Friday, July 5, 2013

The Problem with Modesty

It being summer, and this being Florida, my e-mail and Facebook are blowing up with "shares" of articles about modesty.

I will confess: I have a rather conflicted relationship with this topic.

For most of my life, I naively thought that I could choose my clothing based on what suited my body type and what I thought was cute.

Then I started dating my husband.

Most of our early disagreements were over my bathing suits.  He explained to me very patiently and logically that, regardless of MY rationale for choosing a particular suit, "cute" was not the adjective going through the minds of the Marines he ran around with when they saw me in my tiny little bathing suit.

I thought he was ridiculous.

I had freckles for crying out loud...freckles just SCREAM innocence, do they not?

Years later we moved to The South, became more regularly and actively involved in church, and eventually decided to homeschool.  Now, don't get overly stereotypical on me, but suffice it to say that we ran in fairly conservative circles.

One day a well-meaning acquaintance of mine casually informed me that she taught her son (who was five at the time) to look away from women in two-piece bathing suits because they were hussies.

Mind you, I had already been to the beach with this family--multiple times--sporting a two-piece.

That's me: The hussy mom.

(Okay, I feel I should give a disclaimer:  The actual delivery may not have been quite that harsh.  I'm a people-pleaser by nature and therefore a wee bit sensitive to criticism--but I do know the word hussy was used.)

So, being one who would rather have a root canal without pain medication than offend anyone, I jumped right on the modesty bandwagon.

Over time Scripture reinforced the importance of modesty, so please don't read from my comments that I do not find modesty important.  I do.

The problem I have is how messed up we get trying to APPLY the practice of modesty.

First of all, I think it has become a tool of the enemy to cause otherwise loving and godly people to become critical and judgmental of one another.  Whether or not it is appropriate to wear a two-piece bathing suit, the wearing of one does not automatically make a woman a hussy.  On the flip side, choosing to cover more rather than less does not make a woman uptight, holier-than-thou, or prissy.  Yet I've seen us so easily jump to both of these conclusions about one another!

In the blogs I've read recently there seem to be two "camps."

On the one hand, articles exhort young women to consider the visual nature of men and dress in a way that protects them from wrong thinking.   (It's all our responsibility.)

On the other hand are posts conceding that women should be modest "within reason" but that men need to suck it up and control themselves and their thought lives. (It's all their responsibility--look away!)

As a mother of both daughters and a son, I have issues with both camps.

In my experience, the biggest frustration when trying to teach young women about modesty is that if we focus solely on clothing, it's almost impossible to define in a way that people agree on.

I have been asked to teach girls in youth group the "rules" in place for dress, only to walk out of the room and see the adult leaders (wonderful, sincere women, by the way) breaking the rules I just outlined.

Ooops.  So, do we need to have a dress code for grown-ups now?

I had a sweet girl in my Sunday School class who wore short skirts and spike heels to church every week.  The skirts were so short that I could see her underwear even when she sat with her legs crossed demurely. It was a bit distracting to me, and I'm a woman! I confess to thinking, "I can't believe her parents are okay with this outfit!"  But her parents saw nothing wrong with how she dressed.

However, I later found out that they were a little scandalized by the fact that I let my daughters wear pants--jeans even (gasp!)--to church.

Do you see what I mean?  I'm not trying to argue that there isn't a right or wrong when it comes to attire, just that a fixation on rules can cause us to miss seeing the valuable young woman and heart beneath the clothes.

It's so easy for modesty to become an issue where rules trump grace--which is NOT a gospel-centered mindset.

(As a side note, the best set of guidelines I've seen for modest attire come from a camp my kids attend: 

1. If you have trouble getting into it, or out of it, it's probably not modest. 

2. If you have to be careful when you sit down or bend over, it is probably not modest.

3. If people look at any part of your body before looking at your face, it is probably not modest.

4. If you can see your most private parts or an outline of those parts under the fabric, it is probably not modest.

I love it.  So simple without being legalistic.)

Honestly, I am still working through this. I do have a few points I would make with conviction--and will elaborate on later, so stay tuned.

1.  Modesty IS important, but it's an attitude, not a dress code.

2.  Modesty is everyone's responsibility.

3. It's really not about you, (and it IS about you).


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