Yikes. I was the recipient of this Twitter backlash when I wrote my first modesty test post seeking men’s opinions on popular trends in women’s fashion. As a new Christian transitioning from a worldly life (and wardrobe), I wanted to figure out what dressing modestly entailed. I knew there could be varying views on modesty between men and women, so I turned to my brothers to get a more balanced perspective. I was admittedly baffled when I discovered this twitter chain of comments dismissing my efforts. Then I read other articles about modesty and noticed these Twitter critics weren’t alone — the comments sections were filled with several recurring misconceptions towards modesty, several which are condescendingly described above. I wasn’t sure how to respond then, but now I can address these misconceptions with help from scripture and a little common sense.
1) Christian women think we are responsible for men’s sexual purity, and that’s why we seek to dress modestly.
This misconception entirely misses the motivation behind modest dress. Before delving into this meaty topic, let’s establish a few points most Christians accept as facts:
- Men are responsible for their choices to sin.
- Immodest dress does not permit a man to lust after women.
- Men are easily aroused by visual stimuli.
- As Christians, we should help each other grow in our faith.
Let’s begin with the first point. No biblically based argument for modesty will put the burden of responsibility on women. Sexual sin is a choice, for which each participant is equally accountable. The Bible makes it clear that we should seek to imitate Christ daily by refusing to gratify our fleshly desires (Romans 13:14). Consequently, men are responsible for their choices to engage in sexual sin, even if seduced by the Delilahs and Jezebels of the world.
While provocative dress does not permit men to lust, it certainly encourages it due to the simple biological fact in the point #3. There is plenty of scientific evidence that proves that point. And let’s be honest here: the designers behind immodest clothing acknowledge this fact when making clothes intentionally designed to titillate their senses with sneak-peaks to the most desirable parts of women’s bodies.
Christian women could remain willfully ignorant of the effects our clothing has on other people, or we could show our love for our brothers by refusing to present our bodies as stumbling blocks. As a Christian who has struggled with lust, I’m aware of the spiritual warfare many of my brothers (and sisters!) face in a sexually degraded society. I know that sometimes it just takes one visual trigger for the mind to devolve into a decrepit state of lust. I don’t want to be someone else’s trigger. So, like most Christian women I know, I choose to help my brothers by avoiding the kinds of clothes that tempt them.
2) It’s impossible to set a standard for modesty. Modesty depends on depends on cultural context and societal norms.
I think this misconception is a consequence of taking God out of the conversation. We have become so concerned with the gender politics surrounding modesty, we’ve stopped considering the most important question: How can we behave or dress in a way that will glorify God (as we are called to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31)? Yes, society’s standards for modesty often change. However, we can learn from scripture that God has a standard for modest dress that is timeless and defies humans ever-changing tastes.
And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21, ESV)
You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him. (Exodus 28:42-43, ESV)
A little context for these passages: the excerpt from Genesis occurs after Adam and Eve realize they are naked and attempt to cover themselves in vain. God then provides clothing for them to fully cover their nakedness. My understanding of this passage is that the clothes God made for them were tunic-like pieces that covered all regions from the shoulders to the knees. This is probably a VERY accurate visual representation of said tunics (the Farrah Fawcet cut on Eve lends to the historical accuracy of this portrait):
The verses from Exodus are excerpts from the instructions God gave to Moses for the conduct of priests in the Holy Temple. These excerpts, as totally random as they may seem, provide good examples of what God considers holy and unholy. Naked flesh exposed between the hips and the thighs = unholy; the covering of the body from shoulders to knees = holy. Herein lies God’s surprisingly simple standard for modest clothing. It’s so simple, it can even stand the test of time…and fashion trends.
(Bonus misconception: The rules for modesty only apply to women.
God’s standards for modest apparel were never intended to be for women alone. In fact, both of the scriptures I used above directly involved men. Our God is an equitable God, indeed.)
3) A push for modesty ultimately leads to the shaming of the female body
No biblically based argument for modesty will assert that the female body needs to be covered because it is shamefully seductive and alluring — that would be an utter contradiction because everything God creates is good. The female body is a beautiful creation expertly crafted by God in his holy likeness. Thus, the female body in and of itself isn’t sinful. Now, there are examples of women in the Bible who used their natural charm and beauty in dangerous and shameful ways to pursue the lusts of their hearts (Jezebel, Delilah and Potiphar’s wife come to mind). The Bible does warn against such sins. Instead of merely discouraging us from developing our fleeting physical beauty for evil means, the Bible encourages us to develop our spiritual assets — such as meekness, faithfulness, and kindness — since such qualities are everlasting and precious to God. Modesty, as represented in the Bible, is about diminishing our selfish pride and vanity so that we can focus on serving God. As a bonus: In living modestly as God intended, we can also develop a true sense of self respect along the way.
The purpose of modesty isn’t to enforce patriarchal oppression or hide the shameful female body. The purpose of modesty, when stripped of all the nonsense, is to express love — love for God, love for ourselves, and love for our brothers and sisters.