Friday, May 16, 2014

5 Lies Told by Modesty Culture

It's that time of year again. The weather is finally warming up, even here in the chilly Midwest. We traded our boots for our flip-flops, wool hats for straw hats. My husband and I even bought a new grill and celebrated a recent warm night with pork chops and bell peppers with my brother-in-law P and his wife E.

Of course, with the hot weather and the switch to seasonally-appropriate clothes come something slightly less cheerful...

All the admonitions that girls should dress modestly or else.

During my bikini series last year, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about modesty culture. Today I'm critiquing five of the worst and the most common lies told by proponents of modesty culture. 

photo via

1) Women are responsible for men's lust.

Women. It is impossible for you to control how another person thinks or feels. Literally the only way you can stop any man in the world from noticing your existence is by not leaving your house. Ever. You cannot anticipate what will or will not cause a man to lust. Ankles used to be quite scandalous while generous decolletage was NBD. Don't let anyone tell you that your mere existence in a female body is cause for male lust.

Some Christian bloggers have sorta wised up to the flaws in this argument. They start their writing with a throwaway paragraph or two insisting that only men are responsible for their lust... BUT. There's always a but involved. Men are responsible for their lust, BUT women need to dress modestly to help them. Their scriptural basis for this is usually a horrible misinterpretation of Romans 14, which I addressed in detail last summer in my post "My Bikini Answer: All Women Cannot Prevent the Lust of All Men."

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.

No. Stop asking women to anticipate the weaknesses of every single man ever. It is not our responsibility to keep your thoughts pure. 

2) Any woman who causes a man to lust has committed a sin.

Wait, what? First, this is based on the premise that women are responsible for men's lust, which I just pointed out is ridiculous. Second, this is again a horrible misinterpretation of scripture. Look at Matthew 5:27-28. A typical translation is as follows.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NSRV)
Anyone who claims a woman sins if a man lusts after her is a person reallllllly fixated on the two words "with her." As though she has somehow consented to this adultery of the heart. Quite often, a woman doesn't even know if a man has lusted after her. What is her sin again? Being female in public?

Furthermore, this article examines the Greek and explains in detail why most translations of these verses are so bad. The author explains the true meaning of the verse this way.

The look is not the problem (nor is the presence of a beautiful woman, which some of that day tended to blame as the real problem); no, these are assumed. What is remarkable (given the popular misinterpretation) is that Jesus likewise assumes the presence of sexual desire in the man as a given, and that sexual desire isn’t seen as the problem. Instead, Jesus addresses the matter of intent, of volition, the purpose of the look. The issue is not the appetite itself but how a man directs this natural appetite and inclination...
In modern terms, it’s the difference between seeing a woman and being attracted to her—a natural part of the God-created appetite and a good indicator that one is alive—and actually considering or seeking an illicit activity.
Which, by the way, is really similar to my point last summer that sexual attraction is not lust.

3) Modesty isn't about strict dress codes--it's a heart issue.

If people actually believed modesty was a heart issue, they would stop talking about the need to dress modestly. They would discuss the importance of living within your means, being generous with your gifts, not driving expensive cars or wearing flashy jewelry. If modesty were a heart issue, pastors would question country club memberships, debutante balls, and lavish charity events. 

But when was the last time someone said that modesty is a heart issue, and then followed it up with anything except a conversation on women's responsibility to dress modestly?

Modesty actually is a heart issue. That's not a lie. It becomes a lie when a proponent of Modesty Culture tells it, because it's just another attempt to control women's clothing.

I was a debutante. I was a debutante at 19, when my boobs were huge, and I couldn't hide them. People talked to me about my boobs. No one talked to me about the temptation to feel sinful pride in being a debutante. I was only aware of it because my mom confessed her own struggle with pride after our invitation, which helped me recognize and squash my own prideful thoughts. Modesty should have been a heart issue, but all anyone cared about were my boobs.  

4) Dressing immodestly shows a lack of self-respect. Dressing modestly reveals your dignity. 

Whatever happened to: "Don't judge a book by its cover?"

Here are all the reasons a woman might wear a bikini:
But you cannot know why a woman is wearing a bikini, or any other type of clothing, just by looking at her. You can't. 

The opposite is true as well. A woman can wear a buttoned-up cardigan with loose slacks, and no one can just assume she's broadcasting self-respect and dignity. For all you know, she wears buttoned-up cardigans to church to cover up her tattoos.

5) A man's opinion of your appearance is the only opinion that matters. 

Honestly, this is the biggest and most harmful of all the lies told by Modesty Culture.

