Our society places value on women based on their sex appeal. Rarely, if ever, do we see value placed on women because of their character, because of who they are. I’ll attempt to show both a biblical and scientific/psychological perspective of modesty in this article.
Women, we are not to feel guilty when a man looks at us. It’s important to recognize the difference between attraction and lust. Attraction is something that provides pleasure or delight, whereas lust is something uncontrollable, obsessive, and of strong/excessive craving. Christ protects us from the latter. Jesus states, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). The blame is not on the woman or her clothing, but on the man. Each man (or individual) is responsible for their own sin: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14). To add, Muslim women who wear burqas, covering themselves completely, still have men lust after them.
That being said, I personally believe that we can help our brothers in Christ, to lift and share their burden. “But whoever causes one of these little ones to sin…” (Matthew 18:6), “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat…” (1 Cor 8:13); “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor8:9).
There are mainly two passages that deal with women and their modesty. 1 Timothy 2:9-10:“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But which becometh women professing godliness with good works.”
‘Modest apparel’ in Greek is Kosmios katastole. Kosmios = orderly, decent, modest, well arranged. Katastole = to send, lower, down, referring to a long flowing garment. ‘Shamefacedness and sobriety’ = aidous and sophrosyne. Aidous = sense of honor, modesty, bashfulness, shame. Sophrosyne = self-control, sobriety. Paul is contrasting Christian women to Pagan women. The first part of the passage deals with dressing, the latter on how Christian women should clothe themselves with good deeds. Rather than focusing on our outward appearance, our primary concern should be on our inner attractiveness, our heart, our character.
The other passage is found in 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold, or on apparel— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
Both these verses show that modesty is not all about the appearance, but it is also about our inner selves, our character, how we behave. We have made the mistake of making modesty solely about the way women dress, completely overlooking the second part of the passages. We’ve also made the mistake of making modesty about men, also missing the point.
Jeffery Holland beautifully and eloquently addresses young women, here’s a small quote of his talk: “Young women, choose your clothing the way you would choose your friends—in both cases choose that which improves you and would give you confidence standing in the presence of God. Good friends would never embarrass you, demean you, or exploit you. Neither should your clothing.”
The psychological perspective is a little hard to swallow; it shocked me when I read the different studies. There are countless studies that show that females who dress in revealing clothes are seen as and feel sexualized/objectified. Evidence for this is seen through the Media: TV, advertisement, magazines, music lyrics, movies, and internet; Through products: dolls, clothing, and cosmetics. And, the consequences? Too many: appearance anxiety, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, smoking, plastic surgery, etc. For a complete list of influences and consequences, APA lists them here.
If you have not listened to Jessica Rey’s presentation, “Evolution of Swimsuits”, I strongly recommend it. She talks about a Princeton study that was conducted on how men’s brains responded to women who wore bikinis versus women who dressed modestly. The results showed that men see women as objects, not people, when they’re dressed in bikinis. Another separate study at Princeton was conducted that resulted in similar findings. She ends her speech with, “We need to teach girls that modesty isn’t about covering up our bodies because they’re bad, modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves, it’s about revealing our dignity.”
Similarly, a study of women ‘aimed to assess the link between clothing, a neglected area of women’s appearance management, and self-objectification.’ The results showed that scenarios involving revealing clothing led to greater state self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood, than the scenarios involving more modest clothing.
Many women and feminists, such as Barbara Fredrickson and Ariel Levy, argue that women exploit their sexuality by wearing revealing clothing and engaging in lewd or lustful behaviour which ultimately encourages and leads to self-objectification. Some, however, disagree, and see it as empowerment.
This goes far beyond the simplicity of certain clothes being modest or immodest; it has negatively and profoundly affected women. Parents, guardians, older siblings, teach your girls to love her body, not to be ashamed of it. More importantly, praise her character. We need to actively stand against this culture that places value on our sex appeal, and embrace and adopt the values that God places on us: our character and hearts. Help your girls to build and have a strong self-worth and self-esteem foundation that is based on their character. Basing it on their appearance is a weak and shaky base, which will result in many negative consequences that we have seen above; I can attest to that.