Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Immodesty of Modesty

Modesty is a super-huge deal in fundamentalist sectors. It's a shame that fundamentalist efforts toward modesty are quite often self-defeating - superficially "solving" one problem while creating another.

Let's take a minute to consider the whole frumpy, long hair and denim jumpers thing. It's a path chosen by those who consider sexuality to be the greatest factor in or element of modesty. I've always immediately pegged anyone wearing the long hair/denim jumper combo as some form of Pentecostal, some form of Holiness, et cetera. I didn't know it was the norm in the Christian homeschooling world, too, until a couple of years back, because, frankly, I knew next to nothing about the Christian homeschooling world until a couple of years back.

Here's the problem...

While fundamentalist Christians may consider the long hair/denim jumper (or super long skirt) deal modest, I have another name for it: a uniform. A fundamentalist Christianity uniform. It makes it easy for people to peg you, immediately, as a fundamentalist Christian - for all the wrong reasons. I'm pretty sure Jesus never said "...and they will know you by your Christian uniform." The self-defeat really kicks in, though, in that modesty, at its core, means to NOT draw attention to yourself, especially in superficial manner...and it's kinda hard not to stand out like a sore thumb in the frump of a denim jumper. It isn't exactly the clothing choice of atheists, or agnostics, or even mainstream evangelicals (you know, those people who fundamentalists don't believe are "real" Christians). The ONLY people wearing it are fundamentalists, which makes it a sure-fire attention-getter, which means a big ole oopsy daisy on the whole idea of modesty.

I agree with people who say "modesty is a matter of the heart". But...if you start putting on a modesty uniform, then, well, not so much. If someone really wants to "lust after" you, they're gonna. That's on them. Not on you. Lust, just like modesty, is a "matter of the heart" that no uniform will conquer.

Just live.


  1. Lewis, thanks for addressing this important issue. Having come from the world of modesty, I can attest to the fact that it often does more harm than good. Here is a bit of my story concerning modesty. It was a very difficult issue that I had to deal with for years.

  2. I think you're defining modesty in a different manner than it's being used. For the Christian homeschoolers (from which I came), the idea of modesty behind the frumpy dressing is modesty in the amount of skin you show, or how revealing your outfit is. Additionally, women always wear skirts and non-form fitting blouses because the Christian homeschooling movement believes that wearing pants (or "men's clothing") is a sin and non-Biblical. The purpose behind their definition of modesty is to prevent unclean thoughts, as they usually have categories for mental sins. This is the same basis behind some Christian homeschoolers' adherence to the idea of segregated bathing.

    Basically, I don't quite think it is fair to try to ascribe your definition of modesty to this style of dressing. I do share your automatic association with this uniform, and I'd add the hair tied tightly in a bun.

    However, as an argument against this uniformed style of dress, you made many good points in a post you wrote a while ago. The problem with this style of dress is that the basis of it is rooted in the concept that sexuality of any kind is evil, and the only way to avoid sinning is to try to avoid any exposure to sexuality in any way. This leads to children growing into adults who have a warped understanding, a fear almost, of anything sexual, which can be absolutely toxic when/if they get married, especially if they marry outside the particular religious movement their parents belong to.

    1. "Basically, I don't quite think it is fair to try to ascribe your definition of modesty to this style of dressing."

      It isn't my definition but rather A definition. The overall point is that while superficially dealing with one issue of modesty, another modesty problem (drawing attention to themselves) is created.

    2. I think what The Ricker is asking is whether Christian homeschoolers would define modesty as "not drawing attention." They may, in fact, know and be proud that they're drawing attention to themselves---they may define modesty solely as whether you are causing someone sexual thoughts (though again, as you've pointed out, this could happen if you're wearing a long-sleeved bag!)

      I have always been under the impression that their obsession with modest centered specifically around lust and sexual things, and drawing attention to yourself or standing out b/c of how frumpily you were dressed would not be considered immodest by their standard, and so they wouldn't percieve this as an inconsistency in beliefs.

      The ironic thing is, though, that the definition of modesty which includes not bringing attention to yourself may actually be a lot closer to what the Scripture writers were talking about.

