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Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Which I Weigh In on The "Modesty" Debate

Is it just me, or did the modesty debates start early this summer? So much angst and judgment and shame and backlash and finger-pointing and freaking out going on, splattered across blogs and Facebook, each one trying to out-do the other, each one with it's own rebuttal from either side of the debate. So now it's my turn. :D Except, I don't care too much to argue point-by-point about the issues. Maybe some other time. I'd rather just sit and have a chat with my fellow sisters.
Can we do that?
I have some things on my mind and I'd like to talk to you about them.

I read these articles on "modesty" and I hear many women's stories and something in my heart just breaks. For all of us. Because the one thing I'm seeing as a common thread, no matter if you're conservative or not, Christian or not, is the holding onto of burdens that are not ours to bear. And the pain and the shame and the projection of pain onto other women because of it.

Here are some of the things I've heard come from the mouths of my sisters:

"Cover those boobs!"
"I don't want you wearing that around my sons or husband."
"That much skin showing is disgusting and I don't want to see it."
"You obviously don't care much about the men in your life."
"I dress this way so that I can help men not to stumble."
"Wearing bikinis mean that you are selfish and don't care that men are looking at you."
"Well, she deserved it dressing like a hussy."
"I beg you as one sister to another, cover up your body! Do the men in your life a favor."
"But think about the MEN!"

I have a friend that wore a very long, appropriate, conservative dress to church, and one woman came over in a huff and told her to "cover up" because she had a tiny bit of cleavage showing. The woman made a huge deal about it and was really pushy about it. Another friend was told by her mom that she can't come visit anymore because her dad and brothers need to be "protected" from her immodesty. Another woman I was chatting with said that having lots of cleavage/boobage showing was "disgusting" and another said she didn't want her husband or sons around immodest women. One girl I know was told to put a different shirt on by her mother "for your dad's sake". (Her dad had never said anything about her clothing.) This woman told a heart-breaking story of being shamed by other women because of her body. Many girls I know tell how their mom was the one that made them wear ugly, shapeless clothes when they were teens, while their dad didn't care and often fought with the mom over her standards. I remember one time when I was about 14, walking across the parking lot at ShopCo, and my mom stopped me and started yelling about how my breasts were bouncing when I walked and what if some guy saw me and was "defrauded". (I was wearing a polo shirt that was 3 sizes too big, and a floor-length skirt. But C-cups on a 14-yr-old are hard to hide.)

Overwhelmingly, it is women making these sort of comments to other women. And while our first reaction is usually one of anger or bristling that someone is trying to control other people or that women are being blamed for men's thought problems, I have an entirely different reaction.

All I see in the above comments and stories and the dozens more I didn't write here is Insecurity. Pain. Betrayal. Wounds. Grasping at control. Broken hearts due to infidelity. Women picking up burdens that do not belong to them and trying to force every other woman to do the same.

When I hear something like the comments above, my first thought is this: "How did the men in your life hurt you so badly that you feel the only way to keep from being hurt again is to control their environment? How have you been betrayed by the men in your life who promised to love, honor, protect and cherish you? What caused you so much pain that you can only project that pain onto other women? Why are you carrying the guilt for your man's unfaithfulness and why are you trying to place that responsibility on your sisters? What were you taught about men and sexuality that you would react in such a way toward other women?"

Maybe it was a wife ignored for a porn addiction, or left for a younger, bustier woman. Maybe a daughter who was shown inappropriate attention from a father, and a mother who blamed her for it. Maybe a woman who has had many men reject her to run after other women and many promises broken. Maybe a girl who was used by men her whole life then blamed for their sin. Or maybe it's just a woman who was raised by one of these broken women and brainwashed to believe that all men are sex-crazed monsters that can't keep it in their pants and women must control their urges for them. Whichever it is, whichever one you, my sister, may be, I have just one thing to ask of you:

Let it go. 

Let the sins and the choices and the awful, terrible things that the men in your life have done drop off your shoulders. You were not responsible for their actions. This was not your fault. They hurt you, they betrayed you, they caused so much pain, and that pain is your own, but you cannot own their failures. Their sins are theirs to own and carry. By believing that you and your fellow women are to blame for the misdeeds of these men, you have become enslaved to sins that are not your own. And you are now trying to enslave other women, to make them carry the guilt for something you, and they, didn't do. You try to control the environment of every man in your life, even the good men, because you believe this is the only way you can keep from being hurt again. And the cycle of abuse and sin and pain just keeps turning, perpetuated by the victims while the perps get off scott-free. Because the reality is, by projecting the sins of a few evil men onto your fellow sisters, you are allowing those men to walk. 

