Why Modesty?

Why modesty? Is it really that important? Or is it simply a way to justify oppressing women?

Why do you think some women try to dress modestly? If you are one of these women, why do you try to dress modestly?

A) Shame
B) Fear
C) Legalism
D) Respect
E) Love
F) Obedience

Maybe I should explain each of the answer choices.

Do I try to dress modestly because I rue the fact that I am a woman? Am I embarrassed by my femininity? Do I wish to hide my body because it is a thing to be ashamed of?

Am I scared of how other people will think of me if I dress immodestly? Am I afraid of being criticized or condemned? Do I try to dress modestly because I think skimpy clothes justify rape?

Do I think it makes me a better person to dress modestly? Am I dressing a certain way to feel superior to other people? Do I think my salvation rests upon my decisions about clothing?

Do I respect myself? Do I wish others to do the same? Do I respect the men I interact with? Do I acknowledge and respect the different ways men’s and women’s brains work?

Do I love the Lord, the One who made my body? Do I love my brothers in the Lord? Do I love my neighbors – both male and female ones? Do I consider others as more important than myself?

Do I think I am commanded as a Christian woman to dress modestly?
I asked two of my best friends to answer the survey and explain their answers. Their answers and explanations are wise and well-written. The first explanation was written by F.

“It is hard to pick just one of the positive answers, though; ideally I strive to dress modestly out of respect, love, and obedience, and I think all three are necessary.

I have heard people motivate women to dress modestly by basically blaming them for any lustful thoughts that people might have about them, and I would strongly disagree with that. Yes, we are commanded to dress modestly and we should do everything we can to keep our brothers from stumbling, but they also have the responsibility for their own minds. I think that tension is hard to express well; it’s easy to put all the responsibility on one party or the other “if she didn’t dress that way…” or “if he didn’t have a dirty mind…” but in truth we can only be responsible for our own thoughts and actions at the end of the day. If someone is really out to objectify and lust after someone, modest clothes aren’t going to stop them, but we can try to, as far as it depends on us, dress in a way that expresses our femininity and helps others’ not stumble. I think to put all the responsibility on women creates a culture of victim-blaming that leads to people excusing lust in men because it was the woman who “made them do it.” At its most extreme, it leads to people blaming women for being raped or assaulted, saying that they were “asking for it” by dressing immodestly. While I absolutely believe in dressing modestly, a woman shouldn’t have to be dressed modestly to be respected by a man (or by anyone). By that logic, women would only be dressing modestly out of fear, which isn’t the right motivation. It’s sad, but in a largely secular world, we can’t expect unbelievers to dress modestly, or even if they do, it’s not for the right reasons.

It’s always good to think about why we’re doing what we’re doing, and examine our motives to make sure our hearts are right.”

The second explanation was written by C.

“My main reason is obedience. I do it because I should, though not always joyfully. Sometimes it is inconvenient to be modest, but I do not want to dishonor God by the way I dress. I do not usually think about how boys will react to what I am wearing when I get ready in the morning. If anything, I am more concerned about what the women will think than the men. Though I may double check that what I am wearing is not immodest, I know how I need to dress to be modest and do so accordingly.

Respect and love for others comes from a respect and love for God. When you focus too much on what people will think of you, shame, fear, and legalism rule. When you do not care what anyone thinks and you are immodest in heart and in body, you are not honoring humans or God. God calls us to be modest. Though I do not want to make a brother stumble, that is not my main reason for trying to be modest. My main purpose is to glorify God. If my heart is right with God, I know my appearance will also be right.

As James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” I do it because I should.”

For me, the correct answers are D, E, and F. I will explain why they are my answers, as well as why the others are not.

I am neither ashamed of being female (women are the glory of men, I don’t think that makes femaleness something to be ashamed of!) nor am I ashamed of my body – God made it. I want to keep it G rated here, but if you think there is anything bad or shameful about a woman’s body, you must not have read the Song of Solomon.

Fear has very little to do with my decisions about clothing. Now, even though I wish very much that I did not care what others think of me, I do care. While I don’t exactly want to be thought of as a prude, it is even more important to me not to be thought of as a loose or worldly woman. That being said, I do not decide how I dress based on the expectations or standards of others. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t – it is impossible to do anything in a way that keeps you safe from the criticisms of others.

I certainly think rape is never justified, a woman dressing immodestly in no way *makes* a man assault her. –However, I think it is very foolish to dress immodestly in many situations. If you park your car in a rough part of downtown Atlanta and leave your laptop visible in the back seat while you go out to eat, I can pretty much guarantee you your window will be busted and your laptop gone when you return. Is the thief justified in stealing from you? No! But you were pretty stupid to tempt him like that. Valuables tempt a thief – and what does a thief do? He steals. So if your unattended valuables tempt him, he will steal them. Dressing immodestly never justifies a rapist. But what tempts a rapist? And what does a rapist do? So if you dress in a way that tempts him, will he not do what he does if he can? But dressing modestly does not guarantee freedom from rape anymore than hiding your laptop keeps a thief from breaking into your car anyway. So no, I do not dress modestly out of fear – I avoid dark streets and deserted areas out of fear.

But legalism. That’s a tough one. It is not the reason I dress the way I do, but it is a temptation. Because I value modesty so highly, it is easy for me to feel a bit self-righteous sometimes.

My reasons are respect, love, and obedience. Obedience is the simplest reason. Several times in the Bible, God instructs women to dress modestly. As a follower of Christ, obeying the Lord is important to me. So I do my best to dress modestly. The “how” of dressing modestly (for me) is tied up with my other two reasons for doing so.

Reason number two: respect.

I respect myself. I know my own importance as a woman made in the image of God. I know that women and men are sinners. I know that a woman dressing immodestly makes it so difficult for a man to think about that woman respectfully. So while I don’t care if people approve of my decisions in how I dress, I do wish to be thought of and treated respectfully. It is very similar to the reason why I do my best to speak and spell correctly: I want to be respected. I don’t want to be thought of as uneducated (and as a result, treated that way) nor do I wish to be thought of as a loose woman. I respect the men I interact with, and I want them to respect me. It has been proven that when a woman dresses provocatively, most men tend to see her as an object instead of a person. I want to be seen as a person.

And finally, love.

Because I love the Lord, I want to obey Him by dressing modestly. I also want to obey Him by putting others first. Because I love my brothers in the Lord, I want to help them by dressing modestly. There are three Bible verses that explain what I mean.

Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Romans 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

I know how hard it is to control my own thoughts – I am so glad the (quite often unkind) things I think about others are not broadcasted on a loudspeaker! I also I know that God wired men to greatly appreciate the female form. It is not my fault if a man thinks inappropriate thoughts about me, anymore than it is my fault if I am robbed. We are each responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds.

It has been proven than men’s brains react way more strongly to scantily clad or provocatively dressed woman than women react to scantily clad or provocatively dressed men. Women joke about a muscular guy minus his shirt making it hard for them to concentrate. I know that an under-clothed woman can be impossible for a man to ignore. I know that for men who properly value women and wish to keep from thinking inappropriate thoughts about them, immodesty makes them uncomfortable, distracted, and embarrassed.

IF I know how much of a mental struggle honorable men must undergo to keep their thoughts pure (especially in a culture as immoral as our own), and if I love my brothers in the Lord, and if I consider others as more important than myself, then why on earth would I not dress in such a way that helps rather than hinders?

Those are my reasons for doing my best to dress modestly. I don’t always succeed, but I try because of obedience, respect, and love.


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