Why I Allow My Girls to Wear Spaghetti-Strap Tops

Why I Allow My Girls to Wear Spaghetti-Strap Tops January 15, 2015

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.

 

Mira, Abra & Ophelia
Mira, Abra & Ophelia

 

 

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  • Danae L

    Great words, Abra 🙂

  • This is my second time attempting this. But I loved your post so much and it resonated with my daughter, that I’m giving it another go! I have only one daughter and she’s at the age now, she’s raising her two daughters (and son). I understand your thoughts on people trying to micromanage us and more specifically our children. There was a time I was so tired of people (usually Christians) who needed to tell me what I was doing wrong with my daughter and in raising her. I let it go then. Today, I would say a few things. When my daughter was in her rebellious teenage years she often wore clothing I did not care for and wished she wore more to cover more. Our church was not critical and seemed to accept her way of dress. But we had some family members (women and Christian) who looked at my daughter with a critical eye, snickered and wondered how not only could she dress that way, but how could I, her mother allow this. It was a difficult period for my daughter and the last thing she needed was family pointing fingers at her. Fortunately, I knew there was a bigger issue than her clothing and wearing thin tank tops. It was, what was going on within her. It was her heart. My husband and I both knew we could tell her again and again how to dress, but if her heart wasn’t to please, what good would it do? And we knew, the bigger issue was, was her heart a lover of Jesus? I remember the woman at the well, a story I have come to love very much. When she ran off to the town to tell them what Jesus had done in her life, did she stop off at the local store and buy a new dress? Did her clothing change from the minute she left the well and was transformed? Maybe. Maybe not. Jesus offered her living water. He didn’t offer her more clothing or different clothing. Her offered her life. I believe we need to remember the important thing. As I am working with young women who want to follow Jesus, sometimes they dress in ways I am uncomfortable with. But with assurity I know, when they fall in love with their Savior, with their father, they will arrive at the point to dress to please the one who matters. I pray we can all remember the most important thing. Blessings! 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time (twice!) to share your wisdom, Diane. I admire and am thankful for the work you do. Blessings!

    • Patricia Samson Rountree

      Hey Diane, saw the spelling of your last name and wondered if you were of German heritage?

      My maiden name is Samson (Von Samson in Germany). Unusual to find the same spelling.

      Sorry to interrupt the comments. I enjoyed the article too.

  • Thank you so much, Abra. I should probably read this a few more times carefully, but I am a full time single parent, employee, and college student. As of now, I can only hurriedly thank you for the things that stood out to me the most. There will never be a day where I do not struggle with the feeling that I am a walking, seducing temptress, as you mentioned, even though I have been trying to dress as modestly as possible since becoming a lover of Jesus two years ago! Being a temptress was a danger that I was informed about many times growing up. And when I say that I struggle with it, I mean that I will always fight back with the words of Jesus Christ.. I am shame-free, I am holy, I am pure, and I am equal, created in the image of God. I can’t completely capture everything in my brain right now, but I do want to say that you get it. You get the true meaning of freedom, and inner modesty, and everything else. I feel refreshed. Thank you!

    • Kallie, I am so sorry you are struggling to rest in God’s grace. I, too, am a relatively new lover of Christ, and something that has really hit me is how He loves us even when we sin. I have to remind myself of the way I feel about my own kids when they sin, when they throw tantrums, or are unkind to each other — as mamas, we deal with their sin, training, disciplining them and restoring them into full, joyful fellowship — but as we do all this, our love is not lessened toward them at all. How much more is God able to feel this way towards us in His perfect love.

      I know I’ve racked up my fair share of trespasses and the more I learn about who Jesus was, the more I realize that I am not in bondage to the shame and guilt of my past. On days that I feel particularly weighed down by my sexual sins, I try to recall this story (I know we’ve all probably heard it, but I find the need to remind myself regularly):

      Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them. The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

      “No one, Master.”

      “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” (John 8:1-12 MSG)

      When Jesus died on the cross, all our sins were cancelled, we can stand tall, rejoicing now — because God loves us more then His own Son’s life, and sees us now as His daughters, radiant, beautiful and clean. ((hugs)) Much love to you.

  • I loved this post and I really agreed with everything you said. You are a great mother and have so many great points. I love the way you expressed your feelings about the subject without tearing the other woman down. Your post is written beautifully and you did an amazing job!

  • SJ

    I loved this piece. Sad that this is a new idea, but it’s something we all need to hear. When Godliness is only expressed in clothing, women are so minimized. But reading so many Christian books and blogs you would think they only way women communicated to God is through clothing. By focusing on this is think of all the relational aspects of a Christian life that are left out in a girl’s childhood!

  • km

    “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.”

    One of the truest and most gospel-saturated statements about modesty I have ever read.

  • Rebecca

    I identify with the despising men bit. My parents were pretty good about the modesty issue but what I read/hear/see being touted within the Church truly offends me. I, too, stumbled upon a man who thought I was gorgeous (and who likes my goth moods) and we’ll be trying to help our daughter navigate fashion choices. I think you did an absolutely wonderful job with this topic:)

  • I love this. So encouraging! Thank you for sharing in such a gentle, edifying way. You seem like an amazing mom. 🙂

  • That was exceptionally well-written and had many great insights. I particularly found the part about Ham and Noah to be very thought-provoking. Yes, you are very right, though I had not thought about it in such a way before; we must not point out others’ shame, not even to make an example, not even that of a celebrity. That was a very valuable passage from this post.

