Musings on Modesty: Why You Shouldn’t Flaunt It Even If You’ve Got It

Have you ever stopped to think that your clothing choices affect other men, women, boys and girls?

When I was growing up, I thought I had a very normal American childhood. My family went to church and Sunday school each week, I attended a public school, and was exposed to plenty of pop culture.

Looking back, though, I’m not convinced my “normal” childhood was the best. When I was 8, I watched the video of ZZ Top’s “Legs” and made mental notes of how I could be pretty … short, tight skirts and high heels, just like the music video’s models and my Barbie dolls wore.

Once I reached high school, a friend’s mother encouraged my whole circle of friends to “flaunt it if you’ve got it.”

As a self-proclaimed good girl, I was a little too conservative to “flaunt it” very often. But I definitely considered flaunting my physical features … if I could turn heads just by dressing a certain way, shouldn’t I think about choosing those kinds of clothes?

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My entire way of thinking never was challenged until I went to college and sat in my freshman Bible study. Our leader talked to us about dressing modestly so we wouldn’t cause men to stumble.

Say what?

What did my wardrobe have to do with men? Why should I limit my personal liberty just to “help” a man? Wouldn’t they stumble without my modest wardrobe?

And thus began a wardrobe challenge that has spanned two decades.

When looking “good” doesn’t

For a while, I fought the concept of being modest in dress for the sake of my brothers in Christ. Yet I still carefully chose outfits that fit into guidelines for mission trips and employment at a Christian organization. (I still remember shopping for a “modest” bathing suit for a summer mission trip spent in Florida … it was not very easy in the pre-Internet era of the mid-’90s.)

Funny things have happened in the past 20 years, though.

Culturally, fashions have become a lot more risqué. Granted, the ’60s had the mini skirt, the ’70s had tube tops, the ’80s had leggings, and the ’90s had bike shorts. But I don’t remember seeing shorts the length of underwear or leggings worn without long sweaters in stores – or on women.

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Now I’m surprised to see women wearing skin tight leggings that show each and every curve. (Might I add that the vast, vast majority of these women must have incredibly fantastic body images and self esteem, because the rest of the world would rather not see the many, many curves, rolls and dimples. Comfortable or not, some clothes are not meant to be worn in public. Leggings really should come with a warning label that they are not intended for most body types. And they’re not pants.)

In the summertime, I’m embarrassed to see so many teenage girls wearing shorts that are just a tad bit longer than their underwear.

And forget about going to the beach. Each summer I’m shocked to see more and more women wearing bikinis – when the swimwear clearly is clearly not the most flattering choice for their body type.

I know body image is a touchy subject for women. I know women have the freedom to wear whatever they want. And many women choose what makes them feel comfortable. I assume women hate to be told if something looks flattering or unflattering. But come on.

What has happened to dressing or behaving like a lady? 

When did women – young and old – start thinking that everyone might like to see them in the visual equivalent of underwear?

I’m not advocating for everyone to don floor-length skirts and turtlenecks. I’m not saying baggy, frumpy clothes are the way to go. I’m not saying I’m a fashion know-it-all. 

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What I am saying is that many of the fashions sold today are either too tight or short or low-cut to be attractive. What you wear says a lot – and unless you’re trying to tell others that sex sells, you might be misunderstood or misjudged based on your fashion choices.

Can we all please agree that not every single outfit flatters every single body? 

What does marriage have to do with it?

In the past decade, I’ve come to realize that clothing choices really do affect a lot of people … and putting others before yourself (even in terms of freedom of choice) can be helpful and appreciated.

I know that men are visual beings. And as happily married or devoted to the Lord a man may be, temptation can easily be stoked by visual images. Provocative commercials can stick.

If I’m out in public and see a woman wearing a tight, low-cut, super short dress, I see a woman and start judging if it’s a good or poor fit for her. (Shame on me. That’s a sinful reaction on my part.) A man looking at that same woman would think of something very different. (Because of the natural thought processes of men, it potentially can lead to a sinful reaction on his part, too.)

My husband and I are happily married. We’re quite content. We enjoy each other. It’s fun to be able to dress immodestly when it’s just the two of us on a date at home. But as his wife – and sister in Christ – I’d rather him not see a barrage of indecently dressed women in day-to-day life.

