It’s Not About the Clothes

Modesty (5)

Gentle Reader,

In my post Sex and the Christian Family I touched on the need to discuss modesty of dress with children of both genders. As “modesty” is a buzzword with varying interpretations, I’d like to share with you exactly what I mean when I use it.

First, there is a huge difference between endorsing sensible modesty of dress and endorsing what is sometimes called “purity culture,” a culture that often goes hand-in-hand with Christian fundamentalism. While I do think that there are fundamentals of faith, things that must be believed in order to be a Christian (the literal death and Resurrection of Christ; the hypostatic union; the virgin birth; the inerrancy of Scripture, for example), I’m not a fundamentalist. I don’t believe in strict gender roles. I don’t think that the Genesis account of creation has to be interpreted as six literal days (though I also don’t accept naturalistic evolution, so basically I make nobody happy). I don’t think God has a problem with women preachers. (I wrote about this in the series Not the Fundamentals if you want more).

Purity balls skeeve me out. Frankly, they give off an incestuous vibe. I have no problem with fathers taking their daughters out for a special day as they near dating age and sharing with them how a young man should treat them (with respect, as an equal), but the whole idea of a father pledging to protect his daughter’s virginity and the language so often used at these events that reduces her to a piece of property…no thanks. I’m also not wild about purity jewelry; it’s meant to serve as a reminder, but I imagine it only impacts the sense of shame if a bad decision is made.

I don’t think that women should only wear skirts/dresses and never expose their shoulders. I don’t think that women need to have long hair. I don’t think that women should never wear make-up or jewelry. I don’t think that women need to cover their hair, as 1 Corinthians 11 needs to be understood within it’s context and the timeless principles removed from the static principles of time and place.(This is the practice of good interpretation and application).

Neither do I think that modesty of dress for women is all about men. (Sorry, guys). The “men as visual creatures” argument has been hyped to the point of ridiculousness. Yes, there is truth to it, but all too often this is used as a way of placing the responsibility for male sexual purity on the shoulders of women. I can’t get behind that. I won’t get behind that. Nothing in Scripture supports the idea. Men need to take responsibility for themselves.

So, why do I think that women should dress modestly? And what does that even mean?

The way a woman dresses reflects her sense of self. Every woman chooses what she wears, whether she claims to care about it or not. (In fact, “not caring” conveys a message about identity through dress). Clothes don’t just fall onto us haphazardly. We aren’t at their mercy. We make deliberate, even if occasionally hurried, even if sometimes detached, decisions. Pants. Skirt. Shorts. Heels. Flats. Flip-flops. T-shirt. Blouse.

My desire is that women see themselves as Christ sees them. I want to see myself through His eyes. From all that I have learned from Scripture and the impressions of the Spirit upon my soul, God sees women as beautiful, dignified and worthy. He desires that we navigate life in the knowledge of our royal status as His daughters.

And princesses? They don’t dress trashy.

Someone is going to object to my use of the word, but that’s my basic rule of modesty: Is it trashy? When women walk around with their breasts hanging out or their butt cheeks peeking out or their underwear making an appearance when it shouldn’t (intentionally; we’ve all had our moments when something slips), that says a lot. I’m not talking about what other people say about it. I’m talking about what she says about herself through her clothes.

Does a woman respect herself? Does she understand that she is more than a body? Is she so desperate for attention and affirmation that she’s putting herself on display? Those are the questions that matter, and they are answered less in words, more in actions. And the action of what clothes we choose shares our answers.

I love fashion. My closet is packed with clothes and shoes (almost exclusively from thrift stores, thank you very much). Modesty has nothing to do with eschewing color, cut and style. It has nothing to do with rejecting trends and being deliberately out of touch. It is not about being covered from the neck to the ankle.

Modesty is about understanding who we are. It is thanking God for every curve, every inch of skin, and recognizing when, where and how to share those curves and that skin. There are no hard and fast rules. A scoop-neck tank can be flattering on one woman while it causes another to share more information than is necessary. A pencil skirt can be great when paired with a drapey top. It becomes something else when paired with a cleavage-highlighting blouse.

