Why "Modesty" Hurt Me
Yesterday, I saw a post from an old acquaintance I met about 6 years ago at a church I was visiting. It went something like this:
In a world where just any girl can show their body, I want a girl that values modesty and doesn't need to show everything to everyone. All you other guys can keep the girl you're gawking at on Instagram, I'll pass.
Okay. Wait...what? I read that and was pppprreeetttyyyy sure I remembered this guy sending me a pretty inappropriate photo after church one night, but because that wasn't public or seen "in the light" that is not considered immodest? And I'm pretty sure when I publicly made the decisions involving "sexy modeling" (not making excuses for that), you automatically were the moral compass? Or what about the fact that there are plenty of fully clothed, all seemingly "modest" women that may be completely willing and aiming to seduce a man? So basically, you're saying the presence of clothes (and a certain kind of clothes that meet YOUR personal approval) automatically translates to modest and an absence of any sexual immorality?
What is Modesty, anyway?
Alrighty. Well, there's my preface for this post, if you can even call it a preface and not just me rambling (what's new?). Before I continue, I want to open up a bit and tell you that the topic of modesty is a pretty sensitive conversation for me. Growing up in the church where a misinterpretation of Scripture and personal opinions created the view of modesty which then blanketed as "THE STANDARD OF MODESTY" for women in the church, and then seeing how that played out in my life (and the lives of many women I know who experienced the same) doesn't really sit well with me as an adult that is able to speak her mind (finally). I will tell you right now, some of you will agree with me, some of you will not. Regardless of that fact, I do not want this to be a topic of division...more so, one that perhaps gets us thinking. You in for that?
Let's first talk about modesty. In my opinion, modesty is one of the most divisive and hurtful topics in the Christian faith (generally speaking, not saying that EVERY church and EVERY Christian's view and application of modesty is divisive and hurtful). It can have implications over the course of ones life (both women AND men) that can affect understanding of how women interact with men, sexual interaction with your husband/wife, guilt and shame, and the understanding of our image in/with Christ. It has become a shallow topical application leaving up to the women's responsibility to cover up our "problem bits" to make sure there is not any little thing that could cause a man to stumble (but let's ignore about potentially causing our same gender into sexual temptation). It has so easily become something that tell us women that our physical appearance is what is important. After all, it could make or break a man. It has become something that leaves us (women in the church) feeling anxiety when we dress for the day...much less, dress for church or to meet our fiancé's family, or even just for a coffee run. It has led some of us (it CAN'T just be me), to just say SCREW IT and lose footing into a WORLD of immodesty just because that made more sense and at the time felt like less judgement to be "fake famous" with an array of fans for a photo of you in lingerie than to continue to have the CONTINUAL judgement when you ARE clothed. When someone of a little larger body type or more "homely" look can wear the same sweet and darling knee length summer dress and flip flops, but you cannot because you look better in it? When in Scripture is there a commandment or even prodding to not look "good"? (ps. Please prepare for a few more random rhetorical questions. I don't why I do it so much, but if you were sitting across from me right now in this coffee shop in Sedona, best believe I'd be asking them to you in real life.)
So, now I'm gunna show you a few images from something that was around when I was a youngun growing up in the church. It's Secret Keeper Girl and it was created to teach young girls (starting around the age of 7 or 8) how to be properly modest with worship groups and fashion shows held at slumber parties with moms and daughters. So let's see what constitutes modesty to this particular organization (please keep in mind, this does not represent the views of ALL Believers/Christians).
Correct me if I'm wrong, but should ANY 7/8 year old girls be worrying about if their SKIN or future cleavage is showing when they bend over? Like, WHAT?! Girl, I'm actually getting fired up about this. Should we be correcting them, or should we be correcting the weird, creepy, and demented men or women that are LOOKING down the shirt of a girl/woman in an immoral way? It could just be me, but I'm gunna go with the latter.
I really really REALLY don't feel like I need to elaborate my thoughts much on this one...but I will (duh.) UHM. What grandpa is looking up his granddaughter's skirt and IF he happens to see anything of a seven year old girl, I sure hope to our Dear Lord that he is not met with a sexual response?! Now, there ARE biological dads, uncles, grandfathers, that have completely and utterly disgusted the name by being inappropriate, abusive, and painful to women/girls in the family and you know where they belong? JAIL. Yep, they belong in jail. And those young girls deserve to be playing and doing somersaults and cartwheels in their darling skirts or shorts or dresses because that is NOT NOT NOT immodest!
Oh, Lord help me. I seriously feel like I just can't even control what I want to say deep down when I see this. But you know, God's doing a work in me...so uh, I'll try to keep the "sailor" out of my writing.
