Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why Modesty is a Thing of My Past

In a recent discussion, a friend was telling me about her family’s journey out of spiritual bondage. She explained, “I believe now, that we were driven by fear. The fear that we would injure or harm our children, that they wouldn't turn out alright. That’s how we ended up on the wrong path.”

Fear drives us. It grips us, blinds us, confuses us. But it feels rational in the moment. Fear bonds with good intentions in a muddy mix, becoming so convoluting that sometimes it takes us years to swim out. Then we look back and ask ourselves, “What happened?”

How could I think that? When did I become so arrogant? How come I never saw the truth?

Maybe I was never looking for it. Or maybe I was looking too hard.

A few years ago, I found myself placed in a position of leadership that one day required me to comfort a teary-eyed girl who had been hurt by standards of modesty in dress. Standards I openly endorsed.

That was when I started to wonder if my version of the truth wasn't the same as my God’s. If maybe, I’d been letting fear guide me down the wrong path, too.

I used to think modesty was really important. On some level, maybe I still do. But there’s been a shift in my perspective. An area of growth and grace, where I have seen my once-upon-a-time vision of truth begin to change in a deep way. A way that, I hope, conforms to the Spirit of God.

In following the Jesus I see in the Bible, modesty is becoming a thing of my past, with the hope of grace in my future. Here's why:

The Double Objectification of Women

As women, we constantly fight against Hollywood and conspirators, who have created us to be objects. Each day, each seemingly perfect Instagram post, and each derogatory comment leaves us in the same place: once again hoping to find our worth in a world that holds us to unattainable expectations.

A great portion of the modesty movement was originally dedicated to the “de-objectifying” of women.

Unfortunately, great motives do not always equal great results. As Jefferson Bethke put it: “The trouble, however, is that while modesty standards are set up to not make women’s bodies an object, it is in fact doing that very thing.

We find that in the measuring of skirt lengths, the setting of rules, and shaming of girls who wear low cut t-shirts, the only thing we’re accomplishing is objectifying women from the completely opposite angle. 

Instead of counteracting culture, we've merely succeeded in doubling the pressure. Teaching the same idea as the rest of the world, but sliding it under the guise of Christ’s love. This creates an environment of manipulation that's twice as toxic and twice as damaging. According to Hollywood and the modesty movement--- a girl is an object, and her body is the subject of those around her.

Equating Virtue and Modesty

Somewhere tangled up in our good intentions, we began on this thinking pattern that virtuous girls dress modestly. In fact, the appearance of a girl wearing modest clothing (even if we don’t know her personally) indicates her goodness, kindness, and godliness. Right? Or, so we've been taught to think.

In this article, a group of Christian men were polled about their thoughts on modesty. Many of them unashamedly admitted they believe a woman to be far more virtuous and godly--simply for the way they choose to dress. They even admit to viewing women with more respect the more they cover themselves.

When did Christians decide it was okay for men and boys to create a "respect-meter" to scale women on based on clothes? To base a quality so beautiful and valuable and pure as virtue on something so material as clothing defiles the quality and defeats the purpose. 

There are so many things Biblically wrong with this thinking. 

Biblical Evidence Contradicting the Modesty Movement

In James, 2:1-4, the Bible talks about how showing partiality based on appearance and dress is committing sin against God. Instead of teaching our boys to abhor and do away with this sin, we're doing the opposite. We're modeling it, telling them to harbor, entertain, worship, and in some ways, even celebrate this particular sin... in the name of Jesus Christ. 

This is a danger to our boys, to our girls, to our parents, to our faith, and to the unbelievers watching us. The level of respect a person decides to show to me should never be based on what I wear.

1 Timothy 2:9 is the verse most used to support the modesty movement-- but there's a lot of controversy surrounding it.

The word modestly here comes from the idea of “downcast eyes” and "respect for others." Some argue that this refers to revealing clothing, but if you look at the context of the verse, there seems to be a lot more to it.

One of the major principles in the early Church set by Christ and the apostles was the sharing of property, resources, and taking care of the poor. Some theologians have suggested that wealthier women were showing up to Church in silk linens and fine jewelry, and flaunting their possessions through their outfits. 1 Timothy 2:9 was written to address this issue--and even mentions gold jewelry with this context in mind. Essentially, it speaks to the same thing that James does: don't show partiality. Be equal in Christ with everyone around you. Don't seclude.

Could it be possible that in this man-made hyper-focus on clothing, we've actually created a society of women that is doing exactly what Paul wanted us to avoid?

In Conclusion

I chose modesty to be a thing of my past because I realized that I, too, had decided to use it as a respect-meter in myself and when viewing other women. I realized I was putting myself on a higher pedestal than other Christians for my modesty standards, and was less inclined to befriend girls who dressed differently than me. I knew this wasn't what Christ wanted.

