What’s the Point of Modesty?

I was driving my 9 year-old daughter to gymnastics yesterday when she asked me a question.  It was one that most adult women don’t understand, and I was thankful to have the opportunity to work it with my daughter at such a young age. 

She wanted to know why I wouldn’t let her wear spaghetti strap tops any where but to gymnastics.

I didn’t tell her that “everybody’s doing it” is usually a good reason NOT to do something…narrow gate and all that…but all the same, I decided to level with her.

I explained to her that it was about respect.  Respect for the men and boys in her life and respect for herself.   She said, “I want to wear them!  You should let me.  I know lots of girls who wear them.”

“It’s so hot today, too, isn’t it?” I inquired.  “Bet you’d like covering up less so you wouldn’t be as warm, right?”

“Well, yeah, and some of the tops are so pretty – Kari has one that has lace on the top of it,” she replied.

Reflective listening time.  If I didn’t acknowledge her feelings and validate her, she’d dig her heels in and this teachable moment would be long gone.  “So you like how pretty they look on your friends?  And you don’t understand why I won’t let you wear them anywhere but to gymnastics?”

“Yep.  It’s not fair.”

“So you don’t think it’s fair that your friends get to wear these pretty tops and you don’t, right?”

“Yeah.”

Okay, so NOW she’ll be able to hear me, because she feels heard.

I said, “I used to wonder about that too – lots of Christian women I knew thought they were terrible, and I never really understood why until several years ago.  I’ll bet you don’t know this, but those tops are supposed to show a lot of skin – and they used to be worn just as underwear.  Now people wear them all the time.  I used to wear them too, and really short shorts.  Now that I understand about modesty, I don’t wear them any more.”

“What’s the point of modesty?” she asked. 

Wow.  I briefly wondered if I launch into a diatribe against the lies of the culture which trick us into believing there’s “power” in being scantily clad, or should I fuss about the lies of the extreme Christian culture that communicate to women chasteness is all about depriving themselves of any comfort and “suffering” on purpose with false joy which really is just another lame attempt to control and “earn” our way to heaven?   Should I talk about what I REALLY think modesty is – a heart issue – and how do I explain that to a 9 year old?  I’m clearly over my pay grade here… No.  Much too heavy for a 9 year-old.

So what then, IS the point of modesty?

I told her what great questions she was asking. And I talked about how she’s not responsible for the thoughts of another person, but that we need to be aware of what kind of attention we’re seeking, what kind of attention we’re getting, and choose to pursue interaction and communication that honors and respects US, and God simultaneously. “Shaunti Feldhahn did a study where she interviewed thousands of men, and thousands of teenage boys.  You know what she found out?  Most of them are thinking about what you look like naked when they can see a bunch of your skin.  Short shorts, low cut tops, spaghetti straps, tight shirts that don’t hide much make it hard for boys to concentrate on what you are saying or  doing, they just start thinking about what you look like, or even what it would be like to have sex with you.”

She was shocked.  “MOM! Seriously?!”

“I don’t remember the numbers, honey, but yes, the study showed that was primarily what was going on with them.  So the reason I don’t want you to wear things like that is because of respect.  I respect you and don’t want boys to think that way about you.  You know what God thinks about sex – it is precious to Him and only for marriage.  I want you to have respect for yourself, and respect for the boys you are around.  It’s not good to tempt someone else, even if you think they shouldn’t be tempted.  God made boys like that, and they have to work hard at not thinking like that about girls – you don’t want to make it harder for them.”

“How is it about respecting myself?” she asked.

Another great question.

“Simple.  When you are talking or playing with your friends, do you want their brothers thinking that way about you?  When you are around boys in class, do you want them wondering what you look like naked, or do you want them to listen to what you have to say?

“Duh, mom.  I don’t want ANY boy thinking that way about me.  Gross.”

“Something else, honey, is this: You are also the temple of the Holy Spirit – I want you to respect yourself and God enough to help others have the right perception of you.  And what you wear impacts that.”

