Written By Hannah Shoue, USA
I’ve always felt uneasy about the topic of modesty.
Growing up in church, I heard many different rules and principles about modesty. However, I often had difficulty accepting some of them—something I know other Christian girls have dealt with as well.
In high school, I witnessed the shame and degradation my friends felt when they were punished for dress code offenses, such as wearing leggings or shorts that were too short. They were often sent to spend the day in the administrative office or forced to wear clothes from the lost and found box over their offensive attire.
I never saw any of my male classmates punished for dress code offences, and the females punished were often of a larger body type. To me, this made the dress code system seem incredibly unfair. Seeing my friends humiliated for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing led me to conclude that strict principles of modesty were unfair, and their application resulted only in unnecessary shame.
As I grew older, I continued to struggle with these ideas of modesty. How were we supposed to know where to draw the line? And why? Some principles about modesty made sense and were easy to understand. For example, dressing with the purpose of seduction is clearly wrong.
But other reasons for dressing conservatively didn’t make sense. For example, I was told that I needed to cover up so that people wouldn’t assume the wrong things about my reputation, because my body belonged to my future husband, or so that the men around me wouldn’t be tempted to sin.
But that’s where the problem begins—when a woman is held responsible for the thoughts and actions of the men around her. In many societies, when a woman is sexually assaulted, she is told it is her fault because of how she dressed. I cannot disagree more. In fact, studies have shown that most people are sexually assaulted by someone they know, and that clothing is almost never a factor. Teaching young women that they need to cover up so the men around them will not sin contributes to a culture that normalizes and diminishes the significance of sexual assault and blames the victims.
Some ideas about modesty also suggest that the way a woman dresses can indicate how promiscuous she might be. This kind of thinking is dangerous, because it can encourage judgment and condemnation over mercy and grace.
So, is modesty important then? Though I’ve struggled with some of the principles and ideas that I’ve heard about modesty, I believe that modesty is important—but not because of what I’ve been told. Rather, it’s important because God calls us to be good stewards of the things He has given us, including our bodies.
I act and dress in the knowledge that my body is a temple to the Lord and a gift from Him. I choose to honor God and myself by dressing in a way that is appropriate, but also in a way that makes me feel confident in the skin God has made for me. This means I wear clothing that I feel confident and beautiful in, and yet keep certain parts of my body covered up. As the steward of my body, I have chosen to save those parts of myself for my future husband. I do this not because my body belongs to him, but because I want to be a responsible and wise steward of my body.
Proverbs 31:30 states, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” While this verse is not saying that wearing cute clothes and looking good on the outside is wrong, our main concern must be with inner beauty. Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the “wife of noble character” as a woman who is compassionate to the poor, trustworthy, wise, kind, and provides for her family.
When it comes to being a Christian woman, the way I dress is important, but it is only one aspect of living the life of a Christian. Being a Christian—man or woman—is about so much more than clothing. It’s about living each day as passionate, creative, intelligent, merciful, and generous image-bearers of God that we are created to be.