Is modesty in the eye of the beholder?

The common phrase is “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

This means that beauty is not objective. It is subjective.

One person may gaze upon a piece of art entranced by its beauty. And another blithely walks by (I just used the word blithely).

Objective beauty requires a criterion of beauty to exist outside and beyond personal taste and opinion. Such criterion doesn’t exist (unless you play your God trump card).

Beauty is subjective. It’s based on personal feeling and opinion. One person’s eye is drawn toward while another’s turns away.

Does the principle hold true in regard to modesty? Is modesty in the eye of the beholder?

I don’t ask simply for sake of conjecture. I think there are critical implications to our answer.

We set the culture for the next generation. How we think and converse about such things is illustrative. We need to process afresh God’s teaching as it relates to culture right here and now.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.08.53 PMA few weeks ago, several friends shared on social media a post on leggings. It struck a nerve beyond what the author expected (hint: to strike a nerve, simply go online and say something controversial in a declarative and universal fashion). She had to attach an extra note exclaiming, “who knew that leggings were such a hot-button topic! I’m the last person who wants to defend or debate them. No thanks! (That means no more comments will be posted).”

To summarize, the author states this certain type of clothing should be worn like this, not that.

She established an objective standard based on her subjective opinion. Debate ensued.

Now the Bible does esteem modesty (1 Tim. 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3). The version of modesty presented in the Word includes not dressing provocatively. But that’s just one piece (that’s punny!) of the definition.

Additionally, the Bible speaks against extravagance and vanity. To dress modestly, beyond just sexual considerations, should include a desire to avoid flaunting wealth or ourselves.

dress_codeOne could argue that past definitions and rubrics of modesty have been far too limited. Skirt lengths are this. Shirts of that are forbidden. This is okay. That is not! And don’t even think of wearing leggings unless they are accompanied by that.

Yet, even in our Bibles, we don’t have an objective criterion. “Dress modestly, with decency and propriety.” Decency and propriety are subjective terms. What is decent and proper changes. It changes over time and from place to place.

Just try walking into your public library in your swimsuit. They told me to put a shirt on. The nerve of that librarian!

What is proper is not an objective standard. Propriety changes. What is decent depends.

As we discuss, I think it’s important to consider what may lie behind these biblical qualifiers (modesty, propriety, decency). For me, I see deference (respect, honor, etc.) for God and others. It’s out of a desire to honor, not please or piss off, God and others that we choose what to wear, and when to wear it, and where to wear it, and how to wear it.

For me, examining the heart in regard to this topic is a much harder, yet more compelling, conversation than, “should I wear this?” A better question might be, “Why am I choosing to wear this?”

Modesty-is-so-much-more-than-conservative-fashion-It-encompasses-both-the-body-and-the-heart-sm-2Of course, this gets much harder within institutions who feel compelled to utilize dress codes. That’s another conversation for another day!

You must have opinions on this topic. I’d love to hear them. Feel free to discuss whatever is on your mind, even if it’s not immediately addressed herein.

Readers of this blog tend to be believers that want to help one another have conversations about Christ that intersect with real life (rather than just stir up controversy!).

So what do you think?

Posted on by Cor in FAITH

11 Responses to Is modesty in the eye of the beholder?

  1. Chris Eriksen

    I have seen women who I felt were being immodest who were wearing more clothes, and women who have been wearing less clothes where I did not feel that was the case. (I suppose I could say the same about men, I just usually don’t notice) I have been to beaches in Europe where women were wearing nothing. For me, coming from my context that was certainly awkward, but in that context there was nothing immodest about it. Modesty is entirely contextual and in a country with no common context (we have products of the sexual revolutions, Mennonites, and Wahabi Muslims living side by side in our city) that is going to be a constant source of contention.

  2. Steve

    I think modesty is entirely in the eye of the beholder. I also think that it is a confrontation one needs to have with themselves, not with someone else. A man shouldn’t say to a woman (nor a woman to a man, let’s be fair here), “Your attire is making me stumble.” My righteousness or purity is not dependent on what someone else is wearing: it is dependent on my heart.
    With that in mind, I think “Why am I choosing to wear this?” is an excellent question, since it is the other half of the conversation, and what a woman (or, again, a man) should be asking themselves.

  3. Lisa

    “A man shouldn’t say to a woman (nor a woman to a man, let’s be fair here), ‘Your attire is making me stumble.’ My righteousness or purity is not dependent on what someone else is wearing: it is dependent on my heart.”

    I don’t really agree. While it’s not ok to blame someone else for your own sin, I think it’s still very important to address someone who is – in your opinion – dressing immodestly, and let them know that they are making you uncomfortable and making it difficult for you to see them and not just their body. If they continue to dress “immodestly” after your conversation, they are going against the concept of Romans 14:20 “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.”, which suggests that, though they don’t feel they are being immodest (they’re not sinning), once they know that it is making purity difficult for you, they should try to help you not to stumble by dressing in a way that will help you honor God.

    • Steven Macks

      The point isn’t that you never get to that place. The point is that it starts with me and works outward. Have I resisted sin to the point of shedding blood? Hopefully it doesn’t come to that but I’ve never even been close. Romans 14 cuts both ways: when does saying “Your attire leads to temptation” become a stumbling block for my sister?