I know the crushing weight of seeing every other woman out there as a threat. I KNOW. I bore that weight for a long time. It took a lot of healing and the love of a good man and the complete re-programming of everything I'd been taught to make me let go of that burden. It took a few good men to show me that most men are decent and good and that good men NEVER blame women for their own thoughts and actions. But it finally happened. I finally said "I will not carry the sins of ungodly men. I am only responsible for my own." And you know what happened? Suddenly I didn't hate other women. I didn't feel threatened by the woman talking to my husband whose boobs were bigger than mine. I didn't feel threatened by the women on the beach in bikinis. I didn't feel the need to control the women around me to protect myself from pain. I stopped resenting and controlling my fellow sisters, and was finally able to love and enjoy them instead. I was free. And I had freed my sisters.

Because they, and I, were not the guilty parties. Do you hear me? We are not the guilty ones. We are not threats to each other. A man's actions are his own and no matter how much we try to control his surroundings and therefore his mind, we just can't. A good man will still be good and an evil man will still be evil, no matter what women do or wear or try to make other women wear.

Women, sisters, I beg you to think about these things. I know what I wrote could dig up an awful lot of unbearable pain and for that I'm so sorry. But I believe it had to be said. Don't let the men that treated you badly be the cause of a life lived in fear and resentment toward other women. Free yourself, free them. And hold accountable the ones to whom the fault for your wounds really belong.


  1. You nailed it. Thank you for sharing your heart. This is incredible!

  2. Amen!! Once again you have hit the nail on the head. Thank you.

  3. "...picking up burdens that do not belong to them..."
    yes, this is what the fundamentalists are riddled with. Perfect example here with the modesty issue.
    Thank you friend!

  4. Thank you! I had to share this with my husband and he agrees that you are right on the money! This is very freeing!

  5. Darcy, this is AMAZING. Thank you SO much for reminding me that this ISN'T my fault, that I don't need to *carry* this, that modesty is so much more something that is about my heart.

    It's amazing how long it took me to see "for FREEDOM Christ has set you FREE" - and to realize where that grace applied to MY life.


  6. Solidly on target. Thanks.


    Darcy, I am sitting here bawling because I am currently going through some extreme personal backlash because of a choice I made to do a photoshoot for body love awareness. My heart is heavy and aching, and this gave me new life.

    Bless you times a million. <3

    1. (((hugs))) Reject the shame, sister. You are worth it.

    2. http://dramaticelegance.blogspot.com/2013/06/laid-bare-in-which-i-learn-that-courage.html

      I actually had the courage to blog about my heart after reading this. <3 bless you.

  8. I remember my mom accosting two young women in a parking lot to yell at them for wearing bikinis. I should point out, this was nowhere near any body of water or recreational facility and they were clearly out to make a statement. Nevertheless, I remember wondering how on earth it was a better example for my brothers for her to accost and draw attention to their attire, rather than ignoring it and blowing it off as rude behavior. Personally, if I was in that position with my two boys, I would just tell them not to stare, and when out of earshot say something like, "Ugh, how rude, going shopping in your undies! Talk about lazy." And just leave it at that with a laugh. God created us with bodies, and he added breasts to women's bodies. If someone has a problem with that, they can take it up with Him.

    1. If you want to raise healthy boys, don't even mention it. Why even point out that someone else is dressed in a way you don't approve?

  9. As always, spot on and accurate. Thanks for posting this!!
    Kathy F.

  10. Great writing, Darcy! Thank you for sharing both on modesty and the Romeike family. It is rare to see someone trying to write with a balanced view point. My own husband has pointed out to me that he is surrounded by women with standards far below mine, and he'd rather have me in his mind than them. He always supports me in what I feel is right for me, rather than judging others. Having a husband that you can have an ongoing discussion with about things, where both of you value each other and support each other is SO important. (BTW I grew up in Montana)

  11. Darcy, thanks for sharing how you've dealt with the wrong way to approach modesty. On the more positive side, do you also have an account of what real modesty is? St. Paul talks about it in 1 Timothy 2, just like he tells the young men about self-control in 2 Timothy 2... how do you read it?