“Oh.  Okay.”

I smiled and kept driving.

I decided to save the discussion about how she’d want her husband thinking that way about her for another time.  Hopefully much later…

For a moment, I regretted the years I spent wearing “pretty” clothes that were just plain seductive.  My cheeks flushed with a moment of embarrassment.  Then I remembered how He makes all things NEW.  And that old part of me has been cast away.  And my sin, even though I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time, is as far away as the east is from the west.

Dare you to daily allow Him to make you NEW.

And then, double-dog-dare you to ACCEPT His perfect forgiveness, and move forward as a new creation, forgiven.  Anything other than that is like sticking your arms out for the enemy to place shackles on you.  Move forward in freedom.  Did you say you were sorry?  Then you ARE forgiven!

Dare you to take action and “subscribe” or “share” or “comment” today!  🙂

Love to you, so glad to be on the journey with you…

~Nina

womens leadership

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

53 thoughts on “What’s the Point of Modesty?

  1. Though obviously it’s a good idea to have a serious conversation with your sons and daughters about what messages their fashion choices might be conveying to the greater world.

  2. There is NO amount of skin that is so small that boys won’t be thinking about sex. Remember all those “sexy glimpses of ankle” you read about in the 1860s literature? And this is the same argument used to justify the burka. That they’ll be unable to learn to control themselves- that whole “males just can’t help themselves”- seems disrespectful to men to me. Of course they can! If they couldn’t we’d have no civilization at all.

    I enjoyed reading your take on it as I’d just read an interesting blog entry by someone who converted recently to Mormanism and is finding her way around their modesty customs.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/07/09/perverting-modesty/

    • I totally agree that it’s disrespectful to think that all men can’t control themselves! Men have a ton of self control – and for us, it’s not about diminishing either gender, but rather, respect of self, and respect of the people we’re with. Different perspectives on it abound, tis true!

      • I am also a convert to Mormonism and I embrace the church’s standards of modest dress with gratitude.

        While I understand that I am not responsible for the carnal thoughts or behavior of the men in this world . . . I am also poignantly aware of reality. Not all men live in accordance with God’s law. In fact, God fearing men are in the minority. That is simply the truth of the matter.

        Not dressing modestly is as foolhardy as setting a lamb in a lion’s den.

        Before accepting and dressing in accordance to the LDS church standards for modesty, I dressed to look beautiful, to feel comfortable and to fit in while standing out. Regardless of the way I dressed, immorality was NOT my intention.

        Unfortunately, my intentions had absolutely no influence on the perception of men. I suffered the consequences. It wasn’t fair. It isn’t fair. But it is, sadly, a condition of this fallen world and of the carnal (unsaved) men that live here.

        Because I know that this world is a dangerous place teaming with dangerous personalities under the influence of the adversary, I choose modesty in dress to protect me while living here.

  3. Thank you for this article Nina! I tried very hard when my girls were little to teach them to be modest but now that they are grown, many of them are …well…not modest at all! It embarrasses me but they are adults so they dress how they wish. One thing that turned them off about modesty I think (or at least this is what they say) weird Christian women and girls dressing even weirder and being snotty about it. I dress modestly now that I am older, I certainly didn’t before I was saved. So I think the most important thing amongst Christian women is acceptance and prayer, the Lord will convict others of immodest dress in due time (as annoying as we think it is!:). We are not the Holy Spirit. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

    • It all goes to say that they have their own journey with the King, doesn’t it! 🙂 I love that you said He will convict – that IS the job of the HS, and when He does it, it always has an impact! Thank you!

