my body is not a stumbling block

culottes 2

The picture above was taken while I was in high school. I am wearing a specific pattern of “culotte,” or “split skirt,” that was distributed by First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, and Hyles-Anderson College. This particular pattern was voluminous– there was an 8-inch yolk, and box pleats circled around my hips. The idea behind the pattern was that the yolk and the pleats created enough space that you couldn’t see what my actual shape was underneath all of that fabric. I was not allowed to wear any other kind of culotte pattern— not the “loose” basketball shorts, or “loose” Bermudas, or anything else that was permissible for many of the young women I knew– although, as far as I can remember, all the women in my church wore this pattern.

I developed a gigantic, curvaceous, apple-bottom ass when I was around 14. I have the stretch marks to prove it. And as soon as I started developing, the comments started flooding in.

Samantha, you have a lot of junk in your trunk!

Samantha, have you thought about Spanx? Your butt wiggles when you walk.

Samantha, you should put some control-top panty hose on. It would help with that jiggle.

Samantha, you need to be very careful when you walk up to the piano. Don’t take such a large step onto the platform.

Samantha, suck in your stomach and tilt your hips forward. It’ll help your bottom be less noticeable.

Samantha, you need to work out more. Your bouncing rear-end is distracting my husband. 

I could go on. I have searingly vivid memories of hundreds of comments like this, given to me by incredibly well-meaning men and women– people in my church who honestly cared about me, who to this day still care about me, and who I still respect and love. These men and women have played such a huge role in my life, but every time I think about the instructions I received from them concerning modesty, I want to curl up into a ball until the pain goes away.

They didn’t mean for this to happen. I’m positive they’d be horrified if they knew I carried these wounds with me– wounds that still bleed, even though it’s been years since I’ve heard anything like this.

When I picked out my wedding dress, a gorgeous sleeveless gown with a sweetheart neckline, my immediate concern was what people would think when the wedding pictures went up on facebook. I would likely never hear it directly from them, but I could see their faces in my mind– their lips purse, their faces twist, their heads shake. Look at that dress, they would tut-tut. Her neckline is so low! I can’t believe her parents would let her wear that. And her husband, what must he be like, to let his wife flaunt herself like this?

When I pushed my credit card across the counter, I felt… proud. Because I knew what I’d just accomplished, and it had been monumental: don’t let the bastards get you down, and I thought, and I scheduled my first fitting.

So, today, when I read this article on her.meneutics by Peter Chin, I had to fight with myself. Because I could hear all of those people– people I respect, people who mean a great deal to me– I could hear them in his words. I could hear how loving and gentle he must feel. I could practically picture the look on his face– the tenderness and compassion he truly feels and wants all Christian women to know, to understand how sincere he is, how he doesn’t want us to be hurt by his words, that all he wants is to encourage us to do, think, feel, and react in the way that he thinks is “appropriate” and “mature.”

But all his words did was make me want to scream. To pick up anything and smash it. To lay in my bed and cry until I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

Because, honestly, while I appreciate how kindly he worded his thoughts, it doesn’t change the fact that the ideas he’s promoting hurt people. And yes, they hurt me, and I’m a human so I’m not above reading things into what he said that aren’t there, but I am desperately trying to be fair. I’m not taking issue with his wording, or with his motives– I take issue with the idea.

To say that “modesty is the loving prerogative of the mature” is to instantly label anyone who disagrees with him as unloving and immature, and this is how he begins his argument. This immediately silences anyone who disagrees with him, because we can quite easily be dismissed. We think he’s wrong not because we have research, or personal experience, or even the Bible on our side– we disagree with him because we aren’t exercising true Christian love and maturity. This comment is setting up a false dichotomy between him and the “otherness” of women who have been abused and silenced by teachings exactly like what he’s promoting.

And then he goes to Romans 14, which he does, thankfully, quote the passage in full, instead of ripping out single verses that is so common in this format. But, just because he gives us a lot of context doesn’t remove a basic problem with what Peter, and so many others like him, have done. By using Romans 14, Peter is borrowing from and contributing to a culture where women’s bodies are less than objects– we are unclean objects.

To be fair, he never explicitly says this– in fact, in some places, it seems like he’s trying to deny this idea, but the problem is that women’s bodies as unclean objects is the fundamental premise behind “modesty.” You cannot remove this concept and leave modesty teachings any ground to stand on.

I realize that is a huge claim, so let me explain.

In explanations about modesty like what Peter has given here, the pattern to their argument is:

1) of course, a woman’s body is beautiful, and good. God made it.
2) however, a woman’s body is also sexual, and that sexuality causes men to lust after them.
3) so, out of love, shouldn’t women do everything they can to make sure their brother doesn’t sin?

And then, they frequently go to Romans 14, or passages like it, to talk about the idea of the stumbling block, and how it is every Christian’s duty to “help the weaker brother.”

However, the “weaker brother” in the case of modesty is all men, and the situation being considered is that at least some men see women’s bodies as unclean, and shouldn’t we cater to that? Shouldn’t we do everything within our power to help them avoid temptation and sin? Isn’t that our mature Christian duty?

Hopefully you can intuit the connection. Romans 14 is talking about Christians who think some things (like food) are unclean, and some don’t, but the people who don’t think an item is unclean should still be aware of those who do, and make accommodations for them. When you replace the concept of clean and unclean food with women’s bodies, the only result is that women’s bodies can be perceived as inherently and integrally unclean.

(Some could argue that it’s not our bodies that are unclean, only how we choose to dress those bodies, but that’s not consistent, because the argument goes that men are lusting after the women’s bodies, not their clothes.)

When I was a teenager, and my womanly body began developing, the reaction was not to my clothes– it was never to my clothes. It was to my body, and most of the attention focused on my rear end, which could not be disguised no matter how I walked or what I wore. Nothing— and I do mean absolutely nothing — could change the fact that I had a large, shapely ass or hide it well enough to remove it from my “weaker brother’s” field of vision. No matter what I wore, I was still on the receiving end of cat calls, jeers, slurs– I was stared at, grabbed at, slapped, and mocked, because my body was unclean, and my body was under the purview of what men thought about it.

If I was touched inappropriately, it was not because he was a pervert, it was because I was dressed “inappropriately” (to borrow Peter’s term) and it had caused my brother to stumble.

If I caught one of the young men (or even married men, on occasion) staring at me, it wasn’t because they were not exercising self-control. It was because what I was wearing had caused them to lust after me. It was my “Christian duty” if I was going to “love my weaker brother” and “be strong and mature” to do my dead-level best to make sure that never happened.

But, over the course of well over a dozen years, what I discovered was that no level of modesty could prevent even good, godly, Christian men from lusting after my body if they weren’t exercising self-restraint. I could not make myself shapeless enough, ugly enough, undesirable enough, to escape male attention. It just wasn’t possible.

But what I have learned since then is that there is nothing about my body that I need to hide. My body is beautiful, wonderful, given to me by God, and meant to be fully enjoyed. My body is not unclean– there is nothing about myself, my physicality, my sexuality, none of it, that can “cause” men to lust, or force good men, against their will, to objectify me. I a person, with all the complicated messiness that entails– and my body is fully a part of who I am. It can’t be reduced down to “clean” or “unclean” based on how I dress it– to try to do that is to deny my humanity.

And I love my brothers enough to know that they are capable of making the choice not to objectify and demean their sisters– no matter what they look like or what they’re wearing.

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  • This is excellent! Thanks for sharing your own experience so personally. I’m opposed to modesty teachings because they inherently objectify and demean women, but I never had to deal with judgment for my body because growing up I was very thin and my curves were easily covered by somewhat loose clothes. But I vividly remember the day I realized warnings against “tight clothing” were stupid. My mom commented to me about how my sister needed to stop wearing tight clothes, since she was “developing” (she was a solid C-cup from her early teen years on), and I said, “Mom, what are you talking about? She wears her clothes looser than I do, and mostly T-shirts. Anything she wears won’t be able to hide the fact that she has a figure.” And that’s when I first realized women are shamed and judged for things beyond their control. It’s so twisted. I also strongly believe that the constant obsession over whether women are hiding or revealing their bodies probably stokes way more lust than would be present otherwise.