    3. A friend of mine(we are both homeschooling moms)and I were discussing this and I thought her comments were excellent.

      When we see someone dressing this way..Aren't they making a statement like.."Look at me..I am holy and conservative". She was so right because there are so many people who bash others for not dressing this way.

      Now I do know those who dress very modest and conservative who don't bash others for not dressing the way they do and I so appreciate it.

      I have so way gotten over the fact that some people out there actually consider it a sin for a woman to wear pants..If they make comments to me and they have..I just tell them that my husband has NO PROBLEM with it.That shuts them up quick..I hate to have to even say that because I feel it's none of there business and it should so not be an issue in this time because there are just to many other important issues.

      I do wear one jean skirt that comes a little below the knee and wear it sometimes when I'm out with my husband because for some reason he loves me in that skirt.lol.

  3. I am in agreement with Keri on this one. I am a homeschooling Grandmother. A very small percentage of the homeschoolers dress this way. I know one lady in particular from our home school PE group. She teaches the teenage girls class. It seems the opposite of modest to be doing PE in a dress. Her girls and a couple of others from similar families also wear dresses or skirts when doing PE. When I was a child I wore pants to play or be active in because I was active and the risk of showing my under pants would have been immodest. So, in my opinion its more about conforming a false holiness standard than real modesty.

  4. I had to get used to not being stared at after dressing like a freak all my life.

  5. Also...

    You couldn't be more correct and you don't need me to affirm that but I am, lol.
    I remember taking pride in how I looked, even though I wasn't nearly as self righteous as most of my friends. After I started dressing like every other average American, I felt like I must not be a "witness" because I was no longer "peculiar". I had a lot to learn... still do.

  6. I agree with this, shared by "Annonymous":

    "The ironic thing is, though, that the definition of modesty which includes not bringing attention to yourself may actually be a lot closer to what the Scripture writers were talking about."

    When Paul and Peter advised women to dress modestly, they spoke in terms of elaborate hairstyles, pearls, and gold jewelry. I'll grant that there was no need to speak of necklines or skirt lengths because those simply weren't issues-- but "modesty" in the Scriptures isn't about preventing lust (Jesus put the responsibility for lust solely on the one lusting). "Modesty" in the Scriptures is basically about not showing off. And showing off is exactly what prairie-skirt wearers, intentionally or not, are doing.

  7. My sister only left the Independent Fundamental Baptist organization 3 years ago. Every time I would go to visit her in Northwest Indiana as a teen, I could always spot fellow IFB members a mile away not only from their "modest" clothing, but usually having 5 or 6 kids hovering around the mother was also a big sign.

    Everything they do makes them stick out.

  8. I was never at any time proud of the "holiness" demonstrated by my horribly frumpy clothing but rather intensely humiliated - that is, once I got old enough to care about what I was wearing. And of course the guilt that accompanied my feelings of embarrassment for dressing in such a "godly" manner. I longed with all my heart to be normal and having normal clothes - even today I will marvel at the delicious sensation of not standing out in a crowd. I remember once after I got my driver's license (at 18) my sister and I were out shopping alone and we were browsing through the clothes at a department store and before I thought I said to her, "Why don't we try on normal clothes just to see what we would look like," and then abruptly wanted to bite my tongue when my sister's face darkened and she said in a low voice, "I don't think that would be right." Oh, how brainwashed we were. We actually thought that anyone who wore "wordly" clothes wasn't a true Christian, and, well, any woman who wore a BIKINI and called herself a Christian was blaspheming. I often smile when I think how that Rebecca would have judged the Rebecca of the present, who is not only not a Christian anymore and who is the not the stay-at-home daughter she was supposed to grow up to be and who consumes alcohol, but who also wears a bikini when she swims! I'm pretty sure I would never have believed I would come to that.

  9. uniform? LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Lewis,

    I'm not familiar with what a denim jumper is, so I did a Google Image search. Is this what the fuss is all about? ;)


  11. A number of years ago, while watching a DVD about a 'large, Christian homeschooling family' - you can probably guess which family I'm talking abou - someone asked, 'Why are they all dressed like that?' Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, 'It's their uniform.' (The daughter of the family that brought the DVD in to share with our group was offended by that and tried to correct my perception.) I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who had the 'uniform' thought.

