Possibly I have an advantage. I grew up without being taught that I constantly had to be concerned about hemlines and shirt sleeves. My parents grew up on the southern California beach and walking around on the city streets in a swim suit was considered completely normal. It wasn’t about rebellion or a desire to be an exhibitionist, it was about just having fun, being comfortable, and being active.
So, I am comfortable in sleeveless tops. And shorts many inches above my knees. And, gasp, bikinis. I don’t feel a need to defend that, exactly. What I feel some need to address is the finger pointing that says what I wear indicates the love and maturity in my heart. I want to speak up for others who feel belittled and shamed unnecessarily; and to help my kids see through the huge potential for self-righteous thinking and hurtful affects to friendships.
The cult of modesty really runs the risk of doing exactly opposite of what it says it is doing. The idea of modesty in the Bible is to blur the lines of rank and make our hearts gentle toward each other. So much vocal and public concern about what constitutes an acceptable modest uniform fosters just the opposite. It stimulates immediate visual critic and measurement of a person’s inner spiritual self. It tempts some to feel superior in their choices.
While the Bible speaks of modesty, it does not refer to how opposite sexes are affected by it in terms of desire. Is this an oversight? Really, how many men can’t control themselves because of how a woman’s hair is braided. Or because of how much jewelry she is wearing? If we try to judge modesty by body parts mentioned “poetically” in the Song of Songs, we are in big trouble. I recall something about beautiful teeth arousing the besotted man.
I did have a time in my life where I succumbed to social religious pressure. It can be powerful and condemning. Controlling in the guise of looking out for everyone’s best interest. I found myself often uncomfortable in my activities because of heat or restriction of movement. I found my husband asking me why I was dressing unattractively.
The admonitions to look feminine (by those who somehow feel qualified to stipulate such things) were hard to properly balance with what seemed to be acceptable attire. All women don’t look feminine in the same outfits. Besides the God given variety of shapes, there are age and health factors. One woman’s comfy safari shorts and camp shirt are another woman’s burka.
I know I have been “bothered” in the past by what others wore. It took a while for me to realize, but I figured out what some of the problem was for me. There is the harsh reality that some people are more attractive than others. Or they have traits others “wish” they had. I was bothered by what some women wore because I thought they made me look worse. It wasn’t that I wanted loads of attention, but who likes to feel like the ugly duck? I would guess that many people struggle with this to some degree at some point in their lives.
Some folks try to minimize the culture and context perspective to modesty, but there is quite a lot of evidence that reactions to the human figure and it’s degree of covering depend a lot on:
- what you are used to seeing
- what you are taught about modesty
- what you choose to think about
- what the weather is
I have seen and heard enough to know that a culture can get used to complete nakedness with no affect on their already predominant view of human relationships. I have seen cultures that are very strict about showing skin have much more sexual abuse of women than those where clothing rules are more diffuse. I have seen multiple examples of how people who are not used to seeing things (TV, bare knees, people in wheel chairs) find themselves staring at the phenomena for a bit. This is not a sure indication of moral depravity or even lust. It is curiosity.
We have the blessings of visual senses. We enjoy things that look nice and we have choices about how we respond to all of it. I, for one, intend to not let that become part of a legalistic creed and judgmental perspective. I will be modest about my opinion of your outward decorations. Wear what you like.