Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.
Summer is creeping up on me fast.
There are so many more wardrobe decisions that seem to come along with the warmer months. Hemlines sneak their way upward. Necklines slink lower. Tanks, camis, and tube tops beckon from hangers, promising relief from summer heat. Shorts, cropped tees, bikinis… Here we go again. How short is too short? How small is too small? And my least favorite—what do I wear to the pool?
Along with all this comes the vague notion of modesty, and everyone’s opinions on it. For better or worse, our ideas about modesty can get pretty cultural, which complicates making any defining statements about it. Especially since the majority’s view of what is acceptable vs. inappropriate is prone to shifting.
It is fairly apparent, however, that when confronted with women’s bodies and the idea of modesty, many people react by coming up with a set of rules (good or bad) for women. That’s unfortunate, because as Christians we’re not supposed to be living under a set of rules, and sometimes those restrictions can hurt us a lot more than they help us. Modesty can be used to oppress women and place limits on their God-given freedoms. But it doesn’t have to.
Let’s think about Eden for a moment. “God then used the rib that he had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man” (Genesis 2:22, MSG). The first time Adam sees a woman, she is naked. She is God’s gift to him. She is his wife.
She, the first woman, immediately inspires the Bible’s first poetry: “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23, MSG).
I am inclined to believe that women are still God’s gift to men. “A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10, NIV). I am also inclined to believe that we, as a gender, are incredibly beautiful. Shockingly beautiful. Mesmerizing.“The sweet, fragrant curves of your body, the soft, spiced contours of your flesh invite me, and I come” (Song of Songs 4:6, MSG).
I’m extremely wary of making any general, black-and-white statements on modesty. Not even my own conscience is clear on the particulars of how I should dress. But I can’t shake the notion that my body was crafted with two people in mind: Myself and my husband.
As women, our bodies are capable of exquisite pleasure. Our bodies also bear children, carry us through our lives, and invoke a very unique response in the men who were born with an innate longing for us. My body is for me. But it is his as well. “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:4, NIV).
So, if that’s true, if my body is more than simply beautiful, more than simply art, if it is truly a gift to the person I love most in life, then what? Perhaps it is reasonable to suppose that he, my spouse, should experience it in a way that is unique to his relationship with me. Perhaps the fullness of the gift is available to him alone.
If that is the case, the questions change. I am no longer confronted with the dilemma of how much skin is too much, but rather how much I prefer to save exclusively for the person given to me by God to appreciate it. This is not about another dress code. It is about empowering women to decide what about themselves and their bodies is precious enough to hold back from the world at large.
“Dear lover and friend, you’re a secret garden, a private and pure fountain. Body and soul, you are paradise” (Song of Songs 4:12, MSG).