If you spend enough time in religiously-motivated-modesty circles, its not long before you start to come across one recurring reason for wearing loose tops and maxi skirts.
Women need to cover up to prevent men from having immodest thoughts about them.
So, let me get this right… When I wear a vest top or a skirt that finishes above my knees, it is entirely my fault if men fantasise about me? Ummm, I don’t think so!
You see the beautiful photo of me and my friends. Would a mixed friendship group work if women’s clothing controlled what men thought? Probably not. Would some of the friends I trust be men? Probably not.
Why body shame women into modesty?
So if women are not responsible for men’s lust, why have generations been talked into modest dressing on these grounds? I suspect the portrayal of Eve and other women throughout myth, legend and history have a role to play. Consider Eve who for centuries has been described as a deceiver, who tricked Adam into eating the apple having been deceived herself. Or many females from Greek mythology who deceived and manipulated men through sexual desire. Or, bringing it closer to home, Morgan le Fay who tricked King Arthur into having sex with her.
So it would be fair to say that in the past women have not had the best time. And unfortunately even the Bible has not been immune from being used to back up this narrative. So today I’m going to take some of the verses used to back up this narrative and explore what they actually say about modesty.
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling; 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.
This passage of scripture is fairly iconic in regards to modesty. There is a tendency to place the emphasis on what women are told to wear (what does count as ‘respectable attire’?). It’s easy to see how this has become part of a “covering up everything” narrative in order to appear respectable.
But if we shift the focus to the last line, the reason for modesty completely changes. It becomes about our relationship with God. If we, as Christians, have a relationship with God then good works should flow out as part of us. Dressed in godliness! What impact will this have on those around us, whether they be female or male? Hopefully we will move their eyes from our wardrobes to God.
Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
So this passage from 1 Peter is a fairly similar one to 2 Timothy. So let’s shift our eyes to the bottom section and focus on placing modesty back in the right context. Once again, it is not about what we wear. It is all about who we are inside. Christians are encouraged to allow what is in their heart to dress them, revealing who they actually are.
Don’t worry. I’m not telling you to act like a little mouse or to not say anything above a whisper. If God gave you a spirit that is blunt, determined, honest and loud, then embrace it but in a way that is gentle to those around you. But be encouraged that you are blessed with a beautiful spirit, no matter how quiet or loud you are. Because of your beautiful spirit, you do not need to wear complicated braids or cover your body in gold jewellery. The beauty God has given you within your heart is enough to adorn your whole being. Thus shifting the focus once again from our wardrobes to our relationship with God.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.
The Bible is very clear that as sisters and brothers in Christ, we should not seek to make each other stumble. Yes, the whole passage these four verses come from are about eating food that may have been sacrificed to idols. But the concept of a stumbling block or hindrance can be applied to other areas of life, including our wardrobes. Admit it ladies. If you purposely wear a low cut top or extra skinny jeans to attract attention or appear attractive to men, you make yourself a stumbling block. Men do have the ability to control their thoughts and desires but we can make it harder or easier for them.
Hang on a moment. Wasn’t I just saying that modesty is not about men but about God? Yes, that is what I’m saying and even this passage, is about the impact your relationship with God has on your life, and therefore wardrobe. Paul is saying here that those who grieve their brother through what they eat (or wear in our case) is no longer walking in love. If love comes from God, who is love, then are those not walking in love walking with God? Or in our case, are we dressing in love? Ask yourself if your focus is your wardrobe’s attractiveness or walking with God.
You’re still telling me modesty is a part of Christianity!
Yes, I do believe modesty is a part of Christianity. It’s why I started blogging. I started out of a belief that the British High Street did not offer enough options for a girl looking to follow conventional modesty. However, I do not believe that modesty looks the same on every girl. It all comes down to your personal relationship with God. I have known girls who have been modest even when wearing shorts or crop tops because of where their heart is. When you belong to God, your relationship with Him will guide your choices. If that is down a conventionally modest path, then great. If that is down a path not remotely involved with fashion, then great. It’s you and God. Not you, God and everyone else’s opinions.
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
The reality is that, for all Christian women love to worry about clothes, Jesus told us not to worry. So if you are spending each morning stressing about whether you are going to accidentally show Bob your knees or that Bill won’t notice you without a plunge v-neck, don’t! Do not let your wardrobe become another needless worry. Instead, thank God you have clothes to wear. Celebrate in the creativity of an outfit. And enjoy walking with God, who won’t judge your outfit because He knows your heart.
The post Mindful Modesty || What the Bible Really Says first appeared in CounterCultural. CounterCouture.