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Why Do We Dress Our Daughters Like Skanks?
Provocative, inappropriate clothing is not just a problem of immodesty. It’s a spiritual problem.

While the title of this article may be a bit provocative, I admit up front that it is not original. The January 1, 2007 edition of Maclean's had a cover story with the same title in which author Lianne George explored how clothing companies are influencing girls to look sexy at younger and younger ages. Ms. George talks about how "the definitions of girl and woman have become moving targets.... North American retailers like La Senza Girl, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Limited Too sell fishnet stockings, skinny jeans, message panties and padded 'bralettes' in micro-sizes."

Young girls buy this stuff up because it's popular in at least some peer groups. But they're also wearing this because their parents either are fighting too many other "commercially-created battles with their children" to object to this one, or because their parents themselves are wearing the adult versions of this provocative children's wear. This leads Ms. George to conclude: "...Girls, looking the way they look, are only aping [or, imitating] grown women, which serves to remind us of the turmoil and confusion surrounding what we currently believe a woman should be."

I would expand that last line to say that there is turmoil and confusion surrounding what we currently believe a person should be. The problem of provocative, even inappropriate clothing is not limited to women and girls. The often humorous columnist Dave Barry not too long ago asked the question, "Can [teen guys] wear their pants any lower? The waistbands are now approximately at knee level. Where will this trend end? The shins? The feet? Will young people eventually detach themselves from their pants altogether and just drag them along behind them?' "

Modest about modesty

What Dave Barry expresses with humour touches on a deeper problem within our culture and also within the church—our church even. Provocative, inappropriate clothing is a problem of immodesty, a topic the Bible addresses in a few places, which also makes it a spiritual problem.

At first it may be surprising, but of course, God should be concerned about what we wear. Taking on a very Reformed expression, one author writes how "there is 'not a square inch' of our lives — including our closets — with which God is not concerned." *1)

We don't hear the word modesty much anymore. When we do, it's often in a condescending tone — Oh, don't be so modest — as though modesty makes a person unable to appreciate the good things about him- or herself. It seems to be a foreign concept altogether in a culture where the mantra is Show off what you've got, whether it's the content of your intellect or the contours of your body.

Into this context, we resuscitate the word modesty. According to my research, "modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It's a desire to serve others, [women] particularly [serving] men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality. Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It is pride, on display by what you wear." *2) ...And it's what many voices in our culture influence us to be.

Living sacrifices, transformed

The Scripture Romans 12:1 & 2 is a reminder then that our first frame of reference, our first allegiance, our first concern is not to our culture and its distorted values when it comes to modesty.

…Paul's plea is for each of us to put our whole selves into our relationship with God....

The apostle Paul urges us "to offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God..." (Romans 12: l). Before we can go any further, we hear that God is concerned with what we do with our bodies. "...Paul's plea is for each of us to put our whole selves into our relationship with God.... We cannot be Christians merely intellectually; rather, we must respond to God's love by loving him with our words and attitudes, our emotions and actions." *3)

We are able to respond to God's love in the first place because of Jesus. He is the one who brings us from spiritual death to life, hence Paul's emphasis on our bodies being living sacrifices. We offer ourselves as people who have been raised from death to life by the One who conquered death on the cross, proving with the resurrection that life is stronger than death.

So, desiring to live in the life of Christ, we dedicate our hearts, our minds, and (indeed) our bodies to God's glory and to the encouragement of the Church. "…This," says Paul, "is [our] spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12: l). Worship isn't just what we do Sunday mornings for a couple hours; we worship God all week long when we seek to put Him first, when we seek to honour and glorify Him with our hearts, minds and bodies — "not ignorantly, like animals brought to slaughter," notes one commentary writer on Romans, "but intelligently and willingly.... Worship is the way we live. We worship God ... [when we] serve Him every day, every hour, every minute." *4)

This means our first allegiance is to God. Instead of conforming to our culture, then, we allow God to "transform[ us] by the renewing of [our] mind" that we may know and do "His good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).

What’s the difference between conforming and being transformed? “Once a little boy was trying to open a flower bud. Under his persistent efforts, the blossom fell apart in his hands. In exasperation, he looked up at his mother and asked, 'Why does the bud fall apart when I try to open it, but when God opens it, the flower is beautiful?' Then he answered his own question, 'Oh, I know! When God opens a flower, He opens it from the inside.'

"That story is a charming illustration of the difference between being conformed and being transformed. The former forces someone's personhood or a group's identity from the outside. The latter opens up the individual or the community from the inside. The difference in results is dramatic. When God opens persons from the inside, they can truly be themselves, the uniquely gifted individuals they were created to be. Unfortunately, however, all sorts of influences obstruct God's opening process...." *5)

Fearfully and wonderfully made

One of those influences is a culture that tries to conform us, a culture where modesty is completely foreign, and we're encouraged to show off what we've got. No longer is the emphasis on the beauty, wonder, uniqueness, and giftedness God gives us; the emphasis rather is on our desire to draw attention to ourselves — me and (frequently) my external appearance and wardrobe.

Where does the desire to draw attention to oneself by what one wears come from? Does it come from you wanting to rebel against your parents, teachers or employer, doing the opposite of what you've been told or what's expected of you? Does it come from low self esteem, an internal insecurity that tries to hide itself in a bold outer appearance? Does it come from a desire not to be overlooked like you have been in the past, perhaps a desire to be deeply, truly loved?

Perhaps most of all, we desire to draw attention to ourselves when we forget how much attention our loving heavenly Father daily showers on us. Psalm 139:14 reminds us how we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Out of love, God makes beautiful things — including people. Even though we are fallen, broken people, there is still a beauty about us that reflects the beauty of our Creator.

