How I Choose to Teach Modesty

Me in college wearing a frumpy sweater during our senior roommate photo shoot.

Me in college wearing a frumpy sweater during our senior roommate photo shoot.

I remember in high school, frequently walking down the stairs from my room nervous that I was about to be sent right back up. My parents were always more on the conservative side of the spectrum with most things – modesty being a big one.

Nearly all the arguments I ever got in with my parents were related to one of two things: my clothes or boys. Boys was a typical one among my friends, but clothes wasn’t.

I struggled to understand why my shorts length or my neckline was such a big deal when everyone else was wearing ten times worse. I felt as if I wasn’t allowed to wear anything fashionable. I even remember one time yelling at my parents after a discussion over a tight shirt, “Is no one supposed to see that I’m a girl!?”

In college, I could technically wear whatever I wanted. But all through college, I barely even thought about modesty (and I mostly wore frumpy sweaters, so we know I wasn’t slutty). The biggest issue I wrestled with was whether or not I’d choose to wear bikinis.

A Big Deal

Suddenly, nearly everywhere I look, people are having huge modesty debates. I read one blog that was seriously all about centering the modesty discussion around whether or not it’s appropriate to wear leggings as pants!

For the last year and a half, I’ve been married to a youth pastor. I figured modesty was a topic so beaten to death that I wouldn’t need to discuss it, if only for the reasoning, “they’ve heard it all before.”

Then I realized… when it comes to modesty, they haven’t heard it all before.

Most of our girls are in 7th-10th grade and were asking questions about “basic” modesty knowledge; I knew it was about time I get my modesty doctrine figured out.

My “Modesty Doctrine”

I read several viral blogs on the topic and read the comments from both sides – including guys and girls on both sides. I’ve finally come up with a teaching on modesty I can feel confident enough to stand by.

1. There are no absolutes when it comes to modesty. 

How many different sizes and shapes of women are there?

I could wear a top on my next-to-flat chest that my curvaceous friend would be considered a slut for wearing. Then there’s tops that hang way to low on me that would cover a form-filled girl perfectly.

Short shorts on short girls are nearly mid-thigh, whereas tall girls can barely cover their butts.

In certain African tribes, the men wear nothing more than a loin cloth and women are completely topless – breasts haven’t been sexualized there as they have been here. It’s a cultural issue.

The point is we can argue over what length of shorts to wear and call yoga pant-wearers slutty, but there’s no way to accurately say this is a pure way to dress across the board and this is not.

If anyone can honestly say they dress completely modestly, the orthodox Muslims would be the closest to it; and even then we could talk about how many guys find the “mystery” of being covered sexy.

2. Ladies, your first responsibility is not to other guys. 

I asked my girls in our high school group which statement they’ve heard more: (1) “We women are responsible to keep guys from temptation by the way we dress,” or (2) “Guys are responsible for their own purity, so I’ll wear whatever I want and they can look away.”

Granted, they’re two extremes, but catch this: One girl said they’ve heard #1 more and the other said #2 more. When I then asked which they believe more, they both picked the opposite of what they’ve heard. 

Neither one alone is completely right, and swinging to the opposite side of the issue isn’t a smart reaction either.

You see, I could wear something that covers what would make one guy lust, but Mr. “I-find-necks-sexy” will only be guarded by me if I only wear turtlenecks for the rest of my life.

On the flip side, If I say because I’m confident in myself and guys need to learn self-control so I’ll wear whatever I want, I’m actually saying I have no self-control, over-sexualizing my own female body, and giving into a culture of women degrading themselves for men.

The truth of the matter is, yes, the way I might choose to dress could tempt another guy. 

Yes, regardless of how I dress, the guy is responsible for what he does with what he sees. 

But the heart of it is this: What does God see?

God sees in a way that surpasses modesty. He sees the heart. The heart which we can hide from everyone – even ourselves – except Him.

Which brings me to part three:

3. Ask yourself 2 questions:

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 2.52.36 PMSince the standard of modesty varies culturally and with individual body types, I’ve come to believe that these 2 questions, answered honestly, can help us determine whether what you choose to wear is sinful (not immodest) or not.

1. What are my motives in wearing this?

I’ll be honest, in high school, I wanted to wear tight shirts because I was insecure my bust size was too small. My friends teased me about it, and I was your typical, vain teenage girl. But that proved my motives in wearing what I was was wrong.

It wasn’t that God cared I was wearing a tight shirt. It wasn’t even primarily about what guys would see. It was that what I wore came out of selfishness. Which, yes, could then lead to causing others to “stumble,” but that’s only the secondary issue.

2. Does this bring glory to God? Or to me?

Piggybacking off the first question, if what I’m wearing is to highlight my favorite sexy feature or make myself look good at the expense of caring what God thinks, then it’s all to bring attention to myself – not to God.

We were created to point back to God. If there’s anything in life we do where this is not the sole purpose and motivation, we’re not doing what we are created to do.

With this point, dressing immodestly isn’t so much about making others think impure thoughts as it is about girls’ either having impure motives or claiming naiveté.

But what about those girls who…?

So now you’re thinking (as I did when I was considering all of this), “Well what about those girls who say they’re glorifying God, but I know they’re not?

That’s between them and God.

If you’re who God’s entrusted them to, you teach them to glorify God and you teach them how that’s related to their bodies, their clothing, and their purity. It’s up to God to reveal how that applies specifically to their life. 

And believe me, teenage girls will stick with a decision much better if they’ve arrived at it themselves (and with God).

I’m thankful my parents laid a foundation that made me think about what it meant to be modest and why modesty was important. But without ultimately processing it for myself, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And these three steps help.

One thought on “How I Choose to Teach Modesty

  1. Nancy says:

    You are a brave young woman to tackle this hot topic of our day, that includes the church. Thank you for wading into the water Anna. This is a great post! I laughed at the turtle neck analogy. You are so right!

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