What’s the deal with Modesty?
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that women are wearing less clothing than ever in our Western society. Is this good or bad? Is it freeing women and improving society? Or is it having the opposite effect?
First off, what is modesty? It has become a “buzz” word today in our culture. “Modesty” has become synonymous with oppression, unattractiveness, judging, Legalism, and a host of other unpleasant words and ideas. But what does modesty really mean? Here are a couple definitions.
- the quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.
- regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
Just looking at those definitions, they look really good! Who wouldn’t say that a person should be free from vanity and boastfulness, and that a person should act decently in behavior, speech, and dress? No one would refute that those are good qualities to have, right? So then why are so many men and women advocating immodest dress?
Could it be that there is some benefit to wearing immodest clothing that we are not seeing? Or are there problems with modesty that go beyond the definition? What’s wrong with modesty? Here are few common objections I’ve heard.
Dress in whatever we “feel comfy” in?
One thing I hear often is that dressing modestly isn’t comfortable. For example, one girl (girl A) has told me, “I’ve always hated skirts and dresses as a child, because being forced into them so often, and I feel bad for girls that dress like Muslims because of it – though, I have met girls that prefer it. It depends on your mind set – wear what you feel comfy in!”
I don’t know what gave her the impression that a girl has to dress like a Muslim to be modest, but does she have a point? Should comfort be the number one factor in what we wear?
That’s a very relative statement. What’s comfortable for one person may not be for another. What if someone feels most comfortable going naked? Should they because it’s comfortable? I think almost everyone would agree absolutely not. Why? Because it’s not respectful to others.
I very much dislike waiting in long lines. It’s very uncomfortable. Should I just start cutting to the front of lines from now on? No, because that’s not respectful to all the other people waiting in line. I have to sacrifice my comfort to respect others. Can you imagine if everyone just ran around looking out for their own comfort, disregarding others? A frightening thought, don’t you think?
So if our comfort will slight other people, then we should forgo it in consideration of others. But is dressing modestly so uncomfortable? Are wearing jeans that are less than skin-tight really that unpleasant? Are shorts longer than underwear really that unbearable? And what’s so uncomfortable about skirts? I’ve never worn one, so I can’t say, however, my two younger sisters say skirts are much more comfortable than pants. I have a guy friend who won’t even wear jeans because he says they’re uncomfortable. So I don’t think anyone can say skin-tight jeans are more comfortable than skirts. Now, I know a girl who has said that she only wears cleavage exposing shirts because anything higher is uncomfortable. *blink* Really? I almost exclusively wear crew neck shirts, and they are not uncomfortable at all. I think V-necks are actually less-comfortable. But I’m not a girl, so what do I know?
There are many ways to dress modestly. Comfort shouldn’t be an issue.
Immodesty is unnoticeable?
Another girl (girl B) has said this about Modesty, “I don’t consider myself immodest, but I think some [people] would. And, frankly, I don’t care what [other people] think in this regard because I dress in ONLY what I would feel comfortable wearing in front of a good guy friend. In a way…I think people (sometimes) overestimate the impact of immodesty vs. modesty. Because immodesty is normal. It’s what society is USED to, so much so that it almost becomes unnoticeable.”
Here, the focus is again on the self. It’s on us. What we feel. However, we’re supposed to be considerate of others in everything that we do. God freed us from our selfishness–why? So we could go right back to being selfish? No! He didn’t free us so we could go back to being slaves. He freed us so that we would have the strength to serve others. Before, we were enslaved by our selfishness. We couldn’t help but be selfish. Now that we are free, why should we go back?
If my expression of liberty causes someone else to stumble, I give up my privilege to take that liberty. If my freedom causes me to infringe on another person’s freedom, I don’t have that right. We are not free to do evil. God has freed us to do good, not to do evil. We are to leverage liberty lovingly. That means we shouldn’t just steamroll through other people. We can’t just say, “I don’t care what you think! This is what I want!” As Christians, we need to be respectful and considerate of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Also, girl B’s claim that the impact of immodesty vs. modesty is overblown, and that it is unnoticeable because it is normal does not hold water. Immodesty is VERY noticeable. If it wasn’t, then why are scantily clad woman so often used in the commercial world to sell products? BECAUSE IT WORKS! Businesses want to sell their product or service. They would stop using immodesty to market themselves if it had become unnoticeable and wasn’t working. (More on this in Part 2)
So, we’ve established that wearing immodest clothes because they are more comfortable isn’t a good reason. Wearing just what pleases us has also proven to be a bad reason. However, there has to be some real problems with modesty, right? I mean, Modesty is bad. If it wasn’t bad, then why are so many people against it?
Dressing modestly = fashion disaster?
