I have convictions about clothes. I have lines and standards and preferences.
I’m going to go out on a limb and admit that, in my mind, there isn’t a good answer to the clothing issue. I won’t call it the modesty issue, because we’ve warped the idea of modesty in our minds to mean “how much skin girls show with their clothes” which is absolutely unbiblical and narrowminded. I’ll get to that presently. My introduction is, however, that nobody wins everything and everybody loses a little. All the time.
As many have said – men lust even after women covered in fabric from head to toe. Lust will happen. No matter what’s going on, if a guy is lusting and obsessing over sex, it really doesn’t matter what a girl is wearing. Guys lose. But, at the same time, many guys do seem to be relieved and helped by certain modes of dress. Then there’s this pressure that builds up for girls to monitor their outfits like hawks, stay out of swimming pools, and convince themselves that they must be responsible for someone else’s sin. Girls lose.
Everybody loses. Somebody is going to lose no matter what is happening, what you’re wearing, or what you say, every single day. You just can’t help it. A good example is my husband, who claims to be feminist and is big on empowering people. Even he, when he read a specifically sex/body-themed article by a female blogger, confessed that the graphic wording made him uncomfortable and gave him mental pictures that he didn’t want. He didn’t bash the article; it was on an important topic and one that many people needed to read. And we discussed how the author had made the choice that anyone’s discomfort (what some might choose to call stumbling) was worth it, in order to reach the people who desperately needed to hear her perspective.
So we talked about it, ate dinner, and got over it.
Here are some things I think we might need to start teaching our boys to do:
1. Accept and Appreciate the Beauty of the Female Body.
[do you ever wonder if we’ve created this obsession with lust in our boys by constantly telling them that they have a lust obsession…?]
I personally think human bodies are beautiful. Pretty much every Renaissance painter agrees with me. Artists in general have a marvelous, gracious way of looking at the human body. Painters, sculpters, actors, and dancers learn to separate the human body, and even human sexuality, from an actual sex act, or lustful, greedy thoughts. They have to do this in order to further in their craft! If a dancer gawked and obsessed about sex every time he or she saw the human form, insanity would soon follow. Similarly, if these artists were too reserved or prudish about physicality and sexuality, they wouldn’t be able to tell their stories properly. They wouldn’t be able to achieve artistic distance and build beautiful things.
Maybe artists are special, and maybe this is an unfair thing to expect of everyone. But I still think it’s possible to introduce beauty, softness, & loveliness to boys, when it comes to girls – without encouraging them to become sex fanatics. Cultivate an appreciation of beauty, and God’s masterful creation. This, of course, would be taught along with the concepts of bodily autonomy, agency, and personal responsibility. Yes, girls are beautiful. No, you do not get to touch them without their consent. Yes, certain parts of her body are special and privileged – just as parts of your body are. So hands off and don’t stare.
But it’s ok to notice her body. It’s ok to think she’s beautiful. It’s ok to admire her, think about her. Just remember that she is not yours. Having sex with her in your mind, jealously seething over her, that’s lust – and that’s not a good place to be. Jesus said it’s better to get rid of your eye altogether than to consistently allow it to pull you into sin and the objectification of others.
2. Honestly, Learn to Get Over It.
This might seem selfish or stupid, but it’s been my experience with life that every single person needs to learn to generally “get over” stuff. If I’m a highly visual woman, every attractive shirtless guy at the pool is going to be eye candy for me, and has the potential to be a distraction. But you know? You just move on with your life. Like I explained earlier, everybody loses. I am going to lose sometimes. I am going to be made uncomfortable, I am going to wander into a mental no-zone, and -as long as nobody is touching me or infringing on me actively- it’s 100% my issue to deal with.
And you know what? Learning to get over stuff helps you do it better, easier. Constantly thinking, “oh my gosh, if he would JUST put on a shirt and stop reminding me of how hot he is, then I’d be fine” puts the responsibility on someone who is just adhering to a normal social more. Choosing to notice beauty, accept that it’s not mine, and look away – that puts responsibility squarely on my own shoulders. I’m a big girl. I can deal with it.
And next time, or the next time, maybe it won’t be a problem at all. Maybe “getting over it” can help me learn to accept that beautiful things exist without requiring gawking.
Now. Onto the actual issue at hand.
Clothes? Clothes are the red herring of the modesty issue. Actual modesty is so much harder than clothes.
There are a few Scripture passages that deal with the issue of modesty. I would like to present and discuss them.
[What’s interesting is that the typical ‘modesty’ blog written to young girls doesn’t have an appropriate Bible verse to pull from, that actually espouses the message it puts forth….]
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion (Proverbs 11:22).
This verse speaks to the conduct of women: be wise, be discreet. Even a beautiful woman (even a well-covered woman) whose attitude is wrong is like a pig flaunting jewelry.
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful (1 Peter 3:1-5).
Again, these verses speak to appropriate, modest behavior. What are we as women to pursue, to exhibit? Purity. Reverence. A “gentle and quiet spirit” – one confident in the love of God. And yes, it’s true, this passage does speak to clothing. It says that if you rely on your hair, your jewelry, or your clothing for your beauty, you’re drawing from a dry well. Braided hair, gold jewelry, and fine clothes in this passage denote wealth, power, and social position. Don’t let those things define you. Don’t be the woman who is remembered for her flaunting her status. We are to flaunt the grace and goodness of God!
“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
We have great freedom, but not everything is good for us, and we’re not meant to be mastered by things. Our bodies, bottom line, are meant to reflect God’s holiness and his artistic, masterful creation. God loves our bodies, created them, wants them, and doesn’t want them abused. That means a lot of things to a lot of people. Girls abuse their bodies by hiding in frumpy clothes out of shame, by cutting themselves, by trying to get attention from the wrong people. Men abuse bodies when they encourage those behaviors. Sometimes honoring your body is going to relate to what you’re wearing. But you know what? Not always. And the bottom line always needs to be honor and respect. Those words are not innately connected with the word “bikini.”
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God (1 Timothy 2:8-10).
This verse again echoes the clothing exhortation, that a woman’s outward finery not be used as a crutch in lieu of spiritual qualities. This word “modest” in verse 9 implies the prevention of a shameful act; reverence, awareness of consequences for actions; restraint. Extensive commentary on this verse can be found here.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God (Titus 2:3-5).
Again, women are encouraged to be virtuous, self-controlled, productive, kind, and peacemaking. Nowhere in these verses is there language about the appropriate amount of skin to show at a waterpark, or that girls are held responsible for anyone’s lust but their own.
If we’re going to talk about modesty being a “heart issue” – let’s actually talk about heart issues. Let’s talk about actual immodesty: attention hogs, tactless remarks, rudeness, and obscenity. Selfishness is immodesty. Gossip is immodesty.
Immodesty is about drawing attention to yourself when you should be loving others and reflecting Christ.
Let’s talk about that.
(this is now part of the Modesty Synchroblog!)