I left modesty so I could simply pursue Jesus. I knew that He loves me and fills me with the Holy Spirit no matter what I wear--and He has proved this to me time and time again.

I see no biblical evidence for how we should dress--except for those abolished with the law--and in truly seeking the Lord, I have found that His heart is so much more in treating everyone as equals. Not excluding. Welcoming the well dressed, the poor, the healthy, the sick, the sinner and the holy all into the same circle. This is something I continue to learn and pursue. 

It's wrong to allow our desire for modesty to become so strong and so idolized. I hope that my actions and words show girls that there's more to them and more to their purity than what they wear. I hope that they see that God has a much greater, grander calling for them, and that He cares more about the state of their bodies. 


The Idolatry of Modesty, Jefferson Bethke


  1. Hm, this is an interesting argument. I sort of shudder at it all, because it's all about a woman's relationship to a man. You don't see a bunch of people shaking their fingers at guys with their shirts off when they're swimming at the pool. And at least from what I've seen of the argument there doesn't appear to be much call to protect men from being objectified from women. It seems rather like a double-standard to me, and the idea that "we are protecting our guys by protecting our girls" is a really antiquated notion. At least for me, I see it as a reactionary movement in response to a culture obsessed with sex, and handling it by being even MORE obsessed with sex—that is, basically trying to remove physical attraction from every situation except between people who are/will be married.

    Neither of those things really solve the problem, as I see it.

    Pretty much, this is what I know: If you are wearing a snowsuit and ski mask, you are still a person. If you are naked, you are still a person (whether it be in the bathtub or a strip club, it doesn't matter). God made people, God loves people, God told me to love people as he does, people are people regardless of what they wear or how they behave, therefore, I should show love in whatever way I can. It's not really about how you look at all.

    (Plus, this also strikes me as counterproductive. If you're trying to keep guys from thinking about boobs, and then you tell them not to think about boobs, what are they going to think about? Boobs. That's how the human brain works.)

    In a book I just finished, one of the characters had a line, to the effect of: "the problem with most people in church is that they try to be holier than Jesus." I honestly think this is another of those problems that makes me dislike being a Christian—we spend more time focusing on something that doesn't matter when there are more important things that do matter, like, I dunno, sharing the word. Maybe that's just me.

    Anyway, I was interested by the thoughts and articles, Stephanie. Thanks for your insights, and giving me something to think about myself! (Also, sorry if the comment was super weird. Or offensive. Or just random. It happens. Sorry.)

    1. Not offensive, Heather. I liked it! Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. Amen! This is something that has been on my mind a lot recently, and I've been starting to see many anti-purity movement sorts of propaganda pop up more and more lately. Its really encouraging to see people finally standing up to this totally screwed up mindset. And what Heather said, I agree with, too. This double-standard has gone way too far. Men are not only not taught to protect women, they are told that they can pass off their responsibilities onto women. What we need are more brave women like you, Stephanie, and more discussions on this subject.
    - Phyllis Wheatley

  3. This is amazing. You've blown my mind once again, Stephanie

  4. This is very thoughtful and definitely agree with you. Loving people as Christ loved people should be our ultimate goal, not regulating the dress code.

    Great post! I saw your post linked in Heather's sidebar, so I wanted to come visit.

    1. Aw, thanks Sunny! So glad you came for a visit!

  5. My sister got it right! I'm proud of you Stephanie!

  6. "As a woman in this world, Hollywood and conspirators have created me to be an object. If I’m lucky enough to have a face that can be corrected with makeup, surgery, or photoshop, and have curves in all the right places, they might upgrade me to eye candy. "

    Welcome to modern culture. There is more beauty in the simple truth of a person's character and ethics that any makeup-manufacturer ever dreamed of putting in a bottle. You don't learn decency doing stair stepping in the gym, and being a good person doesn't depend on popularity or sex appeal. You so bright and talented. Its also worth remembering that its not the women doing the objectifying. Like it or not, we're still a male-dominated society, and not always in ways that value women as human beings.

  7. Woah! This was so deeply encouraging, Stephanie!!! It always seemed like there was something twisted in the thinking of idolizing modesty, and I loved how you broke it down into tiny pieces. I loved the interpretations of the verses, as well. You are so encouraging!!


    my views on modesty have changed SO much over the last several years in the same ways yours have. I dont think the same way about modesty and purity culture (dont even get me started on that one.) because I have seen how damaging it is to young people. (and even to myself, if Im completely honest.)

    thank you for sharing your thoughts on this controversial topic.