Answers to Sunday’s question of the day from our readers -
Sierra and Libby Anne were the first ones who honestly challenged me about modesty. I always had a sense that “some people just take it too far,” like making women wear burqas or outlawing pants. I had a harder time seeing what was wrong with the more moderate teachings about “not stumbling your brothers,” especially when they were presented as “heart issues” that reflected your love for God and your love for other Christians. Who wants to be deficient in love?
I’m starting to be more comfortable with dropping “modesty” as a teaching. I can see now the implications behind what I heard in church and youth conferences. “If you are catching the wrong fish, take a look at your bait.” “If someone disrepects you, maybe your appearance invited it.” “Don’t put out false advertising about what you are willing to do.” “Don’t defraud your brother.”
It took me a while to understand that I felt disrespect for girls who didn’t wear a lot because…I had been taught that they weren’t worthy of respect. I felt responsible for what went on in a guy’s head, but I know now that people who want to treat you like an object are going to do it, no matter how you are dressed, and it’s their problem, not yours. Clothes communicate, but that communication is culturally based. If you teach a boy that a girl’s clothes are telling him what rights he has over her, he’s going to expect her to live up to that. We need to teach boys that they aren’t the center of the universe, and that most girls get dressed in the morning in clothes that make them feel happy. And CONSENT. I was never taught about CONSENT at church. Clothes aren’t consent. Drinking is not consent. “Putting yourself in that situation” is not consent!
I still feel uncomfortable with clothes that sexualise girls at too young of an age. I mean clothes that try to emphasize (or create) curves on prepubescent girls. I haven’t changed my own dress drastically, although I am open to the idea of wearing a bikini on the beach someday (!!!) Because it fits with the philosophy that makes more sense to me now: “Is it practical? Is it comfortable?” I forget which article made that point, but men in general wear what is practical and comfortable. Just check the difference between the male dress code and female dress code at PCC and BJU.
Can “Practical and Comfortable” be a working philosophy? Any holes in it?
While I cannot relate to QF and the body image issues that come with it, I have had my own experiences and struggles with modesty and weight.
As I briefly touched on in my “True Love Waits” piece, we were taught in youth group and Sunday school that it was a sister in Christ’s responsibility to dress appropriately to keep brothers in Christ from stumbling. While I don’t distinctly remember my father using those exact words as rationale, he did make sure I dressed very modestly, and he would approve my outfits every day before leaving the house. They would use phrases like “you aren’t leaving this house looking like a slut”, “how you dress is a reflection on us” or “you don’t want people to think you’re easy”. The funny part being they knew I only owned long skirts and baggy pants.
I never really bought into the modesty idea despite the “slut-shaming” language used to encourage it. I was secretly obsessed with the Spice Girls and a couple of times changed clothes at school into something my dad would have hated: sleeveless shirts. That was about as rebellious as I was while under their roof.
My father was an avid athlete and wanted to instill the same love for it in me without giving me an eating disorder. I’d look at female marathon runners and say “Dad, I want to be in shape like that” and he’d say “no, they barely eat anything” but then promptly take me out for a 3 mile run and an organic dinner way before it was cool. Because of that, I had kind of a confusing time with food, running and weight. At 5’4’’, I’ve weighed as little as 75lbs.
Late in high school, I quit sports and gained a ton of weight, literally about 100lbs in a 9 month time frame. I suddenly was obese and dressing immodestly was the last thing on my mind: I just needed clothes that fit and didn’t look like a tent. I was already not a good-looking kid and having my own gravitational pull didn’t help. As you can imagine, kids were pretty cruel to me. My poor eating and exercise choices were reinforced by others telling me that God “made” me that way, and that doing anything to improve myself would be vanity and shallow.
By college, I was losing weight and out on my own. At 19, I, and others, started to notice I was pretty and I began working very hard to cultivate that quality. At my Evangelical college, this wasn’t a prized trait and I faced the same ridicule for being attractive and “worldly” that I’d faced in high school for being fat. Around then I decided that everyone there could kiss it and started dressing how I wanted, which was certainly “sexy” by Fundy Christian college standards but probably pretty demure to the rest of the world. Despite the attempts by many to shame me, I have never felt like I’m doing anything “sinful” by wearing fitted jeans.
Since college, I’ve moved far away and my look has become tan, toned, tattooed, and made up like I’m ready for a photo shoot most days. I’ve had several bits of plastic surgery and will continue to get more as I see fit. I wear black slacks and a buttoned-up black cardigan to work every day, and on the weekends am known to occasionally throw on a slinky dress and heels. I now take tremendous pride in my appearance.
As you can see, my look has changed substantially. I’m (thank God) unrecognizable in old photos from those days. Despite what my former belief system would have permitted, I now see my appearance and body as something to be proud of.
Comments open below
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce