When I was twelve, my youth pastor sat me down because they had received some complaints about the way I was dressed at church. I was humiliated. With a newly developing body the last thing I wanted to do was sit across from a middle aged guy and talk about my body and my responsibility. It was the age of Clueless and I had worn a short plaid skirt that was above my knees, but long enough that I could have worn it to school, a spaghetti strap shirt and heels. (It must have been too hot out for knee socks.) I listened to his side, and then in a final fit of rage, said there was another girl at church who wore shorter skirts than mine. “I know,” he said. “But she’s not as womanly as you are.”
Suddenly insecure, and aware that men were not only looking at me sexually, but comparing me to other women, that was the first day I felt sexually objectified. And there was my poor, sweet youth pastor elected to have the awkward conversation with me. It was an end to a bit of my innocence.
The older I got the more I heard about modesty. I attended youth events that touted “modest is hottest.” I heard about my responsibility to my brother to not cause him to stumble. And it worked. I covered up, and by my freshman year of college my wardrobe was more GAP than Clueless. But I realized the church suddenly looked very close to culture. Both seemed to only notice my sexuality. One told me to embrace it and the other to reject it, but neither saw anything more. I’m not trying to discount how difficult or how much of a struggle lust is for men. I am saying that to deal with my end of it completely, I had to look beyond my wardrobe. There is a more compelling reason to dress modestly than to be a new kind of attractive to men.
You know what wearing a longer skirt and a blouse over my spaghetti strap top didn’t do? It didn’t satiate the impossible need I had for male attention and approval. It didn’t change the root of sin in me that wanted that. It didn’t help me realize that I had more to offer than my body and it didn’t give me a sense of worth. There was a bigger, deeper issue than what I chose to wear or not, and why. It had to do with my view of God and how I viewed myself. It had to do with my heart.
As a woman, God designed me to be more than an object. More than a rock that guys stumble over and more than a trophy on a shelf. He created women with ideas and insight. He gifted us with every gift for the ministry of the body (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Peter 4:10). He died for us and filled us with His Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:4-14). He intends more than our culture intends for us. Christ was and is a liberator of women who has constantly stood against culture to empower women in every way. Over and over again, I see women of God in scripture who are embraced by God and used to accomplish His will.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve chosen to embrace both my femininity and modesty, but not because it’s hottest. I want to be viewed as more than a sexual object, so I don’t make myself one. I dress in a way that honors myself, and ultimately, God. But it’s about more than that. The more I focus my attention on what God wants for me and how He views me, the less concerned I am with the attention and approval of others. What you can see is modesty, but what’s behind it is so much more.