    • It’s interesting that your mom was the primary source for comments like that. Mine did (does) too. She still can’t get over the “low cut” of my wedding dress, that revealed a hint of cleavage.

      I’ve been a C or bigger since I was 12. I don’t think my mom ever had to deal with that. By now, I think it’s mostly just knee-jerk reactions based on school dress code type standards of modesty. I don’t think she has made the connection at all to what deeper message those comments send.

      I think next time she brings it up, I’ll try to have a conversation instead of just rolling my eyes.

      • I’d like to clarify that while some of these comments came from my mother, the vast majority was from youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, my pastor’s wife– pretty much any woman at church. When I later went to a fundamentalist college, it was from virtually everyone.

        • hanna

          Oh my goodness! Didn’t those youth pastors teach self control for men and to be responsible for their ungodly thoughts? Don’t you think maybe when a guy from your church speaks of your body, maybe it’s him that has a problem? Extreme modesty did not prevent a Bill Gothard or Steve Gothard from sexually harassing young women!( and these girls were dressed from top to bottom with hems hanging down to their ankles and blouses hanging over their waist and hips. It is time youth pastors stopped focusing on womens bodies and stat teaching how to control ones thought life!

      • Ah, sorry Samantha. I was referring to Faith. I didn’t mean to sound like I misunderstood your story.

        I can’t imagine what it must be like to hear that from everyone. It must have been so oppressive.

        • I’m sorry. When I’m responding to comments it doesn’t always show me who he/she is responding to. Sorry about that.

  • I think at the heart of this, and probably this is what Peter is feeling though didn’t articulate, is dignity. Human dignity. Blaming a woman for a man’s lust does not respect a woman’s dignity, it degrades it. And a woman “flaunting” her body does not treat men with dignity either.

    (pausing to think)

    But is that what this modesty push back is about? Because I don’t think Christian women want to flaunt their sexuality, for the sake of their own dignity. We just want freedom. And if a woman is already dressing in a dignified way, what more do they want from us? How can it be about anything other than victim-blaming? Another inch of fabric does not make a difference if a man cannot see a woman as a human being.

    I do still think we need both male restraint and female respect of male sexuality. But if the latter is the only side that a church will address, then that is a problem. I think many churches do address the male restraint side, but others don’t, as your experience demonstrates.

    • Zilla

      Bethany, I have read your entire comment, but have returned to the first paragraph a couple times, troubled. You say “…a woman ‘flaunting’ her body does not treat men with dignity either.”
      It’s one thing to look at a man ogling a woman, or telling a girl to dress differently because of the effect she is having on men, and call that disrespect. But how do you define ‘flaunting?” Is it a dress that shows a little cleavage? Pants that do not hide curvy hips? Or hot pants and a too-small tube top?

      That statement you make puts an enormous and undefined onus on women to use caution in their personal choices, so as not to disrespect men. Personally I don’t think that’s fair, or respectful of women.

  • I found this comment you said you received as a teen to be rather disturbing:

    “Samantha, you need to work out more. Your bouncing rear-end is distracting my husband.”

    Why is a grown man focusing that much on the body of a teen girl? That just screams out “possible pedophile” to me, you would think his wife would be concerned about that…..

    I had noticed, from my sister’s time in the IFB, that the women there are more catty, and backstabbing towards each other than anywhere else I have ever seen before, I don’t know why that is, and it makes me wonder if those women cutting you down weren’t really concerned about their ideals of “modesty”, but were actually jealous of you.

  • Alison Arthur

    Thank you for this article… I had the same things happen to me, but with my breasts. I am still constantly being told that I need to cover up my cleavage, whereas there are other women in my church or in my “christian” based office that can walk around in sun-dresses without bras because they are, frankly, chestless. It’s my “duty” to cover up something that is a human part of my organic being; my breasts. I’m still trying to reclaim my “self” and the body I was blessed with….

  • The phase “modesty is the loving prerogative of the mature” should read “modesty is the excuse of the mature” for hiding what 70+ years of life does to the human body. The young should revel in the beauty of their body while they can.

  • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    Perhaps if Christians today were taught that the attributes and names of the Holy Spirit are feminine in Biblical Hebrew, and that the feminine is as much a part of the God Head as is the masculine, Christian women would be empowered to see themselves as made in the image of God, and Christian men would be taught to respect the image of God in women.

    • I’ve started referring to the Spirit exclusive as “she.” It’s getting me weird looks, but I’m enjoying it.

    • I think you’re absolutely right, Cheryel.

    • Nick

      This is late, but I never had heard that before. It’s certainly an interesting thought to consider (which is why I felt the need to respond).

  • My dad told me I shouldn’t wear sleeveless shirts because older men would stare down the sides to see my breasts. I was about 14. I am now furious that his way of ‘protecting’ me was to shame me for my body, instead of validating me and shaming perverts instead. He cared more, it seems, about the other men than about me. Which is a common story in my life as a female. Much of my adolescence was to prepare me for my future husband. Not for my life, but for my husband. I felt like a possession they were keeping in good shape and un chipped :/

  • Thank you for the beautiful article.

    As a guy in the fundamentalist landscape, there was lots of guilt to go around (not in any way to detract from the way girls/women were harmed in all this). Lots of punishment for seeing, desiring, noticing, responding.

    I think it can be easy to move to a space of “Guys just need self-control.” Which is good movement, don’t get me wrong. But I also wonder about room for steps past that. It feels like pushing back against “female modesty” might only be one step in deconstructing fundamentalist human sexuality.

    I wonder if there could be a world where it’s okay to delight in one another’s bodies. The ways clothes interact with our shapes. Where kindness / dignity / respect isn’t achieved by suppressing sexual longing and desire. I feel suspicious of both shrouding the female body AND averting the male eyes as means to treat women with dignity and respect. I just wonder about a community in which we could be mindful of our bodies’ impacts on one another, mindful of other’s bodies’ impacts on us: jealousy, sexual longing, internal shame, aesthetic beauty, revulsion, curiosity; and then hold one another with deep respect and honor amidst all that.

    I realize that there are massive issues of male privilege and patriarchy that make this complex. Dismantling the power of the male gaze. Dismantling rape culture as a way of policing both over/under-clothed women’s bodies.

    I guess I fantasize about a space where (the hypothetical )you can freely cover your body with as much privacy as you choose, or frame your body with as much revealing celebration as you choose. A space where people sexually attracted to your body can (unobtrusively) delight in the way you impact them, or avert their eyes and mind elsewhere, as their own sexual decisions dictate. But where shame and guilt aren’t assigned based on sexual desire (‘creating it,’ or experiencing it), but rather assigned based on our choices to act with dignity and honor and respect towards one another.

    • This was very thoughtful, thank you.

    • Zilla

      Tucker, thank you! The male perspective is crucial in this conversation,and you make some great points about the choices men and women can make, and how we can live with mindfulness, not repression. Thank you again.

  • Why can’t we enjoy an alluring human body with as much frankness and vigor as we would an exquisite gem,a waterfall,a flower,a tree,a mountain,a nebula,a big cat, an aquatic creature or a bird of prey? Why can’t ardor (not lust) be as acceptable a response as laughter? We can see infants and be bemused by their cuteness without being Rumplestilzkin. We should be able to see one another’s bodies even as divorced from their souls as when we look at a sunset without being ‘demmed preverts’. To me, reacting with “Awwwww…” or “WOWza!” is a celebration of God’s creation. Today,I hope that the Lord grants me the ability to appreciate sweat-glistening muscles,twinkling eyes,lips bracketed by dimples,cheeks pleated and mottled with age,shiny scalps,vellus hair and braids twisted and locked. May I find His beauty in the dark and light,the young and old,male and female,lanky,voluptuous,brawny,fubsy or delicate. Let me be able to recognize and affirm a lovely mind and a strong spirit however it is housed in flesh. I want to see someone with rippling muscles,and lots of hair on the face and chest. and still see God-however she might be dressed. Take care of your health and know that your body is just as comely and valid in its shape as any one of the diverse styles Nature employs in matter or energy.