The irony, of course, is that Modesty Culture claims to be the counterculture to the objectification of women. Except instead of valuing women based on how sexually appealing we are with all our skin showing and boobs flaunting, Modesty Culture values women based on how beautiful we are with our tasteful expensive clothing that still emphasizes our femininity, if not our female bodies. 

Modest is hottest, right?

I'm not gonna try and say I never think of my husband when I pick out an outfit. But... um... huh. Actually, I just spent two minutes trying to think of the last time I wore anything just for him, and I drew a blank. Bikinis in Puerto Rico were not for him. My wedding day lingerie consisted of an expensive strapless bra necessary for my dress and hot pink panties that secretly matched the rest of my accessories.

The truth is, I'm usually thinking a million things or one thing when I get dressed. Either I'm balancing the weather, the occasion, the necessary bra, the potential accessories, how long has it been since I wore this?, the adaptability, etc. to pick out my clothes OR I throw on the first thing that is clean and comfortable, which is why I end up wearing the same outfit two or three days in a row. 

I don't dress for the male gaze.

If objectification of women is wrong when we tie their worth to their fuckability, then objectification of women is wrong when we tie their worth to their purity, which is still their fuckability, just saved for after marriage


Women, you cannot control men's thoughts or their actions. ♥ A man's lust is not your sin. ♥ Modesty actually is a heart issue, so listen to your heart. ♥ Self-respect includes knowing yourself well enough to pick out your own clothes. ♥ God loves you for you, not for your appearance. 

And if you don't believe in God, your opinion of your appearance is the only one that matters.


  1. I so agree with this! My boyfriend hates if I wear a bikini to the beach and walk around, yet he can walk around shirtless if he feels the desire to. I do believe yes there are more modest clothes and then there are extremely short things etc, but the sole purpose of clothing is not to attract men it's to feel good about your body and express your sense of style. The way that certain people like you mentioned at the beginning of your article view modesty is half of the reason for the rape culture that is evident in today's society where we blame the victim because she had on something short/revealing etc.

  2. So you have some great points; especially about how women are not responsible for how men react to the female body . I definitely agree. I also agree we're not responsible for other people's lust, however I think the bikini is a poor example. No, bikini wearing isn't a sin but just because someone wears one doesn't mean they're entitled to people's pure thoughts. People will look at your body the more it's revealed because most of current culture finds the nude body shocking, offensive and or objectifiable depending on who's looking. I feel as though your point should have been how we misinterpret creation not whether or not it's appropriate to wear revealing clothing.

  3. No offense, but you don't really understand our reasons for modesty. I think you've been listening/reading posts from Christians who may not be the best example of who we are and our beliefs. Modesty is not solely for women, it's also for men, and despite what people try to make it seem like - it's not sexist. It's only sexist if people say the things you said above. male and female are given the same rules to follow. both are to be modest in how they dress and act, and it's just because we believe private parts should be private and we try to save ourselves for our partners. It's a personal choice, our choice. shaming people for modesty is like slut-shaming, except more socially accepted. also, with both men and women modest, it creates a balance, so one sex is not more covered/naked than the other. in our culture, in for western world, women are routinely naked in everything and men are not, which is sexist, is it not?

  4. No offense, but your understanding of modest culture is very wrong. you're judging all of us based on what a few people have said. modesty is for BOTH men and women, so it's not sexist. If it really was about "women cover up so men don't get tempted" then THAT would be bad. But no, it's about both men and women dressing appropriately according to location, both saving themselves for the person they love, and all the rules are appIied for both sexes. It's balanced that way, unlike the western culture, which has women so routinely naked and men covered. That it sexist, is it not? It's just as bad as calling a girl a slut and praising the boy. And shaming us for being modest and assuming our reasons is just as bad as slut-shaming and assuming their reasons for dressing a certain way. Modesty is nice. It's our choice. Please stop bashing it. Thanks.

  5. (I think I commented more than once I'm sorry!!)

  6. I like this article, except for this quote:

    "In modern terms, it’s the difference between seeing a woman and being attracted to her—a natural part of the God-created appetite and a good indicator that one is alive—and actually considering or seeking an illicit activity."

    It'd be nice to get through a Christian article on sexuality for once without seeing asexuality pathologized.

    1. I can understand why you would come to that conclusion. I agree that asexuality is not discussed nearly as often as it should be, not just within religious circles, but feminist ones as well.

      However, that particular quote is from a longer piece interpreting the Bible within historical context. While I'm no means an expert on how people understood sexuality during biblical times, I assume that asexuality was not really on their radar then. The writer was thus trying to put Jesus' words in a modern context.

      I also don't think that saying attraction is natural thus implies that a lack of attraction is UNnatural.

    2. It literally calls attraction "a good indicator that one is alive."


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