I’m the mom of three teenagers, two of whom are daughters. Sadly, we’ve been having the same discussion about modesty and what clothing is, or is not, appropriate since they were about eight. But I finally realized that we’ve been having the wrong conversation.
There’s been much debate over school dress codes, and how clothes are made differently for boys and girls over the last few years. There’s been outcry over girls feeling body shamed, called out in front of peers for a peeping bra strap or wearing leggings, receiving detention, being sent home, or even suspended. There’ve also been parents rising up to call out the clothing manufacturers for the grown-up silhouettes being produced for young girls, and explain to school administrators how difficult it can be to find shorts and skirts that meet dress code lengths.
I’ll admit I’ve been relieved that my kids attend a conservative Christian school with a very clear-cut dress code, making clothing debates in the morning a bit easier by being able to say “that’s against the school dress code”. Sadly, though, I realized the message my girls have gotten from teachers, peers, and even me about the “why” behind the dress code has been inconsistent, at best. A recent conversation with my teen daughter and a friend brought to light their growing frustration over feeling like the sole purpose of the dress code was to make sure their male peers were not tempted by their bodies.
As a mom, I felt sad and a bit convicted that I had not done a better job of explaining the purpose behind modesty. It’s a topic that is not always easy to explain, but hearing these girls honestly share their understanding (or lack thereof) based on things they had heard or read, I finally understood what had been lacking in my explanations, and what, in general, is lacking from the conversation as a whole. Modesty is not about hiding our bodies or our femininity, it is about protecting and cherishing what is sacred.
What I mean by this is our innate sexual nature. Too often I think as parents, as Christians — as humans — we’re afraid to talk frankly about sex and sexuality. But the reality is we live in a world where women and girls are highly sexualized by the media and consumer landscape. This mass sexualization has not only desensitized us, but it has created an incredible misunderstanding about the God-given gifts of sex and sexuality. And, unfortunately, as long as we are afraid to speak the truth, our sons and daughters will continue to get all of their information from society, their peers, and the media, instead of us.
Society tells them expressing sexuality is a sign of strength and confidence.
Society tells them likability and desirability is directly related to appearance.
Society tells them anyone who promotes modesty is wanting them to hide their true selves or is prudish and puritanical.
Society tells them modesty is an attempt to devalue and oppress women, and puts all of the blame on them for male lust.
We are hard pressed to dispute these things as long as our best argument is “too much skin is a distraction”.
But here is what I am now telling my daughters:
It is not your job to worry about another person’s sin. Your body was created in God’s image and is not something to be embarrassed by or thought of as a temptation to others.
Sex is a beautiful gift created by God, and with it comes sexuality and sensuality. These are not things to be afraid of or ashamed of. But that gift and the things that come with it, are intended to be shared with only one person—your spouse.
You are so much more than your appearance. You are strength and love. You are smart and talented. You are designed to do great things and your body is a vehicle for accomplishing many of them. But, the moment you start to worry more about how you look than how you act is the moment you begin to devalue yourself and all of your gifts.
Magazines are fake. Television is fake. They are trying to sell you something, and mostly that something is the message that you are not good enough as you are. That’s a load of bull. You do not need to look like, dress like, sound like, or act like those images you see. Stop trying for the perfect selfie, finding the right pose, the right angle, the right lighting. You are wasting so much time trying to achieve something that is not only fake, but unimportant.
I choose modesty not because I am trying to hide my sexuality, but because it is saved for my marriage and shared in love with my husband. I choose modesty not because it is my job to worry about my cleavage or collar bone tempting another man into sin, but because I worry about preventing my own sin and I know that vanity is one I struggle with. I choose modesty not because I want to look frumpy, hidden, or weak, but because I want to feel strong and capable so I can get to work on the important things God is calling me for, and taking the perfect selfie isn’t one of them.
Dear daughters, for all of these reasons I choose modesty, and I hope you will, too.