What a sad sad world if we cannot feel so completely free to worship our Creator because we have to be on guard of how much skin is showing from our top if we are far too busy worshiping and praising the Living God!!! What the actual fudge. It hurts to see this. And wait, "bellies are intoxicating" or have we just raised boys/girls into men and women that are to sexualize every single thing, every single body part? I don't know about you, but I find boobs and penises to be a lot more of an "intoxicating" body part on men and women, and even then, right now..this minute, if a woman or man (good looking too) happens to run in front of you completely nude where you are reading this right now, does this give us a "free pass" to allow our minds to fall into a sexual driven dark place because it was "their fault". We own no responsibility now?!
And I go back again to my previous statement with these images, we are talking about girls ages 7-14 that are reading this. I am so so saddened.
I remember being in high school and a very popular teacher that loved being "cool" with the popular kids in school cornered me in my dorm room during our Jr/Sr retreat up in the woods. She asked me, "will you even bleed on your wedding night? You know that signifies the same covenant God made with His people and if you are promiscuous right now, you will never know that covenant with your husband." Let me tell you right now, I was a virgin who's only concern was going with the other girls into the game room to play ping pong and shuffleboard and I had no clue why this woman was SO convinced I was sleeping around. Perhaps it was by my appearance, or just gossip...but as a woman that I wanted to think good things about me so that I could feel "cool", that night hurt. And to this day, if I'm honest, it still hurts when I think about it. I'm saddened for young Ciara...and I'm saddened for so many girls feeling this same way.
So, who sets the standard?
So, who DOES get to set the standard for every Christian woman to follow? Is it the Muslim men that require the women to wear a hijab (which, by the way, does not lower the rape count in the muslim countries at any rate). Is it your pastor because he is a great speaker? Is it "Mrs. Johnson's" husband because she is the one wearing a potato sack for a dress and he is seemingly happy with her? Is it you because you feel like you are one of the classy girls of Instagram? Who gets the privilege? Really?
Now that I've asked even more of those rhetorical questions I warned you about, I'll share with you some writings from some other Christian bloggers that I think hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, it took a good amount of searching, as the majority I read were no Biblically based AT ALL, more so, based of personal ideals and opinions.
Here we go!
MODERN MODESTY CONTROVERSY
In a recent conversation, a woman I spoke with seemed deeply offended when I suggested a woman’s manner of dress could tempt a man to lust. She wasn’t denying the claim that men lust after women, but she was emphatic that women are not to blame for a man’s lustful thoughts and actions.
She’s right, of course. A person is never guilty of another person’s sin.
This woman’s protest is, in part, motivated by a desire to fight various rape myths in our culture. When a girl dresses scantily, goes to a college party, gets drunk, makes out with a dozen guys, and then is raped, for some there is a tendency to say, “Well, she was just asking for it.” This kind of victim-blaming, sadly, leads some to temper any compassion for such women when they are abused.
Let’s be clear: victims of rape are not guilty of their rape. The girl who walks across campus at 2 a.m. and gets assaulted is not to blame for the crime committed against her. Similarly, victims of another’s lust do not thereby mean a woman is guilty of lust. She should never be made to account for another person’s sin.
Where then does modesty fit into the Christian ethic?
Paul on Modesty: 1 Timothy 2:8-10
“I desire…that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.“
Christian women should concern themselves with modesty because the Bible does. This text is a primary example.
(For the purposes of this article, I am writing about women because Paul is writing about women in these verses. But I recognize that men should also embrace modesty.)
1. MODESTY IS NOT ANTI-FASHION
At the outset, we should take note that Paul is not anti-adornment. The force of his statement is positive: “women should adorn themselves.” These are not the words of an anti-fashion prude. The same word “adorn” is used to speak of a bride beautifying herself for her husband (Revelation 21:2). It is a term that expresses being ornamented, well-kempt, and put in order.
The question for Paul isn’t about whether a woman should ornament her body, but how.
2. MODESTY IS ABOUT WHO YOU WORSHIP.
In the context, Paul is talking about how women should prepare themselves for gathering at church. Women are commanded to adorn themselves in a way that is fitting for worship. If they “profess godliness”—that is, they desire to show God honor and reverence—how should they dress?
Paul puts his finger on the trigger of the problem. In Ephesus, the original destination of this letter, the cultural elite were known for their gaudy and extravagant wardrobes, their elaborate hair styles, and their expensive clothing that communicated extraordinary wealth. Paul paints a picture of this for the Ephesians Christians and says, “Don’t mimic that. When you come to church, come dressed in a way that shows you desire to the attention to be on God, not yourself.”
