March 31, 2014

Another Rant About Modesty, Beauty, and What Would Happen if We Actually Brought Jesus into this Conversation

I sat to write this with one intention, but by the time I got to the end, it sorta morphed into something else I guess you could say. This could also be the longest posts I've written too... see what happens when I get riled up?! And Sometimes I just have to indulge myself and use long titles. 

I was going to open up this post with saying I have a love-hate relationship with modesty discussions, but that would be lying, because I like pretty clothes, but I'm not really what could be called a 'fashionista,' and that would be giving the love side of this too much credit. It seems that last year there was a swarm of posts on modesty flooding my inbox (or maybe that's just my particular feed). Pretty much all of which had me banging my head against my keyboard for one reason or another.

A little fact about myself: I've been told I have an over-simplistic viewpoint on modesty.
I'm actually quite pleased about that.

There is No Universal Code on Modest Apparel. I'm sure there are people who wish there was, but that's not the case. What's considered modest in Africa probably isn't what's considered modest in Brazil, or America, or China. And what's considered modest in California or Florida, isn't necessarily the same here in the Midwest. (Then again, in the Midwest we have cold, bitter winters, so what we may promote as 'modest,' in reality is our way of saying death by hypothermia is just dumb when it's due to a mini-skirt.) That's what makes modesty sorta hard to pinpoint, which is why when I do on occasion converse about modesty there are only two or three key things I mention...

It's All About the Context. I don't dress the same way I do for school and work, as I do for a date or if I'm just running errands. Truth be told, we shouldn't wear whatever we want whenever we want. I know for that's a tough pill to swallow, but when you're in the professional field you and I are to dress professionally. When you're home alone with your dog, music blasting with the hairbrush turned microphone, you can run around in your underwear for all I care.

Point being, modesty changes in the differing circumstances and environments. That means there are times when you're going to have full-freedom in choosing what you wear, but then there are equally just as many times when out of consideration and respect for others and organizations, we'll have to cover up more and be somewhat limited in our dressing. This does not mean that your outer beauty and attraction are 'sinful' and you're being 'shamed'. Outer beauty is not sinful and there's nothing wrong with your body. I want to scream that truth, because there are people within the Christian culture who in an effort to get girls to dress more modestly resort to doing so through shaming, and that is sinful. Wardrobe decisions made out of fear or shame, are based out of wrong motives.

This really brings me to something that came to mind to me a few months ago: Have you ever noticed how Jesus didn't talk about modesty... um... hardly ever...?

*Crickets*

That sorta has to make you think a bit. Because maybe, just maybe, modesty is something that's best conveyed when it's modeled... lived out in everyday life. And maybe we need to realize that modesty for the most part is way more about a person's demeanor and character then the pants and top they pick to wear on a given day. (After all that is what Paul was actually getting at in 1 Timothy.)

Here's where people like to throw in the stumbling brother who struggles with lust bit, so can we chat about that?

Jesus was around women. Jesus was around godly women... and he was around women who weren't so godly, like prostitutes. You know those women who probably were not well adorned in an appropriate manner (inmodest)? And yet... we have no recorded words of him scolding them for their dress. More importantly, he didn't make a judgement on anyone's value or worth based on what they were or weren't wearing.

Follow me here, because if you're cued into the web dialogue that's been circulating you know that often we want to say how a person dresses as a Christian reflects the state of their heart. And I want to say yes... and no. Do clothes express? Yes, they do. Should Christians steward their wardrobe decisions and bodies well with wisdom? I think you can easily argue, again, yes.

But let's be weary of just how far we're taking our assumptions about what other people are "expressing" through dressing. There's an element of balance here I think. And when people want to avoid having a balanced approach, we have the killing of graciousness towards one another. We no longer give someone the benefit of a doubt. It becomes a maddening game of sizing one another up with some assessment we've created with our own human brains.

No one single person speaks for all of us. Some guys think yoga pants are immodest and stumbling blocks. But I have guy friends who when they see a girl in yoga pants just assume she's going out to get a gallon of milk or getting ready to go running, and honestly, nothing more. (On some level that likely speaks to how men are conditioned and trained to think... but I don't have time to get into that today.) This is why modesty is a tension issue. As a female, I cannot cater to every walking male I come across. That's impossible and unrealistic. I can only dress keeping in mind that I have Christ's gaze upon me, and knowing my circumstances for the day, which means their are yoga pants days (hello, PMS), then their are slacks and blouses for work days, and nights on the town where I might just pull out that dress with sparkly shoes.

Realize that the girls who do dress merely to be affirmed by male counterparts, are (not always, but many times) hungry. They're starved for affirmation and attention in all probability because some man or many men in her life haven't loved her well. And because for whatever reason they have been left starving for that nourishment, at some point along the way she will learn that she can get what she (rightly so) desperately needs by dressing a bit more "promiscuous" on the outside. The need, the craving, isn't wrong, except now in an effort to dull the pain, she's turning to the wrong treatment. That shouldn't make us mad at her; that should make us sad... and compassionate. 