    1. "Real modesty" has nothing to do with how much clothing you are or are not wearing. 1 Tim. 2 was written for a very specific group of people, for a very specific problem that was happening in the church of Ephesus. The wealthy women were in the habit of wearing their finest, most flashy and pretentious clothing to church. They would even braid gold coins in their hair to show off their wealth and position. When Paul said for them to wear "modest apparel" he meant "non-pretentious, humble apparel" not "make sure you cover your body". It had nothing to do whatsoever with "your responsibility toward men" and everything to do with not flashing their wealth and status around. Which was a huge problem in the church of Ephesus and in other churches in the richer cities. When Paul said "I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God"...he wasn't saying they needed to cover their nakedness. He was trying to change the way they thought and how they valued wealth and status above everything. Thus the contrasting statement: "not in expensive clothes BUT....in good deeds". Their riches were not what made them great in the Kingdom. It was their actions toward others, their deeds of love, that were more important. To try to take this verse and use it to tell women they need to cover up their bodies is a complete and utter twisting of the scripture.

    2. So to put it simply, "real modesty" has absolutely nothing to do with how many clothes I'm wearing, and everything to do with what I value and how I view myself....am I humble and loving or am I a pretentious snob?

    3. Nathan,

      Real modesty is not drawing attention to yourself by how you are dressed. Whether that is by either letting it all hang out or being completely covered from head to toe.

      There is more to being modest than wearing dresses/skirts. Being modest is an attitude that reflects Christ. It is an inward beauty that has little to do with looks. Man looks on the outward appearance, Christ looks at the heart. It does not draw attention to oneself by being outwardly different, but is noticed because of the reflection of Christ that shines through behavior and actions. It is a woman who is made in the image of God reflecting that image in how she carries herself and conducts her daily life.

  12. Fantastic post, and this comment as well: "So to put it simply, "real modesty" has absolutely nothing to do with how many clothes I'm wearing, and everything to do with what I value and how I view myself....am I humble and loving or am I a pretentious snob?"

    ^Nailed it.

    We are so afraid to live IN THE GOSPEL. I cannot atone for my sins, let alone anyone else's. My modesty is a gift from the work of Christ, just like my purity or humility or any other fruit of the Spirit that emerges because of God's good grace.

    And like Paul, who threw up his hands in frustration when people thought his Grace-talk was giving them license to sin ... when it ISN'T .... I pray that all of us will learn to live in the fulness of the love of Christ and the grace of God -- who does the cleansing, the redeeming, and the modesty-fying.

  13. This modesty topic is so culturally specific. Very important in some parts of the US, occasionally important in the UK, almost completely irrelevant in large parts of Europe. I enjoyed this post from an American girl who now lives in Germany. http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/i-see-nipples-everywhere/

  14. Hmmmm...what about the shaming of women who do prefer modesty? Accusations that my wardrobe choices are dictated by men's opinions of me. This post is great, but one-sided in light of the current debate.

    1. No one is shaming anyone here. And no one should shame a woman who chooses to dress however she wants and is comfortable with her choices. But when women play "modesty police" to other women, as I outlined in my post, they're going to get some ridicule from others. Perhaps it's uncalled for, but it's the way it is. I would not ridicule your choice of clothing, but if you are going to go around and tell other women their's is not acceptable, you will hear strong language from me.

    2. Also, if you are dressing in certain way so as to "not make men stumble", then you ARE dressing for them. There's no way around that. You are just as much dressing for men just as the women who wear clothing to attract men are, though for different reasons.

  15. Thank you! I grew up in the "modesty" teaching and only recently have begun questioning a lot of it. (I went to a conservative college and then taught at a Christian school, so I didn't feel comfortable implementing the changes that I felt would be coming.) I was not allowed to wear "tight" skirts, shirts, or jeans. Shirt sleeves had to be below the elbow and collars could be no more than two finger-widths below the collarbone. I was-and still am - afraid of being immodest. The funny thing is, I've asked my husband if some of the newer ("worldy") clothes that I've gotten are immodest. (I wanted to get a "worldly" guys opinion.) You know what he did? He looked at me and said, "What? Your clothes are fine. Wear what you like!"
    Thank God for a good man!

  16. I grew up wearing frumpy clothing with what my mom deemed modest. She claims that my friends at college pulled me down. In reality, they pulled me up. I now wear shorts and pajama pants, but just for sleeping. I also do not wear frumpy tops anymore. I dress for my figure. I believe that it's not just up to the ladies to dress modestly, but up to the young men to guard their eyes as well.