    Here where I live, I have seen some dresses-only, some larger-than-average, some ultra-conservative families, but I know very few that are all three. I also know some who started out dresses-only, but have since loosened their stance on the issue.

    I believe that while the dresses-only crowd talk about it being a modesty issue, the ultimate goal is still to draw attention to themselves which, to me, isn't very modest behavior at all.

  12. The interstng thing is that whatever the religion, the uniform only applies to women. A few examples from my own neighborhood:

    Loose-fitting dresses in the company of men in jeans and T-shirts
    Veils covering the face
    Non-tartan plaid jumpers (These are SERIOUS fetish-wear for certain people who are turned on by Catholic schoolgirls.)

    Very few men wear their religions. Most men blend in with the local culture. Women stick out and don't get the option not to.

  13. I did the modesty and headcovering thing for several teenage years of my life. Never once did I consider that the way we dressed was supposed to "not draw attention to ourselves." I *knew* I was drawing attention to myself, and I *didn't* like the attention, I didn't want to be a freak, but that's what I had to do to keep a clear conscience in how I dressed. The legalism and bondage that goes with being in these movements is a different sort of spirit than you are describing. It's not about "showing off" - I dressed my modest religious way with much shame and my only hope was that the kids in my highschool would just leave me alone to do my thing, a thing I had little to no control over, because I was just trying to follow the teachings I had been taught were necessary. Don't condemn the people doing this stuff - they already live under enough self-condemnation. I was only set free by being around other christians....those christians I didn't think were "real" christians...and seeing the glory of God on them. As much as my doctrine told me they were all wrong, I knew they had something with God that I didn't. I left my church to go find Jesus, in some way that I knew I didn't have Him but had seen Him in others. Even after leaving my church, it took months until I felt like I wouldn't bring down God's wrath on myself for dressing differently. Be gentle - many of these legalistic people are the "bruised reed" and the "smoldering flax" that need to see Jesus in the way that freedom lets Him be seen, and beating up on these people won't help.

    1. I'm not sure how I could be more gentle except to say nothing, and saying nothing doesn't help those who need something to be said. Your personal experience is different than many others.

  14. Do you ever post scripture or are all your posts just opinions?September 23, 2013 at 9:45 PM

    Lol you gotta be joking. So MORE CLOTHING gets more attention than LESS CLOTHING? If that's the case then why do strippers wear little to no clothes instead of denim jumpers? I can only see that happening in extremely rare cases.

    and modesty is not a matter of the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

    Modesty is a matter of showing less skin, avoiding indecency, and being humble. Also the responsibility of causing lust is not entirely the man's fault or "on them" as you put it.

    The bible says love your neighbor as you love yourself, so why should women only pick what they want during the process of choosing an outfit? Instead women should ask theirselves, "I like this outfit, but what does God want me to wear and will this outfit cause others to sin?"

    Women should consider how her clothes will affect others before she picks an outfit.

    1. Instead women should ask theirselves, "I like this outfit, but what does God want me to wear and will this outfit cause others to sin?"

      I have no words...except to say that I hope you read the material here on religious addiction.

    2. "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell"
      -If you sin it is ONLY your fault ,blaming others and finding excuses is not going to fool God into beliving you,because as loving and mercifull as He is ,He is also just (and that is our salvation).

      In my country homeschooling is against the law and sometimes i think that's a good thing because if a child lives in an abusive envirement his/her chances of getting out of it are bigger(as there are collegues and teachers and counselors he/she can talk to) .

      i understand you ask yourself this question every morning but for your salvation i hope your husband asks himself the same one ,because if he sins and does not dress as modestly as you do ,you are lost as well(for you are one body and one soul) -have that in mind,because if you choose to live by the law you will be judged by the law and not by the law of love from the new testament

      With best of wishes ,Andra

    3. I just pictured a bunch of homeschool type women in denim jumpers with long hair on stripper poles. LOL

  15. You and your training are using a modern understanding of the word modesty. Because of such, the tendency is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. http://thecommandmentsofmen.blogspot.com/2011/02/important-public-service-announcement.html