1 Timothy 2:9-10 “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”
In this post, I want to analyze a final topic of the purity culture within the Christian community now focusing on the new modesty movement. The modesty movement is a new phenomenon that started during the new millennium where women and girls combat the hyper-sexualized society in provocative fashion by dressing more modestly yet stylish.
It all began when an Orthodox Jewish author and speaker Wendy Shalit published a book in 1999 at the age of 23 called “A Return To Modesty: Discovering The Lost Virtue”. In this book, she encourages sexual modesty where women save their sex until marriage, something that considered no longer relevant in the post-sexual liberation society where random hookups and friends-with-benefits has become more the norm. Then in 2007, she published a sequel “Girls Gone Mild” where she encourages women and girls to take a stand against the sexualization females in the fashion industry by embracing a more modest fashion stance. In 2005, she founded an online community for women called “Modesty Zone” and is the blogger for the blog “Modesty Yours”. Since then the modesty movement emerged, as dressing less revealing and provocative started becoming more desirable for young women and girls alike.
This movement became quite prevalent in the Christian community. Brenda Sharman, a Catholic former and beauty pageant became the founder and national spokesperson for the Pure Fashion Show in 2005. This a faith-based international program that targets teenage girls who learn that they can retain their dignity, by dressing modest and still stylish, as well as value their inner beauty, through fashion shows, modeling training, etiquette courses etc. This program had since become successful and performs in several states in the
Other programs similar include Secret Keeper Girl. There are also several modest fashion websites and modest clothing magazines, modest clothing lines being sold at stores, self-help books by Christian authors. Even other religious and non-religious groups are also contributing to the Modesty movement that caters to Jewish, Muslim and secular women. U.S.
The fact remains is more women and young girls are starting to realize they don’t need look sexy or dress provocative in order to be stylish or look attractive. Dressing less revealing is now seen as classy, attractive and more appealing to both men and women alike. More men are becoming attracted to females who cover up rather than those who need to where skimpy clothing in order to look attractive. In this way the modesty movement has helped both genders as it has helped boost self-confidence and self-worth in women and girls against the society that is everyday sexualizing them with sometimes unrealistic or demeaning body image in society. I do believe the modesty movement is has been a positive thing new generation in decades.
However, just like all new phenomenons that start off as positive and well-meaning, there can be some downsides when it becomes taken too extreme that can hinder than help. One downside seems to be the shaming of females’ bodies similar to the slut-shaming. The attitude is that it’s the female’s responsibility to cover up in order to keep males from lusting after her or having any impure thoughts at all. Christian writer Sharon Hodde Miller clarified this type of shaming in her article in which she states that it treats women’s bodies as a temptation and a distraction that needs to be hidden or else it causes males in Christ to stumble. Another Christian writer Elrena Evans shared the same view in her article. They both are concerned that in shaming female bodies, that the modesty movement is objectifying women and girls just in a different way than the sexualized society does by reducing females to sex objects.
This type of shaming resorts to policing women and girls’ wardrobes based on rigid standards among the ultra conservative Christian community. Rules from no tank tops, spaghetti straps, strapless outfits, skirts above the fingertips, shorts, bikinis, etc are often imposed of women and girls in what is modest and what wasn’t. The problem is various communities and individuals have different ideas on modesty which can make it quite difficult for some to apprehend what is appropriate and what isn’t What is considered modest some folks may not be considered modest for others. Another factor is the idea that both women and girls are installed the idea that it’s on them to honor respect men depending on how they dress as to not be tempting the male’s lust. I have found a few examples of this ideal on the internet. One forum I found a few years back that I can’t remember when a Christian mother admitted how she told her nine- year old daughter she couldn’t have a certain bathing suit in order show respect to men.
I found it quite disturbing that nine-year little girl is taught that she has respect men based on how she dresses as if a grown male may have impure thoughts about her. Such a male would be considered a pedophile plain and simple. I recall Christian author and speaker Shaunti Feldhahn wrote book in which she describes how teenage boys when looking at girls in bikinis are tempted to have lustful thoughts and picture the girls naked. These guys tend to believe the girls are purposely trying to get attention when dressed in bikinis or short skirts or shorts and wish girl would cover up more in order to make it easier on them. Shaunti Feldhhan herself seems to confirm this theories even if the girl isn’t intentionally trying to get the guys attention, girls still need to be aware of tempting they can be to the boys on how they dress that could lead to direction they don’t want.
The most disturbing thing I read on the very conservative blogs it that some women may at least in part bring it on themselves when they get sexually assaulted or raped based on their attire, behavior and conduct. These mentalities are quite bothersome indeed for various reasons. They can be quite chauvinistic and patriarchal dating back to when Eve tempted Adam with the fruit declaring women as seductive and tempting creatures. After all, there isn’t a whole lot a views on male modesty to protect female lust. Although some do occasionally bring up legalistic views on modesty of men and boys such as no going topless even at beaches or swimming pools dressed only in swimming trunks. My point is that despite these myths, the fact remains that female bodies are not source of shame that need to be hidden away to block male temptation.
Our bodies also bare the image of God. Of course both males and females should be conscious on how they dress and not be dress to revealing but not for the reasons that is usually taught. For women and girls they should dress more modesty not out of respect for the males but out respect for themselves as way of honoring their bodies as God’s temple. (John 2:21, 1Corinthians 6:19). In this way, both women and girls use their bodies to glorify god not unhealthy self-gratification. They do this be not cheapening their bodies in order to lure and attract lust or as an object for male self-gratification. This doesn’t mean women can’t still try to look pretty, stylish and beautiful but have reasonable standards and boundaries on what is appropriate. As for men, their responsible for having self-control and restrain, but they should also understand having physical attraction to the female body and even some desires are not itself sinful, but how they handle these feelings and not allow them to a point to objectify females as mere sex objects, desire cheap self-gratification built on lust.
Men and boys also have the responsibility to dress more modesty, not for the women’s sake but for their own self worth as image bearers of God. Their bodies are equally not to an objects for unhealthy lustful desires for female self-gratification. As for the modesty movement, I don’t wish to see it end as it can impacts millions of women and girls on a positive light, but it can use some improvement and revamping by letting go of the negative ideals of female’s bodies as a source of shame and stop focusing too much on their long lists of rigid rules of what not to wear.
Instead, it should focus on female bodies beautiful images of God and with that their bodies are God’s temples that should be respected and valued rather than be cheapened or tarnished. How we dress will certainly play a role on how our bodies are valued with decency and self-respect