I don’t want other husbands to have to see it, either. (I love what Lauren Pinkston wrote in her blog post, “My Husband Doesn’t Need to See Your Boobs.” And Sara Burns’ post, “Dressing with Modesty In Mind,” gave me plenty to think about when packing for my beach vacation this summer.) It has nothing at all to do with insecurity and absolutely everything to do with holy living.

What do little boys have to do with it?

My perspective on modesty completely changed when a tiny boy turned me into a mama. I knew motherhood would rock my world, but I never thought about how my thinking would change as I’ve watched my baby develop.

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I’ve watched my son observe the world since he was a baby – and now that he’s starting first grade, he processes so much of what he sees. I watch as he notices pretty girls in skimpy bikinis on the beach. I see the wheels turning as he tries to figure things out. I admire how – for now – he looks away from certain images on TV. (Why can’t Sunday afternoon football games have commercials without half-dressed women in them?)

And when I think of how this world has twisted sex and love and beauty, and how porn targets men and boys, I feel so sick I want to puke and cry and scream all at the same time.

I can’t keep my son in a bubble. Truth be told, I wouldn’t want to even if I could. But I hope and pray I can protect him from the lies, temptations and sexualized society for as long as I possibly can.

What do little girls have to do with it?

My son’s not the only child under my watch who is affected by modesty and immodesty. My 4-year-old daughter definitely notices what women wear.

Earlier this summer, in the middle of a bedtime cuddle, she asked me if I could wear a “pikini.” Wondering exactly what she knew, I asked her what a “pikini” was.

“A shirt that goes like this …” and she lifted her shirt to expose her belly yet still cover her flat chest.

“Where did you see pikinis?” I asked.

“At the football game,” was her answer.

This summer my family has gone to several arena football games and we’ve had a great time – but I’ve wondered how much our kids noticed the cheerleaders. Scantily clad in short, tight outfits, the dancers are nearly impossible to miss.

So much earlier than I ever anticipated, I began a discussion about modesty with my daughter. How do you explain something like that to a 4-year-old? I tried to explain how those kinds of outfits only make people look at the outside of a woman. But a woman is so much more than what’s on the outside.

When women wear inappropriate clothes, the beauty inside a woman isn’t noticed. Others never even get to know how smart or kind or good she may be – because they’re fixated on the external. 

I thought of myself and my friends – how many of us have worked so hard in school and in life. Many of us are trying to make the world a better place. Some of us work so hard to be the best mommies we can be.

But all of that hard work can be overlooked when society starts to notice the flashy outside of a person instead of what’s so incredibly beautiful inside. I didn’t have words to explain this  to my young daughter – it will come with time. (In a few years, she’ll understand more of what Ann Voskamp writes in her post, “Dear Women & Daughters: When You’re Tired of Media Voices Telling You What Beauty & Love Is.”)

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By the end of our conversation, my little sweetheart thought of a solution. “At the next football game, when the cheerleaders start to dance, I’ll stand up and yell as loud as I can: ‘Please protect your modesty!’”

If only that could make a difference. I would stand up and yell it as loud as I could, too.

Your own wardrobe choices

In light of being mindful of other women’s husbands and sons and daughters, could you please stop and consider propriety before you choose your next outfit? (For a fantastic guide on making modest clothing choices, check out Michael Hyatt’s 4 simple suggestions.)

If you feel you’ve got a handle on modesty, could you please pray for immodestly dressed women … then keep your comments between yourself and the Lord? Kimberley Suchta offers a great reminder that “we are all broken, sinful people, in need of a lot of grace.”

Instead of choosing clothing that we think makes us look desirable, remember that unless you’re staying home alone for the day, people are watching what you’re wearing. Little eyes and  big eyes.  

Think about the men who will see you – men you don’t want to attract. Think about what young boys will think when they see you. Think about what young girls will think. And think about hard-working women who are trying so hard for people to see them for more than what’s on the outside.

Instead of wanting to stimulate lust or jealousy – or just feel comfy – could you stimulate respect by your choice of outfits? 
You just might surprise yourself with how healthy it feels to make respectable clothing choices.