Modesty - Skin or What's "In"?

Modesty.  This morning as I was getting dressed I was reminded of how contentious the idea of modesty could be at the conservative Christian school I attended as an undergraduate.  It was the young women's responsibility to dress in a way that wouldn't "tease" the young men.  The women were held responsible for protecting the men's morality.  I remember reflecting on this as a student and wondering if the same rules would apply if the school were located in a southern state instead of the cold, wintry north.  I also thought it might be better for us women to desensitize the men from skin so they weren't turned on so easily!

Recently, I've encountered two other reactions to modesty that were different from my college experience. In one, a group of immigrants from a very warm climate of the world were complaining that the public school's dress code regarding modesty was too strict.  One father explained that the clothing his daughter wore was perfectly appropriate in their home country. 

The other situation took place at church, where a young woman's pants sunk as she sat revealing her buttocks. Once seated, her shirt and pants found their place again and no skin was revealed.  Her attire would have been considered "modest" at my undergrad, but was offensive to those sitting behind her in worship.

When the New Testament speaks of modesty, I don't think it is addressing showing too much skin.

"Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.  I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God." (1 Timothy 2:8-10)

"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.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves..." (1 Peter 3:3-5a)

The modesty of concern here is a right-reflection upon one's own beauty and a lack of concern of the competitiveness of external beauty.  Our outward appearance shouldn't be the source of our self-esteem or impact the self-esteem of others.  What we wear and what we own shouldn't be an advertisement of wealth and status.

But this isn't the modesty we see practiced in churches that have that "Christian look." In fact, in the avoidance of skin, more emphasis is placed on makeup, jewelry, hair-styles, and clothing styles. By emphasizing modesty the way we have, we have actually added emphasis to the outward appearance over the inner.  In doing so, we have distracted ourselves from the point of modesty, which is a focus and prioritizing of a relationship with God and a lifestyle that attracts people to God.  So is modesty about skin or about what's "in"? Or perhaps a little of both?


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