The Other Side of Modesty
It’s that time of year when the Internet explodes with articles and videos intending to stem the tide of Christian girls headed to the beach or pool wearing “itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikinis.”
Of course, many of these resources are valuable. Some of them even offer new insights into the modesty discussion — but even the best of them miss about half the population, and by “half-the-population” I mean the half that wears low-rise swim trunks to the pool. That’s right, I’m talking about men.
Now in previous years this omission might have been lost on me. But I’ve received enough emails from frustrated girls to make me take this double standard seriously: Christian guys expect girls to be modest, but hardly give a second though to their own modesty.
This is strange. Women may be shedding clothes this time of year, but so are men. Why are we only talking about female modesty? If modesty is important then it is important for all Christians. If it isn’t important for men, then why all the fuss about women? If it is important for women, why the silence about men?
Is it because guys can’t be immodest?
Nope. I’m pretty sure the existence of speedos rules out that possibility.
Is it because girls don’t struggle with physical lust?
Nope. Pretty sure Potiphar’s wife wasn’t the last woman to “cast her eyes” on a guy and lust after his “handsome form and appearance” (Gen. 39:6-7).
But by our silence we send the message that modesty is a female issue and lust is a male issue. Guys sit around the pool wearing low-rise trunks and tanning their abs and pecs while wishing the girls would cover up. And girls are left wondering what people will think if they admit to struggling with lust.
I have to confess, I wasn’t modest in college. I got into working out my freshman year and enjoyed showing off the fruits of my labor. My Christian school had a dress code that didn’t allow guys to walk around shirtless, but I probably pushed the limits of what was permissible. It wasn’t always conscious, but I wanted people to see my arms. I wanted my shirts tight enough to show my muscles. I wanted people to see my shape. The only difference between me and the immodest girls on campus was that I had a male shape and they had a female shape.
So what was going on? I felt fit and confident in my body and wanted to show it off. This is exactly what my sisters in Christ have been carefully instructed not to do. So was I doing something wrong? If I’m going to be consistent, yes I was.
But no one ever said a word to me about modesty.
Here’s the conclusion I’ve been forced to make: If girls should be modest, so should guys. If girls should ask their fathers and brothers for input, guys should ask their mothers and sisters. If girls should consider their brothers in Christ, guys should consider their sisters in Christ.
When we apply modesty standards across the board it does two things:
- First, it transforms modesty from something women do for men into something people do for others. This is far healthier.
- Second, it puts men on the receiving end of the modesty conversation, which will undoubtedly humble us and make us more considerate.
When I think about my clothing choices in college it simultaneously convicts me of immodesty and helps me understand the struggle girls face trying to be modest. I wasn’t trying to be inappropriate. I just wanted to look good. I was single. I wanted to be attractive to girls and I wanted to be affirmed by other guys. For me to be modest I would have needed to wear looser shirts that I didn’t think looked as good on me. That would have been tough. And making that tough decision would have made me much more appreciative and considerate of my sisters in Christ.
Now, if I’ve learned anything from the original Modesty Survey it’s that these discussions can be dangerous. For one thing, talking about modesty and lust in the same article can imply that immodesty causes lust, which is a destructive lie. No man (or woman) was ever forced to lust by another person’s outfit. For another, allowing men or women to give feedback to the opposite sex makes it look like our modesty is for each other. It’s not. It’s for God. Input from the opposite sex just helps.
The goal of modesty (and my goal in starting this conversation) is to honor God with our bodies, not because they are dirty or shameful, but because they are glorious and holy. To paraphrase Jessica Rey, modesty is not about covering up what’s bad, but about revealing dignity.
When summer rolls around, both men and women should stop and think about what they put on or take off. Both men and women should ask themselves if their wardrobes reflect good taste, respect for their bodies, and humility of heart. Both men and women should remember that they were bought with a price, that they are set apart as God’s children, and must honor Him with their bodies.
So ladies, here’s what I want to know:
- What ways of dressing and behaving are immodest for men?
- What do Christian guys do that is as unhelpful and inconsiderate of ladies, as it is for Christian women to prance around in skimpy swimsuits?
- Where else have men “missed it” on modesty? Are there other double-standards you’ve recognized?
My hope is that by expanding the modesty discussion to both men and women we increase true modesty and eliminate double-standards.