My Life

The Naked Truth About Modesty

Modesty. Before you read any further, do me a favor: pause for a moment and seriously think about your initial reaction to that word. Unfortunately, for many women in Christian circles, it can evoke uncomfortable feelings such as shame, guilt, anxiety, and constraint. But it shouldn’t. Isn’t modesty a virtue, after all? And aren’t virtues supposed to be freeing and beautiful?

This topic can be so polarizing because many people hold such strong and varying opinions. However, the subject of modesty is far too nuanced to be treated like a black or white issue. I recognize that my position on this topic may be more or less conservative than the one you personally hold, and that’s OK. Modesty can look different for different people — I’m just seeking to offer a new perspective, drawn from my own personal experiences.

Missing the Point

“Skirts must be knee-length.” “Keep your shoulders covered.” “Leggings are not appropriate.” I’m sure you’re familiar with these rules and many others. Maybe you’ve seen them at the top of your youth retreat packing list, heard them in the well-meaning direction of authority figures, or perhaps perceived them, unspoken, in judgmental stares directed at you or others.

Now, I’m not discounting the necessity of certain guidelines to maintain a professional (or prayerful, if we’re talking church retreats) environment, as they definitely have a place. The rules I’m referring to are the ones that are a little too… excessive. I mean, most people would say I’m a pretty conservative dresser, but even my wardrobe falls short of some “Christian” expectations (shorts that reach the knee on a person my height just look plain weird!).

If you think about it, these rules are pretty meaningless, anyway, because no set could be established to encompass the wide variety of body types that God Himself created! So, can we agree to ditch the distracting “do’s and don’ts” modesty mentality? Awesome, now we can actually focus on the true meaning and purpose behind them.

Modesty = Authenticity

So, if modesty is not about a strict set of rules or a one-size-fits all mentality, what is it all about and why does it matter? Ultimately, modesty is concerned with letting people see you as your whole self. It’s important that what we choose to wear does not reduce us to only a body in the eyes of others, or elevate our physical aspects above our hearts, minds, and souls. We deserve to be treasured, not objectified based on body parts or characteristics that are only a small part of who we are. There’s a lot about you that’s worth getting to know — so much more than meets the eye.

God does not want us to feel limited or repressed; in fact, just the opposite — He desires our freedom. As women, we should dress ourselves out of self-love, in a way that respects our bodies as good and holy gifts, but also in a way that makes us feel good about who we are! It’s OK to want to look beautiful — that’s a desire the Lord has intentionally placed in our hearts. Experimenting with different styles that complement your appearance and bring out your personality is definitely a positive thing. Just don’t sell yourself short in the process.

An Important Distinction

Notice that I didn’t reaffirm a popular Christian myth: that women should dress modestly to keep men from committing sexual sin. This mindset is harmful because it unfairly places the responsibility for men’s actions on the shoulders of women. To all the women who carry hurt and shame in their hearts due to this misunderstanding, I am sincerely sorry.

The burden of this message is not often blatantly obvious; I’ve witnessed its unconscious impact in my life and the lives of women around me, as well. The way I sometimes anxiously tug on a dress I’m wearing in certain company, the terrible posture many have adopted to downplay certain physical features, the time we spend in front of our mirrors trying to decide where to draw the line on how short is too short — these are experiences common to many women.

Like I said, modesty is not about preventing guys from lusting after you, it’s about allowing everyone around you, male and female, to really know the authentic you. The truth is, if a man deliberately thinks or acts disrespectfully towards a woman, it’s not because of the way she dresses and it’s not her fault. Men who are sincerely striving for virtue will make no excuses for their own behavior.

Middle Ground

I’ve laid out all my complaints against the mainstream Christian modesty perspective, but with that being said, there’s definitely some middle ground to be had. Throwing it back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we can see that in the beginning, when they were naked, they weren’t being immodest. It was only when they fell into sin that it opened the door for objectification and use of the other person to creep into their relationship.

Unfortunately, sin is a reality that we still face in our relationships today, and that’s why it does matter how we dress. I do understand where the other side is coming from — temptation is real — that’s a fact. We can help each other to love well by examining the motivation behind our dress and practicing purity of heart in our own personal lives.

Threading it all Together

(Get it? Because clothes have thread?)
Modesty is not important because women’s bodies are bad or sinful — modesty is important because women are beautiful, inside and out. God has designed women to uniquely reflect a side of Himself that, without us, the world would otherwise be lacking. (Whoa… feel free to read that again!). Our bodies are incredible gifts from Him — physical manifestations of His beauty and goodness. They, along with our unique personalities, witness to the creativity and generosity of our all-good God, and because of this, they command due reverence and love. Practicing modesty shows that we recognize the gift of who we are, the dignity God has given us, and we honor that in the way we present ourselves to the world.

So, the next time you’re stressing in the dressing room, instead of checking that internal list of rules, check the disposition of your heart. Ask Jesus and Mama Mary to help you find that healthy balance between holding yourself to a higher standard, while also allowing room for His grace to work in your life.

Is God convicting you to dress more modestly, or is He challenging you to let go of underlying shame and judgment? By practicing modesty, we make room in our lives for more love, joy, and freedom. And that’s what virtue is all about.

About the Author

Laurie Richard

I’m a former youth group junkie, current college student, and future nurse from small town Mississippi. I alternate between acting extremely mature and super goofy. I love making real connections with authentic people through board game nights, bonfires, and Sunday night pizza runs. Also, I can’t pick a favorite color.