Your clothes say something about your attitude.

As a side note, this does not mean that young women have to dress demurely.  I love pretty things.  I love skirts that swirl when I twirl, and I love wearing leggings with my boots.  I enjoy sweaters with loose floppy necks and shirts that have romantic styled sleeves.  None of this is a bad thing.  In fact, it is a personal expression of my rather whimsical personality.  However, I hope that my dress, while still very much lovely and feminine, reflects the desires of my heart.  It reflects humility and a desire to follow after Christ and His standards. 
If you want to have a proper understanding of biblical modesty, you must throw out the man-centered philosophies.  Biblical modesty is first and foremost centered on God, and true modesty is humility expressed in dress.  This is the only angle by which you can properly approach modesty, for if you try to come at it from any other, you will fail.

I pray we never let our young women forget that their bodies glorify God, for God created woman, and He called her very good.
Post Script: Before posting this, I decided I needed to make something very clear.  This is not an exhaustive look at the subject of modesty, but rather, it is in response to the struggles I have been having concerning the warped and twisted perspectives of modesty that I continue to see creeping into the church.  I am addressing an aspect of modesty, not the entire subject.


  1. "Biblical modesty is first and foremost centered on God, and true modesty is humility expressed in dress."

    I agree entirely, Kaitlyn. :)

    1. Thank you, Jonathan. It took me a while to write, but in the end I think I was able to convey the message God wanted me to give. :)

  2. Excellent post. :) I've been discussing some things along these lines with a friend, and we'd come to some of the same conclusions. Thank you very much for taking the time to say something about this controversial subject!

    1. I'm so glad you have been discussing this topic with people, Grace! I pray that we can turn the thought process of our culture around, and it starts with our generation of young people.

      And thanks for posting a comment!

  3. Thank you for being bold and posting this. As a guy, I would like to tell any ladies reading this one thing: It bothers me to no end when you think that being beautiful is equal to being alluring. It's not. God made you ladies to be lovely, and I (and other guys) are blessed when you embrace that in a modest way. This was gold:

    "and even if you placed both of them in a gunny sack, you could still tell which woman was the wanton woman, and which is the woman of modesty and self control."


    1. Jordan, you posted, I'm so thrilled!

      Thank you for the encouragement. I too am bothered when people link beauty with allurement, as if you can't have one without the other. Thank you for being willing to, as a guy, speak about what blesses you to see in young women. I think that is needed.

  4. This is a wonderful post, Airi! It is rather disheartening when you look through the internet, and find that a lot of home-school women say basically the opposite of what you have said here. My sister, Kathy, came to me this morning, rather excited, and said 'I have read a wonderful post on modesty this morning, I think you know who wrote it; it's brilliant!' She was thrilled to read this post! Thank you for sharing your insight on this, Airi. Very encouraging.

    1. *laughs * I am delighted to hear that story, Stephie, thank you for sharing your sister's reaction. :D

      I, too, find it incredibly disheartening to learn what some girls think about modesty. It shocked me when I learned about a young girl's eating disorder, which stemmed from the unhealthy view of modesty she had been taught. *shakes head * It is so heartbreaking. Not only does a warped view of modesty poison the mind, but it can end up harming a young woman's body.

  5. So much to think about! Thanks for writing this, Kaitlyn (and for linking it on Facebook, Jonathan). :)

    1. I would love to hear your thoughts, Aubrey, once you have had time to think about them. :D

      Oh yes, thank you for linking on Facebook, Jonathan. :D

  6. Kaitlyn! I love this article - perfect in every way. I'm so glad to see your firm grounding in grace as evidenced through your writing. I love love love how you said Christ should be the focus.
    Tullian Tchividjian, a pastor from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida spoke at our convocation here at Liberty and told us "The New Testament, the Gospel, is not primarily concerned with the holiness of the believer, but with Christ." I realized how even I had let other things come before Christ, things that were getting in the way.
    And in the end, when we obsesses over modesty, when we raise it up, when we take pride in it, we are being immodest in the clearest definition of the word. In fact, the single largest sin of the Homeschool movement may be pride. I know it can be for me.
    Looking forward to more amazing pieces of writing!