  4. Just wanted to share a fantastic Website called divinemodestee.com it was developed by a model who was convicted by the clothes she was modeling and wanted instead to design clothing that was stylish but Modest, befitting what she believed. They have great bathing suits for women and young girls as well as lovely tops and dresses, camisoles that actually come up high enough to be a camisole and cap sleeve tops so that you can wear them without a jacket and without bra straps showing. I have gotten two bathing suits and a dress and get compliments on them all the time. I really love the site. I have two little boys and many “brothers” whom I wish to protect my modeling modesty.

  5. What a beautiful time spent with your daughter! And one you will cherish. My daughter is now almost 21 and we had this conversation/debate many times in her young life. She has grown into a Godly young woman who is quite modest and stylish at the same time. My seventeen year old son looks at a girl’s modesty even before making friends with them. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the cover tells a lot about the book. When you address the heart of the issue, you plant seeds that grow and become part of your child. That lasts a lifetime!

  6. I recently posted several articles about this too. Thanks for speaking out on this urgent topic. I have a 20 year old son so I thank you. We also have 2 20+ daughters and just had a dad come over to us in Wendy’s and say that he and his son were thankful for their modest dress. http://phyllis-sather.com/?p=1926

  7. I am a Christian, who is also a former professional dancer, and have a daughter who is a dancer. While I agree that we as women need to respect ourselves and dress accordingly (I’m petite- but i dont run around in short shorts and mini-dresses- just not my style and I dont like them..) I do not feel that every man who sees a woman in an immodest outfit is picturing her naked. maybe he feels bad for her, maybe he is picturing his daughter wearing that- and ready to ground her for life, maybe he is thinking she looks to old for her age. Maybe he is thinking she looks too old to be wearing something like that. it depends on the man and his level of control over himself.
    I danced for a long time- always in form fitting clothes and tights. and we moved in whatever way the teachers told us to. there is nothing sexual about ballet- and if you pick the right dance instructor- for other types of dances either. In dance you wear form fitting clothes because it molds to the body- which is the showpiece of the performance. you wouldnt throw a towel over a violin, why would you dance to Swan Lake in baggy sweats and a hoodie?

  8. Nina,

    Thank you for sharing your personal discussion with your daughter for others to read. As a christian guy I appreciate it when women are dressed modestly.

    • Catherine – thank you for being here, and for your kind words. So many times we Christians come across as legalistic, or judgmental and rule-based, and we’re not supposed to be – but there are considerations to be thought of for our behavior, and we don’t want to cause another believer to sin because of what we’ve done. 🙂 Your pic is adorable, btw. 🙂

  9. I didn’t read all the comments so don’t know if this was already discussed, but was just wondering why she is allowed to wear the spaghetti straps to gymnastics? Are there not boys around there too? I did think your explanation was great, but just wondered about the gymnastics.

  10. Thank you, ladies, for all of your insightful comments. We, too, were struggling with what to do with gymnastics as she grew older, and then her doctor solved that for us – no competition, no performances due to disorder she unfortunately suffers from. Just so you know, her class was all girls, as were the coaches, and so our situation was potentially a little unique. We’re still trying to find a sport she loves that doesn’t cause her pain or injuries, as we fully believe we are to take care of God’s temple of the Holy Spirit. Thank you again for joining the discussion!

  11. Such great wisdom! Thanks for sharing! I like that you made sure you knew she knew she was being heard. I need to remember that for many, many areas.

  12. I have a 12 yr old that wants to dress like her friends. I have explained modesty to her. Her gym clothes became an issue and we ended up with leggings under a skirt that flows. Her movements are not restricted and she is not being immodest. We tend to wear skirts and loose shirts due to respect of ourselves and others. But kids don’t understand about causing another to look upon them with lust. So your conversation was very awesome with your daughter. I may let my daughter read it later today. Thanks for not being ashamed of modesty, for most people don’t understand it.

  13. Thank you for being able to be so refreshingly honest about this touchy subject! It is appalling to me how many Christian women have no idea what they put their Christian brothers through with their “pretty” but immodest clothing. I pray that we can encourage our daughters and our sisters to consider the idea of respect–for God, for themselves, for their Christian brothers, and for the wives of their Christian brothers–when they are choosing their clothing. Wonderfully said!

