Saturday morning I was finally reunited with my roommate, Toria, after her 3-month journey studying abroad in Chile. As expected, we spent the weekend exchanging funny stories and catching each other up on what had happened in each of our lives over the course of the past 3 months. Most of our conversations were light hearted and filled with laughter, but at lunch on Sunday we began to enter a more serious discussion. We discussed different areas in our walks with Christ that we were each feeling challenged and different convictions we had experienced over the semester. Surprising to us both, we were being convicted in several of the same areas of our lives, which is where the topic for today’s post comes from. This post is something that has been on my mind for a few weeks now, but I’ve been avoiding writing it. I’ve avoided it because it highlights something I’ve recently felt convicted of. But our lunch discussion on Sunday, coupled with the fact that I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind, I decided it was time to write this post.
Modesty. What does it mean? What does it look like? Is it important? Who should set the standards? Are there set standards? For those of us who have grown up in church, we have heard countless sermons, lessons, and cabin devos about modesty. I would venture to say it is one of our least favorite topics. It’s one of those that usually gets an eye-roll from most of us when we hear the speaker mention it. And since it feels like we have beat this subject to death, eventually we start tuning out the second it’s mentioned. But over the course of this semester, it’s something that has been on my mind a lot.
If you’re wondering what sparked this conviction for me, you might be surprised by my answer. It wasn’t a sermon given by a compelling speaker. It wasn’t a heartfelt conversation with a mentor. It wasn’t even a trendy new blog post gone viral. It didn’t involve words at all. It was a simple Instagram post. Well, a series of posts really.
These pictures on Instagram were posted by various girls around my age. The girls in these posts were wearing rather short shorts and tops that did not provide much covering. In other words, the kind of outfit that makes you say, “How did she get out of the house in that?” And as I was seeing these posts, my heart was breaking. After overhearing a few too many college guys exchanging comments about similar pictures with each other, I knew the kind of comments these pictures would be getting from guys. And I knew these guys wouldn’t be talking about how great of a personality these girls had, or how smart they were, or how much fun they were to hang out with. And it broke my heart because I knew these girls. I knew how fun and outgoing they were and the sweet spirits they had. But because of the clothes they chose to wear, these guys weren’t interested in any of that. And that’s the moment I forced myself to turn this around on me and examine my life and my choices. And I found some things I didn’t want to find. Things I knew God was calling me to change.
As I was being brutally honest with myself, and examining the different clothing choices I had been making, I discovered two things about myself: I have a talent for justifying things and pushing boundaries. As I mentioned earlier, I have grown up having the idea of modesty drilled into me. This isn’t a new concept. But a mix of immaturity, ignorance, and selfishness caused me to completely miss what modesty really meant. For the most part, I followed the rules in my house about clothes, and I knew what was acceptable and what was not. But that was the problem. I figured out just how much I could get away with and then continued to push for just a little more. For all these years, modesty has just been another set of rules I was expected to follow.
Because it seemed to be nothing more than another set of rules, it became something that was dependent upon who I was around. For example, if I was going to church, I knew how long my skirt or dress needed to be, and I met those standards. But if I was hanging out with friends on the weekends, the standard changed. And when you have standards that are constantly changing, they become trivial, unimportant, and annoying. My attitude quickly became “I’m covering more than most girls my age, so this is modest.” And because of that, my conscience became progressively more dulled in this area, and I wore things I never should have worn.
When I realized just how skewed my view of modesty was, I decided it was time to examine what it really meant to be modest. And I found that it’s about more than just following rules, measuring hemlines, and doing “mirror tests.” It’s about examining your intentions, motivation, and attitude. Are you wearing that because you know it will get a male’s attention? Because it accentuates all of your best features? Or because it’s in style and “everyone else is doing it”? As someone who loves shopping and keeping up with fashion trends, that has been a tough one for me. It’s easy to go into a store and find a dress that you know is a little too short but buy it anyways because “everything is going to be a little too short when you’re tall.” And when all your friends are sporting the latest patterned shorts, it’s easy to justify getting them because “they’re SO cute!” But will those choices bring the wrong kind of attention? This is where my selfishness played a big part in a lot of the clothes I chose. It did nothing more than annoy me when my dad would say “You just don’t understand how your clothes affect guys.” I was always thinking, “well that’s really not my job to control their thoughts.” Shouldn’t my clothing choices be mine? Why should I sacrifice perfectly cute clothes because of what a guy might think? But now, I’m starting to understand more of what he was trying to get me to see. It’s not just about what someone might think, but what are you saying about yourself by the clothes you choose? What message are you sending? Are you portraying someone who understands her worth, or do you seem to be displaying what you have been given as if it’s common and of no special value? Whether you want to admit it or disagree with it, the clothes you choose to wear send a message. A powerful message. And the good thing is, you have complete control over what that message will be.
So what should the modesty standard be? I did a little investigation for myself and had some discussions with a few male peers that I know are actively seeking to serve God. I asked them what they considered modest, and I only found one common thread- asking “What is modest” warrants an answer full of fine lines and gray areas. So now what? For myself, I decided I would start asking myself two simple questions.
First, if I met the kind of man that I want to marry wearing this outfit, would he see me as the kind of woman he would want to marry? Because I believe the kind of man I want to spend my life with, is the kind of man that would be searching for a woman who respects herself and represents Christ. I dare say this kind of woman isn’t the one with shorts so short the pocket liners are visible below the hemline. It’s not the girl who is drawing attention through the cleavage she displays. Or the one unveiling her belly button piercing in a crop top.
And my second question is, is this an outfit that I would feel comfortable telling younger Christians to wear? Because if it’s not something I want my younger cousins or girls in the youth group to wear, then it’s not something that I should be wearing. I want to live a life worthy of imitation. I want to be able to makes claims like Paul did in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.”
This new journey is not something that will come easy. It’s not something that I will do perfectly. But it’s something that I am committing to.
If you’re reading this as a parent or mentor and you’re frustrated with girls not following the modesty “standards” you’ve tried to teach them, I ask that you will be patient with them, be gracious, and understand that this is a hard battle to fight for some girls. Sometimes, choosing modesty means standing out, forsaking the newest fashion trends, or giving up status or popularity. For a lot of girls, this is a hard task, because in today’s society, it’s a commitment that requires girls to stand alone in the midst of most crowds. So encourage them on this journey. And if you’re in a position of influence, instead of just pushing the typical standards and rules of measurement, take the time to show girls the reasons for modesty. Remind them of their worth, and make sure they understand the kind of respect they deserve and should be actively seeking. Don’t let them settle for attention from dogs. Show them how much more they have to offer than just their physical appearance. And help them understand how much value they are freely giving away when they choose to expose themselves. But most of all, guide them in a loving way, showing them you want so much more for them than what society is telling them to settle for, because when you approach the topic of modesty by solely giving girls a checklist to abide by, you do nothing more than give them more rules to rebel against.