Which of the following are being immodest?
- Zach is loud and demanding. He acts up in class and loves being the center of attention. Every story he tells is about him, and he’ll interrupt your story to try to top it with one of his own.
- Samantha is always concerned about how she looks, and usually dresses better than everyone else. She spends a lot of time on her hair, and money on her clothes, and is always asking her friends, “Do you like my new outfit?” and “Does it look good on me?”
- Brett doesn’t care how he looks and expects others to “accept him as is.” He’s known for dressing like a slob no matter what the occasion is. It doesn’t look like he brushes his teeth very often, and sometimes his body odor is offensive.
- Aaliyah studies fashion magazines so she can copy the styles of her favorite celebrities and she likes dressing older than her age. Now that her body is starting to mature, she wears clothes that show it off – short skirts and tight-fitting, low-cut tops.
If you answered "all of the above," you'd be able to proceed to the next activity on our Powered by God website for children. It reflects the idea that modesty is about more than how you dress. It's a virtue for all Christians—not just women and girls.
I bring it up because there's a controversy brewing in the world of modesty programs. A Facebook posting of a Dannah Gresh's Secret Keeper Girls blog post—Does Teaching Modesty Harm My Daughter's Body Image?—ed me to other entries in the conversation.
First, way back in December 2011, Sharon Hodde Miller raised the issue in How 'Modest is the Hottest' is Hurting Christian Women (Her.Meneutics blog, Christianity Today). Then came Jonathan Merritt's question, Is the Modesty Movement Harmful to Women? (3/11/13), with a response from Dannah Gresh in A Modest Proposal to My Critics. Emily Timbol's Modesty Culture's Hidden Victims appeared in the Huffington Post August 6, 2013.
The main concern is that modesty programs not further objectify women and girls by making them ashamed of their bodies. Dannah Gresh, to her credit, yields to that criticism.
This controversy differs from another raging over whether Christian women should wear yoga pants. To get a sampling of that debate, go here and here. Some of the arguments sound like the ones Muslim men use for enwrapping their women head to toe. Frankly, I'm more concerned about Christians attending yoga classes than what they're wearing to class.
I'm glad Powered by God—both website and curriculum—has its focus on the attitude of modesty and not on feminine body parts. The Bible uses the word only once (in 1 Timothy 2:9-10) and, according to Strong's Concordance, the Greek term indicates "a sense of shame or honor, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect." The passage warns against drawing attention to oneself through displays of wealth— not necessarily sexual provocation—urges propriety and moderation, and advocates the adornments of godliness and good works instead.
While our clothing choices should not accentuate body parts, we'll be truly modest when we consider other questions as well:
- Does my clothes-sense overshadow the good works I'm doing?
- By copying the clothing, hair, and makeup styles of ungodly celebrities am I sending a mixed message?
- Is more time and money spent on how I look rather than on helping others?
- Do I assume that looking good is more important than being good? (Or that a person who looks good is good?)
- Do I care more about "expressing a personal style" than about the feelings of others?
- Must I always be the center of attention?
- How much gratification do I receive when someone says I look nice?
- Do I have to make every occasion about me and what I'm wearing?
- Do I show respect for the needs of others with my grooming habits and clothing selections?
Perhaps all modesty programs could benefit from that emphasis.
Helpful addenda to the discussion:
Is Feminine Modesty about Sex? on Desiring God
The Gospel on our Sleeves: Where I went wrong teaching about modesty on The Gospel Coalition