Modest or Prude? Redeeming our Wardrobes

November 16, 2015

I hate turtle necks. I always have. I feel like I’m choking when I wear a turtle neck. I can even get that constricted feeling in a crew neck. I realize this is irrational, but I much prefer a V-neck or collared shirt (with the top button loose of course). God definitely knew what he was doing making me a female since a necktie might push me over the edge.

So why this talk about collars? I’ve noticed more frequent posts on social media regarding dress codes and body shaming which got me to think about what should guide wardrobe choices both personally and for our children. I guess that explains the turtle-neck opening, I want you to know that I’m not a prude. Really, I’m not, even if I have been thinking a lot more about modesty lately.

A word of warning is necessary at this point. I have more questions than I have answers, but one thing I know is that our bodies are beautiful. Being made in God’s image ensures it (Gen. 1:27). And if that’s not enough, God straight-up says in the creation account that everything he made was “very good.” Did you hear that? Not just “good,” but “very good.”

Unfortunately the fall into sin tainted everything including our body image, interactions between genders, and our perspective. We live in a sex-saturated society which bombards us with images and innuendos at every turn. So how does a Christian respond in the year 2015? Maybe I should wear a turtle neck every day? Or invest in a wetsuit for my next day at the beach? Those choices certainly are modest, but also seem a bit reactionary….and uncomfortable.

Another reaction might be to focus on God’s words of “very good” and celebrate the beauty of our bodies. Recently, more women have embraced the beauty of their bodies by posting selfies on social media of themselves clad in bikinis or underwear. While I question why the term “underwear” doesn’t imply that it’s “under” something, I wonder if there is something both healthy and unhealthy in this trend.

Many of these scanty selfies are an act of defiance against fat shaming or ageism. Fat shaming refers to the subtle, and not so subtle, prejudices shown towards individuals above optimal weight levels. I like the confidence and the bravery shown by these individuals choosing not to live in fear of what others think. No one should be demeaned because of their physical attributes. That being said, I wonder if a photographic statement is the best way to celebrate the “goodness” of our bodies? On a similar note, what role does modesty plays in this? Our bodies are beautiful, yet God also created unpresentable parts that should be treated with greater modesty (I Cor. 12:23). How does modesty play out in this setting?

Another trend that I’ve noticed is equating school dress codes with body shaming. I’ll admit that dress code is a sensitive spot for me as an educator. Hands down nothing is more unpleasant to deal with than dress code; however, as a junior high and high school teacher I’ve also seen how students’ eyes can wander when a classmate of the opposite gender passes by. I agree that each individual should work to control his or her eyes; however, as part of a community, and fully aware of the temptations that exist, should we also take care in dressing ourselves in ways that don’t encourage others eyes to wander? Now this too can be taken to an extreme as there’s no doubt that incidents have occurred where the onus for wandering eyes was placed on females, yet I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far? Is modesty also a recognition of the beauty of our bodies? In this line of thinking, we practice modesty because our bodies are beautiful and special.

As promised, I’ve raised more questions than I’ve answered. Yet I hope I’ve spurred you to a “good think” about how modesty and the beauty of our bodies can coincide. I guess my overarching question is how can we as Christians inhabiting beautifully created bodies in a fallen world redeem our clothing choices? Today that meant a boat-necked striped shirt and capris for me, how about you?

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  1. I would say you cannot succeed by “redeeming clothing choices” if that really means policing others’ choices. Simplistic rules avoid the real challenge of freedom and grace. We should aspire to create a culture that appreciates beauty and sexuality without necessarily seeing them as conjoined, especially in women, and without seeing them surrounded by fear and vice.

    Other questions:

    If people really don’t care what others think, why do they use social media to post selfies?

    Does anyone ever suggest school dress codes body shame boys? If dress codes are not about body shaming can they justify an emphasis on female dress or suggest it’s women who are the primary cause of (and thus responsible for) a serious problem for others?

    Should we be more concerned about comfort and health in dress choices? Women’s shoes, tight scarves and men’s ties are all known causes of major physical ailments over time. High heels in particular are designed to show off certain leg muscles by putting them in a continual stress position and at high cost to the toes and rest of the foot.

  2. I was hoping for a bit more in this article, although I realize your purpose was to raise questions and ignite conversation. When are we, as Christian women, going to stand against cultural trends? Why have we allowed it to become acceptable for a women to display large portions of her breasts for all the world to see? (Unless she is a nursing mother) this seems we not making steps to reform but are letting the world change us. The trending fashion of the low cut tops is not a celebration of beauty but an assault on the idea of what makes a women valuable, worth noticing and beautiful. I have three daughters and we often talk about modesty and saving certain parts of us just for our husbands. Does not the Bible also tell us that when a man looks at a women lustfully he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Let’s not place all the blame on the men when women are dressing in a way that draws attention to parts that men are already most interested in noticing. I am very sensitive to this issue for several reasons. Having all daughters is probably the most important reason I am an advocate for modesty but also my husband works in an environment with many women and he too has expressed his “uncomfortableness” with the trend in women’t fashion. This was not an issue for him when he began his career (same profession) close to 20 years ago. Call me a prude if you wish but I consider myself an advocate for modesty and purity.