The Problem With Modesty

by Kelley Werner | March 01, 2016

The problem of modesty has been stirring in my heart for a long time. And I believe that my heart is in tune with the insecurities and self-doubt in many Christian women’s hearts. 

Modesty has a problem.

I receive thousands of mismatched and confusing messages on "modesty" every day, everywhere.

I must honor men by covering my body so they don’t fall into sin.

I am reminded to never wear a bikini, never wear short-shorts, and I must always remember that leggings are not pants.

I am tormented by one man’s opinion that my shirt is too low and another man’s opinion that my jeans are too tight.

I am shamed for wearing the wrong bathing suit. I am shamed for existing, for having boobs, for being female.

There are too many rules. There are unwritten rules. There are rules that contradict each other. There are rules that depend completely on context. There are rules that apparently apply to some body types and not to others. There are rules that are supposedly meant to protect me from the big, bad man who might happen to look in my direction.

I have been ashamed for so long. I have been afraid. I have felt like no matter what I do, I will always and forever be man’s demise. My body will always be a threat to someone else.

But, these “rules” are impossible and destructive. They were created by men for men’s benefit. They vary from man to man, place to place, and culture to culture. And they are all about control.

No one considered how they would make women feel. No one thought I should take it personally. Well, it is personal.

This legalistic method of measuring women’s “decency” or “pureness” must end. It attacks women’s integrity. It attacks women's judgment. It puts women on trial for having bodies, for being physically attractive, for things they can’t even control.

Women's worth is reduced to inches. The inches of skin revealed below our necks. The inches beyond our fingertips extended at our sides.

We are held to unreachable standards and blamed for the fallout.

I cannot fulfill these demands. I cannot be held accountable when my brothers stumble.

We have deluded ourselves into thinking that clothing will stop men from being attracted to the female body. That inches will stop women from being harassed. That modesty can stop men from lusting after women. It can’t. It doesn’t.

Hear me. It doesn’t help.

Because women are not the problem. I am not the problem. The problem is lust.

Our goal as Christians should be to address and overcome lust instead of stuffing it under the modesty rug. It will require honesty, openness, mutual respect, and vulnerability.

It will require that we all examine our hearts and come clean about what we are truly struggling with.

Brothers, I have heard your cry. I need you to hear mine.

As the church, we should be figuring out how to empower women instead of using women to empower (and protect) men. The body of Christ needs to analyze its willingness to place the burden of male lust on women’s shoulders.

We need to fight against a culture that sexualizes and commercializes women’s bodies. But we also need to fight against the response culture in our churches that shames and hides them.

There is nothing shameful about the female body. There is something shameful about a culture that idolizes and objectifies it.

Let’s ask Jesus to heal us and restore us instead of expecting others to behave in ways that will clear our path to righteousness.

I have tried to take the modesty road. I lived it, preached it, and prided myself in it. In the end, it only ever brought me and others grief.

So think twice before commenting on the "modesty" (or “immodesty”) of a woman’s dress. Actually, think seven times before making a judgment on a woman’s appearance.

I am sorry for being one of many to push this burden on other people.

I see now how confusing it is. I have felt, firsthand, how painful it is.

I don't necessarily know what the answer is. But I do know this truth.

I am not a temptress.

I am not dangerous.

I am not an object.

I am not a piece of woman-meat.

And my clothing doesn't matter.

I do.