Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Bikini Answer: All Women Cannot Prevent the Lust of All Men

I obviously have a lot of THOUGHTS and FEELINGS on bikinis and modesty. For now, however, I want to stick with criticizing the original piece that started this year’s modesty shitstorm. I realize that at this point, I’m writing two months after the original article. Sorry, y’all, but I am not paid to blog, and as much as I love writing, I love writing well even more, which means that it takes time to organize all my thoughts coherently.

I mentioned a shitstorm, right? Yeah, the evangelical and/or feminist blogosphere has gone crazy this summer (like it does every summer…) talking about bikinis and modesty. Although each voice is slightly different, on both sides of the argument, I see one common theme throughout the pro-modesty bloggers/commenters, one that is present in the original post.

So why don’t you just wear a bikini, you ask? Why? Because I am making a sacrifice for the guys around me. I’ve heard the excuse, Guys just have an imagination, it’s not a girl’s problem. Frankly, I think that’s stupid. Part of it is our problem. The way we dress impacts those around us, especially guys. I don’t really want a guy to look at me and notice me for my butt, upper thighs, or chest. I’d rather him notice my smile or God-loving personality. Well sure, you say, that’s all fine and good, but guys should be able to control their imagination and look beyond our bodies. That’s true, they should control it. But it’s important for girls to help them as they try and do so…

This is how I imagine it is for guys. Girls are walking around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying to see past all the bodies to find the smiles and personalities within the girls.

So really, how hard is it to not wear a bikini? If you’re like me, it might be a little disappointing... Let’s make a commitment this summer to ditch the skimpy swimsuits, earn self respect, and help our brothers in Christ.

The original article never refers to scripture, but the comments and other blogs are all quick to quote Romans 14 as justification for women covering up their bodies. The overall message is: Yes, men are responsible for their own lust, but women need to help them out by covering up.

Seriously, if one more person tells me I’m a “stumbling block” for men, I’ll give up clothes forever and join a nudist colony.

Let’s examine Romans 14 together. The entire chapter is relevant, so you should pull that up in a separate window. I’m just going to quote the part that is popular on the Interwebz.

Romans 14: 20-21 (NRSV) 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21 it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.

One more common point by the pro-modesty crowd. Many of them offer the analogy of an alcoholic. Would you serve alcohol to your friend who’s a recovering alcoholic? No, because you don’t want to tempt him to sin, even if drinking alcohol isn’t sinful for you.

Should I give up champagne forever just in case I run into an alcoholic?

The original bikini post, the horrible misinterpretation of Romans 14, and the alcoholic analogy all share a fatal flaw:

They all assume that Christians are called to modify their daily behavior to prevent the potential sin of every single person they ever meet.

Well, no, that’s not exactly it. They all assume that Christian women are called to modify their daily behavior to prevent the potential lust of every single MAN they ever meet.

A lot of people, sadly women as well as men, think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask women to dress modestly so as not to be a “stumbling block” for men. But not only is this request demand illogical, and unbiblical, the “reasoning” behind it is literally only used in this one circumstance.

Evangelical preachers are not suggesting that we should all stop drinking alcohol entirely so as not to tempt our brothers and sisters in Christ who are Mormons.

I haven’t read any brogressive blog posts calling for limited use of technology in our everyday lives so we don’t become “stumbling blocks” for the Amish or Old Order Mennonites.

In Romans 14, Paul is talking about a specific situation. With your alcoholic friend, again, that’s a specific person with a specific problem. But when applying this “stumbling block” logic to lust, suddenly all women must dress to avoid the lust of whatever man is most tempted to sin.

I’m not the only one who finds this thinking ridiculous.

Over at All That Jazz, Bethany explains:

“I think Modesty Culture has misinterpreted Paul's purpose in Romans 14. While I can see why they may interpret a stumbling block to be certain articles of clothing that women in general "shouldn't" wear, I don't think we (most of us, anyway) would apply these same standards to other areas of life. For example, there's the issue of alcohol. While we know that some people in the faith have trouble with alcoholism and I know most of us would want to respect those people by not drinking in front of them, I would venture to say that for the most part we would not say that Christians shouldn't drink at all at the risk of offending someone who we may not know has an issue. This may be a broken metaphor, but most Christians I talk to have specific people in mind when they talk about abstaining from alcohol. This doesn't mean that they never drink or believe drinking is wrong, but they know that a specific person has a weakness for alcohol - therefore they adjust their behavior in order to better serve that specific person.

