We need to take boys out of the equation, the discourse of modesty and sexual purity directed at girls in the church. The books, the survey's of teen guys about what was attractive or "tempting" to them, the lectures and seminars, blog posts and even the messages teen girls sent each other, peer-to-peer, the "modest is hottest" culture, they all hinted at it: the objective of being modest was to guard the purity of our brothers in Christ. Oh, and to honor God.
The whole framing of the modesty issue left me feeling that way--that guys, not God, were the focus. Too much of the conversation was dominated by protecting our brothers' purity, making their battle with lust easier and not being a "stumbling block." The issues this spawns are numerous, not the least being the fact that it sexually objectifies the female body as surely as the hyper-sexualized "wordly" attitudes; can lead to eating disorders and self harm, entirely ignores the fact that women can also lust (shocker) and, taken to the extreme, burdens women with the weight of male responsibility, holding women and their bodies accountable for the thought life of men.
In my life, I was blessed to have men who didn't surrender their accountability and foist it on me, but rather approached lust as a sin issue/spiritual battle that I could be instrumental in making easier for them. I'm grateful for this, and beyond the "Christianese" I genuinely cared about the young men in my life, and understanding each other as a soul in love with God made them my brothers in a very deep, real sense. Sacrificing some cute outfits to help them focus on God and not my boobs during youth group was something I could cheerfully do. In the years since, I've heard one of my closest guy friends from high school thank the girls in our circle of friends for how we dressed, and said that it was a blessing in his life. He thanked us for learning about God and life and girls from our friendships, and it was beautiful to hear.
It was especially life-giving to hear because there was frustration and hurt in my heart, remnants of the modesty-culture and discourse. Being a Youngmann girl, I finished developing at the age of 12, which meant I'd been on the frustrating search to "dress modestly" from a very young age. Frustrations range from: finding a bathing suit that is a) not a bikini, and b) not disgusting, I found-this-in-my-grandma's-closet-esque, to internalizing the "modest is hottest" message so that modesty, ironically, became just another way to attract guys, to only be disillusioned, frustrated and fed-up when the "righteous" young men we were making all these sacrifices for didn't seem to notice, and instead of appreciating our virtue chased after all the bikini-clad girls. (note: this is not meant to be shaming for people who make other clothing choices, this was the frustration of a 12 year old too early burdened with the mixed messages of a confusing conservative idealogy).
By the age of 13, before I could even articulate it, I was frustrated and fed-up with the fact that modesty culture casts women as temptresses and men as animals. This all came to a head one day when I had to reject yet another adorable outfit because the skirt passed the arm test (length longer than the tips of your fingers) but not by enough to be truly modest. I proceeded to have a hissy-fit.
I started throwing the adorable too-short skirt repeatedly at the ground, with all the violence I could muster. "I am SICK of it! I'll never get to wear these AWESOME outfits that I look AWESOME in, and no one will ever know how AWESOME I can look because teen guys are gross, lusting animals!"
You get the picture.
My central conclusion was, and is, that guys aren't worth it. Not worth the bother, the headache, the lie that a woman's body is sinful, should be hidden...the heartache.
But that day as a frustrated girl, barely a teen, throwing a fit, I realized what has defined my understanding of modestly ever since: It wasn't about guys or for guys, and it never had been.
I asked myself, who are you doing this for? The answer was, God, always.
Modesty is something I choose, something I want to always remain committed to because God has called me to it and I want to obey. Because it is my spiritual, intimate act of worship to the only guy who is worth it, Jesus. Because the Bible urges "brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God--this is your true and proper worship." (NIV, 2009) Romans 12:1. It is between me and God. It is worship, it is an expression of my spiritual, independent choice, it is an act of love for the God I love. It builds spiritual muscles as I submit my day-to-day choices to God, as I develop discernment, and if my clothing choice is right between my spirit and the Holy Spirit, then I have done my duty and what goes on in someone else's mind is simply not my issue.
I had to take boys out of the equation for modesty to be something other than a thankless, guilt-ridden burden. If men are blessed by modesty, that is wonderful and I am glad, but that is a side effect, a perk to personally honoring God, not the end goal. It's a perk that he planned, I am sure, but the goal is God, not the mental state of our brothers in Christ, however much we love them. Modesty is an act of worship, and the object of worship in the modesty discourse in the Christian community needs to be reinstated as God. Otherwise we end up worshiping failed human beings, men and boys whose minds we can never control, and who we should not uplift as idols or denigrate as animals.We end with broken, burdened women and shame-filled hearts for beauty that should be, is, a joy.
Let's worship the one who is worthy.