    1. *dances around happily because you posted a comment on the blog like I asked!*

      Thank you, Eli. I totally agree that modesty, like women wearing dresses, has become something which we take improper pride in. It's almost as if we are cultivating works based Salvation in the way we build ourselves up due to the things we live out and practice.

  7. I didn't agree with the article. The author is making the mistake of assuming that the way men think is the same as how women think.

    It's the same mistake that feminists make when they say "Why can't men just not rape?"

    If it were that simple, we could eliminate crime itself entirely by telling criminals to just not commit crime.

    In reality, men and women are different, even in the way they think. So women cannot possibly understand what effect an attractive woman has on the male gender.

    I was recently talking to a father of 5 (all daughters) and he was telling me how women are absolutely irrational and illogical. Think about it, after all, women invented feminism for example. Now, logic and rationality are important for men, and men could easily make the same mistake as the author of this article does by asking "Why can't women be more rational and logical?" The answer is they can't because they're women. Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

    As for the topic of modesty, the purpose of physical attractiveness from an evolutionary biology perspective is to attract the opposite gender. No, women aren't doing it for themselves even if they'd like to think so.

    From a Christian perspective, a woman's beauty is for the purpose of securing (and keeping) a husband. "Collateral attraction" should be minimized as far as possible! Don't be selfish: give the less attractive girls a chance at attracting a husband for themselves, without having you around as a distraction.

    1. Nesa: I have no such assumption. I am very aware that men and women think differently, however, I strongly disagree with you that women can’t understand the affect they have on men. In fact, I think part of the problem we have in our culture is that women fully understand that, and thus, they happily wield their powers in order to get what they want. Also, if a father is raising his daughter correctly, he will teach her the things that men think and the way in which they view women.

      As for women being irrational and illogical, that is a rather broad statement which encompasses women as a whole, and, your comment is a highly sexist one, which makes me pity the five daughters of your friend. The Bible not only undercuts your beliefs that women are irrational and illogical, but it raises women up, placing them as men’s equals. Now, men and women have vastly different roles, but they are equals in the sense that God made men and women in His image. He didn’t make one or other more in His image. They both reflect aspects of God.

      Having once been a feminist, I find it interesting that you believe women invented feminism. While it is true that women were the driving force behind the early days of feminism (although many, many men backed them during the time of women’s suffrage and the battle for the right to vote), modern feminism (the most devastating of all feminisms) was created by men.

      There are two types of feminism. Modern feminism, and the feminism of yesteryear. And modern feminism is, with a few rare exceptions, the only type of feminism you see in our current culture.

      Did you know the original feminists were anti-abortion? It is true. In fact, it was actually abortion that started the wheels for modern feminism and have created the most devastating ripple effect for our culture because it is modern feminism that tells woman she should be everything a man is.

      Modern feminism originated in England, when abortion was first beginning to be whispered. You see, at that time, men wanted abortion to be pushed through because, if they got women to accept the idea and think it was "empowering", they could trick the women into becoming more "open" about "sexual relations". In addition, it reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies (at the cost of a baby’s life).

      The idea was first pitched to feministic women and was quickly reviled. It went against everything that made them women, it was said. But over time, these men won the support of some critical allies. Women like Margaret Sanger. She- like liberal women today- THOUGHT she would become more “equal” to men, and have more power, if women would take charge of their sexuality.

      As for the purpose of women’s beauty being for the purpose of securing and keeping a husband, that is absolute balderdash, sir. Women’s beauty, while certainly admired by men, wasn’t for them. It was to reflect the beauty of their Maker. And, should my beauty be the only thing that could keep a husband, I’d rather swear off the entire male gender because beauty is fleeting. Women, just like men, lose their physical appeal after time. Skin sags, hair dulls, figures are lost (by the way, it’s not just women who lose their figures, either, I know an awful lot of men who look nothing like they did on their wedding day, either)- that’s part of life. True beauty is not found in the symmetry of one’s facial/body structure or the hues that make up their complexion.

