Women and Modesty
In Muslim nations and communities, women dress in burkas or long-sleeved abaya in order to be considered appropriate in their culture. Yet in Indian culture, an exposed belly is not considered revealing—whether it is 20 years old or 80, and whether its size is 2 or 32. Meanwhile, in the United States, Amish women dress only in dresses comprised of a simple scoop-neck bodice attached to a loosely gathered straight skirt, and perhaps only pinned together, because pleats and buttons are considered too ostentatious.
Depending on where you live, culture does play into how one should dress. However, with a few exceptions here and there, most Western nations have a lot of leeway in what is considered appropriate or inappropriate for women to wear. But do we have that much latitude in God’s view?
Biblically, women should not be ashamed of their bodies. When God created Eve, He made her beautiful, and women are designed to want to be that way. Peter acknowledges that women want to be beautiful, and he extends that to beauty that is more than skin deep (1 Peter 3:3). Our character needs to be beautiful, and every godly woman wants to be beautiful on both the outside and the inside.
So, if God meant for women to be beautiful, why must Christian women be concerned with what they wear in public? Does God care if we wear yoga pants and a cropped sweatshirt to the mall? Does God care if we wear a low-cut blouse with a keyhole opening? Does God mind if, when we sit down and cross our legs, anyone in front of us can see halfway up our thighs? Although it is godly for women to desire to be beautiful, is that the same as being sexy—by definition, “sexually suggestive or stimulating”—in public?
Rules about this can be difficult to make, because each body is different. Consider a rule that says a skirt has to touch the floor when we kneel. For a lady of petite stature—say, 5’1”—this may be a very complimentary length. It makes her look slightly taller and divides the dressed portion to her exposed leg within a nice ratio. But for someone of my height, 5’10”, with most of my height in my legs, my skirt may touch the floor when I kneel, but when I stand up, I have a whole lot more leg hanging out the bottom of that skirt. As another example, a scoop-neck bouse on a tall, small-busted lady may be fine, but that same blouse on a shorter, large-busted lady may expose more cleavage.
The question is, what is the goal when we are dressing? Perhaps, to better understand this, we can think about something Jesus taught while He was expanding God’s law: “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
Let’s combine that with the example of about Job, about whom God said, “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Later on, Job said that he had “made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1). But Job hadn’t taken some kind of oath of celibacy—we read about a Mrs. Job, and while she didn’t always have a good attitude, Scripture does not indicate that she was ever replaced, even though God replaced their children with seven others. Also, their three daughters were the most beautiful women in the land (Job 42:15). So, we can assume that Job was attracted to his wife—that, after the most difficult trial in his life, once he felt accepted by His Creator again, he went to her for love and comfort. It’s probably safe to assume that Job loved Mrs. Job with all his heart and gave her lots of physical affection. If he was going to “look upon a woman,” she was going to be his woman.
Imagine we live down the street from Job, who has made a covenant with his eyes. When we walk our dog in our short-shorts and crop-top, he has to look away. When Job goes to the Church picnic and plays softball with everyone, he has a hard time looking in our direction, because our sleek-fitting yoga pants show our butt muscles flexing and unflexing with every step. When Job gives a sermon, he has to refrain from looking in our direction as he addresses the audience, because our keyhole blouse and pencil skirt view is distracting.
Job is righteous. Job doesn’t lust. This doesn’t make him a eunuch—he is a fully functioning man with a wife and many children. But it means he has trained himself to avoid looking at other ladies who are dressed in certain ways. As a Christian man walking in the same faith as our modern-day brothers in Christ, Job is practicing the very point Jesus taught several thousand years later—and is not interested in gawking at other women’s bodies in any way. But does that mean it is fair for Job to live in a community where his female neighbors insist on wearing tight, revealing, and see-through outfits, so that he constantly has to make himself look away?
Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair—and it causes Mr. Job to eventually ignore his female neighbors who dress in this way, or at least greatly reduce his interest in knowing his sisters in Christ as friends.
With this in mind, when we consider clothing options, we should be aware of our sexualized society and recognize that, outside the Church, not all men have trained themselves to restrain themselves. Even inside the Church, not all men are up to Job’s level of righteousness. A man may not want to look, but the shock of seeing certain outfits within the congregation may leave him gawking until he comes to his senses and repents. Why make your brother stumble? Young ladies, your dad might be able to help you know if what you are wearing is too revealing—he loves you, and his instincts are to protect you.
The devil wants to objectify women, and worldly clothing manufacturers have been influenced by him and his views. He wants to destroy the family, and part of this involves reducing women to objects for sexual gratification and reducing men to puppets of their sexual lusts. Men and boys are not disgusting, sex-crazed beings—but they are designed to notice women. God created “the way of a man with a virgin” (Proverbs 30:18–19), and godly men only want to have that “way” with their wives, but our culture of multiple sexual partners has removed that loyalty. As a result, men in general are being accused of thinking only about sex, which is unfair—since women are not just objects to be gawked at, we shouldn’t dress as though we are.
The devil has confused women with arguments that we have the right to dress however we want and it’s up to our brothers not to ogle. It’s true that, if our brothers are like Job and have made a covenant with their eyes, they won’t ogle, as Mr. Mark Sandor gets into in his post, “Men and Modesty.” But why should we make their job harder? There is no power we exert by dressing to expose as much of our bodies as possible. If we do, we’re only training our brothers to avoid looking at us as they strive to obey God. As daughters of the God Family, we’re responsible for how we represent our Father. So, when we go out in public, let’s look in the mirror and be objective—are we wearing this because it makes us look appropriate for the situation we’ll be in, or because it makes the body look sexy? If it’s the second answer, let’s choose not to wear it, embracing our roles as sisters in Christ.