I don’t like doing these types of posts. For starters, I’m trying really hard not to pick fights within in the body of Christ (aruging never does anyone any good). Secondly, I think the mama who wrote the original article is trying her best to glorify God by raising her daughter for Him and I can definitely support that — I’m in the same boat. Every one of us mamas is doing our best, none of us are perfect and thankfully, God graciously holds our children up where we fail them. However, there is a place for challenging each other with different perspectives (iron sharpening iron and all that), which is what I hope to do here.
Yesterday evening, Why I Don’t Let My 4-year-old Wear Spaghetti-Straps popped up on my Facebook feed as several friends had shared it. “Oh dear” I thought and resolved not to read it, “I’ll only get frustrated.” But I was having a hard time not thinking about it. Even without reading it, I had a good idea what it contained, and the voices in my head piled on objections. I’ve read a thousand articles which presented a similar thesis. “Maybe I’m not being fair.” I said to myself, “Maybe it is just a mis-leading title. I’ll read it tomorrow when I’m not tired.” Today I woke up refreshed and clear minded. I read my Bible, prayed, did my morning chores and put my boys down for a nap before sitting down to my laptop.
I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again, both as a reminder to myself and to all consumers, it is so easy to tear down, to tear apart, to criticize. But that isn’t what we were made for. God blessed us and told us to take on the world, make it beautiful, make it fruitful, make it a reflection of Him.
Lord, teach us to build up our homes, our sisters and brothers, and help us cultivate communities as you commanded. Protect us from dismantling them.
It is difficult to tell through written word, but the author of the original article seems to be very tender-hearted and I am so thankful for that. Modesty is a hot button topic and it takes either serious guts or serious folly to jump into the fray. I am thankful for women who dedicate the time and energy into thinking about God’s world and humbly looking for ways to glorify Him in it. As I mentioned before, it is not my desire to fight or pick apart her article, I do not wish to slander or discourage her. But I do think it would be appropriate to offer a different perspective. This is one of the primary reasons the body of Christ is made up of different people from different races, experiences and ideas, so we can ping ideas off each other and dig through a world of misconceptions and wrong thinking to reveal God’s beautiful truth. So what I am going to try to share is why my husband and I do allow our daughters to wear strappy tanks tops.
Simply put, it is because modesty is not cultivated with outward adornment, it begins in the heart and works its way out.
Allow me to try and explain: My girls are young right now. Mira is 6 and Ophelia turns 9 next week. At this point, there is absolutely nothing that draws attention to them inappropriately through baring their little shoulders. They are blissfully unaware of the wickedness that can lead men and women into finding anything and everything sexually stimulating. Of course, we don’t allow our girls to wear just any old thing, but there also aren’t hard line rules. Honestly, I doubt we will ever give them inch and style based regulations on what they wear (but God has a sense of humor, so I’m not betting on it).
I’m currently trying to teach my 9 year old how to shop for clothing and my 6 year old how to match her outfits. It is much easier said then done. We look for age and circumstantial appropriateness. Trying to incorporate their personal style is tricky when they aren’t even sure what it is yet. To make this endeavor even more exciting, already we’ve run into your-sister-can-wear-that-but-you-may-not situations. Both girls have what seem to be polar opposite body types. My older daughter seems to be built more like me, hourglass, soft, and one day, curvy. My younger daughter is a lean, mean, muscle machine. She was climbing floor to ceiling bookcases before she was 2. She has what is known as an athletic build.
Ben and I try to choose our words about modesty deliberately and carefully. Our daughters are both beautiful. I catch glimpses of the women they are becoming from time to time and it takes my breath away. There are likely two little boys out there who are going to feel the same way one day — minus the maternal affection. I don’t want my girls to think their beauty or sexuality is bad. It isn’t. Both are foundational attributes of femininity, custom made for us by our Maker. Statistically speaking, one day my girl’s beauty, their bodies, will be presented to some very lucky young men on their wedding day — a gift from God, created through the love Ben and I have for each other, action inspired by my own beauty. You see, beauty is powerful. It can inspire and create, beauty has even driven men to madness. This is why it is vitally important to teach our daughters, our sons and ourselves to think rightly about it. Power only becomes dangerous in the wrong hands.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to wear spaghetti-strap tanks. I was told it was because they showed my bra straps. To be fair, underwear is under-wear. I call them Foundational Pieces. Bras are designed to ease the strain on our backs and protect us from ostentatiously “nipping” in the cold. They also lift and define our breasts — because breasts are beautiful. They are. God made them that way on purpose. The use of panties is primarily hygenic, but they, too, can be quite pretty.
