Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Answer to the Modesty Mafia

Almost a month ago I got my panties in a wad over all these modesty posts and sat down and cranked out my own thoughts, but never posted them. I knew that I would receive a lot of pushback and, at the time, there were so many other things going on in my life that I just wasn't up to the task. But the wheels have been turning.

Then, last night, my friend, Rebecca, posted her own thoughts, which sparked my thinking again. You can read it here. I really appreciate the idea of not thinking so much about yourself, period. And that is part of the problem with this Modesty Crusade. One of many problems.

Most modesty articles are pretty much the same. Shock and horror at the immodest dress of teenage girls and even more shock and horror at her parents for letting her out the door dressed in so very little. "Where are her parents?" these people rage. The assumption seems to be that either her parents are asleep at the wheel or complete tramps themselves. Well, I can guarantee that this is not always the case, because I am one of those parents.

Part of the modesty problem is that there is no set-in-stone rule out there for where modesty stops and too much skin starts. But when you start defining modesty by inches of skirt or exposure of shoulder, then you start down a road that can, at the very least, SEEM rather legalistic.

Then there is the practical aspect. My youngest daughter (Daughter #3) works with horses and in the summer she gets beastly hot. The less she has on her body, the better, in her mind. Imposing a specific standard of modesty might not only seem silly and legalistic to her, it can be downright uncomfortable.

Before people jump all over me about this, let me state that I know . . . I KNOW the arguments for modesty. And I am not in disagreement with them. I have also, in the past, added my own concerns, including the need for safety, to these reasons as I have talked to my daughters. But knowing this and even teaching this are very different from enforcing it. And one has to ask at what point and at what age should a parent even attempt to enforce it?

If you have never had teenage daughters or if you have had them but they were super compliant (Daughter #2, for a time) or totally disinterested in fashion and fitting in (Daughter #1), you may not understand just how hard this is for parents. But if you look around at the girls at church and huff and puff about their state of dress or, quite possibly, undress, then I challenge you to take a teenage girl shopping.

Go right ahead, waltz in to Target with a hormonally challenged, star crossed adolescent female who wants nothing more to fit in and try, just try, to find her a dress that fits that arbitrary definition of "modest." Better yet, I challenge you to do so without at least one of you bursting into tears and with your relationship still intact when you walk out the door. It is just plain hard. I know how young women dress is important. But even that does not define them.

Teenage girls, especially, are living through a hormonal hell while trying to find their own identity, outside of their parents. They long to belong. Life is very fragile. We parents know that. Some of us may opt to handle with care and pick our fights.

I am perfectly aware that there are some people that may look at the length of my daughter's dress and, from that, make a full-on judgment about my success as a parent. You know what? I don't care. There comes a point that I have to leave certain issues up to God. And the very last thing I want is an outward compliance without a change in the heart. The last thing I want is for my daughter to believe that she is only acceptable to God if she is wearing the right clothing.

When I was a kid the most awful thing I could hear from my mother was "I'm so ashamed" when it came to something I did or something I was. I refuse to be ashamed of my children. Any of them. For any decision they may make. I may not agree with it or condone it but I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to be ashamed of my daughter for what she may wear. Sure, I have taught and explained and encouraged, but at some point she has to make the decision herself. Compliance to my standards just to keep me off her back isn't going to be sustainable in the long run. At some point, these convictions have to be between her and God.

People are more than clothing, be it how much or how little that they have on. Modest in other contexts usually means meeting needs without all the extras. When I sell a modest house to my clients, it is one that provides shelter and the comforts of home without all the glitz, without calling attention to itself, and without breaking the bank. If we translated that to clothing, I could say that there is plenty of clothing out there that covers plenty of skin, but is not modest at all. And vice versa.

So the next time you see a young woman whose short shorts are short on material and whose tank top has too much tank and not enough top, don't assume that, in some way, she is the enemy, a tramp to be scorned for her choices. Look beneath the little clothing she may have on and see what she is, a young woman created in the image of God. And don't assume that her parents are unaware. They may be like me, stepping back and letting her work it out with God for herself.