A person’s manner of dress, or even their preoccupation with clothing itself (Matthew 6:28-30), is often indicative of a heart that loves self more than God.
3. MODESTY IS ABOUT BEHAVIOR AND ATTITUDE, NOT JUST CLOTHING.
When Paul says that women should wear “respectable apparel,” the term “apparel” is probably translated too narrowly: it is a term that encompasses not just clothing, but one’s whole demeanor,attitude, and actions.
From the clothing she wears to the way she carries herself, a Christian woman ought to be seemly and well-ordered (as the text here says, “respectable”). Ultimately, what should adorn a woman is not just clothing but “good works.” As Christians, we are being remade by God for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Christ died so that we might be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Women should seek to dress their lives in works that do good to others, marked with godly love.
This means modesty is not simply about what we wear, but how we act, how we communicate, and how relate to others.
4. MODESTY SHOWS SENSITIVITY TO SKIN.
In this text Paul says a woman’s apparel should be worn with “modesty.” Other translation opt for the word “decency.” The King James Version translates this “shamefacedness,” which gets more to the heart of the word.
It is talking about a demeanor of reverence, showing respect to oneself and a regard for others. It even carries the connotation of “bashful.” Connected to the term “shame,” the word implies the idea of grief over sin that is in the world—that a woman would be so sensitive to sin, knowing that sin is offensive to God, that she would never come close to trying to provoke it in others.
No, a woman is not guilty of a man’s lust if she dresses with the intention to allure him. Let him account for his sins. But she is guilty of a lack of shamefacedness, for treating sin lightly. A heart of modesty is motivated by a love for one’s fellow man.
5. MODESTY REQUIRES CULTURAL DISCRETION
Paul didn’t just paint broad strokes when talking about modesty; he gave specifics. He said braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire were out of place for a truly modest woman.
Some knowledge of Roman culture is helpful for understanding what Paul is saying. In Paul’s day, Greek hairstyles for women were fairly simple: hair was parted in the middle and pinned in the back. But a culture change was sweeping the region. Women in the imperial household were wearing their hair with elaborate curls and braids, covered in expensive ornaments. The elite throughout the empire copied this style.
For Paul, the appearance of braids and ornaments was more about what the fashion communicated. They carried connotations of imperial luxury and conjured up images of notoriously immoral Empresses like Valeria Messalina and Poppeaea Sabina, ancient equivalents of Cosmopolitan cover girls.
The poet Juvenal, a contemporary of Paul, gives a vivid description of this cultural trend:
“There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do. Nothing that she deems shameful. And when she encircles her neck with green emeralds and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears, so important is the business of beautification. So numerous are the tiers and stories piled one another on her head that she pays no attention to her own husband.”
Similarly, the philosopher Philo gives a description of a prostitute in his writing called “The Sacrifices of Cain and Abel”:
“A prostitute is often described as having hair dressed in elaborate braids, her eyes with pencil lines, her eyebrows smothered in paint and her expensive clothes embroidered lavishly with flowers and bracelets and necklaces of gold and jewels hanging all over her.”
Paul’s description of immodest dress conjured a picture of someone preoccupied with appearance, fashion, luxury, and sexual prowess. Similarly, modern modesty standards are not about arbitrary rules of how much skin is shown or how low-cut something is, but about the messages and values our clothing communicates.
6. MODESTY IS ABOUT TRUE FREEDOM, NOT REPRESSION.
More often than not, modesty standards are seen as repressive, arbitrary rules that restrict a woman’s creativity and freedom. But when modesty is motivated from the heart, the exact opposite is true.
Paul says women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel with “self-control.” This might be better understood as “self-mastery,” being of sound mind or sober, being in control of one’s impulses and appetites. In extra-biblical literature, this word has sexual nuances: being able to totally control your romantic and erotic desires.
Habitual immodesty is often, though not always, fruit of a kind of slavery. A woman may be enslaved by her desire to attract a man. She might define her worth by her fashion sense, her sex appeal, her image, her bust size, her weight, or the brand names she wears. This kind of slavery is widespread because sin impacts us all, and in today’s sexually charged, media-saturated culture, many women fall prey to this kind of slavery.
But as Christians we are free from the slavery of sin because we are united to Christ. Paul exhorts us to live out this freedom: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12). When it comes to modest dress, we can follow Paul’s next statement quite literally: Do not present the members of your body to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present your members to God as instruments for righteousness (v.13). Paul wants Christian woman to have self-mastery in their wardrobe choices, to be totally free from worldly ways of defining worth, beauty, and sexiness.