  • Modesty talk/body shaming in Christian culture (and a lot of the purity/don’t date until you know he’s “the one” ish) is what drove me to wear sweatpants and baggy shirts all through college. The idea that a dude would be attracted to me and would lust after me (and act on that) freaked me out. It wasn’t until I was in counseling that my counselor asked why I was trying to hide myself. Even though I’m married now and in a very healthy relationship, I still struggle with this sometimes. I am so tired of hearing “well meaning” men try to correct us, all the while ignoring our frustrations with the modesty movement. Unless they suggest that we all adopt the burqa, there is no solution. The heart is corrupted from birth, and it is our responsibility to guard our own selves against the flesh.

    • I know what you mean about feeling “freaked out.” Every time I saw anyone simply looking at me, I would flip out, evaluating everything I was wearing and how I had been carrying myself, walking, etc. It is a miserable way to live.

      • Plus, then you read into everything, or I did. A guy smiled at me? Oh no! Am I tempting him? Is he coming on to me? Extinguish your feminine wiles!!

  • This is one of the best and clearest articulations of the problems with modesty culture and rape culture I’ve read. Thanks Samantha.

    I don’t think I agree with bethanylanell that a woman ‘flaunting’ her sexuality doesn’t treat men with respect. I don’t think it’s clear what flaunting means in this context, either. What one person sees as flaunting could be another person’s modesty.

    But even if the woman is flaunting her sexuality – intentionally – why should she not be free to do that? She should be free to do that in a society where it won’t be interpreted as consent to sexual activity. And why I assume that it’s a disrespect to men? Maybe the woman in question is gay, and has no interest in men. Maybe the women watching are gay too.

    • Thank you Jonny– especially for bringing up the fact that “modesty” rules only function at all in an environment where LGBTQ issues don’t exist. The basic assumption is that men are attracted to women, period. Which is just wrong. I wish I’d had the space to address that, so thank you for highlighting this.

    • Jonny – Thank you for pointing this out. The whole “modesty” argument has always confused me and made me want to facepalm. In part because I am attracted to women and have also showered with and camped out with women. So I’ve seen way more than an extra inch of skin. And I’ve had to deal with it and learned to be calm and respectful. Not to harass people about how they choose to cover themselves.

      Respect is the important part – and if someone’s respect for another person is so fragile that a hint of curves will shatter it – it’s not really respect at all. We all need to work on treating eachother better.

  • fionaheather

    When I saw your picture I only saw your utterly gorgeous and arresting face and smile. Perhaps Chin believes that is wrong too? I find it amusing and wonderful how women subtly fight back against these imposed modesty clothes. Here in the uk all the young muslim girls wear their hair in up dos under the most elaborate and beautiful scarves. As if to say I have fulfilled your daft requirement to cover up, but just think what you are missing out on.
    The fact is, God made us beautiful, he made men beautiful, and in myriad shapes and forms. We then decide to be ashamed of that?To make innocent children ashamed of themselves? Enough to make an Angel weep.

  • Xaka

    I faced this same concept growing up a Muslim. It is the reason I left Islam. I love God, but I refuse to allow perverts to decide how I should feel about my body and how I should view the God that created me. Good luck to you!

  • Reblogged this on Liz Boltz Ranfeld and commented:
    This is a thoughtful and important post that showed up on my FB feed today–I hope you read it!

  • I’m struck by the editor’s note at the bottom of Chin’s article: “Editor’s note: This article is the first in a mini-series inviting men into the discussion on modesty. Check back next Thursday for another male perspective.”

    Because men have not been the dominant voices in the modesty discussion for all of history, I guess?

    • I’m absolutely dreading what comes next. Part of me is thinking I’ll do a response every Thursday after the article goes up, addressing at least one issue with the articles. Peter’s had… holy smoke, at least a good dozen glaringly obvious problems, but I only had time to talk about this one.

      Her.meneutics might be presenting me with a good opportunity, methinks.

      • If you’re up for it, I’d say go for it. The modesty debate is important to me, but I always feel exhausted and drained after writing anything that involves in-depth analysis of why it’s so wrong.

  • Katie

    This made me cry! I had the same experience. My breasts developed seemingly overnight. I went from a training bra to a C cup over the course of a single summer. My breasts were always a source of much criticism and repudiation from well-meaning parishioners in my church. They’ve also been the source of cat-calls and abuse from men who viewed my body as an object. I mean, really, how dare I have the glands God gave me? And now that I am also a mother it’s scandal piled upon scandal that I use them for their God-designed purpose (i.e. feeding my children). This is an issue that has made it difficult for me to return to church. I haven’t been to church on a regular basis in several years. People are quick to talk about women’s bodies as a “stumbling block” in faith but that attitude has been a stumbling block for me in the pursuit of my own faith. But no one care about that, I suppose.

    • Two of my best friends are also busty– and, growing up in a similar environment that I did, it gave them nothing but grief. That’s not how it should be. I can understand not wanting to come back because of this issue– I find it difficult, too. Thankfully, the church I go to now has never breathed a word on modesty. The second they do is the second I stand up and walk out.

    • Koko

      Katie, you make a very good point about how people talking about our bodies being a stumbling block to them are placing a stumbling block squarely in front of us.

      I have always had a big, curvy bottom (bubble butt & buffalo butt where common nicknames from a particular male family member – yes, ew), and puberty made things worse. I developed fairly young (training bra by 3rd grade, solid C-cup by 6th), and despite loose-fitting clothes, was accused of trying to “draw attention” to myself.

      Breastfeeding five children (even in church – take that, modesty police!) has thickened my skin, but I still get angry that the same arguments are being used to crush new generations of girls and women.

      I’ve told my own pubescent daughter that she need not wear a bra if she finds it uncomfortable. I will not shame her into wearing one with the “But men are looking at your tits!” argument that was used on me as a little girl.

      We clothe our bodies with honor; we do not hide them in shame.

      • Zilla

        “We clothe our bodies with honor; we do not hide them in shame.”
        So well said. I wish you the best with your daughter. I have a daughter and a son, and am working hard to instill respect for others as paramount.

  • Kevin

    Thank you for your story, Samantha. As a the father of 4 daughters (ages 33,39,28 and 26) and as a minister I have seen this from both sides of this dilemma. My wife, who is a beautiful and curvaceous woman had an experience growing up not unlike yours and she and I resolved that our daughters would not be traumatized or led to have a negative self-image due to the projection of either those who could not look at them without lusting after them or those resentful of the attention their beauty might draw.

    As a minister I have heard it all from the complaints of young ladies being inappropriately touched to the complaints of men that the praise dancers were sinful because they were shaking their butts at them…yeah; someone went there… My wife and I have fought this battle by building up and encouraging our daughters to understand that God created women to be beautiful and declared feminine beauty to be “very good”; therefore there was no shame in being attractive. Their responsibility if someone remarked or inappropriately touched them was to tell us…if their attire passed muster with their mother and me it was not the place of the well-meaning and judgmental to say anything to them…my wife also has made it a personal ministry of hers to encourage and edify the other young women of the church and to provide a safe space where they can become women without predation or guilt or blame.

    The fact remains that if a woman came to church in a burqha there would be men fantasizing about what’s going on underneath…so as far as the membership goes, if the men couldn’t look without lusting my suggestion was they needed to repent and to take a tip from Job and make a covenant with their eyes so they could avoid sin. if the women resented the young ladies because of the attention their husbands insisted on giving them my suggestion to them was to consider marital counseling with the pastoral staff… but in neither instance is the “problem” on the part of the young ladies… I am on the pastoral staff of an inner city church and some of the girls and even the women wear what they wear because it is all they have.. some have never been involved in a church and have no concept of modesty beyond the arbitrary standards of the school system… and some have been in abusive situations in their homes and come to the church already in a state of profound brokenness and that is what they know… so it is incumbent upon me, as a minister to create space for them to be nurtured…and the first step in that is to ward off those who look down on them or who make decisions about their character based on their clothing.

    As for the guy with the issues with the praise dancers… I strongly encouraged him to seek professional help before he ended up as a registered sex offender.

    • Kevin, I’d like to go your church.

