Inseparably connected to the topic of beauty and attractiveness is the idea of modesty- something that is mostly talked about in religious circles. Everyone agrees one must dress modestly and most are intelligent enough to understand that modesty is relative. No one really offers specific guidelines for it yet claim they can identify immodesty to moment they see it.
I looked up “Christian Modesty” on google and took a good look at all the articles that came up on the first page of results. I found lots of common themes, but I realized that zero of them touched on the topic of why were even wear clothes in the first place. I wrote a bit about this a few weeks ago in my post Dressed in a Sacrifice. I find it important to first understand why we dress to even begin to look at clothing appropriately. As I mentioned in my previous blog, human beings wear clothing because of the sin Adam and Eve committed. After disobeying God, the couple went foraging in the garden and made themselves garments made out of fig leaves. God then had to sacrifice an animal to make Adam and Eve garments of skin to cover their shame.
It’s interesting that we always talk about how we honor God with the way we dress when God actually dressed us in the first place because we were not honoring him! This should do a good deal of putting clothing into perspective. Some may subconsciously (or consciously) believe they are better than others because they believe they dress more modestly than others but fail to see the irony. It’s like saying, ‘I cover my sin better than you do.’
It doesn’t matter how glamorous or how rugged our clothes are- we wear them because humans are born in sin. Nudity was pure and shameless at the beginning of time when God created Adam and Eve. However, it’s clear that the moment the couple consumed the forbidden fruit, their perspective of nakedness changed deeply. So much so that they scurried into the garden to make themselves coverings out of fig leaves. What happened inside of Adam and Eve’s mind to suddenly want to hide their bodies? Scripture explains that the moment they ate the fruit, their eyes were opened and they knew good and evil. This means that sin entered their minds and permeated their bodies. Something that God was protecting them from through the nourishment of the tree of life. The perfect bodies that God created for Adam and Eve were now corrupted, the shameless became shameful and the pure became lustful. There was no lust pre-fall- this doesn’t mean there was no pure desire, love, and enjoyment of the body, but it was not corrupted and it was not out of control. The reason we lust, the reason our bodies are objectified, is because of sin. The body is NOT bad, in fact, Christianity is one of the only faiths that believes that the body is good and that believes sex is good. We do not cover the body because it is bad- but because the human mind has been corrupted and looks upon it with lust instead of pure and appropriate godly joy. Until the end of time, the body will not only reflect the perfect image of God- but also the corruption of sin. Although nearly impossible today, I believe it’s possible to look upon a body and have a joyful admiration of God’s workmanship without lust.
As Christians, we are no longer dressed in animal flesh but with Christ himself (Gal 3:27)! This is why what we wear still matters- if we are spiritually dressed with Christ- then we must reflect Him in any way we can in our everyday lives. For Christians, clothing is no longer about covering the sin, it’s about reflecting Christ. There are two main camps when it comes to ideas of modest dress in Christianity. Either they put all the weight on women’s responsibility to not enticing men to lust or they put the burden wholly on men’s ability to control themselves (allowing the woman to wear what she pleases without any considerations). There must be a balance- it is not either or, it is both.
TRUTH: Women are not responsible for a man’s sin- lust, rape, harassment etc… A man is always 100% guilty of his own sin.
This does NOT mean: Women can never be guilty of attracting the wrong attention … As much as it’s unpopular to think about or believe- there ARE women who purposely wear clothes to tempt men or to cause envy in other women. This is a fact. This of course is not considering the woman who does NOT purposefully dress to attract- we will talk about her at a later time.
It’s been believed for years that men think about and desire sex more than women. I believe this appears to be true by simple observation of society. However- some claim that this is a debatable myth and that women and men may actually want sex just the same. The difference is that society praises and encourages men to be sexual but shames women when they do the same. This may be true- but I think that this actually does more to prove the point that men are more sexual than women. Whether they are more sexual by nature or by cultural acceptance it doesn’t matter- If men are encouraged to be sexual by society then we must actually be more sensitive to their struggle because all around them they are receiving the message that they are uncontrollable sexual beings!! This sexual pressure heightens sexual sin in men more than it does in women even if by nature we are both just as sexual. If society looked at women’s sexual activity as positively as they do for men and shamed men for being sexual- then women would have a harder battle with sexual lust because all around them they would be told that it’s a good thing (I’m NOT saying women do not have struggles with sexual lust). Human beings all have sinful tendencies and our societies can influence which of those sins become harder to combat. If we lived in a society where no one paid much attention to sex- sexual sin would still exist but it would probably not be as hard to combat since no one would really be working against you by feeding you ideas to do the opposite.
A good comparison are eating disorders. Eating disorders are way more prevalent in women than in men- this doesn’t mean that men do not get eating disorders. My guess is that biologically, men and women have the same desire to eat- but women have more pressure to be thin and beautiful than men do. Society makes women more vulnerable to struggle with negative body image than men- thus men must be extra sensitive to making comments about weight or appearances. Men are not necessarily guilty for a women’s vanity or negative body image but they sure can be inconsiderate with their words.
THIS DOES NOT mean I’m saying we have no choice but to succumb to the society’s double standards and unfair expectations. NO, we should fight against the idea that it’s only ok for men to be sexual, we must resist the notion that men can’t control their urges. These societal beliefs and stereotypes are absolutely unacceptable and wrong without a doubt. We MUST teach boys to respect women (and men) because they are human beings made in the image of God. We MUST teach people that we do NOT determine the level of respect someone deserves by what clothes they wear. HOWEVER- that is huge societal change that is not going to happen overnight and will honestly probably never happen so long as there are people who want to be their own authority on right and wrong. Yes, the current societal ideas are wrong but it’s the society we live in right now. Being sensitive to the current societal situation does not mean we accept it. Taking precautions for our current situation doesn’t necessarily mean I’m perpetuating a stereotype. If I go into a neighborhood that’s known to have a lot of street violence and I take pepper spray in my bag, lock the doors in my car and don’t talk to strangers- it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am perpetuating the stereotype of that neighborhood or that I believe that all people in the neighborhood are bad- I’m just trying to be wise in the current situation! I could take precautions AND also work towards bettering the lives of the people in this neighborhood and people’s perception of it.