  14. I’m not a Christian, but I am a feminist. I think there are exceptions such as sports that should allow for free movement and tightness (for the purpose of artistic lines as in ballroom dancing). I will give you Christians one thing, though: I see no point in exposing the stomach or thighs (higher than mid-thigh) if tight, light clothes are available.
    However, I don’t think ANY credit should go to “respecting men”. Sometimes, all you need is the right hair color to make their hormones go haywire. I am a mother of a son, but if I had a daughter I would teach her AND my son to dress in a way that respects THEM and not anyone else. They need to be true to themselves, abide by the law, and not worry about what anyone else thinks. One day, they won’t have the same, young body.
    They need to know limits. I wouldn’t dare go out in public in just a spaghetti strap. You know why? I’m a big girl. It is not flattering to my shape, therefore I don’t find that is an accurate respesentation of my self respect. This is what children need to know.
    I’m off my soap box now 😛

      • why yes it was rude, thanks for pointing that out so clearly.. Nikki, on the other hand said in words what i should have said in her comment below, instead of just being rude to another rude comment. Rudeness is dep rooted in me because of past atmosphere and is currently something God is working on, as well as “showing respect to others.” The comment “I don’t think ANY credit should go to “respecting men”. ” Put the the idea of someone who was mistreated, married maybe at one time and divorced, but we are all individuals, and everyone is different in lots of ways, which makes the actual “beauty” of the world. So to me saying no man deserves respect is just over the top and sent me over the edge inadvertently.

      • and PS, God is good, and fast to correct, i scrolled up and seen this immediately after my posting and saw this..
        What Makes You Defensive is Often a Lie…
        “Sometimes the only exercise we get is jumping to conclusions.”
        hahahahahahaha, God is good, all knowing , forever loving, and very gentle in his correction 🙂 <3

  15. It seems odd to allow immodest dress even for gymnastics. I wonder if her instructor is male, or if there are any males at all in the gym?

    I had this dilemma regarding leotards for ballet, and after discussing the issue with my husband we came to the conclusion that they would be okay for the all girl class, but not for stage performance.

    If you don’t think men aren’t lusting after girls in leotards just because it’s the uniform for whatever sport, think again.

    • I agree with you Katey. It doesn’t seem right to allow it just for gym. I took ballet for several years and finally had to quit at 12 years old because it was taking a toll on my feet. After I stopped taking ballet my mom said several times that she was starting to think even ballet was not something a Christian girl should be involved in. Not only is she dressing with little clothing (tight as well…) but she is constantly in positions that are not modest (ie, constantly hiking a leg to expose her crotch). Although I absolutely loved ballet and thought that if I ever had a daughter I wanted her to be in ballet, I must say I have to agree with my mom. There are other activities a young girl can be involved in that are modest with her body (perhaps even ball room dancing?).

      • Just so you know, ballroom dancing (tango, foxtrot, waltz, etc.) can be more immodest than ballet. When done correctly there is a lot of body contact in the private areas. Even when the outfits are modestly designed the contact is there. Oddly enough the Latin dances (cha cha, swing, rumba, etc.) usually have less contact. Ballet has the benefit of being without a partner at the lower levels. Most dance has a degree of immodest dress or behavior associated with it. Square dancing might be the best bet with a longer skirt.

    • My daughter was in ballet thru Kindergarten and then we took her out when our convictions about modesty grew. My husband couldn’t watch the recital. His point in taking her out young was why allow her to continue in something that she wouldn’t be able to do later? It’s difficult, too, because she loves to dance! I’m still trying to figure out how to allow her to express that side of her while still being modest and honoring God.

    • This is something my friends and I started discussing when I shared this article on my wall. There are clearly options to spaghetti straps for gymnastics – they don’t wear that in the Olympics, even!

