The moment I stepped in to my pre-teen and teen years, every Bible study, Christian book, blog post, etc. overwhelmed me with the concept of modesty. Cover up! Cover up! Cover up! Bikinis are sinful! Short-shorts are of the devil! You mustn’t cause your brothers in Christ to stumble!
While I am thankful to those in my life who taught me about modesty, I honestly believe that Christians are approaching this topic very inappropriately. This type of exposure to modesty is ultimately just making girls ashamed of their bodies, overly concerned about outward appearances, and confused about various modesty standards that people live by. At 13, this is exactly where I was: confused and self-conscious. And sadly, I believe that this approach is causing Christian girls to throw up their hands in defeat and give up on modesty all together.
Modesty is important. But I believe that the major reason this approach to teaching young girls about modesty is failing because it starts with the wrong perspective. Modesty is not just something good Christian girls should be aware of. Instead, what we wear should be a reflection of what is in our hearts and should set us apart as daughters of the Most High. I strongly believe that the church as a whole, including parents and youth leaders, needs to approach modesty in an entirely different manner. Here are some ways we can get started.
#1: Girls (and boys!) should be taught about modesty as children, not just after they hit puberty.
Dressing modestly needs to be a habit, not just something that is introduced when your body starts to change. Teaching these concepts from the beginning will increase the likelihood of them lasting throughout a person’s lifetime.
Modesty is no different than kindness, obedience, or respect—characteristics that most Christian families teach their children from birth. If we want children to dress and behave modestly, we have to teach them how to do it from the beginning.
#2: What we wear should be a reflection of our hearts. Our clothing should set us apart as servants of Christ.
I have always held a deep respect for Mennonites. Although I do not share many of their convictions, I honor how they dress to be set apart. Their unique way of dressing is less about covering up and more about holiness. They strive to be their best in the eyes of God. The verse that youth leaders and Christian authors often use when talking about modesty is 1 Timothy 2:9. I think it is necessary to point out that this infamous verse says nothing about covering up your body to avoid tempting others. If we look at this verse in context, we see that modesty is an act of worship. Read it for yourself:
“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 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.” -1 Timothy 2:8-10
So, the question to ask is this: does what you wear set you apart? Is it clear by how you dress to Whom you belong? Does your attire reflect your good works and pure heart?
Of course, women should do their best to wear clothing that is not sensual or revealing, increasing the likelihood that men will lust over our bodies. However, if we are dressing in a way that is holy, this should not be a problem at all. And it certainly should not be the main emphasis when teaching modesty to the younger generation.
#3: Modesty is a lifestyle.
Dressing modestly is great, but if your actions are immodest, then what you’re wearing does not really matter. Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” If you are bold, reckless, and flirtatious than your outer beauty is worthless. Inner beauty is the most important trait of all. A heart of service, love, and selflessness is a heart of true modesty.
#4: Guys should be aware of modesty too.
I am not sure if guys realize this, but women can be tempted visually just as much as men can. This topic is often disregarded by the modern church, especially in youth group settings. Not to mention, women are not the only ones commanded to be holy. As a guy, does the way you dress and act set you apart as a child of the King?
Approaching modesty in a different way will produce genuine worship through the way we dress, rather than a set of constricting rules and regulations. Evaluate your motives today. Are you dressing in a way that points people to God? Are you striving for holiness in both your clothing and your actions?
Remember that modesty is an act of worship, not of body-shaming and rule-following. The God who sacrificed His life for us deserves our best in every area of our lives, including how we dress.