THEREFORE- because we live in a society that encourages men to be sexual, women need to be sensitive. Again- if women were the ones encouraged to be sexual, then men would need to be sensitive. I’M NOT saying men do not need to be sensitive in how they dress (more on that later) I’m just saying that the society we live it makes it a reality that women need to be extra aware on this issue. Clearly, society is much more enthralled with the female figure than the male figure. This is apparent just by watching any TV show or movie, by opening any magazine, or by seeing any billboard, it’s undeniable. I have seen way more full frontal nudity of women in movies than I have seen full frontals of men. There aren’t any “hooters” out there that showcase men in speedos that I know of (there probably are some out there yet- they are clearly still much less dominant). It’s a sad reality that women’s bodies are much more likely to be objectified than are male bodies. So as women we must do what we can to not perpetuate this by wearing things that make us indistinguishable to those women in the ads.
In scripture, women are told that their beauty should not be from gold jewelry or braided hair (1 Peter 3:3, 1 Timothy 2:9). Obviously many Christian women today wear braids and jewelry so what does this passage mean? Many believe that historically during this time women who were prostitutes wore braids and jewelry. Others believe that this was what extremely rich women would do to flaunt their riches to others. Today this is not the case- most women of any belief system wear braids and jewelry so these verses must have been meaning to say that women should not dress with things that will associate them with prostitutes or women who do not seek to honor God but themselves. We can apply this the same way today by observing what prostitutes wear, and how the rich celebrities try to flaunt their wealth and beauty- over all, women who are not trying to honor God and are living mostly for themselves would be good examples to be aware of as well. I understand that many prostitutes are living a life against their will as a result of human trafficking and are forced to dress in ways they would not like to- these are not the women I am referring to.
If I know my friend tends towards alcoholism, I should NOT invite them to a bar with me. I am not guilty of their sin, but I am guilty of being inconsiderate. If I know men in this society have the pressure to be sexual and I wear skin tight clothes or plunging neck lines I am not being considerate. The piece of fabric I wear truly is not sinful in itself- it’s an inanimate object, neither is my body a repulsive thing I need to hide- it is the sin in the corrupt human heart that I need to be wary of.
Many women claim that the clothes they wear is mainly to help them feel good about themselves and not to attract anyone- sure, ok, this can be true.. but this reason is just as concerning as admitting to dressing to attract others! If your reasoning for your dress is to help you feel empowered or confident a serious question you must ask yourself is- how do these pieces of clothing make you feel good about yourself? Does it make you feel sexy? If so, are you being sexy to yourself? This isn’t better than wanting another person to see you as sexy- vanity is not looked more highly upon in scripture than is lust… If no one was around to see you would you still wear that? Confidence needs to come from our security and identity in Christ, not from anything else. If Christ gives me confidence, I won’t need the confidence that clothes can give me. If I understand that my beauty comes from simply being created and loved by God, then everything else I do for beauty becomes secondary. I can sacrifice the cute but too short dress because I don’t need it to feel beautiful or confident.
So many will read this and rage at the fact that this all implies that we need to care about what other people think of us. Over and over we hear that we should just be ourselves and not care what others think because we will never make everyone happy. While it’s true we will never make everyone happy and that we should only concern ourselves with being who God made us to be- it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care what others think. IN FACT- this applies to all people, not only to Christians or “religious folk”. All people have specific beliefs, goals, dreams, and ways that they want to be perceived. Why won’t a person wear the same thing to a club than they would to a job interview? Obviously, because they care what people will think about them in a certain situation! Using clothing as an expression of self-of personality, IS caring what people think of you! You want people to know perhaps how you feel, what you like, or what you do, this isn’t always a bad thing. Whether they realize it or not, mostly everyone does care about what they wear because it will send a message to others. If I’m invited to a wedding and decide to go in my pajamas, it will be viewed as quite disrespectful. Could I be honest in my respect and intentions towards the couple but simply not want to wear a dress (or something formal)? Sure, but it will be unkind of me to do so. Could I be oblivious to wedding dress codes? Yes- but no one will be unaware for very long. We are Christ’s representatives here on Earth and while nothing we do or wear will convert others, we hold a responsibility to ourselves and God to let Him shine through us in the best way possible. 1 Timothy 2:9 does clearly state that women should dress modestly- we will discuss more on what this word actually means in context later but the point is that scripture is clear that we need to present ourselves modestly and view ourselves appropriately, not better than others (Rom 12:3). We must be modest in all things we do, including our dress.
An important note before finishing these thoughts is to consider that these things do not and cannot apply to those who do not claim Christianity as their faith. We cannot expect non-Christians to act like Christians!
Stay tuned for more, further discussions will include…
Truth: Women should not feel shame about their bodies
This does NOT mean: Women can flaunt their bodies
Truth: Modesty is relative to culture
This does NOT mean: You can wear whatever you want
Truth: It’s impossible to have an absolute standard since every woman’s body is different
This does NOT mean (again): you can wear whatever you want
Truth: Modesty isn’t just a woman’s issue
This does NOT mean: It’s not a woman’s issue at all
Truth: Modesty is primarily an issue of the heart
This does NOT mean: Its not an issue of clothing at all