I made my daughter her last bikini when she was 10. She was an early bloomer and it wasn’t until I saw her on the beach in that adorable suit that I realized what I had done. Her beautiful, newly curved body was on exhibit for all to see. As a mom, I had made a mistake. Thankfully it was one quickly fixed at such a young age. When we got home from the beach, I sat her down and we discussed her “new” body and how a bikini may not be the best bathing suit option. Her body would be a gift to be cherished by her husband some day. Ultimately it will be her decision how she decides to dress (or not dress as the current culture would have it). She is now 14 and I still struggle with modesty as a concept. It is not just a bikini, a skirt length, or a neckline. It is an attitude, a relationship, a personal decision. There is no black and white only varying shades of gray and a million opinions through which to wade. We fail when we get caught in legalism, feminism, or collectivism.
As women we try to define what is modest and what is not. We stare with judging eyes at all the barely dressed teens that grace the hallways of our church. Do we rejoice in their presence or cringe at their appearance? Do we laugh at the homeschoolers (I am one!) with their dowdy clothes and denim skirts as being out of fashion and out of touch with reality? Truly aren’t we just trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong.
So who is right? Looking for the right answer in scripture is a good place to begin because at the heart of the modesty debate is pleasing God with our bodies. According to Deuteronomy 22:5 we all became immodest when Coco Channel opted to wear pants. “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” According to John 7:24, our appearance doesn’t matter but only our hearts. “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgement.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10 addresses specifics of modesty. “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” I think this passage in Timothy gives us the best advice on modesty. Dress in a way that is appropriate for a woman who professes faith in God. As Christians we are called to be set apart. “For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16 How we act, how we dress, what we say, and what we do is to be different. We are to be holy. Does a long skirt and a turtle neck make us holy? Does wearing current fashion trends make us un-holy? That is legalism. God cares about our hearts and our motives. Our faith in God and our desire to please God should shine through us like a brilliant light. People should notice that we are different, set apart.
What it all comes down to is our intent. Why do we wear the clothes we wear? Do we like the color, like the fit, like the fabric? Are we dressing to draw attention? Are we dressing to impress others? Are we dressing to please God or ourselves and others? This is where our definition of modesty needs to start. God made us beautiful. Our clothing should enhance our natural God given beauty not distract from it or degrade it. Society today accepts short shorts, short skirts, skimpy bikinis, low cut tops, low waist pants, and bare bellies. When you wrap a gift, do you leave large parts exposed or do you make sure everything is covered? If we leave our bodies uncovered for all to see, what are we saving? We are giving it all away for free. The attention a half naked teenage girl attracts is not positive. Men are not looking at her body and thinking about her faith. She is set apart but not in a holy way.
As a mom, it is my job to teach my girls to be set apart because of their faith. It is their father’s job to tell them what is immodest. As their dad, he is the eyes of all men. If our men were honest, they would admit that they don’t want to see our girls this way. They want to see their true beauty, not their body. Let your light shine. Be set apart. Dress for God and not for others.