It’s May now. I haven’t seen any flowers yet, but the temperature is starting to rise…and when it gets hot (I’m talking sweet tea on the front porch with a handheld fan and a handkerchief kind of hot), I’m going to face the same temptation that I face every year:
It’s 100 degrees, and I’m still wearing slacks. I would kill for a pair of shorts right now…
It’s just a tank top. Just two, blue spaghetti straps. There’s no harm in dressing for July weather.
I don’t understand why I am wearing a collared shirt and a maxi skirt when every other 20-something chickadee is dressed to kill. Like that girl, over there…she’s showing off everything that God gave her, and I’m covering all of it up.
I want a bikini. I want a bikini. I. WANT. A. BIKINI.
It’s hard to embrace modesty when you are the only one with covered arms and guarded legs, surrounded by women who have taken everything else off. It makes you feel like you’re weird for carrying a Bible in your purse and an extra cross on your back, shielding yourself from sin like you’re a soldier in a holy war.
But we are in a war, not against flesh and blood, but the spiritual forces that are competing for our hearts and minds. When we bare our skin in revealing outfits, we may get some wanted (or unwanted) attention…but something else happens in the spiritual. Satan is looking for ways to corrupt our hearts and confound our minds, and one of the easiest ways to do that in a sex-crazed culture is to tempt men and women with sins of the flesh.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
So that bikini may bring me temporary joy, but it could also cause one of my Christian brothers or sisters to stumble. The boys will turn their heads, but their minds will focus on the body beneath that bathing suit; the girls will wonder if they’re overdressed, if they’re pretty enough (or vastly superior in the eye-candy department); and the people we see but don’t know, who haven’t given their lives to Christ, will think that sensuality is ok for women of all ages and relationship statuses.
In the end, modesty isn’t about our clothing. It is about humility, about recognizing our role as “little Christs”. We should safeguard the hearts and minds of the people that we are around, protecting them from sin (and stumbling blocks that could lead to sin in the future). If that means that I have to wear a collared shirt and a maxi skirt this summer, I will bear my cross with pride. I hope that you will, too.
If you are ready to embrace modesty, here are four tips that will help you on your humble-hearted adventure:
#1 Know That You Are Enough
Modesty is about more than clothing: it’s about your ability to embrace self-love, self-respect, and self-control. If you’re searching for acceptance by wearing low-cut shirts or body-con dresses, you’ll never find it. The men that ogle at you will turn to greener pastures when they spot another scantily-clad woman, but you will still have to live with yourself.
God can fill that void if you want Him to. He created every part of you, every bit of skin and every neuron in your brain. You were made for a unique purpose…and you’re never going to find out what that is if you’re desperate for another man’s approval.
You need to be enough for YOU, whether you’re in sweatpants and a faded T or a glamorous wedding dress. When you embrace your identity in Christ, from your beautiful heart to your mind and your soul, your body (and the stuff that you put on top of it) will be the least of your concerns.
#2 Cover It Up, Buttercup
That being said, our bodies are beautiful things. I don’t want to make you feel like you should be ashamed of who you are and what you look like underneath it all, but I do want you to protect yourself. There are people in this world who would love to exploit your physical beauty for their own desires, and there are the rest of us…you know, the ones that have a pulse and want to get married one day. Christian men are fighting like hell to stay pure, and they want to save those feelings for their future spouses. That is their cross to bear, but as sisters in Christ, we should try to make their jobs a little bit easier. If you would blush if you were surrounded by shirtless men, you can understand how a brother feels when you walk by in a crop top.
And there is a bigger issue, one that conservative pastors always seem to forget: girls like to copy each other. We’re under a tremendous amount of pressure to look good and snag a man, and in a Christian culture that treats single college students and career women like old maids there is additional pressure to be as attractive as the most attractive women in our congregations. It sucks (for a variety of sexist reasons that I will have to go into in a different article), but when we see a Christian woman that captures all the boys’ hearts we want to emulate her. If you become that woman by wearing provocative clothing, then you’re going to see a lot of other scantily-clad women on Sunday morning.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to tempt anyone into sin. If we can protect our hearts (and a few others) by covering ourselves up, then we probably should.
#3 You Need To Think Outside The Box
If you’re a size too big or too small, you know how difficult it is to find modest outfits that actually look good. I know exactly how you feel: I am a curvy black women, and I have struggled to find clothing that fits AND covers everything up. [I have so many horror stories: I remember buying thick leggings on a few occasions, only to discover that they were see through when I walked out the door (note to self, hold those suckers up to the light!). I also remember the year that I started wearing plain black T-shirts because anything with a scooped neck would become a serious problem.]
When you’re working with more curves than the other women in your church, it can be easy to criticize yourself for not looking like a Barbie. But God isn’t asking you to be a fashionista; He’s asking you to be humble, to embrace His standard for beauty instead of chasing worldly perfection. That means that you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to find clothes that meet His standards. A few years ago, I stopped looking for cheap clothing at H&M and Forever 21. I found a few thrift stores in affluent areas, and voilà! I finally had high-quality clothing that could fit my body (and my grad student heart was happy, because I saved a hell of a lot of money). You may need to shop online, or learn how to sew to get the modest clothing that you deserve…but it will be worth it, I promise you!
#4 Do It Every Day
Everyone wants to go to church in their Sunday best, but what about Monday through Saturday? Are you wearing revealing clothing to the gym? Are you baring it all on a night out on the town?
Don’t be a Sunday Christian: if you wouldn’t wear it in a house of God, you probably shouldn’t wear it on a hot date…heck, you probably shouldn’t be on a hot date. Just stay away from male models (and don’t dress like Naomi Campbell)!
There are so many ways to embrace modesty, from the books that we read to the conversations that we have with others. How do you practice modesty in your daily life? Let me know in the comments below!