      • Kevin

        If ever you find yourself in Alexandria, VA, come on down 🙂

    • Rachel

      I have tears in my eyes. I wish I’d grown up in a church where the men had views of women that were this Christ-like. Thanks for posting this.

  • Thank you a million times over. Having been a member of an IFB church and attending grad school at a well known IFB affiliated school, this speaks volumes to me. Women were made to be the culprits when men lusted all the time. I used to dress more than modest and still had comments. God bless you for articulating these ideas so well. Thank you!

  • Pingback: On modesty and Christian culture. | claire.she.goes()

  • I’ve always thought about female objectification and modesty in much the same way. Not necessarily in a religious context, but more of a social one. (I didn’t grow up in a religious household) It doesn’t matter what a woman wears – if a man is going to objectify women if they doesn’t respect in the first place. I think situations like this say a lot more about the poorer qualities of men that it does about women.

  • David

    Quite simply well said.
    As God said to Peter, do not call anything unclean that I have made clean.
    Man (female and male) was made in God’s image, by denying your inherent beauty others are denying the beauty of all things God made.
    Our life in Christ is based upon his grace and anything we add to grace takes away from it.

  • Your article really hit home. I have been feeling so insecure and discouraged, lately, because after all this time, and after finally finding a place and church where I feel welcome and like I could really belong, I’ve run head first back into this stupid modesty debate, in my moms group.

    Two people that I love and respect have – with all love and concern – made it very clear to me that they believe I dress immodestly, and that the fact that my husband and I do not think so at all is simply the result of us being spiritually “less mature”. Since this modesty issue has come up, I am no longer welcome as a chaperone for our teen girls, and I am discouraged at every turn from doing anything remotely leadership-y, like hosting a ladies Bible study in my home, or inviting pre-teens to come over once a week to learn to bake (BAKE, for the love!!). I am more than welcome socially, but that’s it.

    I feel crushed, and angry. And I know there’s really nothing I can do about it. At one point, I actually told these girls that I would dress to their standards just so it wasn’t an issue any more, because it was upsetting me so much. Their response? Basically, if I’m not doing it because I have a heart conviction that I am currently dressing immodestly, then by dressing “modestly” I am being Pharisaical! And it seems I can’t turn around without somebody saying how they appreciate SO MUCH when a woman “loves my husband enough to dress modestly”. I called them on this, that same day I said I’d just dress to their standards to get it over with, and told them that when they say that they are saying, point blank, that if they think a woman is dressing immodestly then they believe she doesn’t care about their husband, and as someone they think is immodest I am offended and hurt that they think that about me, because I care very much about their husbands. They just smiled and said maybe I was feeling hurt because I was being “convicted”.

    I refuse to talk about it with anyone, anymore. But it kills me that because I (and my husband, for pete’s sake – all that about submitting to your husband means NOTHING when your husband disagrees with “their” interpretations, btw) – that because I don’t have a problem with spaghetti strap shirts that I am unfit to serve my church or community. It makes me want to pack up and move somewhere nobody knows me.

    • This makes me want to start HULK SMASH-ing everything in sight. How utterly ridiculous!

    • Alena, I want you to know that God loves you and approves of you exactly the way you are. And He is putting all of these wonderful ideas for ministry and service on your heart because of how capable and worthy He finds you in His church!! You should not submit to their judgment and emotional abuse. It is wrong and you should find another church community where you can serve and lead and teach and invite and minister and BAKE to your hearts’ content.

    • “Their response? Basically, if I’m not doing it because I have a heart conviction that I am currently dressing immodestly, then by dressing “modestly” I am being Pharisaical!”

      This is blatant behavioral modification. They don’t just want you to follow their rules; they want you to BECOME a different person.

  • “I could not make myself shapeless enough, ugly enough, undesirable enough, to escape male attention.” I’ve always been paranoid to try and be modest and then I was sexually harassed/assulted and one pastor in particular inferred it was my fault. I still beat myself up over possibly causing this somehow upon myself. No matter how hard or how much we cover or are forced to cover, even if it is a Burka if men want to look they will look, if they can’t see, they will imagine, and whatever we wear won’t protect us from some mens evil desires. Praise God for the men who do learn self restraint and restore our faith in mankind. Just as well 1 Samuel 16:7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

  • Yanna

    Wow. This text has been kinda triggering to me, though great to put my own experiences in perspective.

  • allison

    It is clear that you have been very hurt in the past. Your hurt is valid and the negative comments you received were out of line.

    That being said, it seems to me that you have gone to the other extreme. Women AND men are responsible when it comes to modesty and avoiding lust. Women should dress modestly. Men should work to control/avert their thoughts and their eyes.

    Your post seems to imply that women have no responsibility in the matter. I believe women have the responsibility of not INTENTIONALLY trying to attract or tempt men by highlighting/revealing certain aspects of their bodies with their clothing. Men have the responsibility of training their minds, averting their eyes, and removing themselves from tempting situations (and by the way, they also have the responsibility of dressing modestly- many girls are tempted by the male body as well). It is not one or the other.

    Modesty, however, looks different to different people. I, for example, do not feel it is necessary for women to cover their knees at all times. This seems far too extreme for me. However, if another woman is personally convicted that knees should be covered, then so be it. Since modesty is not clearly defined in the Bible, it is a “grey” issue and therefore it should be left up to personal conviction (or parental authority for those under 18).

    Let me be clear, I am not advocating shame of any kind on the part of women. I am not a fundamentalist or a legalist. It is true, a woman cannot control the thoughts or actions of anyone else, male or female. Yet, women should actively try to not cause men to stumble. It is not about women being unclean. Wine is not unclean. There is nothing wrong with drinking a glass of wine, but I would not drink a glass of wine around a recovering alcoholic. There is also nothing wrong with women’s bodies, yet we should not purposely flaunt our bodies around men (or women, for that matter) who are all recovering sinners.

    As a side note, I think it is very dangerous when the Church attempts to regulate such matters. Making rules is not the job of the Church. I am a leader in the youth group at my church and we encourage the girls to wear modest swimsuits, but we don’t define what that means. We leave it up to the girls and their parents to define it. The Bible doesn’t say “though shalt always wear board shorts and a one-piece”. Some of the girls wear board shorts, others don’t. Some wear one-pieces, some don’t. The goal is not to produce shame, but to encourage pure hearts and minds for both the girls and the boys.

    One last point: notice I keep saying “purposely” and “intentionally”; the issue of modesty should be mostly focused on motive, not perception.

    • notleia

      And to my right, ladies and gentlemen, we see the latest evolution of Victorian-type sexual ideology in its attempt to survive outside of its natural Madonna/whore environment. Notice the attempt at egalitarianism, in putting some of the weight of responsibility on men, but the emphasis on the naive notion of “pure hearts and minds,” equating sex with contamination, is detrimental and will likely play a significant part in the species’ extinction. Think of it as similar to an autoimmune disorder, where a body ends up attacking its own natural parts in a misguided attempt to protect them. And to my left, observe the pitfall of the assumption that good intentions magically everything okay and that nobody could have an objection to whatever it is you’re saying.

      • allison

        I understand that you do not agree with me, and you still might not agree after reading my followup comment. My goal is not to necessarily change your mind (and certainly not to start an argument), but to clarify my previous comment.

        First of all, it is not “Victorian-type sexual ideology”, but Biblical sexual ideology that I am describing.

        Second, I fail to see how your argument is logical when you say that I am “equating sex with contamination.” I did not once mention sex, but since you brought it up, I do believe that sex is good and pure within the confines of marriage. Outside marriage, it is detrimental. Women/girls should remain modest when in public. (I am making no comment on how wives should dress in front of their husbands when they are being sexually intimate.)

        Dressing modestly can, in no way, be likened to an autoimmune disorder. Covering one’s cleavage, for example, does no harm to the body. An argument could even be made that it, in fact, protects the body from undesired attention.

        Lastly, good intentions do not magically make everything okay. What I was referencing was the fact that the author (Samantha?) was fully covered, yet was still being told her body/clothes were inappropriate. My belief is that it is not the place of the church or people in the church to police modesty.

