Is It Sin to Tell Women It’s Sin to Wear Yoga Pants?

Is It Sin to Tell Women It’s Sin to Wear Yoga Pants? April 4, 2024

Is it a sin to tell women that it’s a sin to wear yoga pants? I don’t know if I would go that far, but I do think it is wrongheaded for many reasons that our discussion of modesty and lust often get reduced to telling women what to wear.

Every year about this time, online theobros think it is their Christian duty to remind Christian women that they have bodies and that Christian men are attracted to their bodies. These men, very concerned for their brothers in Christ, urge their sisters in Christ to dress “modestly” by avoiding leggings, short shorts, summer dresses, bikinis, and anything that might cause their brothers in Christ to “stumble.”

Essentially, they tell Christian women that if they dress immodestly (according to what standards is difficult to ascertain, but leggings are definitely out) they will cause their brothers in Christ to lust. It will be their fault if a man commits the sin of lust because of something that they wore.

This is an area of my thinking that has changed quite a bit over the years. A while ago, I may have been joining those theobros in telling women what they can’t and shouldn’t wear. But God has helped me see this issue much more clearly and in a way that takes into account that women are, you know, human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

I think that telling women that certain ways of dressing are sinful is beyond nonsense for many, many reasons:

Is it a sin to wear yoga pants? Probably not. Scriptural modesty means something else. Public Domain.

The Bible Tells Women to Dress Modestly But Not in the Way we Think

The Bible does in fact instruct women to dress modestly. 1 Timothy 2:9 says, “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 notice what Paul, the author, draws attention to: gold, pearls, expensive clothes. In other words, rather than telling them not to show off their bodies, he is telling them not to show off their wealth. Modesty, for Paul, was about maintaining unity by avoiding the temptation to divide over issues of class and wealth. The young church Paul is writing to in Ephesus has a fragile unity as it has brought in people from different races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. Paul desires the unity of the church and wealth is one way in which it could divide.

The concern for Paul when he tells women to avoid immodest dress has nothing to do showing off one’s skin or curves. When this verse is quoted to women, it is often in support of such a view. This is, simply put, terrible exegesis. And from a group that prides itself on its “superior” exegesis, it is embarrassing.

If they were interpreting Scripture correctly, they could be telling women to leave their Gucci purse at home on Sunday morning and that their [insert name of expensive brand here] shoes don’t belong in church. Which could be a message to all believers, both men and women, to not dress in a way that might draw attention to distinctions created by wealth.

The Whole Discussion Reduces Women to Sex Objects

The whole discussion around modest dress often ends up objectifying women and reducing them to sex objects. It denies women agency and dehumanizes them. It denies their full humanity by turning them into objects designed to either provide one man (her husband) with pleasure and all other men with the temptation to lust.

This conversation reduces women to their physical appearance. It does not value the whole woman. Furthermore, it makes it seem like men are afraid of women and the supposed danger they pose. This prevents men and women from having godly relationships outside the bounds of marriage. If a woman is only either your wife or a temptation, then she certainly can’t be a valued sister in Christ.

Modesty is Culturally Conditioned

Modesty does not have a single, universal definition. It is conditioned by place, by history and by other social mores. What was seen as immodest one hundred years ago is no longer always seen as immodest. What might be immodest in America might be completely appropriate in Indonesia. In other words, modesty, as a concept, is dependent on too many other cultural values to have a universal application.

Which means we, in our culture, must wrestle with what makes clothing modest or immodest. We can’t just say “any dress that causes me, a man, to lust” is immodest because that’s conditioned by each individual man. One man might be turned on at the sight of a woman in yoga pants, another may not be. Not all men are wired the same way and thus we don’t have an automatic benchmark for what is modest and what is not.

These men who keep telling women not to wear leggings or not to wear yoga pants or bikinis or crop tops or short skirts are simply telling on themselves. They assume because *they* lust after women who wear certain attire that it follows that all men lust after the same thing. They do not.

We Are Blaming the Wrong People

If I were to tell you that some guy named Joe murdered another guy named Fred, your response would not be, “What did Fred do to make Joe murder him?” Your response would be, “What a horrible thing Joe did.”

If I told you some woman named Mary scammed an old granny named Gladys out of her life savings, your response would not be, “What did Gladys do to make Mary scam her out of her life savings.” Your response would be, “What a horrible thing Mary did.”

Then why is it that if I told you some guy named Joe was lusting after a woman named Mary our response is, “Well, what was Mary wearing?”

When a man lusts, it is his fault, full stop. When a man has sinful sexual thoughts about a woman, it is his fault, period. There is no excuse for his actions, no matter what the woman was or was not wearing. It’s his lust. It’s his sin.

I remember when I was a youth pastor and a woman in my church was complaining about the way one of my youth group students was dressing when she sang on Sunday mornings with the worship team. I got pulled into a meeting to discuss this issue. The woman complained that the way this teenager was dressing was causing her husband to struggle with lust. As we went round and round talking about what rules we should have in place for people who sing on the worship team, I couldn’t help but think, “shouldn’t we be talking to the guy lusting after a teenage girl?” It seemed like he had the much bigger problem that needed to be addressed. It was not the girl’s fault he couldn’t keep his thoughts on the straight and narrow. It was his, and his alone.

Jesus said that if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out. He did not say that if your eye causes you to sin, put a robe over the woman about whom you are thinking impurely. No matter what a woman is or isn’t wearing, if a man lusts after her, it is his fault.

This becomes especially pernicious when it comes to cases of sexual assault and rape. No matter what a woman is wearing, she is never asking to be raped. But when we blame a woman for a man’s lust, it makes it quite easy to put some of the blame on her for a man sexually assaulting her.

We Make It Seem Like Men are Completely Helpless

When we have this conversation and tell women that they need to dress modestly to protect men, it makes it seem like men are completely incapable of controlling their thoughts. While we overburden women with this issue, we infantilize men. We make it seem like men don’t have the Holy Spirit-empowered ability to mortify their flesh, purify their minds, and control their lusts. These people talk like the Holy Spirit’s ability to help a man conquer lust is completely stymied by a woman wearing yoga pants.

Let me make it clear, again: A man’s lust is a man’s fault. Period. We act like a woman in a bikini is an automatic cause for lust. She is not. We act like there is a direct flight between seeing a woman in leggings and sexual fantasies. There is not. Men are able, with God’s help, to overcome lust.

Practically Speaking about Modesty

I have three daughters, so this topic is quite relevant to my wife and I as we seek to raise godly women. So how do we approach the topic of appropriate dress with our girls?

  1. We take into account the activity they are about to engage in. If they are going to dance class, then their leotard and tights are perfectly appropriate. If they are going to church, maybe not so much. If they are going to the pool, a two-piece swimsuit is fine because that is the appropriate place to wear a swimsuit. If they are going to the grocery store with us, not so much. Does their attire fit the occasion and the activity?
  2. We ask them if they feel comfortable in what they are wearing. Do they feel pressured by anyone or anything to dress in this way? Is this article of clothing a reflection of their authentic selves?
  3. We dig into their motivation to dress a certain way. Are they trying to fit in with a certain group of people or emulate someone they saw on TV or get a boy’s attention (they are still too young for this question but it’s coming).

I’m sure there are many other thoughts on how to help girls dress appropriately. But one thing that we will never tell our girls when they are choosing clothes is that they need to consider whether they will cause a boy to have impure thoughts. That is not their responsibility.

Men, it is time we take full responsibility for the way we think about, and therefore treat, women. It is time we take full responsibility for our own thought lives and stop shifting blame to women. Believe it or not, you don’t *have* to lust when you see a woman wearing leggings.

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