    I did not grow up being beaten over the head with the “do not make men stumble” mentality. Yet, as a mom I see how modesty can and will likely effect both my sons and daughters. I see this mainly through what is pandered to boys and men and girls and women via all forms of media. Women are used as sexual bait to sell things all the time – studies have been done to show how much more commonly that is so than the use of male images – and anytime we find our kids have been exposed to those insidious messages about where a woman’s worth lies, I do feel we have to combat it by talking about respect and the innate dignity we all have as children of God. I feel many songs, commercials, and shows would teach my sons to view women for merely their desirability. That is not the fault of women, and I cannot imagine warning my daughters “not to make men stumble”, but I would warn them to love and respect themselves and to let that shine even through their attire.

  • Nailed it!

  • This was a very timely read for me, as I am navigating the “changing body” years with my daughter. I’m still learning how to let go of those shame-based modesty values I learned in church when I was young. I know I don’t always get it right…but I love so much your example about spotlighting other people’s shame. That was a real clarity moment for me. Thank you!

  • CyLou

    So just a thought: what if your daughters go to a school that prohibits such things and does have “inches” rules? What is your teaching then? What if her favorite dress for the ball does have spaghetti straps and is “modest” but is prohibited only because of its “straps”. Obviously you honor the authority placed over you but then what is the teaching?

    • That is a really good question. The last school our daughters were at had similar regulations. I think those scenarios fall under the difference between God’s Rules v. House Rules (principles which are presented in Romans 13 and 14 among other places). For example: when we are at other people’s houses, we follow their house rules (apart from sin) even if we may not have the same rules within our own home. We do this out of love, grace and honor for those people.

      Personally, I found most spaghetti strap formals can easily be brought up to dress code standards by using decorative ribbons from the fabric store. There really are some very pretty ones now and often folks didn’t even know I had made the alteration. 🙂

  • E

    I appreciate your perspective and its lack in the church today. Could you please share a little of how you teach your daughters to choose clothing and how you will talk to them about physical modesty when they are older? My family was conservative, not oppressive, but a bit outward-focused and arrogant that our standards were “better”. My daughter is too young to have to address this issue yet, but we will, and I don’t know how to teach her graciously what a modest heart would choose to wear and why.

    • Thank you for your patience. We got sick over the weekend so life got kinda busy, but we are feeling better now. 🙂

      As far as teaching our girls to choose modesty in clothing and in their attitude, we’ve been kind of making it up as we go.

      For clothing, in the last year, I’ve begun to take my girls shopping with me. The three of us each pick out a couple articles of clothing for me to try on. I allow them into the dressing room with me. With each outfit, we all share what we like and don’t like about each piece. It can be, “I love the length of this skirt because it keeps me covered well when I need to chase their little brothers around the playground” or perhaps that shirt is too snug because it reveals what my body looks like under my clothes (and Mommy’s body belongs to Daddy, so only he is lucky enough to see what my body looks like without clothes).

      I have had to discipline myself not to speak negatively about my body, but to be particularly positive in front of my girls. I tell them that the reason I like V-neck lines because they flatter my chest size well and accent my clavicle (which is one of my husband’s favorite parts on me). I don’t want them to think that hating your thighs or wishing we had bigger eyes is ok (it isn’t), so I refrain from criticizing the female form period, whether it is mine or not.

      After they have seen and heard me thinking about what I will wear, what fits and what flatters, I took them shopping. We exercised the same routine, but with them trying on the clothes. I am trying to teach them how to think about clothes wisely, taking into consideration, flattering fit, functionality, and fun (colors, twirl, style). This practice has also presented a great time to talk about price and value.

      For cultivating gracious hearts, as they have become more aware of how I think about clothes, they naturally began to notice that not everyone shares my opinions on them. Initially, they would whisper questions, “Mom, why is she wearing a shirt that shows her breasts?” and I would (cheerfully & gently) answer that I didn’t know why and that information wasn’t really any of our business anyway (it is between her and God), but our responsibility was to love God through loving her. Then, in the hopes of training their (and my own) hearts to be seeking out the good in everyone, I praise something about the woman’s appearance “Isn’t her hairstyle/manicure/shoes absolutely beautiful? I really like that!”, if the situation lends itself to telling the woman that I like her hairstyle/manicure/shoes, I do that in front of the girls. Compliments are often received well and it is a good way to remind myself and the kids that she isn’t some random woman, she is our sister, made in the image of God just like you and I.

      Does that help?

  • Amanda Evans

    I loved how you brought Jesus into this discussion. I grew up focusing on what I should do, on what is right and what is good. I’m just now beginning to see how *me* focused it was. So far I’ve known what I don’t want to do with my kids but I’m having a hard time rewriting my internal script so I can teach them differently. Mostly, to take a line from Martin Luther, I want them to “love God and do as they please.”

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