  1. I do take my daughter shopping, and it IS hard. We can't shop in the Juniors section for some things because they are simply too skimpy. We have to head over the the old grandma Misses section. But we have a deal...if she doesn't like it and won't feel good wearing it, we don't buy it. I do tell her "What does that outfit tell the world about you?" when she puts on something too skimpy. I'm dealing with a bit plump daughter too, which makes it even harder. When she finds something she LOVES, I go out of my way to get it for her because those items are so few and far between. I have my own modesty meter...and try to teach it to her. If its tight up top, it needs to be loose on the bottom. If its a little short on the bottom, you should be fully covered up top and not wear heels. Slowly, she is finding her own sense of fashion and is growing to enjoy our shopping trips...even if we come home empty handed sometimes.

  2. One thing that really gets me is when people post photos (on FB, say) of these immodest girls, and then condemn them for showing themselves. If it's really that offensive, why are these people spreading the photos around? I like your comparison to a "modest house." That is spot on.

  3. Tears, tears, tears on every, single shopping spree with Daughter #2. This daughter is so insecure because of Daughter #1, who is academically brilliant and likes to dress like an Oxford grad student. They have a close relationship, but Daughter #2 is not as academic and wants to make her own way apart from her sister's shadow. The truth is that Daughter #2 is compassionate, sweet, loving, wants a career working with special needs children (or to adopt a house full of them), and loves the Lord. I want her to make better clothing choices, but she is still truly innocent and even though she likes to wear her shorts too short, in truth she is growing spiritually and it is just a hill I am not willing to die on. I just pray for an early winter (too bad we live in Arizona!!). :)

  4. When choosing clothes for our daughter (now grown) we had a few rules for modesty to fulfill our biblical obligation before God as her parents. The rest of choices were up to her, and she expressed herself through bright colors, lots of accessories and a closet full of shoes. She loved makeup and I bit my tongue on many occasions over those experiments and didn't always love her choices, but she developed her own style and stayed within the standards we set. I only remember one time her dad had to say no, and that was over hair color, not clothing. I am sure people judged us, but we don't answer to them or society. Only God.

  5. Ginny, I am sorry. I disagree. I think you are taking a weak position. This logic does not hold up with other things we are teaching our children. I have raised 4 children and know it (the shopping) can be done. I found it more logical to teach them they won't "fit in" if they do right. Look what they are wanting to fit in to. Rethink this one, Ginny.

  6. Thank you. Ginny, I really appreciate your focus on the heart and steadfast resistance to a legalistic definition of modesty. If more women were like you, I think my generation of young women would feel less rejected by the church. Bravo!

  7. Thank you for this brilliant post. As the oldest of 5 girls, my parents treated these issues much like you seem to. We cannot force our children to heaven, they have to choose their path with God. That is His plan. We have to find our own way and we all will make mistakes. I will feel blessed and relieved if these mistakes merely deal with clothing. Thank you again.

  8. You make some interesting points and as a mother of two daughters myself I can see how hard it gets once girls get out of the toddler department to find non-short shorts.
    I have one question for you though: I have a problem when we are in church services and I see a teenager walking down the aisle to her seat wearing not a lot of clothes. This concerns me as I do not want my husband to be distracted and for my son when he's older to be distracted either. My husband has gotten very good about "bouncing" his eyes as not to stare but I know my husband would appreciate going to at least one place where women are not scantily clad (besides work).

  9. I have to agree with "mom of four". It's hard, yes. Remembering myself as a teenager, I think I must have had blinders on, not to see what was immodest about some of the things I wore. And wearing clothes that cost too much is immodest, too, of course. The question is: how much is too much? how low is too low? how tight is too tight? etc. There is going to be some variation of judgment. But there shouldn't be a lot of variation among disciples who are all striving to walk in the Way. Maybe a good way to handle it would be for 3 or 4 mothers who all have teen daughters (AND sons --- men can be immodest too) to sit down all together and look at the scriptures and talk about attitudes of heart. Ask teens to ask themselves some questions, like: "What do I REALLY want the most, to please God or to please myself, or to please my worldly friends?" "How objective is my own vision? and how much of my notion of suitability has been conditioned and shaped by the fashions of the world? (showing some old photos of fashions in previous decades could perhaps help young people to realize that we SEE the way we have been conditioned to SEE)(also ask any artist).