      “Less attractive” girls, if you want to call them that, have an equal footing with the “attractive” girls, if they are seeking the right kind of spouse. I loathe that my beauty is a distraction, and that it can so often be focused upon. I will desire to be lovely for my husband, but I would never marry a man who chose me for the features that will one day fade. That’s not love. That’s lust.

    2. "From a Christian perspective, a woman's beauty is for the purpose of securing (and keeping) a husband."

      Speaking as a Christian man and a father of two daughters this statement is hogwash and grossly un-Biblical. A woman's beauty is first and foremost a reflection of the glory of her creator! Your statement reduces the whole purpose of a woman's beauty to a utilitarian purpose disconnected from any real reference to God's glory! The statement is grossly dis-respectable to Christian woman who stand equal with man as creatures created in the Image of God and equal with men in the grace of redemption in Jesus Christ. And this is beyond any relative human assessment of attractive vs less attractive...

    3. Thank you for your statements, Bill. I love hearing men’s perspective on this subject. I am grateful that men and fathers are willing to stand up and declare the truth. It is such an encouragement! =)

  8. This is why I have a mental slap 'em till they're sensible for legalists. They just don't get it, and they're ideas are so foolish and unscriptural and they hurt people.

    And you're right, absolutely right.

    I read a post about this quite a while ago, and I'd link it, but I can't remember where it was.

    1. *laughs * I can see you mentally slapping people, Varon. :D

      Sometimes I wonder, if we were to listen to our stances said back to us, whether we would see how foolish some of them are...

    2. Yes, it's not a big stretch.

      I wonder that too. I suspect we probably wouldn't.

  9. Great post and awesome reply. :) Well done.

  10. Great post, Airi. :D *mind scrambled* *cough* Unfortunately, despite my gender, *looks dubiously at rather interesting comment a few posts above* I am not very logical or rational. ;) :P *disorganized nonsensical comment to follow*

    Amazing post. o.O Oh wait, now I'm being redundant. :roll:

    I really love how you wrote this...and shown how people have isolated modest dress from the real purpose. It is at its most fundamental form a heart issue--otherwise it all becomes relative. A long time ago it was considered wrong for a woman's ankles to show ( at least that's what I've read/heard), and now...well, things are all over the place. When God-glorifying behavior is isolated from...glorifying God, it loses its purpose, focus, and finally loses its form entirely, collapsing because it has no foundation.
    And your point about how it also doesn't help one of the core issues (focusing on the body) is really good as well. :D

  11. *laughs * Thanks, Jeremiah.

    I am really glad you liked it and I totally agree with you. :D

  12. This was so frustraiting as a teen. Thanks for the post.

  13. Glad to see you mentioned modesty isn't just a female thing. It's a male thing, too.

  14. This is my first reply, and I think this is a great post. I am an older women and have seen many changes in our society and the way women were though of an treated. And i totaly aggre with Kaitlyn E. we are all created as one in the eye of of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My thought is that we all have inter beauty be it man or woman. The outside is like the frosting on the cake. Do you want to remove the frosting to see what the cake is like? or do you trust that the cake will be great no matter how the fosting looks?...Think about this..

    1. Oh I am so excited you posted a comment!! You made my day!

      Thank you for your comment and view of this from an older woman. :D

  15. Thanks for this. The topic of modesty has always been a hotspot for my parents and I ever since I hit puberty. It's been a frustrating journey of "being skinny" and the difficulty of finding pants (especially) that fit my rear. I know that my parents taught me the way they did because of their love for me and for that, I hold no ill-will, but this has given me a new perspective that I appreciate. Now that I am married, it again gives me a new outlook on how I should be viewed as I seek to be attractive for my husband.. and has shown me that maybe my priorities are a bit out of whack.. so thank you!

    1. You are so welcome!! It makes my day to hear how the Lord moves. :)

  16. BAM.

    You've nailed it. In fact, everything you have written here I have scrawled in notebooks from my own study (and frustrations!!)

    Standing ovation.

    1. I would love to see those notebooks, then! So glad the Lord has impressed these same thoughts upon you!

  17. *late response* I enjoyed this post, Airi. :)


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