On Immodesty: Too Much Skin (At Church and Elsewhere)?

My buddy Rhett’s written on a provocative topic, what do we do about immodesty in the church? This is pressing for him and I since we are both now father’s of beautiful little girls.  He writes:

No matter what we as parents do I know there will always be that cultural peer pressure on my daughter to do something different. But in the midst of that pressure I hope that we can convey the message of the importance of modesty, and that showing skin is not what she should value or want approval from others for. Doesn’t get easier for parents when teen stars provide much of the cultural peer pressure (i.e. Hannah Montana).

Certainly both men and women are influenced by cultural expectations on how we look, what it means to be successful, what makes someone cool enough to welcome into your group, etc, but what do we do about it?  What have you done, or seen done that’s been helpful in addressing this issue for both genders? I do not think this is a female-only issue. Some church cultures have been more successful than others in promoting modesty. We do not have too much of a show of skin on Sunday mornings at our Mennonite church, but there still is still the occasion. Of course, this doesn’t address the other issues that may be bubbling under the surface in these groups either. But it is an issue that the church in general faces regularly, I remember this conversation coming up about once a semester when I was in undergrad. So, what do we do about the very basic assumptions that fuel these outward practices?

Rhett quotes Annie Jackson, an author and blogger, who says:

–there is a female feature we call breasts. they can also be referred to as “boobies,??? or “the twins,??? or “the rack,??? or “jugs,??? so on, so forth.

–most men find this particular feature interesting. tempting. and amazing.

–upon catching a glimpse of said feature (regardless of how much is actually exposed), it is likely for a man’s mind to go to places it shouldn’t.

–with above knowledge, women, you now are educated and have no excuse.


But my part of my point is why? Why should we use wisdom when we dress ourselves? Why should men or women care that they are now educated and have no excuse? Isn’t this appealing to something other than what is really stated here? Can we expect someone who walks into the church for the very first time next week to believe they should dress differently because God wants them to? Or conversely, should the church have any expectations at all about dress? Now of course, I agree with Annie’s point and her conclusions [that we all should use wisdom when it comes to dress – it’s just a matter of what kind of wisdom we’re talking about here], ((Edited in later)) I just want to get at my question: what do we do about the “something other,” what do we appeal to? Or who? And how do make the appeal?

Of course for me, and many of us, the question turns on our faith and our understanding of what God wants for us. But this understanding cannot be uprooted from the culture we currently live in, a culture that is dominated by celebrity glam, high fashion, and sexuality. When I was youth pastoring I found it increasingly difficult to convince a junior highschool girl that she should want what God wants for her over against what will help her to actually have friends and survive the terrors of jr. highschool. And it was equally difficult to teach the boys similar truths about how they ought to treat girls, respect them and not make dirty jokes, etc: “why can’t I, when everyone else is doing it!”

And all this doesn’t really even get to the reality that immodesty ((In a comment to Sonja below I state: “I think you’re right – isn’t even the ideas of modesty and immodesty an oppressive binary? The wrong thing to begin or end with? Something we treat as though it’s a universal, but is really thoroughly rooted in subjectivity? A subjectivity that is often used to keep people out, rather than in.”)) is only a symptom of something else: a distaste, on the one hand, an inflated ego, on the other, for one’s self. Love of self, or distaste for oneself can come in many forms, and many people struggle with this who never dress in a way as to attract (or distract) attention to/from themselves.

I’m not saying any of this is okay, from my perspective it isn’t, but it is really difficult and I think it involves more than just knowing about how it affects others. It sort of feels like swimming up stream. So, as L grows up in an age where I am sure immodesty will be just as cool as it is now, I start to wonder what it is we do now when she’s still young that can help her care about how she (does not) dress, how she carries herself, and how she thinks of herself. And the same would go if/when we have a son.

Any thoughts on this? What have you seen that’s been helpful, or not so helpful when dealing with boys and girls/ men and woman on this issue?