        What can be addressed by the church, however, is someone’s motivations. If a Christian woman is clearly and actively trying to gain the attention of men by the way she dresses, someone in the church should lovingly address her sin and guide her to repentance. I realize this idea might be offensive to many, in a world where morals are believed to be relative. My standard is the Bible, though, and this concept is very Biblical. What Samantha experienced at church was horrific and should be condemned. But, to reject modesty is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

        • I think that you and notleia are kind of talking past each other. Both of you seem to be approaching this issue from completely different perspectives– perspectives that are so far removed they are completely alien to one another. I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain these differences, but maybe I can try.

          First off, I don’t think there is any such thing as a consistent, universal “biblical sexual ideology.” There are many approaches to sex, even inside of orthodox Christianity. There is the Catholic Theology of the Body, there is consent-based sexual ethics, there are monastic arguments and appeals to diligence and restraint, then there are what are most decidedly Victorian conceptualizations of what constitutes moral sexual behavior.

          I understand having a statement you made being called “Victorian” could feel like a personal insult, but, from what I can tell, it is an accurate description of the sexual ideology you seem to have embraced. There are certainly valid arguments and points to be made, but, from the things you have said, your framework to understand the issues of sexuality and modesty are within Victorian constructs. Gender dichotomies, the virgin/whore contrast, the appeal for women to “keep their sexuality purely for their husbands”– all of these things have been present in your comments, and these ideas are, by nature, Victorian sexual ethics.

          Also, notleia has already pointed this out, but I think it deserves to be said again: dressing “modestly” is wholly incapable of protecting a woman from undesired attention. It cannot do that on any level. Perhaps, perhaps, you could make the case that modesty can contribute to an environment that is helpful for good men to keep their eyes “up here,” but that is not the same thing as “protecting” women from “undesired attention,” and I think you’ve confused the two.

          However, that is another Victorian ideal: that woman are required to make personal decisions based on what men think about that choice.

          You also make the assumption here that we are capable of looking at how a woman is dressed and drawing conclusions about what her motives are. That, and this is going to sound extreme so please bear with me, is rape culture. Rape culture says that you can draw conclusions about a woman’s sexual availability and desires based on what she is wearing, and you have essentially done the same thing here. I know that sounds harsh, but that is the term used to describe these sorts of arguments.

          In short, there is no way to look at a woman, what she is wearing, and think “she is clearly and actively trying to gain the attention of men” without buying into the lie of rape culture. This is an assumption that may or may not be true, but no one is psychic.

      • notleia

        Looks like I can only respond to you by responding to myself, so here goes. You’re acting like you want to have your cake and eat it, too. Despite your deliberate lack of articulated definition about modesty, you think it’s vital to emphasize. Why?
        Modesty, in terms of clothing, pretty much is all about sex, or rather, preventing it. Who would we kid if we pretended otherwise? Granted, you may not hold with the Purity Movement, which does take autoimmune-ish views about sex. Just look at the word they use (which you also used a form of, which is why I made the connection), “purity.” As in “free from contamination,” “contamination” in this context being sex. It’s Madonna/whore raising its head, just as it does in your slightly updated, watered-down version of wife/attention-seeker.
        And “protecting the body from undesired attention?” Did you miss the part about how Samantha’s butt was ogled despite her best attempts to disguise it with yards upon yards of cloth? Most days I dress like an androgynous hobo (except with better hygiene), and I still get checked out by men in Walmart. Modesty DOESN’T WORK to prevent undesired attention, period.
        You offer no real answers about what modesty is supposed to be in terms of clothes if it’s not about sex. Just generic attention-seeking? That’s just a strawmannish shutdown like what Peter Chin used, an accusation/dismissal that people who don’t dress modestly are just immature and insecure.
        Just what’s Biblical about giving reverence to appearances, anyway? Would you say to the woman in a conservative pantsuit, “Here’s a good seat for you,” while telling the woman in a spaghetti-strap tank top, “You stand there”?

      • allison

        First, I want to clarify that when I said “pure hearts and minds” I was not referring to sexual purity. I was referring to absence of sin. And in response to your last group of questions (“Just what’s Biblical about giving reverence to appearances, anyway? Would you say to the woman in a conservative pantsuit, “Here’s a good seat for you,” while telling the woman in a spaghetti-strap tank top, “You stand there”?”), I would like to say a resounding NOOO!!! I would not give preferential treatment to someone based on their attire! I readily admit that many churches or people in the church absolutely judge based on attire. There are many girls and women who have felt shunned by someone in a church due to ungracious comments or looks of disdain. This is wrong. Absolutely wrong.

        Now to tackle your first question about why I emphasize modesty, I feel that I need to back up and explain my foundational views. Purity and modesty are rooted in the Gospel. The Gospel is the message of Christ’s great love for His people, despite their sinfulness. We are all sinners who are not capable of measuring up to God’s standards. We are unable to follow God’s law, and therefore unable to receive God’s favor, to reflect God’s character, or to receive salvation from our sin. We deserve death. Our sin has created a separation from God that is unable to be fixed with our own actions. So, God, being rich in mercy, sent His Son, Jesus, to be our substitute. Jesus, being fully God, never sinned. He is perfect. Jesus is the only person who ever lived who did not deserve death, so when He died, He died for us. He took the punishment we deserve. He also gave His righteousness to those whom He has called, His children. For Christians, there is no more condemnation because we are in Christ. We are covered by his perfection. When God looks at Christians, he sees us as spotless, as white as snow. He does not see the blemishes of our sins. Through the power of God, Christians are no longer slaves to sin.

        So, when I talk about purity, this is what I’m referring to. Modesty is important because it is the outward manifestation of the purity that God is producing inside Christians. Out of love and gratitude for God, not out of shame and guilt, Christians should be modest. Modesty is hard for me to define simply because the Bible doesn’t define it. I have my own opinions about what is modest, but my opinion is not what matters. Modesty is certainly not a way to earn salvation or to earn God’s favor. We aren’t capable of doing so. Modesty is a product of the transformation that occurs when someone has been saved, which is why I shy away from defining it. Sorry for my long response, but your question is hard to answer without trying to explain the reasons. If you want to read more of my thoughts on sexual purity, you can visit my blog. We can also continue this discussion there if you’d like.


        • I’d just like to point out that you have made an argument for treating women differently based on what they’re wearing. If you, or someone else, believes that a woman’s clothes are “clearly and actively” intended to gain the attention of men, you have stated that you believe it is the congregation’s responsibility to treat that woman differently because of her clothing choices– to “bring her to repentance.”

          I follow your argument, of which the conclusion is “modesty is important because it is the outward manifestation of the purity that God is producing inside Christians.”

          I think this conclusion can be problematic for a variety of factors. First, I can understand why you believe that modesty could be treated as “fruit” or a “work” in the context of “by their fruit you shall know them.” However, I think it can be a problem when we start treating “modesty,” a concept that is entirely based on cultural context, as a “fruit.” The other “fruits” are things like love, charity, forgiveness, faith, temperance, etc. These things, I believe, transcend culture. Modesty cannot transcend culture. It is wholly dependent on culture for its definition, and cannot be unmoored from culture. The two are integrally linked.

          Take, for example, the “jumper.” In the 20s and 30s, this shapeless, boxy dress was considered immodest by Christians because it “disguised the feminine form.” Only those flappers would wear such a thing. Only suffragettes would want to disguise their womanliness. Christian women embraced their God-given femininity. However, in the 90s, the jumper was wildly popular in certain circles– because it was shapeless and boxy. Dresses with princess seams, pin tucks, or good tailoring, were considered immodest because it highlighted their femininity, which was for their husband’s eyes alone.

          Also, I think it is important to talk about modesty in the concept of the Bible. When the Bible talks about modesty, the word that appears in the Greek is not associated with “covering skin,” but with being decorous, ordered, and well-arranged. The root form of the word is used to describe the orderliness of the heavens. Given that, in almost any context that modesty appears in that it is linked to women not being flashy or extravagant, I think that it is more hermenuetically consistent to argue that modesty is about not flashing designer brands and being humble than how much skin you cover.