This is because modesty isn’t really about the clothes, but how and why we wear them. Modesty is ultimately an attitude. One of its synonyms, interestingly, is unpretentious, which is defined as “not attempting to impress others with an appearance of greater importance, talent, or culture than is actually possessed.” If we really think about that definition, any system or understanding that deliberately rejects fashion and insists upon women being clad exclusively in long skirts and loose tops, or dresses, can actually be the opposite of modest. (It’s also legalism).

As I said before, there are no hard and fast rules. I have friends who dress very conservatively, and they do so out of personal conviction, which they don’t attempt to force on anyone else. I have friends who dress very fashionably, but this doesn’t mean they are lesser Christians than those who dress conservatively. Modesty is about the heart. It is about identity.

Modesty. It’s an attitude.

My journey to faith. (15)

Addendum: I don’t want men to think they’re off the hook, because they aren’t. Just as men cannot blame women for their sexual struggles, neither should they be (or claim to be) utterly clueless about what they wear or how they present themselves. It’s possible for men to wear trashy clothes. It’s also possible for men to get wrapped up in rules about what they wear. Everything that applies to women in terms of modesty applies to men.

Also, clothing and style are things that we cannot, repeat cannot, be judgmental about. We have no right to think less of someone because of her clothes. We don’t know what’s going on in her heart and mind, what motivates her choices. Everyone, regardless of how they dress, is made by God and bears His image. They deserve to be treated as such. No matter what. This means that nobody ever “asks for” any kind of abuse. Nobody ever “invites” or “wants” rape. Such claims are baseless and disgusting.

Rock Your Body

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Gentle Reader,

I thought about including a picture of my incision, but…nobody really wants to see that. It’s rather gruesome. But that very gruesomeness is behind this post.

It’s no secret that women greatly struggle with accepting our bodies. Too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too pale, too dark, too angular, too curvy, too flat, too round. The images we see of “beauty” are airbrushed and Photoshopped into sickening and unattainable shapes. We purge. We binge. We furiously exercise. We give up.

A special kind of torture.

Today I had my post-op appointment. My surgeon commented that he would never guess that I have the health problems I do just by looking at me. This jogged my memory back to the day of my surgery, when the anesthesiologist said that I looked young and slim.

And I thought about how odd this is. How strange that all the doctors I’ve seen over the last eight months have not said a word about my weight. They’ve given me ideas about how to change my diet and what kind of exercise I can do. But nothing about weight, or my shape, or the fact that my face is not symmetrical. And that made me think about something one of the nurses said when I was in the hospital, when he was helping me: “I don’t even see body parts anymore.” His care for me was not based on my appearance.

The surgeon removed the last of the steri-strips today. I finally got to see the entire incision in its full-on glory. There’s dry skin and crusted blood. The space right underneath my rib cage is swollen. The hole where the drain was is just…nasty. I don’t have any feeling across most of my abdomen, and it may never completely return.

I’m probably never going to have a flat stomach. There’s a good chance that I’ll have a raised scar instead of a flat one. And this makes me “ugly.” My friends with PCOS and endometriosis, both of which contribute to weight-gain no matter how healthy they eat or how much they exercise, are “ugly.”

This pisses me off.

We pass each other on the street and make judgments. We assume that people with paunchy stomachs or tired eyes are just lazy. That they make bad choices. But we know nothing. We have no idea what other people are dealing with. Yes, we should eat healthy and yes we should exercise. But just because a woman is larger than a size 4 doesn’t mean she chows down on cheeseburgers and sits around all day. She might be sick. She might have a hormone imbalance. Or maybe she looks just the way God wants her to look.

So shut up. I don’t want to hear that anyone is “ugly.”

I’m amazed at my body. I marvel at the way God designed it. Blood coagulates and skin knits back together. Muscles strengthen. Scars tell stories.

I don’t have a “perfect” body.

I have an awesome one.

So do you.

My journey to faith. (15)

31 Days in the Quiet: Rain

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Gentle Reader,

“An Autumn Rain Scene” by Thomas Hardy

There trudges one to a merry-making
With sturdy swing,
On whom the rain comes down.

To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.

One slowly drives his herd to the stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.

This bears his missives of life and death
With quickening breath,
On whom the rain comes down.

One watches for signals of wreck or war
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.

No care if he gain a shelter or none,
Unhired moves on,
On whom the rain comes down.

And another knows nought of its chilling fall
Upon him at all,
On whom the rain comes down.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all posts in the 31 Days in the Quiet series, go here.