Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Modesty Debate

It's going around on Facebook again: the modesty debate. Different friends post different articles about modesty, each with their own valid opinion. And I'm tired of hearing about it. Honestly, I think it doesn't matter. Maybe that's not the right attitude to have. But last time I checked no one's salvation was hanging off the fact she decided to wear a mini skirt.
I remember reading the dress code for PRBI and complaining. It was something often discussed between girls in the dorm, something I sighed in frustration about to my friends and boyfriend when all I wanted to do was wear yoga pants and be comfortable, and something I personally never came to terms with.
I don't agree with everything written about modesty in the PRBI handbook. I don't agree with everything written about modesty in every blog post, news article and essay I've read.
So, if I don't think modesty is one of those issues worth fighting over, why am I writing a blog post on it? Mostly because I'm frustrated, and because these thoughts have been stirring up in my mind for a while now.
I'm more than willing to admit right now that my opinions could be wrong. In my mind whether or not I was on the wrong side of the modesty debate way back in college will not effect my eternal salvation. I don't think Jesus cares all that much if I decided to wear yoga pants to class one day. I think He's more concerned with my heart, and how I loved people, and how I served and how I lived my life.
I understand modesty. Growing up I was often told we didn't wear outfits that revealed too much skin in our house. I know the lectures about the first thing the eye wanders to, and keeping others from falling into temptation.
But I think the whole issue of modesty in our churches especially is contributing to rape culture. I believe that teaching girls and young women to cover up to prevent boys from stumbling is teaching her that her body is dangerous. Because she is told to cover up, she is told that her body is something to keep hidden, which can be interpreted to mean that her body is shameful. I got the talks where my parents and youth leaders and other well meaning adults tried to tell me that this isn't the case but as a high school and now college aged girl that's what I'm hearing. Instead of teaching a woman that she is a person of value with a mind, heart, soul and body, she is confined to the idea that she is a stumbling block. I heard it said from a secular perspective that when we tell a girl in class to change because she is being a distraction, we are subtly telling her that someone not being able to control himself is more important than her education. I believe the things we say to rape victims like "Well, what were you wearing?" only further pushes the issue that men cannot control their actions, and women are expected to cover up and show less skin to prevent unwanted advances.
Growing up my parents, sister and I occasionally had the conversation about why someone would want to dress like that. At least for me personally the answer is what I wear has little effect on my body image, self esteem... I wear shorter dresses because I like them and I like how I feel in them, not because I want to show anything off. And in terms of modesty what the length of my hemline or the cut of my shirt doesn't have anything to do with my relationship with God. I'm not less of a Christian for wearing yoga pants to the grocery store. I'm not more of a Christian because I wear long skirts.
One of the biggest arguments I've heard is that lack of modesty (however that is defined) is more of a stumbling block. I've talked about this with guys and girls, and I understand the perspective. I understand that for some people it's a really big issue, and they will do whatever it takes to help the "weaker brother." But during my relentless discussions on this topic with friends (guys and girls) I've heard this: "I'm tired of hearing that I (guys) don't have self control."
I've heard stories of girls (and been the girl) who were called out on the street wearing a hoodie and jeans. I think lust and stumbling will happen regardless of what a woman is wearing, and our thoughts should be more on what can we do to help work against rape culture rather than constantly criticize and comment on what someone is wearing.
In all honesty, I think the modesty debate doesn't matter. The world won't change because every single girl decides to cover up, even if it's out of love and genuine concern for those around her. I think the world will change when we start honestly telling girls that they are beautiful: mind, body, and soul. I believe the world will change when lessons on self control and respect are just as prevalent as those telling young women about modesty.

(While it's not a post specifically on modesty, I love Sarah Bessey's post on why she loves being friends with people who wear bikinis. I agree with a lot of her statements. That post actually inspired some of what's in this post. It's well worth the read. And I'm glad that I'm friends with people who wear bikinis too)

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