Why we Have to Stop Saying “Modest is Hottest”

There’s this terrible thing going around youth groups. It’s caused some people to be afflicted with a nasty case of pride and others to emerge with deep wounds.


The concept itself isn’t new; it’s been around ever since sin entered the picture. Shame, as you know, doesn’t come from God. Yet, somehow it sneaks into our hearts and minds and causes us to believe our flaws, mistakes, and sins define us. Even worse, it tempts us to believe that the flaws, mistakes, and sins of others define them, giving us a false sense of entitlement and right to judge others…

It all makes me sick, but the particular type of shaming that sickens me more than others usually occurs during the summer, when that annoying little rhyme creeps back into our minds: “Modest is hottest!”

You’ve probably heard this saying before, which is really just a tongue-in-cheek reminder that a woman of faith is supposed to dress modestly, in order to get the right kind of attention from men.

Whether it was intentional or not, it seems that the phrase and teachings that go along with it perpetuate the idea that women bear the responsibility of protecting men by what we wear… and in Christian circles, bearing that responsibility well is deemed a redeemed kind of “hot.” For most women, this thinking starts around the time that their bodies begin to change. Suddenly, our bodies have the ability to garner attention and the mere sight of them seems to trigger something in men.

I know what you’re thinking, “How can my legs be so fascinating?” I don’t get it either. I was born with a female brain that’s wired differently than a man’s brain, so I can’t actually explain that one to you.

But here’s what I do know: while modesty is a good thing, judging someone for how they dress and failing to love them will not bring them closer to Christ.

For years, I carried wounds from the shaming I experienced in Christian youth groups. I was criticized for being stylish and wanting to look put-together. The shaming often came in the form of passive-aggressive comments about what I was wearing. I couldn’t help it, though. I loved to wear dresses and accessorize my outfits, but I began to feel that my style was dangerous, unwelcome, and even borderline sinful. I was being told it was an occasion of sin, rather than an occasion of grace. Ouch.

No More Modesty Shaming

Have you ever been the victim of modesty shaming, or seen it happen to someone else? The unfortunate soul is looked down upon from the moment she arrives. She’s either directly criticized, or whispered about (ahem, gossip) and viewed as a problem that needs to be solved.

Newsflash: a person is never a “problem.” The moment we define another person solely by their actions, we become a hypocrite. You know, “let she or he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

A friend of mine was given $20 to buy a new outfit because people didn’t approve of her shorts and tank top. I feel for her because I have been made to feel as if I’ve committed the gravest sin by daring to wear sleeveless shirts or lipstick. If my friend or I were not already firm in our faith and confident in the innocence of our intentions, we may have been tempted to turned our backs on Christianity because of how we were treated.

Cultivate Modesty with Love

Even the best intentions to cultivate modesty can be futile if they’re expressed poorly. We can’t lead with shame. We have to lead with love, which means getting to the heart of the matter: a woman’s inherent desire to share God’s beauty with the world. This means that, when it comes to encouraging modesty in our sisters, we affirm the beauty we see, instead of simply demanding that things be covered up.

We need to remember that every person comes from a different walk of life. They are carrying wounds that may affect the way they behave, speak, and dress. We need to keep this in mind and love one another rather than judge each other, for a harsh word may stir up a wound, but a kind gesture has the power to transform a heart.

We need to be patient and lead by example. Then they’ll notice that those they’ve surrounded themselves with are living life differently: they dress differently, talk differently, dance differently, and simply act differently. And they’ll catch on — I did!