When my husband met me, I was a teenager who wore mini skirts to church with big, flashy high heels, dangly earrings and black lipstick (I also whited out my face and made my eyes look hollow with dark eyeshadow). Ironically, it wasn’t because I was trying to attract attention. I didn’t even want to be in a relationship and I’d never so much as held a guy’s hand, let alone kissed one! The truth was that my husband was the first male I had met that I didn’t have genuine disdain for. Too many exhortations to not stumble the boys with my beauty had taught me that men couldn’t control themselves, that they were animals and that if something bad happened, it would be my fault for bringing it upon myself with my “temptress” ways. I hated men. So I built a wall around myself. I became scary — it worked, too. For the most part, the only unwanted attention I got was from well-meaning church ladies, whose first names I didn’t even know, telling me to stop stumbling their sons (true story). Oh sure, there were cat calls on the street and foolish boys who tried to get my number, but they were easily repelled. Thankfully, God interrupted me with Ben.
The reason I dress modestly now has nothing to do with how I shop for clothes, but a firmly rooted foundation in the knowledge that I am loved.
I hope my daughters never go through what I did. We are actively fighting against the lies about beauty we are pelted with from both the broader culture and from within the church. We are striving to teach our daughters and our sons to see all mankind as brothers and sisters. We are all made in the image of God, male and female. As Matt Chandler put it, “You have not been given to man for simple comfort and pleasure. You are made in the image of God. Whether you’re married or you’re single, you’re intrinsically valuable. God has imparted to you a worth…” This principle is applicable for men, as well as women. Men are not animals who cannot control their instincts. They are a reflection of God (as are women), distinctly set apart and lifted above the animals. Men who recognize mankind’s God given value will not fall into sin because of a beautiful woman. I am reminded of a Doc Martin episode wherein a woman attempts to seduce the good doctor in her bedroom. She tricks him into coming there. She isn’t dressed and basically says come hither. The woman is so empty and sad, you can see it in her overdone eye make-up, her tired face, the lines drawn in her skin from years of being used and then cast aside (Tom Wolfe has a very crude, however accurate, term for women like this in his novel I am Charlotte Simmons). She is so lonely. I remember what that feels like. I hope you’ve never experienced it, and if you haven’t, it feels like slowly drowning. Far below the surface you can hear echoes of the life above you. You see the light, the activity, the laughter, but you can’t reach it. You can’t breathe. In the show, Doc Martin, instead of being aroused by the woman’s invitation and nakedness, he maintains eye contact and covers her. When I watched that scene, I had Genesis 9:20-29 déjà vu. Ham brought attention to his father’s shame and was cursed for it. When we draw attention to other’s nakedness, when we make a big deal about it, when we tell our children that person isn’t covering up, doesn’t know her worth, that she isn’t being modest – we aren’t loving our neighbors – we are spotlighting their shame. It is as though we justify immodest hearts in the name of bodily modesty — and we commit this gross act of unkindness in front of our children, exhorting them to do likewise.
Mamas, we need to tread very lightly when we talk about clothing with our daughters. It is so easy to forget that the greatest commandment was not “get thee to a nunnery”. No, it was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27). If we teach our daughters that they need to cover up now so they’ll make a habit of it for later (when God has bestowed the fullness of their feminine glory upon them) so that they don’t stumble men, what are we really teaching them but to objectify men; men who are too weak to control themselves, men who are to be feared and rejected – men, not made in the image of God. How is this teaching them to taste and see that the Lord is good? How is this teaching them how to cultivate their beauty to bless others?
My husband and my goal is not to teach our children about beauty and modesty through giving them lists of rules to memorize (or pointing out others to demonstrate folly), but by cultivating their hearts to reflect their Maker, by giving the tools they need to decide what is and is not appropriate despite all the variables. We are trying to establish a relationship with them such that when they have questions or hurts they feel safe coming to us, and when we have an objection to their behavior or dress, we have demonstrated kindness and wisdom in the past such that there is money in the bank to cash that check. Part of our job as parents is learning how to make specific applications every moment of every day to situations for which there are no proof texts and then pass that skill along to our children. House rules v. God’s rules, even when house rules are a direct attempt to apply God’s rules (as they all ultimately are, in one way or another).
I know this is difficult, Mamas. Our little girls are growing into young women (so fast) and we want to protect them. We want to give them everything they will need to flourish, to be safe and happy. We want to be the best mama we can be for them. It is easy to forget that all these blessings are not the point. The weight of our children’s lives lie safely in the hands of God, our job is simply to glorify Him. There is no handy, printable checklist on how to accomplish this goal. To read our Bibles looking for a checklist would be to misunderstand who God really is. God is not a legalist, even when we want Him to be. In order to look at our lives to ask, “What can I do to be righteous?”, we have to take our eyes off Christ. Sisters, we must never take our eyes off Him. To glorify God is to see His this world through His eyes and rejoice. Salvation does not come from examining our closets and it certainly doesn’t come from noticing how inappropriate someone else may be. His grace is sufficient for me. It is sufficient for you. It is sufficient for her.
When we love God with reckless abandon, when we worship Him continually, training our eyes to never wander from His beautiful face, modesty will flow right out of our hearts and over our bodies. No What Not to Wear database needed.