Redefining the Modesty Talk

I often frequent RELEVANT magazine’s home page for fresh articles that contemplate real issues on the practical lifestyle of a Christ follower. It takes a microscope to the predominant protestant church culture and asks what it means to live out scripture in modern society.

One of the articles I was perusing is titled “Is Modest Really Hottest?” One time I said it jokingly in a group of Christian friends but a guy friend retorted, “Clearly…no.” I had brushed it off as a jocular response, but as I was reading this article I realized he probably wasn’t joking. And it seems that in the church’s “modesty talks” there needs to be a perspective shift. Some consequences for the one-sided modesty talk are found in the article: women afraid of physical intimacy, churches with a widespread legalism concerning attire, subjectifying women and girls based on their dress, etc…

The first time I went to a Christian summer camp, the girls and guys were separated and the girls received the recommended guidelines talk. For shirts, we want to lift our hands to “praise the Lord” without seeing your navel. For shorts, they should reach past or at the length of our fingertips when our arms are at our sides. They’re good and tangible checks but I think the modesty talks missed the heart of the issue (however, that is not to say that some girls just didn’t know that it tempts wandering eyes – that may be the case for some). But when we settle for that talk, the girls may cover up a bit more over the week of camp but they won’t know why it’s important. We miss the chance for a teaching lesson of the heart which they can carry through their lifetime.

I think the larger majority, I included, wanted or did push those guidelines for other reasons. It relates to the desire for attention, to be noticed and thought of as “hot” or “popular” or whatever derivative you want to choose. Maybe it’s because we know that it attracts guys’ attention and girls’ (for different reasons) that we want to try on that new outfit. So when we can talk about the heart issue, I think it does boil down to respect and an understanding of their beauty. Can they respect their own bodies, knowing that it’s a temple created for the Lord – not an object to be subjectified by others? Can you lay down your longing to be noticed by others for the truth that you are always noticed and loved by God? Can you let that truth that you are loved by Him be more than enough for you? So until we as girls and women learn to find our identity secure in Christ, the clothing guidelines serve to discipline our own intentions. 

By changing our angle of the modesty talk I think we can help girls and women to know that it’s not shameful to wear things outside of the guidelines but that the guidelines are meant to protect our hearts and those of guys. And I think it also teaches us as women to look at our intentions to display modesty and not merely  by the clothes that we wear. It also changes the tone so that other men and women don’t simply judge women based on their attire, but rather talk to their hearts. Maybe there is a need for healing to be met by God’s truth. Fashion and clothing will change depending on time and culture, but the heart of immodesty is almost always bound by the same things. 

Relevant thoughts before this summer since I’ll be a camp counselor at a Christian camp for 3rd to 9th graders – a season when all the hormones and feelings start.

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