I believe the same should be true of "modesty." It is impossible to please everyone, especially since it's so ambiguous. I fully agree that if a woman is approached specifically by the man who is struggling, then she should do what she can to help him. However, if it is not specifically mentioned (not by a third-party and definitely not by another woman trying to tell her what to wear), then I don't believe that responsibility should be placed on the woman.”

While apologizing for her role in the Modesty Survey, Shaney Irene states:

“The idea of modesty was inherently connected to the idea of not being a “stumbling block” for men, instead of being connected to the ideas of humility and self-respect. Modesty in Scripture is about not flaunting oneself. When Paul tells women to dress modestly, he’s basically saying, “Hey, let your beauty be about a beautiful heart, not about dressing extravagantly to impress others!” But when modesty is about not “causing men to stumble,” it becomes about someone else’s reaction, not the state of one’s heart.

This outfit screams immodesty and a lack of self-respect... Or a high in the 90s and a love for black & white stripes.

The anonymous author of Tell Me Why the World is Weird, also writing about the Modesty Survey, concludes:

“For a long time I was completely confused about modesty. I saw beautiful women at church and wondered how they justified wearing something so beautiful. Sure, it wasn't revealing, but wouldn't it be even BETTER to wear something that looks horrible?

There were mornings I wanted to wear a cute little shirt (not tight or revealing- except that it reveals the fact that I am a girl) but chose a loose t-shirt instead. Because, I had been taught, "Is looking great in that sexy outfit really more important to you than your Christian brothers' staying out of sin?" Let me repeat: My cute and feminine clothes were NOT "sexy." But since I want to help out the boys as much as I can- Jesus says we're supposed to sacrifice our own desires and help others- sometimes I guilted myself into wearing a dumb-looking shirt…

The turning point for me was when I challenged the idea that "Is looking great in that sexy outfit really more important to you than your Christian brothers' staying out of sin?"- in other words, no matter how great the personal cost to me, I should cover up in order to help the boys. NO! Sometimes the cost is too great.

My conclusion to all this?

I cannot prevent your sin. Furthermore, I am not called by God to prevent the sin of every single person I might ever encounter.

I’m going to focus on the plank in my eye and stop worrying so much about the potential specks in the eyes of all men.

I suggest you do the same.


  1. I love the way that you talk about modesty. I also think that the difference between this and the alcohol metaphor is that alcohol is an outside thing. My body is ME it's who I am, so it feels downright insulting when people suggest that it is not an appropriate thing. Because it's ME. When I wear things that are revealing it is because they are the things that I like and that make me feel comfortable. It is not with an intent of being sexual. Because of this it is hard for me to see how it is my problem how other interpret my body. I am not trying to tempt anyone, just being there, being me, living in my body. Again, I'm so glad that you discuss these things. Although I'm not religious myself I find the relationship between feminism and religion to be fascinating as well as so important.

    1. Thank you!!! Yes, that's a good point on the alcohol. You can choose to drink or not. You can't choose the appearance of your body.

      Christianity and feminism are the two "theories" or "organized groups" that I could never leave. Being a Christian feminist is who I am at my core. They're both equally important to me. Christians might think my feminism is too worldly and self-involved. Feminists often think Christianity is too patriarchal and oppressive. But I can't just not believe in God, and I can't just not believe in gender equality. Besides, the Church can only change from within. If I left it entirely, how could I influence it positively?

    2. Great point that the Church will only change from within, and I think it's really great that you put value in finding the right balance between these sometimes contrasting things.