Well, one girl (girl C) brought up this issue, “I think dressing modestly is a good thing, but some people take it too far and it’s a living hell to be the home-schooled fashion disaster, so would I push some limits? Probably. But I do believe in saving yourself for your husband, but I’d prefer to at least look decent while doing it. My wardrobe is jeans and graphic t’s – I have a lazy and neutral fashion style and don’t care because it’s my choice.”
Okay, she has a couple arguments here, the main one being that dressing modestly is ugly, a “fashion disaster.” Her other argument is that we have a right to choose what we wear. Let’s start with analyzing the former argument against modesty.
Is dressing modest ugly? And what about fashion? Is it good to be fashionable? Fashion is different from beauty. Beauty is a good thing. Beauty is of the kingdom of heaven. But fashion is not. Fashion is like the wind: it blows one way, and then the other. Fashion is just what is “in.” It doesn’t have to look good or be objectively beautiful, it just has to be popular. Christians shouldn’t strive to be fashionable, but objectively beautiful while maintaining Modesty. Now, that doesn’t mean fashion and beauty can’t overlap, but being fashionable just to be fashionable is not a good idea.
How about girl C’s second argument? Do we have a right to choose what we wear? Is it our choice? Do we have a right to “express ourselves” as we see fit? Yes and no.
Like I said above, God has freed us. He has freed us to do what? To do good! Not evil! So we are free to do whatever we want, wear whatever we want, so long as it’s good. God WANTS to be able to let us do whatever we WANT. The problem is, what we want is often bad. Our will has to be transformed to His will before we can just do whatever we want. Well what does this mean for modesty?
Our bodies are not our own. First of all, they belong to God. He bought us with a price which was the blood of Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Second of all, our bodies belong to our future spouses. They are to be gifts to them.
So is it, “Our bodies. Our choice?” Now that sounds like an argument right from the mouth of an abortionist. We do NOT have the choice to wear what we want if what we want to wear is sinful. Our bodies are sacred. They are temples. By dressing immodestly we profane God’s temple and give away the gift of our bodies to people that are not our spouses.
Modest dress is oppressive?
Yet modesty has other problems, right? Girl D says, “If you live in the US, you have the freedom to express your religion. If that means that you wear a scarf on your head (that to me signifies oppression) then do it.”
Now, I don’t believe you have to wear a scarf on your head to be modest, but many people believe that men telling woman what to wear is oppressive. This is ridiculous. That’s like if a girl was about to walk off the edge of a cliff, and I told her to stop and she accused me of oppressing her.
“No!” she yells. “It’s my right! I can do what I want and express myself how I want, and no one can tell me what to do!” So…she walks off.
Now, some of you are probably saying, “That’s different! Walking off a cliff isn’t the same as being ‘immodest!’”
I beg to differ. It’s a cliff whether you realize it or not. (More on this in Part 2).
But hey, I’m flexible. Let’s entertain the notion that telling a girl what to wear is oppressive. If this is true, then we would have to say that all of popular culture is oppressing women! That’s right. Turn on the television, open a magazine, surf the internet…what do you see? The culture telling women and girls how to dress. Hollywood says, “if you don’t look like these movie stars, you have no value.” Magazines say, “If you don’t wear this outfit, you aren’t beautiful.” And the internet says, “If you don’t look and act like these woman, no one will like you.” The culture has been telling women how to look and act for a very, very long time. The culture has been pushing, tempting, and encouraging girls to walk closer to the cliff for decades, and millions of girls have bought in, and they’ve been throwing themselves off the edge in droves. Mass suicide at the urging of popular culture. Sort of makes pop culture sound like a cult doesn’t it?
So by the line of reasoning that men are oppressing women by telling them what to wear…then that must mean the culture is murdering them.
Comfort is not a good reason to be immodest because elevating our comfort over the liberty of others is wrong, and modest clothes are comfortable anyway. And if they aren’t comfortable, maybe you just need to get used to it. Wearing just what pleases us is selfish, and therefore a no-go. That doesn’t mean we can’t like what we wear. On the contrary, we should like what we wear, but what we like to wear shouldn’t slight other people and God. Modest clothing can be very attractive, and therefore, the argument that modest dress is ugly doesn’t hold, and being a “fashion disaster” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our bodies are not our own, so we can’t just choose whatever we want to wear. Also, being told to be Modest isn’t any more oppressive than being told to be humble, or to take out the trash (okay, I take that back. Being told to take out the trash is pretty oppressive). Just because someone tells you to do something, doesn’t make it oppressive by default.
Right now, I’m not seeing any good reasons not to be Modest. It seems like there is nothing wrong with Modesty. But are there good reasons to be Modest? (Other than dogmatically following what “oppressive” people say?) Well, let’s look at Modesty from the male perspective next.
(Part 2: Modesty: What Guys’ Think)