Ironically, it is not just those who are scantily dressed that are enslaved, but even those who pride themselves on their modesty. “Modest is hottest,” they say, unaware that in their own hearts, they are still enslaved to a preoccupation with their physical image, still defining their worth by their outward adornment.
DEFINING MODESTY, THE RIGHT AND BIBLICAL WAY
Taken together, these aspects of modesty help to give us a working definition.
Modesty is a respectable manner of adorning one’s body and carrying oneself, born out of a freedom from a worldly definition of beauty and worth, and motivated by a hatred of sin and a desire to draw attention to God.
When it comes to the subject of modest clothing, the first question we should ask ourselves is:What am I trying to accomplish by what I wear?
THAT'S NOT ALL FOLKS!...
I know that was a pretty awesome and accurate writing on Biblical modesty, but I want to include another one that really hit home for me (and that I agree with for the most part). Now, I still wear yoga pants...but I really like what Amy had to say. Here's a link to the article.
Circling back to how this post started (and bringing it to a close), I want to remind anyone who is reading this right now, that our God is a God of healing AND redemption. Who we once were and where we once were is NOT who we are in Him. If you are like me, or in any way have past (public or private) that included an absence of modesty in one way or another (and I'm not just talking clothes here, people)...if you are ready to START TODAY in a life of obedience to God's hope and commands for your life out of pure completely saturating love for you, then you are NOT your past. Please do NOT allow yourself OR OTHERS (yes, even if they are Christians) to hold you to that past. It is not your identity.
I have so very much hated (yes, I said hated) that metaphor Christians have used, mainly in youth groups, about sex and your body/respect/purity being like a piece of paper. Every time you are impure (or immodest), you rip a piece of that symbolic paper off and whatever you're left with is what you have left to give to your husband. Well, if that were true, take over 800K men and women oogling my body and multiply that by 3 years of my life and add in the few stragglers who are still gripping and clawing at any "questionable" image they can get their eyes on and I would be left with nothing. NOTHING to give to, Steven. Yes, I may not have been promiscuous, but according to this super unfair judgement of "if it's public than it's worse that what I did in private", I'd be pretty much royal set up for failure in my future marriage with my man.
I am so so thankful that this is not the case. He is "FAITHFUL and JUST to forgive us of all unrighteousness" and usher us into a season of grace unbound. We ARE pure (no matter your past) because He is currently sanctifying you until the day of completion. No one is righteous, no not one...and I'll say right now, that is definitely not subject to how many sexual partners you've had in your past or how many inappropriate selfies you've posted on the gram. (This applies to you too, men). No matter my modeling past, or the fact that I profited off of my looks for a few years of my life, I am now WHOLE, AND PURE AND COMPLETE, and cannot wait to give all of that and more to Steve in a way that he and I could never imagine. I know that regardless of either of our pasts, our sex will be like nothing either of us have ever physically felt...much less, emotionally/spiritually. We will be worshiping God just by loving each other in that way. Much more, we are PROMISED that it will be the BEST THING EVER. Nothing prior holds a flame, and the same holds for you. No previous sexual partner, nice car, high paying job position, etc, will hold a flame to what you will experience with your husband/wife. Yes, EVEN if you are not a virgin. What about if you're already married and struggling with the same guilt/shame/insecurity? I'm glad you asked! Good news, yes, you too qualify for God's Grace (I'm writing this semi-sarcastically, but I mean it in love). YES. You and your husband/wife can choose TODAY to see Him and His redemption....even for your sex life. Trust Him. Ask Him. I mean it.
Alright darlin'. Before this quickly becomes a post on Sex In The City, I want to close with some Scripture that I truly hope you'll read before you close out of the post. I'm praying for you, and I'd ask that you would pray for me too. I need Him so much. I need Him to quiet the voice in my head that sometimes tells me that I'm not worthy to be writing to women about Jesus...and I also need Him to quiet the voices of others that say the same. I'm thankful for you giving me a chance, but more so, I'm thankful for you wanting to know His love for you a little more...hopefully, through what I share here on the website.
Exactly one year ago, this website had over 100 videos and photos of me in lingerie and minimal clothing...and now God is using this as a platform to reach over 3,000 women. HE IS SO GOOD. I want you to taste that kind of love and KNOW that it is good. It is GREAT. It is the ONLY reason I can look in the mirror and say, "Ciara, you are God's child. He has saved you. Over and over again. You are great. Perfect and beautiful. SPOTLESS. CLEAN. Oh...and so is Steve!"
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. // 1 SAMUEL 16:7
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. // MATTHEW 5:27-28
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. // 1 CORINTHIANS 10:31
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.// JOHN 7:24
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.// ROMANS 12:1
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.// PSALM 50:2