      • allison

        Sorry, in the attempt to not be overly long-winded I cut my last response short. But I really need to say more about the purpose of modesty. I mentioned that modesty should not be out of shame, but I didn’t mention that modesty should be rooted in acknowledging how special our bodies are, and the knowledge that God values our bodies, not just our souls. A Christian woman should be modest in order to preserve her body for her husband and to honor God. A woman’s body should be shared fully and unabashedly with her husband, as a special and valuable gift. To reveal too much in public would be disrespectful to her future or present husband and also could be a stumbling block for others. Modesty is, in part, a loving way to help men with sin that they (typically) uniquely struggle with (lust). Modesty cannot, and will not, prevent ALL unwanted attention, but it certainly can prevent some. Women can dress modestly without compromising style or beauty. They can still dress in a way that celebrates the beauty of the human body, without exposing too much. This still isn’t a comprehensive definition, but again, it should be left up to each Christian’s conscience and NOT dictated by sinful men or judgmental women.

        • Ok, one more comment, and then I should be good. 🙂

          There’s a couple things happening in this comment that I’d like to bring out.

          First, you are linking “preserving her body for her husband” with “honoring God.” The idea that my body is an object that needs to be preserved, to be protected, sheltered, and hidden, strictly for the benefit of my husband, which honors God, is… well, that’s sexist. My body is not a “gift” for my husband. My body is simply that– my body.

          You’ve also done the same thing that Peter did in his article– you’ve referred to a woman’s body as a stumbling block, and… I’m not going to write my post again, but I’d just like to point out that you did that.

          Also, you’re working off of gender stereotypes that have little actual basis in reality. You’re referring to an idea that I grew up hearing called “the eye gate,” that men are (typically) visually stimulated, and women are (typically) emotionally/physically stimulated. This is a false dichotomy, and has actually been shown to be a false dichotomy by recent scientific research, which seems to indicate that, typically, women can actually be more aroused by visual stimulus alone (using both MRI scans and monitoring blood flow to the genitalia).

          I think we might be working off of a different conception of what constitutes “unwanted attention.” I think, maybe, your definition of “unwanted attention” almost seems to be any attention at all, while I see “unwanted attention” as “attention that makes me feel objectified.” Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but, if that is true, then I would like to point something out.

          A heterosexual man noticing that a woman is beautiful and attractive, and looking at her to appreciate that? I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. However, a heterosexual man looking at a woman in order to lust, which is needs to be separated from sexual attraction, is an entirely different thing.

          Sexual attraction is natural, chemical, biological, and in many cases, at least to some degree involuntary. It’s how our bodies were designed, and an automatic response that is a reaction to chemical stimulus… yep. Don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

          However, when a man or a woman becomes sexually aroused by something we see, we then have a choice: do I acknowledge that who I’m looking at is a person, or do I view them as an object that I can use for my own sexual gratification (lust)?

          I think it’s brutally unfair to call lust a horrible sin, and then to conflate lust, which is a choice, with something that virtually can’t be helped, and is a natural, automatic response.

          • allison

            I appreciate all of the discourse here, and it is actually helping me to make sure I articulate what I believe more clearly. I agree that we seem to be approaching the issue of modesty from different perspectives that are quite far from each other. We all seem to have different definitions and assumptions that are informing the way we interpret each comment.

            That being said, I do need to correct you, Samantha. You said, “I think, maybe, your definition of “unwanted attention” almost seems to be any attention at all, while I see “unwanted attention” as “attention that makes me feel objectified.” ” This is a wrong interpretation of my belief. I agree with your views completely here: “A heterosexual man noticing that a woman is beautiful and attractive, and looking at her to appreciate that? I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. However, a heterosexual man looking at a woman in order to lust, which needs to be separated from sexual attraction, is an entirely different thing.”

            Secondly, when I compared alcoholism to lust, I was referring to the fact that both are sins. Not that they are both addictions (although lust can be an addiction for some).

            Third, you stated that my point about a woman preserving her body for her husband is sexist. I should have specified this earlier, but I also believe that men, too, should preserve their bodies for their wives. Now knowing that I have the same standard for both men and women, hopefully you will see that my opinion on this point is not sexist. (See 1 Cor. 7:4, in the context of 1 Cor. 6:19-20.)

            I am getting the sense that this conversation could go on and on, so I will not bring up any new concepts. I just want to close by stating my original intent for commenting on your post. From reading your post, I got the impression that you were abandoning the idea of modesty completely (maybe this was a wrong assumption). I simply wanted to point out that modesty is not inherently bad, but the way it was taught and upheld in your previous church was wrong and, from my perspective, not Biblical. I agree teaching modesty should not promote shame. I believe that the Church should help all people to understand the value of their bodies and sexuality within the right context (marriage). The Church has a lot of work to do in addressing this issue, and I certainly will keep this conversation in mind when I speak to the girls at my church about modesty. I will remember the shame and guilt that you have suffered and do everything I can to not give the girls the impression that they should be ashamed of their bodies. It seems that you and I have reached different conclusions about modesty, but hopefully we can agree that God loves men and women equally and that we are all made in the image of God, which gives us all value and dignity. Church-goers, pastors, etc. should never make anyone feel otherwise.

            I have not quoted scripture yet, but in case you are wondering what has informed my beliefs, here is a good sampling: 1 Corinthians 6:12 through 7:5, Romans 6, Colossians 3, and Galations 5.

      • I’d just like to make a quick note. I love what you’re saying here, but you are using terms and their underlying ideas that may not be familiar to everyone. I’m not saying don’t use them, but using overtly feminist language, and all of the underlying ideas these terms represent, could result in all of us misunderstanding each other unless we give some context.

        I am in no way tone-policing you, at all. I think your response is appropriate, just that readers like allison seem to want to have a conversation about this, and defining our terms could be helpful.

    • Ok, so, to keep this from turning into one gigantic comment, I’m going to treat each of these of their own terms, so bear with me as I respond to each of these on their own.

      First of all, I think you’re inferring something from my post that I didn’t imply. The only thing this post contains is a critique of the idea present in Peter’s article, and my response to how teachings like his have completely failed me in my life. I didn’t really offer an alternative, except that I believe that things can be better. So, in that way, you are definitely putting words into my mouth that aren’t there.

      Also, you are presenting a deeply inaccurate rendering of alcoholism and conflating it with sexual attraction. Alcoholism is an addiction and a disease. Men, in general, are not addicted to women’s bodies, and making this comparison makes the suggestion that they are. A woman’s body, to a man that finds women attractive (and, let’s face it, modesty teachings usually completely ignore the fact that LGBTQ individuals exist), is nothing like what alcohol is to a recovering alcoholic, primarily because being a man sexually attracted to women is not a disease. It is a part of their identity, and treating sexual attraction itself as if it is something dirty, something diseased– I don’t think that is a healthy view of sexuality.

    • Rachel

      Allison, last week I went to the grocery store. I was recovering from the flu and, forgive the lack of delicacy, suffering from the worst cramps I’d had in some time. I’m mid 30s, very married, professional who doesn’t have much use for anything eye-catching these days. I had black circles under my eyes, wore glasses, threw my hair in a pony tail. The only makeup was some spot cover-up that, upon application, also appeared to be taking the day off. I hadn’t showered in two days previously; husband is out of town, and we’ve been living in a renovation still in progress. After the shower, I didn’t dry or style my hair. I wore baggy, paint-stained jeans and a shapeless, boxy, loose top in various shades of gray that, in my sister’s assessment, makes me look like a chemo patient. Every man I passed turned to look. I had five men approach me to make conversation. I walked away with two proferred business cards, lots of conversation attempts, and several, “Hello, pretty lady” from random non-English speakers. . I sent my sister a photo of my appearance with an account of what happened. She is still laughing over it.

      If women could control men’s responses to them, Cosmo and the entire fashion magazine industry would have gone out of business years ago. We can’t control men through our appearance. It’s just too scary for us to admit that, so we assure ourselves that we can make men do things by raising or lowering a skirt a few inches. And we guilt younger women into reigning themselves in even more because we are aging, we feel less attractive, and we notice our husbands noticing. Which is all well and good. But let’s not slap God’s name on it.