    3. I agree, there is a difference between being overtly sexual and seductive (tempting), or simply comfortable in your own skin and happy in the body God gave you.
      @Belle- I like your explanation of being feminist and Christian. I am still struggling with my developing worldview and my perception of myself. It's difficult to do that in such a crazy world and distracting culture. Being a teenager/young adult in such a hyper-sexualized world with confusing messages from my church family makes me feel overwhelmed by the expectations for me to be perfect and uphold these standards of unattainable "dignity" and modesty. Yet I am also supposed to be thankful to God and grateful for the body he has blessed me with, despite being taught to hide it in shame. The mixed messages are so frustrating and I find your blog a refreshing take on everything. I truly appreciate the courage you have to share your thoughts on such sensitive topics, because they help me (and many like me, I'm certain) to see things in a different light than I've always been taught. So thank you for your bravery, honesty, and encouragement. You are a blessing.

  2. last thought that I forgot to include.. I find it really weird that the human body is always seen as a sexual thing. Our bodies are so natural and always present. Obviously then can be very sexual, but they are also good for so so many other things and I find it very odd that they tend to be thought of almost exclusively in a sexual way. Perhaps it's just a result of living in an overly sexualized culture.

    1. I agree entirely. Trust me, I did not think of my body as sexual until well after I had breasts. If guys saw me and thought that way, I was completely (and happily) clueless. It's also why I'm a proponent of breastfeeding mothers.

    2. YES I agree! I hate that breastfeeding is taboo, especially when we see breasts all the time being sexualized in the media. Like uh you guys know that the function of breasts is feeding children right..?

  3. I agree with so much of this! Thank you for your feminist views on modesty. I'm a Mormon myself and I dress modestly for a variety of reasons, the first being that I believe it's a commandment of God, but I don't dress modestly to make sure my Mormon guy friends don't end up with dirty thoughts. My modesty is for me and God, not for all the men around me.
    And, as a Mormon, I'd also like to say thanks for linking our name directly to mormon.org. It's so nice to find someone willing to be educated on our faith from the right source, even if you don't believe all the same things that we do.

    1. Hi Kylie, maybe you already know this blog, but I've been reading http://youngmormonfeminists.org/ and it's really great! I really didn't know much about the LDS church until recently, but this blog has shown some great insight into religious feminism.

      As a feminist who isn't religious, I think that it can be too easy for me to jump to conclusions and be judgmental about other women's decisions to dress modestly. Thanks for sharing this, it's always important to be reminded that there are a million reasons for doing something and that I should look for the positive before the negative.

    2. Whenever possible, I try to link to most authoritative voice I can find on a subject. If the official source is confusing or overly technical, I link to wikipedia. I also try and link to fellow bloggers on subjective topics. But since I was referring to the Mormon rules against alcohol, clearly I needed to link to the official source listing those rules!

      Thanks for commenting and adding your own perspective on modesty.

  4. I think Edith Head summed up modesty once and for all: "Your dresses should be tight enough to show you're a woman, and loose enough to show you're a lady." One sentence. Done.

  5. Now how does this work in light of the popular Christian belief that you, in fact, do NOT belong to yourself and that anything you do ever is just an extension and reflection of God? The way I was taught that was when Jesus died on the cross, He purchased all of humanity wholesale. You belong to Jesus now, so it is an insult to Jesus to do what you want to do if it doesn't line up with what God wants. What about that?

    1. God and I talked. She's pretty cool with my decision to wear a bikini. My conscience is clear.

  6. the alcohol thing irks me. No, I wouldn't serve alcohol to a friend if he was a recovering alcoholic! But how does that correlate to me wearing a bikini? I'm not serving my friend anything by wearing a bikini.....its not like, by donning a swimsuit I'm suddenly "serving my friend sex".....sigh. Alcoholic's should not go to bars. Perhaps someone struggling with a sexual problem shouldn't go to a strip club? Or to a beach if they have a problem? Just my thoughts :P

    I love this article. And I like modesty. But you are right. There are good and bad reasons for modesty and these are all very bad / shaming reasons.


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Comments are moderated because I receive a lot of spam, and I think CAPTCHA is annoying. I reply to most of your comments within the comment section because it inspires discussion between readers. For first-time commenters, I try to reply by email.

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