I Don’t Know What Modesty Is Anymore

It was packaged and presented to me as an introspective thing.

Modesty is not about the outside appearance; it is a matter of the heart.

I encountered this perspective of modesty four years ago and, immediately, I was a fan. I saw this as an opportunity of personal growth in my faith and as a human being, exploring womanhood with an inquisitive mind and an open heart in the context of an Infinite God who created me. But as modesty began to unravel itself before my eyes outside of this God-and-me relationship, it was something else entirely. In this context, my mind, heart, and all other faculties that speak to my human existence are absent.

Instead, I am an exhibition to be judged by the masses, serving as a litmus test for being a potential “stumbling block” to my male counterparts.  On my shoulders rest men’s potential to lust and the sex drives of all of the men that I will encounter during my lifetime. These men have their own perceptions of what is “alluring” as shaped by their upbringing, cultures, and biologies, all of which don’t look the same by virtue of their individual personalities. My body is now a minefield and I ought to be careful of what I wear lest the threads that encase my person set off what was meant to be dormant.

modesty

Here, male sexuality is seen as something that is uniform, neat, orderly, and easily understood, only being aroused by some exposed flesh. Here, men are weaklings and ravage beasts simultaneously, completely at the mercy of the clothing I wear since they have zero personal responsibility. After all, “men are visual and women are emotional.”

Here, everyone swears that there is a fine line of dress code that will work for everyone. Yet there are situations where a curvier girl or woman wears the same outfit as their less curvy counterparts and she is now a “stumbling block.” Yet the Bible has no guidelines for length or cut of any part of an article of clothing so I suppose wearing a potato sack is the way to go.

As reality would have it, I am not an exhibition. I am a person, a woman to be exact. And this might be surprising to some but most women have sex drives. And it would be nice if, in Christian circles, conversations regarding sexuality and attraction did not exclusively cater to men. It would be nice if the loudest conversation regarding female sexuality was not a woman’s ability to be a stumbling block.

As reality would have it, men are not inevitably savages. They are human beings fully responsible for their actions. Perhaps, it is the second look that really determines where the heart of a man lies but if a man does objectify a woman, that is his doing. To have a woman responsible for a man lusting after her sounds a lot like a woman being responsible for her own rape. I will not stand for either of them. Clearly, the conversation regarding male sexuality and their attraction needs to be reformed in the church.

As reality would have it, human sexuality is complicated. Saying “men are visual; women are emotional” and calling it a day over simplifies and overgeneralizes sexuality and attraction. It is also inaccurate. Visuality and emotionality are spectrums, not boxes. Neither are they mutually exclusive. Perhaps we should be more versed in human sexuality before we make blanket statements.

Attraction is not a bad thing. Finding someone alluring is not a bad thing. It’s what you do with it. At least I think it is. And I do realize that, as a Christian, how I dress is supposed to be God-honoring. As such, my refusal to wear certain things when it comes to modesty comes from a place of conviction, not shame and guilt as imposed by others. I also realize that modesty does not look the same for everyone who practices it as it is also shaped by our personal tastes in dress, body types, and the cultures we inhabit.

So what is modesty? Is it an introspective thing or is it the shaming of women in the church for wearing certain things and catering to not making the diverse men they will encounter stumble? The more that I think about it and the more I explore, I realize that…

What is modesty to you? Is it a concept that needs to be reformed/better understood? Or is it a concept that needs to be thrown out entirely?

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  • So well said, Mary! I became disillusioned with modesty very early on when I was a teen trying to meet the unmeetable standards of modesty to participate in the worship band. I received so many “loving” talks from the wife of the worship director. After trying and trying to figure out how to dress “modestly” I came to the conclusion that she really had a problem with my body. I’d look at myself and what her own daughter was wearing and couldn’t see a difference- I just had bigger boobs and more hips. I wasn’t an athletic build. Since that revelation I’ve had a tough time stomaching the sound of any adults making rules for young Christian girls that might cause them to think their own bodies were the problem.

  • I really enjoyed reading this! Would you explain a little more the difference between modestly dressing from the place of conviction versus from feeling shamed? I’m not very religious, so I’m trying to tread carefully here… but I’ve always thought that since God-honoring clothing requires that it not show a lot of skin, it says that to be respectable means to wear that type of clothing. Isn’t that kind of shaming indirectly? I really hope that I don’t come off as rude here!

  • That’s a great question, Sareeta! With shame, I feel bad. With conviction, I feel empowered. With shame, what stops me from wearing something is external. With conviction, it’s internal. Shame is harsh. Inner conviction isn’t. I can see how you may find them to be similar, but from my personal experience, it isn’t. I hope I have explained it well! You weren’t rude at all, actually. Thanks for asking! 🙂

  • OMG I totally relate to modesty coming in collision with being in the worship band, Karis! I was about 16 years old wearing a dress that many would consider modest. However, I couldn’t go up this particular day because one of the women said she could see the imprint of my bra through my dress so I had to sit out that day. Shoot, I didn’t even notice it! I felt so ashamed that day.

    I am so sorry you have dealt with being shamed simply because of your build. That double standard is awful. 🙁

  • You have, thank you, but I’m still a little confused. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that telling women they are not respectable if they reveal skin is not shaming, whether some women are okay with dressing that way or not.

    I understand that conviction is internal… you choose to wear modest clothing, rather than being shamed into it. But is it not an external cause? I’m not saying your belief is wrong, just… isn’t it still something from outside of you that has caused you to make your choice?

    Again, I hope I’m not offending!