    • Rachel

      Also, the question of which body parts render men unable to control themselves … are very culture-specific. There are cultures in which women go topless and it’s a non-event, but if the back of their knees show? The men will lose all control and the immodest girls are asking for it. Men in the west control themselves very well around a shiny head of female hair, but justification for the burqa indicates that women can render men unable to control themselves with a glimpse of female eyes, let alone hair. Oddly, these overly oppressive cultures have MORE assault than cultures where women are far more exposed.

  • allison

    I feel that I need to say one more thing. The abusive looks and touching you received were absolutely wrong and you were a victim. The men who abused you should be rebuked and disciplined by the Church. Sexual harassment or abuse is NEVER ok, regardless of how a woman is dressed.

    • Sarah

      Allison, thank you for doing your best to present a different view here. It’s obvious most people don’t agree with you, but I just want to say… What you are advocating, regardless of what other have said, is in my opinion an accurate portrayal of what the Bible teaches about personal responsibility and sexuality. So THANK YOU for going against the flow and speaking some truth into this conversation. It’s an embarrassment to the Church that we have let this modesty discussion hurt those we are actually trying to reach with Christ’s love. But let’s not a swing the pendulum so far as to say that no thought is to be given to our modesty. Let’s embrace modesty as a loving gesture to our men at the same time recognizing that we cannot control a man’s thoughts.

      • Firstly, I love it when people come and speak up and disagree with something I’ve written or participate in a discussion. However, I think that it’s impossible to advocate for both “making a loving gesture for men” and saying “we don’t control a man’s thoughts.” The two are integrally connected. The “loving gesture” by its very nature is an attempt to control men’s thoughts.

        • Sarah

          I guess that is where we disagree. I would say it’s not an attempt to control them, but rather to protect them.

  • Franklın Ampah-Korsah

    Hahahaha though its no joking matter, I find some of the comments here quite interesting. Hmm, right from the garden of eden we realized , after the fall, that we had cover our nakedness, from who I don’t know…..but perhaps it was just upon an impulse.
    Lets be frank here ladies, which is easier; showing your stark naked bodies to your husbands or strangers? If you would not show your stark naked body to anyone, why put on clothes that Still shows all your curves and contours to strangers? I can understand that you would want to look beautiful always, but does that mean you should parade through the the city almost naked? I hear most of my sisters say “but its our own bodies?”. Your OWN bodies ? so God has nothing to do with your body ? Is your body not God’s temple? If Adam and Eve rushed to pluck the nearest leaves to use in covering their nakedness because they expected God to visit them, why do ladies and gentlemen in the body of christ think they can walk about half-naked as True Representatives of Jesus on earth ?
    Now to the men folk of the church we have to be sincere to ourselves too ; do we really r-e-ally think its the fault of the woman if we ever fall into temptation ? I beg to differ please. Is there no connection between our brains and our eyes? If a woman decides to go half-naked on the streets does she really force you to look at her? No. Let us learn to train ourselves to think that…….seeing a skimpily clad woman flaunting her stuff right in front of you…..does not mean…..its time for sex. Please. I have a little mind trick that immemsely helps me and which is…..anytime I encounter such situations I only would have to remind myself that what crossed my field of view was just a mass of flesh and water and blood and bones artistically put together by God, but within this visceral mass is a kindred spirit like myself who is also struggling to find union with her creator.
    The Body of men and women are not evil , its our respective pursuit of fornication and adultery that are Evil. Samantha my sister ?

    • Koko

      “…a skimpily clad woman flaunting her stuff…”

      I would like to take this opportunity to point out that unless you are at a strip club or in the presence of a woman who is actively trying to seduce you, the probability of the “skimpily clad” (by your arbitrary standards) woman actually flaunting herself is close to zero.

    • Sarah

      Yes. Yes. Yes. Thank you! You are a man who recognizes his personal responsibility AND the common-sensicality of why a woman should not walk around naked.

      • Just a quick comment, because I’ve seen this idea come up a lot in discussions like this one. There’s a difference between arguing against the shame-based modesty culture and advocating people walking around naked. Social context is still a part of our culture.

        • Sarah

          I think putting a priority on social context but ignoring Biblical context (which has been done over and over in this discussion) is very dangerous. Obviously I’m not advocating walking around naked, but our “socially acceptable” take on modesty is ridiculous, and even non-believers are taking note of that.

  • Don

    That skirt pattern still lives. On one of the routes I can choose for my drive to work in the morning I often encounter “the sisters” out for their morning jog. When I first saw them they were always wearing the denim version and they were walking. Over 2 years or so they have increased their speed to a slow run and added different fabrics and colors but the shape never changes. One Sunday on my bike, I encountered them on a different road — they coming down the hill as I was going up — which allowed us to exchange greetings. These are not young women nor are they old like me, but they still wear that pattern. I wonder if they go to the beach.

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  • This is a wonderful personal article. I am sorry for criticizing other women over this, and I am going to tell them so.

    • Zilla

      Ginger, this is now my favorite comment. To admit that something you did harmed others, and then to offer and apology and ask forgiveness…this is a difficult thing to do and I wantyou to know I am proud to be your fellow human.

  • Samantha, the one statement you made earlier that really hit home with me was the idea that women don’t have to make decisions about what they wear based on what men will think of it. I have always, always been taught that is exactly how to make my decision on what to wear (by my former church, that is). After my divorce, I starting dressing differently than I had when married. I starting dressing in things I liked, things that made me feel good about myself and my body, things that helped me put forth the image of the complete, intelligent, capable woman I am. I showed some cleavage and some leg…not for other men…but because I was free of the confines of my ex-husband’s judgement and criticism. At church, other women would pull me aside and tell me I was showing to much cleavage or motion for me to cover up. They did not make me feel ashamed of myself, they made me feel ashamed of them. But then I and my daughters started getting called a “slut” and then we left our church. I realized that there was and is absolutely nothing wrong with us or the way we dressed or anything else about us…what was wrong was that teaching that women were to make their decisions based on what men would think of it.

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  • David F.

    Although I understand and agree with the majority of your post, I thought about this all day and am compelled to respond, especially to your last paragraph. The majority of your comments have been from women and as a man my perspective is somewhat different. In an idealized perfect world, christian men could look at women regardless of their dress and not have impure thoughts, etc. This, however is not reality. Men as a rule are visually stimulated. I am your brother in Christ but I, like most men have a lifelong struggle with lustful thoughts often based on what I see. If it truly doesn’t matter what you wear, then take this logic to the extreme. If women came to church to worship alongside men wearing little or nothing at all, how many of those men would be able to put aside sexual thoughts and actually worship? I know this is a ridiculous scenario but I just want to illustrate that at some point it becomes a real problem. To insist that it shouldn’t make any difference is to ignore human nature. There must be a middle ground somewhere that allows women to wear clothing that shows God’s beautiful creation without being a major distraction.

    • Kevin

      Job 31:1 I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid? It is incumbent upon you, as a Christian man, to model the fruit of the spirit; in this case, the fruit in question is “self-control”. If you are so easily inclined to lusting after a woman as you seem, it doesn’t matter what she wears because because the object of your lust is not the clothes; it is the body that is wearing the clothes.

      Men, own your own mess; we have been blaming women for our sin since Eden…but God is not mocked…and He is not buying it now any more than he bought it from Adam.When we blame women for our lack of self-control we call God a liar because one of the promises of God is that:

      1Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

      Another is in the benediction of the book of Jude which begins “Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling…” Rely on God to transform and renew your mind rather than trying to place the blame for your spiritual shortcomings on another… while you cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair…

      • Zilla

        “Men, own your own mess; we have been blaming women for our sin since Eden”

        Bless you, Kevin.

      • Sarah

        Of course God “is able to keep you from falling” and giving in to a temptation “such as is common to man”! Here’s the key, I believe: most of the sins we Christians (including me) get caught up in are actually good things we’ve made idols of. Is a woman’s body “bad”? No! Our churches have done a horrible job at teaching women what the Bible really says about our bodies and sexuality. However, a man is only given the freedom to enjoy ONE woman’s body within the covenant of marriage. I don’t know about the other women in this discussion, but I want my husband to be the only man enjoying me. Likewise, I want to be the only woman my husband enjoys. If a man looks on a scantily-dressed woman with lust in his heart, it is his sin. But if that woman knows anything about the minds of men, she will not intentionally draw attention to her body because it is meant for her husband (or future husband) only.