There's something bigger to this... I think really all women in general are starving in similar ways... because let's be honest, we live in a culture where women who are young and gorgeous are the ones who have their praises sung. The expectations of outer beauty are off the charts, and cannot be achieved. I was recently reading an interview with some singer who was in her 50's, and she was talking about how she had gotten really low one day, and in the moment where her husband prodded her a little too hard she finally blurted out "that men get age and are still noticed; women age and they become invisible." I'm only in my early twenties now, but I get where that's coming from. It creeps up in me and manifests itself in other ways.

We live in an age where men do so little affirming and honoring of inner beauty... I mean good, grief! I can count those times only on one hand myself! So I believe, hope, and pray, that men who love Christ will recognize the larger problem at work here. It's so much bigger than modest clothing and trying to control lust. More importantly that they would recognize how much power they have to change our culture's perception and beliefs about beauty. 

Christian man, you were called to fight against temptation and seek victory in your struggle. It's hard, and painful. But know that you were also called to be like Christ, which means you acknowledge that your sister's fight is hard and painful too. Neither one of us is getting off easy in our battles. We have insecurities alike, and they show no preference to gender. So please, men, watch your life: Make sure your mouth and actions preach the same thing. For all the verbiage and exhortation of wanting girls to dress modestly, if you hold outter beauty as the holy grail or (and I'm just going to flat out say it) if you're viewing porn... there's a major disconnect there. We see it. We know it. And you make it very difficult to take you seriously. Then watch the lives of the women around you: When you see any kind of pain, seek to bring healing and redeem. I think that's what Jesus would want. 

Jesus was around prostitutes, and that's what He did. He never had a conversation about how they were dressed. He didn't write a blog post about how he was going to have to block her friendship request on Facebook because of her photos. He didn't turn the other way or divert His eyes from her and then give a sermon about how she's not "right" with God. Nope. He looked those women in the eyes, and tenderly began to healing work of their hearts. To make them more lovely and beautiful. (I'm not saying that men should take the place of Jesus in a woman's life or that he will be perfect in his effort to serve and love, but God does and can use imperfect men to redeem parts of His creation.) Women treated like this flourish... and I suspect they feel so confident and assured that they're loved, that slowly their wardrobes do change... and for THE right reason: They have the gaze of the Heavenly Bridegroom upon them, and that's what makes all the difference. And men, you need to start seeing the honor and opportunity you can have in playing a role that showcases and mirrors these truths to women in and around your life.

Women, It's worth repeating so I will: You have the the gaze of the Heavenly Bridegroom upon you, and He created you beautifully not just on the outside, but he continues to cultivate your inner beauty which is of far greater value. 

I think if you just rest and take root in that... yeah... I don't think I need to tell you how to dress.

Anytime I write on modesty, I always recommend what Jeff Bethke's has written on his blog. He's got it down better than anyone else I know, and he's a dude...
Other Stuff I've written on the matter...

8 comments :

  1. The lovely topic of modesty! Thanks for sharing this. It drives me crazy when people can be so judgemental just because someone doesn't dress like them or do things their way. Very very well said post! Although, I have to admit when I see women walking around showing off what they have I often times think "Really?! I don't want my husband to see that". Ultimately men have the final decision in their mind... to look away etc.

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    1. I can certainly understand you're perspective on not wanting guys to see certain things. Been there, felt that, and know exactly what you mean =)

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  2. This was a very well written piece on modesty. I appreciated your thoughts. I think your covered this controversial topic graciously and with Biblical wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Natalie...I have no words other than YES *high five*
    Brilliant post. And I could add, too, that I've noticed that sometimes modesty can divide women. It just gives us another reason to judge each other...and the world already promotes an unhealthy competition between women based on how they look, as you have touched on in this post. It's also really insulting to men to assume that they cannot control themselves and even a glimpse of bare shoulder will send them into a lust driven frenzy. They're not animals driven by instinct...they are perfectly capable of rationalising, too.

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    1. Amen! =) Always love your perspective Laura =D

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  4. awesome post, Natalie! I love this quote "I can only dress keeping in mind that I have Christ's gaze upon me". That is the essence of modesty, I believe. You're right; it's not about simply how we dress as women. It is a way of living, seeking to give glory to God through our dress, attitudes, compassion, conversations, and grace. When the way we dress overshadows other forms of modesty, things tend to get a bit muddy and legalistic. We end up pointing fingers at girls who do not dress the way we believe is modest and instead of extending Christ-like love and grace, we treat with disregard or disdain. I have always loved to read about modesty, but in recent years have realized my own legalistic heart behind it. I am eager to check out the other links you posted!

    P.S. I am not sure why, but I do not get the emails when you reply to comments I leave on your page. Is that normal? I flipped through some of your posts and realized that you had replied but I never saw it till then :(
    P.P.S. I am checking the mail everyday for your snail mail :) Hope it arrives soon!

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    1. Hmm... I'll have to look into the commenting thing, as well as the snail mail, since what I sent should've already gotten to you by now. Thanks for letting me know!

      I guess I'm one of those people who doesn't like reading about modesty, so I'm just over here like, "Enough already folks!" haha!

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