Embracing Modesty

Forget sex appeal. Let me introduce feminine-appeal. Feminine-appeal in my definition is not conforming to the ways of the world, but knowing and appreciating how God designed you as a woman and walking up to that noble calling of being a real woman! When a girl knows that, she walks with confidence. God cares about how we live our lives. We are to be ladies worthy of respect, honor and grace. We have a specific and valuable purpose that God gave us. May your eyes be opened with realization from God of that fulfilling power of femininity! Modesty in appearance and behavior allows us to become our full potential. Therefore, modesty should be embraced.

Concepts of modesty apply to men too. Men are to be held accountable for their behaviors. Our Bible specifically talks about a young man controlling himself and gives guidelines for a modest, respectful young man that reflects God’s character. In simple language – don’t be a loser! Sadly, there is an old chauvinistic mentality in our culture that boys will be boys and that it is the girl’s duty to defend herself. I thought this would have died by now. I am surprised that this mentality exists even today.   

My intention of a modesty article addressed towards women is not to put down or blame, but to encourage girls and women to practically pursue godliness. Towards the end, I will list my personal suggestions on how I try to apply modesty. This is not meant to be a legalistic list. As a believer in Christ, you are personally responsible for reading the Bible, prayerful interpretation and knowing what is appropriate in your area. 

The wrong questions to ask are, “Is it okay to wear a mini-skirt?” “Is jewelry okay?” and expecting a blind one-word answer. Instead you should be asking, “Am I glorifying God’s design for me as a woman? Would my clothing be a negative testimony or impression to Christ?”

Regarding modesty, I heard legalistic, rule-based approaches. I’m sure those preachers had good intentions so I don’t intend to criticize anyone’s method. There is truth to that. The length of your skirts does matter. However, being stuck on the rules can make you miss the bigger picture. The bigger picture is understanding the high value of God creating you as a woman. 

Fashion trends come and go but a woman who knows the art of being a true lady is timeless. To me, that is having confidence in Christ, knowing your full potential, carrying a powerful beauty, not always having to raise voice to make oneself heard and able to command respect from both women and men. That is the lady I once hated – our legendary Proverbs 31 woman.

            Long time back, I remember and elderly lady talk about this Proverbs 31 woman. I remember laughing to myself, “Is this woman for real? What is this? This isn’t the 1800’s!” The proverbs lady seemed way too perfect. I can’t measure up to her. I am not Ruth Graham or Elisabeth Elliot. I laugh picturing something like the “Stepford Wives”, bonnets, Victorian mores and manners. The Proverbs 31 woman is deeper than superficiality of traditions. I thought I would lose my unique individuality and turn into something I am not.

           That’s not at all true. I started understanding that God created me as a woman with a specific and special purpose and blessing. I imagine the Proverbs 31 woman to be a lady worthy of respect. If God is the King of Kings, aren’t we ladies His princesses? According to Proverbs 15: 33 - The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. So, the first step into becoming into the Proverbs woman is having an attitude of humility. That will allow God to work through you so that your inner spirit will be transformed to His image. When your attitudes, actions and words reflect God, you will glorify Him and be a light to those around you.

We send a mixed message if we wear clothing that doesn’t reflect Christ’s character. If a girl is dressing in a way to purposely attract wrong attention, is that really a reflection of Christ’s humility? The Bible has verses from Isaiah 3:16-24, where God is displeased with certain types of women and punishes them for their haughty behavior, wanton eyes and affected walk. Proverbs 7:10-23 describes a woman who leads a man into sin; she wears the attire of a harlot.

I feel like laughing when I read Proverbs 11:22, “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.” When I see a pretty girl dressed scantily, it looks ridiculous and ruins her. It is like throwing a can of blue paint at a fine and valuable oil painting. Our God sees his beautiful creations (that’s you and me!) as works of art in progress.

According to I Corinthians 6:19-20,  “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” The scriptures consistently talk about our bodies being the temple of the living God. In order to honor God with our bodies, how about presenting our bodies in a way that reflects that honor and respect of a majestic temple of the living God, instead of parading ourselves like trashy sex objects?

As a teenager, I once wanted approval from my peers and wanted attention from the boys. I wasn’t very popular and never felt pretty enough. In order to fit, I felt I had to be attractive.  Generally, male attention can be flattering and gives a sense of approval and acceptance. It is natural to desire that attention. Some girls would even resort to immodesty to feel attractive and desired. This can be deceiving. However, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:10). Growing up, I come to know of Christ’s acceptance. My first concern is God’s attention and approval than those of people.  

Apostle Paul gives a reason against sexual immorality with the body-as-temple illustration. Sexual immorality can be committed in the mind too. Matt. 5:28 say that for a man to look after a woman with lust is to commit adultery with her in his heart. It is each person's responsibility to resist temptation, but are we as Christian sisters, supposed to put temptation right in front of our brothers? (Matt. 18:6-7) In that sense, we are our brother’s keeper.

Modesty doesn’t mean you can’t dress well. The Proverbs 31 woman’s clothing is fine linen and purple (Proverbs 31:22). In the Bible days, purple or dark colored clothing meant quality expensive clothing. The dark dye was rare and the dying process was time consuming and difficult due to ancient technology. That made dark clothing more valuable.