        Regarding the original post, I am so sorry that men have treated you so disgustingly. That is their sin, not yours. But for those men who are genuinely before their God TRYING to keep a pure mind and heart…. WOMEN, PLEASE let’s do our best to help them in this journey. We want them to protect our hearts as much as they want us to protect theirs. This is not men dominating women; rather, it’s women acting like Jesus and selflessly doing what’s best for someone else. It’s love.

        • Could you take the time to read this?


          The messages of the purity/modesty culture are damaging to men, too.

          • Sarah

            Just read it… First of all, I don’t quite see how his conclusion has much to do with his introduction. Second, even if it was somehow a result of what he believed growing up, he was taught exactly what I disagree with.

  • David F.

    Kevin, we are in complete agreement on my (and all mens’) responsibilty for my(their) sins. I don’t believe anyone will be able to dismiss or minimize their sin by saying, “yes, but she…. No, I don’t blame anyone but my own selfishness when I sin. I am not casting any blame on women for my failures, period. This I believe to my very core. I am not a pervert, nor am I a prude. I am happily and faithfully married to my wife for 35 years. But even she recognizes that a woman’s dress does affect the men around her. Please don’t think this means I’m shifting blame for a man’s lustful thought or lingering look on to women. We live in a real world of fallen people and like vs. 13 says, I’m not the only one that has ever dealt with this issue. If you have not, I would bet your’e in a small minority. The point of my previous post was not to dodge responsibility but to say that pretending that it makes no difference what a woman wears is just that, pretending.

    • Have you considered, perhaps, that how you view a woman has absolutely nothing at all to do with how she is dressed, but with the fact that men have been trained since puberty to view women only in terms of sexual gratification? Could it be that it’s not her clothes, but our culture that gives men the “right” to demand sexual gratification from women? Have you thought that it might be how you view women at the most basic level, and that you have been surrounded by the idea that you own the skin a woman chooses to reveal, simply because you are a man?

  • M

    I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to mention something I don’t think I saw in the other comments. At the churches I attended, there was always a double standard with regard to modesty. Us girls were monitored and preached to about modesty (especially in high school youth group), but the boys were free to wear sagging pants with their underwear showing. I can just imagine the uproar there would’ve been if I’d bent over to pick something up and the top of my “granny pants” (the very definition of NON-sexy underwear) was visible!

    It was also OK for the boys (by which I mean late teens) to play basketball, completely shirtless, in the church parking lot. And don’t even get me started on girls having to wear t-shirts over their swimsuits while the boys, again, went shirtless… Basically, not only were women responsible for men’s sins of lust, but our own as well; men had no responsibility to reciprocate modesty standards because “girls just aren’t stimulated that way.”

    The worst part is that, thanks to all that indoctrination, I’ve been guilty SO many times of slut-shaming and buying into rape culture. I’m thankful I’m breaking that cycle now because I don’t want any part in passing it on. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it helps others, like myself, see the damage it causes. I’ll definitely be a regular reader from now on.

    • Your comment. I could have written it myself. I’m very well familiar with all of that. I remember getting furious in youth group when they’d separate us and talk to the boys about how they shouldn’t look at porn while telling us about modesty and making sure our brothers wouldn’t trip and fall into sin after looking at us.

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  • From my 16-24-year-old self to you, THANK YOU. This is one of the huge reasons I divorced myself from Christianity, and THE reason the word “stumble” to this day makes me twitchy.

    Brilliant post.

  • I’m just glad our church is at least consistent; the boys aren’t allowed to go shirtless any more than the girls or wear the sagging pants; something I found so sad is I was at the doctor’s office the other day when a mom came in with her little boy – not even just not a teen-ager but not even a tweener – with his pants down like that trying seemingly so desperately to hold them up; I even offered to go buy him a belt; he looked so uncomprehendingly almost like he had no clue what one even was or that there was any other way to wear his clothes, while the look his mother gave me; oh my

    • While it’s very good for us to be consistent, I don’t think the solution is to start shoving the same shame and guilt at little boys that little girls have had to endure.

  • SJR

    Obviously, you were supposed to become a hermit and never go out in public with your rockin’ bod. (Joking, completely.)

  • Suzy

    Your bouncing rear end is distracting my husband??? Sounds like a jealous woman to me, making you out to be the bad guy because her husband had a roving eye.

    If she’s still alive, look her up and tell her so.

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  • doc

    I am a pastor. It’s clear that a feminist agenda is at work here. Allison is absolutely right, for one reason: she is biblical! The idea of legislating morality and cultural shifts, etc., all can be conquering with the truth of God’ s Holy Word. In my 30 years of ministry, and chaplaincy for federal prison as well as providing chaplaincy for pro basketball, the reality is the same: what you advertise is what will get attention! My wife is an advocate for the district attorney, and it’s breathless getting young girls to see that in the court of law when you wear less it exposes your mess! Be careful feminist, the x’s ,y’s and millennials are not understanding you clearly. AND KEVIN, stop fooling yourself!

  • Peggy Y

    Modest dress is a cultural construct. Native tribes people who walk around virtually naked are no more modest or immodest than a woman in a burka. I personally think that our puritanical fixation on sex and lust has made whatever “sinful” inclinations we have much worse than if we just walked around naked all the time.

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  • JR

    Whether we like it or not, we currently live in a culture of some kind. It may or may not be a “rape culture” (I think that term is thrown around far too loosely — as far as I know there has never been a culture yet that wouldn’t fit this label according to the current definition, which means the term becomes almost meaningless, and begs the question if human nature is “rape culture,” in which case it will continue to exist in every culture until all the humans in the culture are redeemed).

    EVERY culture has people in it. People come up with the “rules” of the culture, one of which (in EVERY culture) is that what you wear matters and communicates something. Even in very “primitive” cultures, where people walk around almost naked, they usually have things they wear (or don’t wear) that signify social status, etc, perhaps even tattoos.

    I think of it as fairly common knowledge, but many people don’t seem to realize that you can lose an interview by dressing inappropriately (whether too formal or not formal enough). Modesty can be looked at more in that vein, totally apart from lust/sexuality. The problem is that the statement modesty (or the lack of it) makes tends to speak to lust/sexuality, so that’s where the discussion usually focusses.

    We may want to change that culture — but I think we’re pretty utopian in our ideals if we think we will ever get to a point where what you wear doesn’t matter. The culture just comes up with new rules.

    So… both men and women, ask yourself, what are you communicating by what you wear? You can rail against it; you can say as much as you want that what you wear doesn’t matter, but regardless of what you want, you make a statement every day to everyone you meet whether you want to or not, and the vast majority of the population (at least those who don’t know you personally) will make instantaneous first judgments based on your presentation.

    The second question is, “What do you WANT to communicate?” And are the answers to those two questions the same? If not, you should do something different.

    On an different track, have you ever thought about what the clothing designer’s intent was when they were creating the look of the clothes you buy? They too are making a statement—do you want to be their billboard? Do you want to support their vision? When we uncritically buy whatever is in fashion, that’s what we do.

  • Brittany Havens

    Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality (cleavage, thighs, or belly) or if any kind of impurity or if greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
    There’s a video on YouTube titled Virtue is so beautiful, and this group of men sing beginning with these lyrics, “Baby you light up the world like no body else, by the way that you speak and respect yourself. Girls with integrity are hard to find these days. You gotta know, ohh, ohh, virtue is so beautiful….”

    • Why did you add “cleavage, thighs, or belly” to that verse? “Sexual immorality” there is the word “porneia,” which has absolutely nothing at all to do with “cleavage, thighs, or belly.” You’re twisting this verse to make it into something it’s not.

      You’re also doing something else– you’re essentially saying that the existence of a woman’s body– her cleavage, her thighs, her belly, all part of her God-given imago dei– is sexually immoral. That is wrong.