What's more, "because we are created in the image of our Creator, each of us has this [same desire and ability] to make things beautiful. That means, when we decorate our homes, or plant a lovely flower garden, or seek to add some form of beauty to our surroundings, even when we attempt to enhance our personal appearance — we are actually imitating and delighting in the works of our Great Creator." *6)

Things get messed up, though, when we believe we need to "enhance our personal appearance" to make up for a deficit, a deficit in believing God made us beautiful in the first place or an error in believing that we need to prove ourselves to others or even to God. Things get messed up when we start believing the half-truths and lies of our culture which would have us believe that our worth is directly connected with what people think about our external appearances. Suddenly the external appearance overshadows inner beauty and out good deeds done out of gratitude for God’s grace.

Return to modesty

That leaves the question for both guys and girls, men and women: "What are you consumed with — your clothing or your character? What are you known for — your good looks or your good works? If you're a mother, what is your daughter learning from you in this regard? She's ... studying you; as she does so, what is she learning — the latest fashions, or good deeds?"' That worth is found in the shallow externals our culture idolizes, or in the fact that she is a beautiful, beloved child of God? If your children are not learning this from you, I can guarantee that they are not learning it from many of the voices in our culture.

…what looks modest on one person may be immodest on another…

"Make this your aim," concludes author C. J. Mahaney, whose work I'm indebted to in this article, "that there be no contradiction between your Gospel message and the clothes you wear." *8) In other words, does what you wear enhance or distract peoples' ability to see what you believe? Does your external appearance harmonize with or shriek louder than what is in your heart?

This, of course, will vary from person to person and from one circumstance to another. Modest women are conscious about the amount of skin they are showing and attempt to keep covered when they bend over to guard against unnecessary attention; modest men will discern that what they wear at the beach on a hot summer day might call unnecessary attention in a shopping mall. And what looks modest on one person may be immodest on another because our bodies come in different shapes and sizes.

What we need is discernment; we need a renewal of our minds as Paul would put it. We get this through loving but honest communication between a couple brothers in Christ or a couple sisters in Christ or between brothers and sisters in Christ — being told that what we're wearing is distracting not serving to encourage each other or help us keep our thoughts pure. Sometimes we might need to be told that instead of worshipping the God of the Bible, we're worshipping the god of what's cool, what's "in." Kids need to see this, but so do adults — parents who think they need to be "cool" or "buddies" with their children, giving them minimal supervision or guidance when it comes to modesty or other influences from culture and their peers. Regardless of age, we need each other to remind us that "true beauty comes from the inside-out, not from the outside-in." *9)

We also receive discernment and renewal in our minds through reading Scripture. There are a couple places in Scripture where we hear about not being immodest, about how we should not dress. But on the positive side, there are lots of places in Scripture that describe how we should dress. Granted, these Scripture readings are not referring to literal clothes. However, in listening carefully to the Lord in these passages, we'll also receive guidance about dressing appropriately and less like skanks (to pick up again the title of that Maclean's article). And in the process, the Holy Spirit may use us to be lights in a culture where there is so much turmoil and confusion surrounding what we believe a person should be.

Conclusion

So let me close with Scripture reminding us what dressing well truly looks like....

"It is through faith that all of you are God's children in union with Christ Jesus. You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself" (Galatians 3:26-27, GNB).

"...Dress modestly, with decency and propriety... with good deeds appropriate for [those] who profess to worship God" (2 Timothy 2:9, 10).

"...Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Romans 13:14).

"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:12-14, NRSV).

Having this sort of wardrobe will always be in fashion; provocative might no longer be the right word, but you might be surprised how noticeable (in a good way) you'll become.

Stanley J. Groothof pastors the Telkwa Christian Reformed Church, Telkwa, British Columbia.

 

Endnotes

1) C.J. Mahaney. "Modesty: God, My Heart, and Clothes (pt. 1)" (online at www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Worldliness-Resisting-the-Seduction-of-a-Fallen-World-CJ-Mahaney.aspx). 9. Mahaney's biog entries are excerpts from a chapter on modesty in his book Worldliness.: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

2) C.J. Mahaney. "Modesty: The Attitude of the Modest Woman (pt. 2)" (online at www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Modesty-The-Attitude-of-the-Modest-Woman-(pt-2).aspx), ¶ 3-4.

3) Marva J. Dawn. Morning by Morning: Daily Meditations from the Writings of Marva J. Dawn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 11. The excerpts in this devotional book that explore Romans 12 are from Dawn's book, Truly the Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 11-15.

4) Douglas J. Moo. Romans (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 395, 397.

5) Dawn, 32.

6) C.J. Mahaney. "Modesty: The Appearance of a Modest Woman (pt. 3)" (online at www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Modesty-The-Appearance-of-the-Modest-Woman-(pt-3).aspx), ¶ 13.

7) C.J. Mahaney. "Modesty: The Right Adornment (pt. 6)" (online at www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Modesty-The-Right-Adornment-(pt-6).aspx), ¶15.

8) C.J. Mahaney. "Modesty: The Modest Woman's Allegiance (pt. 7)" (online at www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Modesty-The-Modest-Womans-Allegiance-(pt-7).aspx), ¶17.

9) Stephen Lien, "Risk It! Modesty in an MTV World" (online at www.bpcusa.org/Sermons/sermon92604.pdf), 9. On parents wanting to be "cool" or "buddies" with their children, see Ron Polinder, "Craving Coolness: The Peril of Perpetual Adolescence" (online at www.nurturingfaith.wordpress.com/2008/0.5/27/craving-coolness-the-peril-of-perpetual-adolescence).

Originally published in the Christian Courier, July 14, 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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