And Genesis 6:2, talks about young men seeing young beautiful women, marrying them and having children. Gen 24:16 describe Rebekah (later Isaac’s wife) as a young woman beautiful to behold and later describes her as the girl who gave a traveler water and offered water for his camels. There are godly women of the Bible who were described as beautiful and young. Take Esther (Esther 2:7) who became a queen and I can’t imagine a queen dressed shabbily. Ezekiel 16 portrays the nation of Israel metaphorical woman. Basically, in that story, God found a helpless abandoned baby, which was Israel in its infancy and state. The passages describe God providing the woman with fine linen, silk, embroidered clothing and jewelry. If God were against a lady wearing nice clothes why would any of this be in the Bible?

There is nothing wrong in dressing well but it is the underlying intention that matters. Modesty (and humility) does not mean low self-esteem. Every morning, when we get ready we need to put on Christ’s character. A much older non-believing co-worker once told me after complimenting my shirt, “You know, I always wanted to tell you this. I appreciate how you dress. I don’t know many girls your age who can look nice without looking trashy.” 

For practicality, I will list some guidelines I try to live by in order to honor God. Definitely, modesty depends on cultural norms. Each person needs to prayerfully consider what she wants to wear or not. These fit where I live.
 
1.    What is your attitude? Do you want to dress to be beautiful or to purposely get attention? Can you confidently say, “I’m a woman representing God’s ideals” in what you wear?

2.    Avoid excessiveness: I wear make-up and jewelry to complete an outfit. I take care of my face, skin and nails so that it looks healthy and groomed. I avoid excessive makeup that draws too much attention. Personally, I detest fairness creams because I equate wanting fairer skin as covetousness. I am proud of my heritage, which includes my naturally dark skin. Growing up, I remember my older relatives fussing over how dark I have become after playing outside. That’s an entirely different story.

Whether to wear make-up, jewelry or none at all depends on individual discretion. There are some that outlaw jewelry and certain things for the purpose of honoring God. Maybe a person decided to give up gold jewelry because she saw that the money could be instead given to churches and orphanages.

If a person outlaws jewelry as a legalistic rule, simply to show others that she is a good, pious follower, she is then is missing the whole point. God does not care about a piece of jewelry but rather the underlying attitude. What is the point of abstaining from jewelry when a person spends hours viciously gossiping about her neighbors?

Moderation is the key. Another form of excessiveness is obsession with materialism such as designer logos. Happening to own one designer bag (as long as you can readily afford it) is not a big deal. What others have is not my main concern. As a college student, I cannot afford designer brands like Longchamp, Louis Vuitton, Prada or whatever is the ‘it’ brand. I have seen girls who wear top designer brands but cannot pay their own apartment rent.

Personally, I don’t see the point of spending lots on money just for a label when you can get something that is good enough for less. I bought cute shoes, purses and clothes without breaking my bank account. This is up to you to use judgment and not to concern yourself with material wealth over spiritual wealth.

3.    Watch where attention is drawn: Certain clothing draws attention to certain distracting body parts. When a person notices you, where will the eye fall?

4.    Find what the ‘norms’ and go over it: In my locality, short skirts are acceptable (about 4-5 inches above knee). A much shorter mini-skirt is somewhat acceptable but still a mini-skirt. I prefer exactly knee-length because it is more modest than the general norm. A knee-length pencil skirt can give a classy, retro look. The only exception to the skirt length is a short skirt to cover up a swimsuit while walking on a beach or pool. I decided not to wear bikinis in public.

In another place, knee-length skirts would be considered immodest. Know what is appropriate in your area and be the judge for yourself. I will openly admit that I made embarrassing borderline modesty mistakes in the past for not knowing any better. Here’s another tip I learned, when in doubt always err on the modest side.

5.    Do not judge others: Others may have different ideas of modesty because of cultural differences or other reasons. I am not going to look down on a girl and think she’s a lesser Christian than me. A bad attitude can be just as bad as what she wears. Set an example and others will follow. I prefer not to criticize, condemn or gossip. Don’t develop a self-righteous attitude because we all have our flaws. Righteousness comes only from God’s grace. An immodestly dressed girl just doesn’t realize God’s idea and design for her.

The inside that counts: I had a thought that occurred to me recently. The female anatomy is designed to give and nurture life. So, shouldn’t our words and attitudes too reflect that nature? Gossip, bickering, bullying and negative, prideful attitudes can be hurtful towards the other person and examples of poor social skills. Making others look bad in order to feel good about yourself shows lack of character, pride and insecurity. And, it doesn’t necessarily make you look better either. 

Let’s do the opposite of being genuinely caring, loving and encouraging others so that we can reflect Christ. Good manners and politeness can show concern for others. That too can vary from cultural context. Finally, how many of us ladies are turned off by rude, arrogant men with big egos? I find that combination very unattractive. Likewise, why would it be any different for us?

6.    For parents, youth pastors and others: It is becoming more difficult to find modest, trendy clothes. Young girls want the attention. We need to explain that there is a clear difference between the types of male attention. Self-esteem comes primarily from God not male attention. Parents, youth leaders and college students need to address modesty by talking and setting examples as well and knowing their roles for guiding.

This should be addressed in youth groups by open and honest communication. I would suggest going a little beyond setting the rules. She needs to be taught how God values her as a young woman. With this proper understanding, girls will willingly choose modesty.

Modesty matters because it is addressed in the Bible and God cares about our Christian walk. Here is a final thought about a virtuous woman. She is, “far more precious than jewels, and her value is far above rubies or pearls… Strength and honor are her clothing… a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31: 10-31). 

Before anyone leaves the door, make sure your appearance reflects that.