    • Chris Eriksen

      I have been tempted to lust after a woman wearing a sweater and a loose skirt. I have also been with women wearing bikini’s who have not been a temptation. How well do I know her, what is my relationship with her. Am I tired, am I lonely, is she attractive to me….That is not any woman’s job to keep track of. If all of the women in my life were trying to appear modest to all the men their lives all the time, they would be so busy changing clothes they would never get anything done.

      • Faith

        I agree with that Chris!

  4. thewarriorhuntress

    This is a question i find myself asking a lot lately, often in the context of being the female adult leader in my youth group, run by a man. I often question how to best provoke thought while getting action from a girl who is wearing volleyball shorts to an event and trying to protect the few naive and innocent boys of the group, whose sisters wear long pants or dresses. Short term, yes, the girl should find a pair of pants whether she’s warm or not but I think my modeling modesty in spirit and dressing is more effective than being the modesty police.

    On the other hand, I recently realized how normalized immodest dress in women has become when a male coworker wore more fitted jeans (but certainly not immodest) and I noticed and realized everyone would question any woman who wore similarly loose jeans compared to what is fashionable. Modesty is more about the heart than the clothes, I agree, and the beliefs of the heart come out in whether I flaunt my body in modest clothes or don’t in a bathing suit. I also think it’s important, as a visual woman, for both men and women to think about their wardrobe choices and if they will help those around them focus on God. If the attention is focused on a certain part of my body, God loses glory that could have been directed towards Him as someone uses that energy in sin or to stay out of sin. Do I really want to detract from God’s glory?! I pray not!!

  5. Chris Eriksen

    I just saw this article today. I think it is relevant to this discussion.

  6. Faith

    I agree wholeheartedly with what Steve said.

  7. Faith

    Just for fun, here’s my comment on the women at hope blog on sexuality & self worth. I think that’s whatnit comes down to. For me.

    No comments on this one?

    capacity for sexual feelings.
    “she began to understand the power of her sexuality”
    synonyms: sensuality, sexiness, seductiveness, desirability, eroticism, physicality; More
    a person’s sexual orientation or preference.

    It’s affects all those. Greatly. At least for me. The way we dress, act, & feel all to get the opposite sexes attention or even attention of other women. At least I feel that’s why we do it. It’s also because it looks good & feels good & there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel & look good. We compete, we compare, we dress for other women. Or at least I do or have. And when the attention isn’t given back by the persons we want it to, it can break us.

    There’s a women that works out at the gym I belong to. And she works out in a sports bra, tight Capri yoga pants, and that’s it. And she has the perfect body. I mean slim & toned complete with breast implants. Did you hear what I said? Perfect body? When I see her, honestly I stare. And I’m not comparing myself, I’m just glued to her obsession for working out. And the wearing of the sports bra and tight pants. And her perfect body.

    I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, except that the fact that I tell myself that she has the perfect body ultimately cannot be good for my self-image or worth. I never really thought about the way I dressed or my wearing of short shorts until three things happened: I found Jesus, Hope’s lovely staff member a few years back Rachel Larson wrote a blip on modesty and taking a moment to think about how we dress, and my beau telling me about yoga pants and the attention and message it gives him and other men. He teaches his daughters about it.

    At the root of the way I dress or the way I used to dress in college was self esteem. It absolutely was for attention. And it wasn’t and still isn’t gratifying. It’s actually self-depleting. I see girls walking in at Hope in short skirts and shorts. I used to be that girl! Low cut shirts. I’m not judging, but I am noticing. I walk the line too when I wear skinny jeans and yoga pants. Again, I don’t know where I’m going with this, and I’m certainly not saying make an idol out of what we should and shouldn’t wear. But, as a woman who struggles very much with insecurity and jealousy, I need to reexamine why I dress the way I do, why I present myself the way I do, and what my identity in Christ says about me. I need to examine my heart. Because if I don’t, I’m left acting a fool. And I don’t want to be a fool trying to lift myself up and grabs someone’ else’s attention.

    I’ll never forget when Steve preached at the top of his lungs, “Daughters of Hope, you are not marked by this!” Referring to models in magazines, dressing to impress, the sex that sells that the world gives us. And no one should hold you to that.

    Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (‭1 Peter‬ ‭3‬:‭3-4‬ NIV)

  8. TD

    Well, I am sorry but this article is excessively misleading and I totally and utterly disagree with you. THIS is the very problem, everyone WANTS it to be subjective,but in fact in God’s Word, it is not. The word Modestly in Timothy is VERY poorly translated in English. Thankfully in the Greek (all you have to do is go to a concordance) it is very very explicit and it actually is part of a phrase that means “long and flowing robe”. So Paul ACTUALLY did not say “I want women to dress modestly (subjective) but he DID say “I want women to dress in long and flowing robes”. Ok, so we don’t wear robes. What is the characteristic of a robe? What does flowing mean? what does long mean? I will go in reverse. Long means more long than short. So bottom of the knee is minimum more long than short. Plus we see in Is. 46 that showing the thigh IS nakedness. So that backs up that we should not show our thigh (hip to knee bottom). Flowing means not all clinging, form fitting etc. So most of the pants people wear…pants and skirts must be loose, flowing, as well as tops. Now a robe. Does not show off the privates (remember a thigh is a private part). Privates are what guys like to look at in sexual ways….so pretty much everything from shoulders to knees. All of this corroborates with how guys think. I would say the best thing a woman can wear to be biblically modest is a loose shirt and a skirt to the bottom of the knee, at least. This is a nice, flattering look. we don’t need to know anything more. Save it for the husband.

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