Friday, June 17, 2016

But can I wear yoga pants? || thoughts on modesty



modesty noun | mod •es•ty | \mädəstē: the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities : the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention : freedom from conceit or vanity : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct

Modesty is humility. Focus on that first definition for a moment. Modesty is not being too proud or confident about yourself. Modesty is humility manifested in the way we dress, but also in the way we act, speak, and look. It is our attitude. It is not enough to look in the mirror and make sure our skirt is not too short, our jeans are not too tight, and our neckline isn’t too low. We have to examine our hearts and examine the way we treat others (Proverbs 22:4, Philippians 2:3). Do we have a lofty view of ourselves? Are we disapproving and prideful toward others who might have different standards than ours? No matter what you wear, no matter how conservatively and carefully you dress and conduct yourself, you can still have a prideful, lofty heart. You can still believe yourself better and others lesser because of your standards, accomplishments, modest dress, good works, etc.

Modesty is respect and honor. I was never raised with severely strict modesty standards. My parents had standards. They did not let me wear whatever I wanted or whatever was trendy. They were quick to tell me when a skirt was too short or a neckline too low. And I was quick to honor their admonishment. Growing up I learned that modesty was not an exact standard as much as it was a way for me to communicate respect toward my parents as well as a respect for myself. Modesty meant honor, protection, worth, humility, and value. 

One of God’s first acts of love toward Adam and Eve after the fall was to clothe them. I don’t know how careful God was to make sure that Eve’s hem was not too short, but I know that he was careful to cover her and Adam’s shame because he loved them (Genesis 3:21). They belonged to him and their dignity as humans was a sign of his love, a sign that they belonged to God as well as a foreshadowing of the promise that he would not only cover their physical shame but cover their sin as well.

Ultimately our desire to conduct and dress ourselves honorably should be the fact that we are not our own. We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our whole being should reflect this truth, including the way we dress. 

The motive of modesty is not to keep men from sinning. I am sure you have all heard that the purpose of modesty is to keep men from temptation. I have never really bought this. First off, this automatically makes modesty an objective, physical standard and nothing more. Second, it completely exempts men from upholding modesty in their own lives. Finally, if a man is tempted to lust then it is a foregone conclusion that the object of his lust was dressed immodestly and failed to do her duty in keeping him from stumbling, i.e. he is excused from his actions and thoughts. 

If modesty is about living in a way that declares we are not our own, we have been bought with a price, then the inherent motivation for modesty can not be a fear of causing someone else to stumble. Yes, we should not set ourselves up as stumbling blocks--men and women alike--and this has to do with the way we dress along with everything else we say and do. But men are not exempt from modesty because modesty is ultimately an issue of the heart. And because it’s an issue of the heart, what we do and do not wear is not the inherent solution or the inherent problem. It is a state of the heart manifested in the way we treat others and the way we treat others includes what we wear around them. 

Modest dress is not a fixed standard. The second definition of modesty—the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention--is the side of modesty I think we focus on too much and it’s also the side of modesty that is inherently relative. There are some, I know, who will disagree with me. But let’s face it—there was a time when bare shoulders and ankles were considered scandalous and promiscuous and yet showing cleavage was not considered sexual and immodest, but rather a sign of maturity and maternity. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider my bare ankles to be scandalous and immodest.

Modest dress is relative in the same way that respect is somewhat relative. What is considered common courtesy and politeness today would probably seem offensive 200 years ago. Prior to the 1910s, no respectable woman wore the slightest amount of makeup or cut her hair short unless she was a prostitute. Obviously, our perceptions and standards have changed because that's how culture works. Does this mean that we conform to the culture? That anything goes so long as everyone else is okay with it? By no means! But be aware that God never gives us a strict standard for modest dress in his Word and that the Gospel is not about conforming our lives to a specific lifestyle but instead letting His Word transform our lives from within (Romans 12:2). He commands us to walk humbly and to let righteousness be our adornment (1 Peter 3:3-4), but he never specifies that righteous adornment means never baring our shoulders and never wearing skinny jeans. 

It is not our personal standards that unite us.We all have different standards for our lifestyles, from the way we eat, dress, exercise, etc. Our opinions and values concerning parenting, education, technology, entertainment, diet, modern medication, and whole natural remedies vary. There is nothing wrong with having specific standards and values, from the lengths of our hair and skirts to the food we eat. We come from different walks of life, heritages, backgrounds, and incomes. It is natural that our lifestyles vary. Yet we don’t let these variances become barriers between us. Instead, we ought to recognize our freedom and look for ways we can give up our freedoms for the sake of our fellowship and unity with one another (1 Corinthians 8:9-13, Ephesians 4:3-6). 

It is Christ who unites us. What a tragedy if we let these freedoms break the unity we have in our Savior! If I am free in Christ and he has not set strict standards for every aspect of my life, this means I am also free to give those things up. As an example, I may be free to drink alcohol, but I will abstain around my recovering alcoholic brother or my brothers who have decided on their own consciences that it is best for them to not drink alcohol, because I care more about them than I do about my freedom (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). It is my pleasure and my calling to give up my freedom for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ!

There are two sides to legalism. A few years ago I decided strict modesty standards that required women to wear skirts past the knees and did not allow women to wear pants were legalistic standards. I saw myself as “free in Christ” with my own standards and shook my head and stared down my nose at anyone with stricter conservative standards. I automatically labelled anyone with a more conservative standard than me as legalistic and judgmental, yet there I was in my hypocrisy judging each and every one of them! Over time I realized the arrogance of my attitude. I realized that the ladies I looked my nose down at were godly women who showed devotion and respect to their husbands, parents, and families in their manner of dress, even if it was with a more conservative standard than my own. I realized that instead of staring down my nose and holding myself in lofty conceit over them, I should be encouraging them in Christ, and commending them for their faithfulness and the honor they showed Christ, themselves, and their families.

Modesty is about clothing and honoring ourselves in a way that reflects the dignity and love that God clothes us with, but it is not as clear, cut, and simple as we might like to think. Modesty has more to do with dressing the heart and the way we treat others. It is about our attitude. It might be easier to check the box each morning, to measure our skirt hems and necklines, but what about our hearts? If our standards are becoming barriers between us and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, it may be that we need to check our hearts and check our attitude.

I have by no means exhausted this topic and I would love to hear your input! This is a subject I am still exploring and developing my understanding on. What is your understanding of modesty?   

8 comments :

  1. This is a really good discussion. Modesty is a sticky subject. I agree with what you've said. I know a lot of people who believe in the "protecting men from sinning" ideal and that's so flawed.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Victoria. This is a rather sticky subject and one I've been hesitant to share on for quite some time. But the discussion too often starts with legalism, exact standards, instead of with our hearts and God's word.

      Hopefully I can help change the way we talk about this topic. :)

      Dani xoxo

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  2. Great post! Topics of modesty often come up, especially in the Summer and can be hard to navigate. I can't agree more with you, when you say that we should measure our hearts, not our hemlines.

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    1. Yes this topic is kind of popular this time of year. And how often do we see discussions about modesty begin with questions like, "Can I wear a bikini to the beach?" instead of questions like, "Are my actions, words, and deeds honoring Christ and loving toward my brothers and sisters in Christ?"

      Dani xoxo

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  3. This is really good Dani, thank you!

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    1. Thank you!! I appreciate the feedback. :)

      Dani xoxo

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