      Ballet is a thornier issue for us. My youngest in is ballet now, having her interest piqued by a young lady at church who aspires to join a Christian ballet troupe (Ballet Magnificat) and spread the gospel through dance. While the dress is modest *for ballet*, there are clearly still issues. At the moment there are only girls in class (and teachers), so we’re letter her explore it. Perhaps she’ll outgrow it, or the Lord will give us some more clear guidance on this…

  16. Wow, what powerful words! Such a beautiful way to communicate to your daughter, and help her understand, simply yet deeply, the importance of this crucial subject. My girls are 4 and 1, but soon enough, it will be time for me to have this talk too. I will keep this stored in my heart until that day. You’ve provided a great encouragement =)

    • Actually your girls are at the time now to start this training with them. I have four daughters (19, 16, 15, & 12) and my wife and I began teaching them as toddlers about modest dress. Now as teens they don’t balk at our guidance of their wardrobe –they know we love them and are looking out foor their best interest. It is a conversation that began at four. Best to you as you raise your princesses.

  17. Thank you so much for saying this! I so often feel alone when I speak up about modesty…

    Actually, another homeschool mama and I are teaching a class for Middle School aged girls for this semester of our homeschool co-op, relating to “being a lady,” including modesty. May I use your illustration (with proper credit, of course!)?

    • Feel free, gorgeous! But give God the credit! 🙂 We don’t claim copyright here, so share away… 🙂

  18. I completely agree but get very frustrated. Recently Canada has had an upsurge of ‘Slut walks’ woman who are upset over a comment by a police sheriff advising woman to dress more modestly. It is now all about their ‘right’ to dress how they want and men are not animals and should have better ‘control’. It is very sad to hear how little modern woman regard, much less respect, themselves. 🙁

    • I agree, Carol! I am praying that God grow me to the point that I can discern clearly between righteous anger, emotional control and self-discipline, and respond in love in all circumstances – I’m not there yet! Glad to be on the journey with you! 🙂

      • ya, and “large” people should control thier eating habits, but thats not really an issue is it?

      • GOD made men and women differently in many ways, that being one of them. Men need to feel respected, women need to feel loved. Women tend to be more emotional. Understanding that can help us to be more compassionate and loving.

      • Interesting thought…I did not grow up as a Christian, and did not think “shirtless” men as out of the ordinary. But since God has changed me; my thinking, attitudes and actions, “shirtless” men are just as immodest as scantily clad women. But really, what difference will it make for someone who will not believe God for how they dress (except to see how His principles in action DO make a difference) for them? We all are going to meet Him one day. I prayerfully hope you, SweetLikeHoney, will be reconciled to Him and know what wonderful joy that is! Anything questions you might have, please feel free to email!

    • Perhaps women should dress more modestly, but immodest dress is not an invitation for an attack. It would be like blaming the clerk at the convenience store for a robbery because he should have known that convenience stores were a prime target for attack. People, of either gender, are responsible for their actions regardless of what thoughts or feelings another person provokes in them.

      • Absolutely, but the Bible also talks about not being the cause of another to sin. Mark 9:42 “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

  19. Great conversation, thank you for sharing your teachable moment. Thank you for breaking it down as an example for us! It was interesting to hear u articulate this thought: “… should I fuss about the lies of the extreme Christian culture that communicate to women chasteness is all about depriving themselves of any comfort and “suffering” on purpose with false joy which really is just another lame attempt to control and “earn” our way to heaven? ”
    Avoiding the extremes…modesty is about respect toward God, others, & yourself. We do bear His image and there is no shame in that. What a privilege (and responsibility) to bear discreetly His beauty and splendor into this hurting world, east of Eden!

  20. I, too, struggled with wearing spaghetti straps and other immodest clothing years back. My 8yo daughter asks me the same questions. I am often lost as to how to respond to her. Thank you for allowing God to use you to speak to me.

    Love ya Beautiful!

    ~Cyndi

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