by Jill Savage
Several years ago my oldest daughter was asked to attend her first high school Homecoming Dance. She was excited at the prospect of dressing up, going to dinner, and then attending the dance itself. Of course, one of the first things we did was shop for a dress.
Financially, the journey to find just the right dress was a challenge. We eventually found one on the JC Penney clearance rack that was just perfect. However, defining “just perfect” took quite a journey of communication before we arrived at our destination.
What was the issue at hand? Modesty.
Modesty is a term that isn’t used much in today’s society. Webster’s Dictionary defines “modest” as “dressing in a way that is considered proper; decent.” Quite frankly it comes down to the amount of skin showing in the clothing we are wearing.
Today’s “shrink-wrapped” fashion makes the goal of modesty a challenge. Young women want to be in style, look their best, and wear the latest fashions—but what about young women (and their parents!) who believe that modesty should be taken into consideration when pursuing those fashions?
When shopping for Homecoming attire with my daughter, she kept pulling out dresses that were indeed very beautiful—at least what little dress there was to consider. As we continued to shop I began to realize that I had information that my daughter did not have. I have an understanding about the way men and women are drawn to what they see (skin!) and what it does to their mind and their body. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s a really good thing in a marriage relationship. God knew what he was doing when he created us sexual beings! However there is value for a woman learning to keep unique aspects of her femininity for one man—her husband, or in a young woman’s case—her future husband.
Dannah Gresh in her book, Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty” explains from a purely scientific aspect, “many of our bodies’ responses are activated by the automatic nervous system. This system is not controlled by the will, but by the environment.” For instance, when a mother suddenly realizes she doesn’t know where her two-year-old is, a panic that includes a raised heartbeat, a sick feeling in the stomach, or a feeling of light-headedness happens in her body. The reactions are not something she chooses to have happen, they simply happen because her body responds to the environment. That’s how the automatic nervous system works.
Dannah goes on to explain, “Sexual arousal works the same way. Things in the environment—what we see, what we hear, what we smell—work together to tell the brain that the time is right for sexual response.” We don’t choose that response—it can happen naturally.
Women don’t experience the same intensity of an automatic nervous system when they see a scantily clad man. Women respond more to emotional stimulation and men respond more to visual stimulation –thus the value of understanding the importance of modesty for women.
Quite frankly, why does Victoria Secret have large pictures of half-naked women in the windows of their store? Why does Abercrombie and Fitch use large sensual pictures of men and women selectively showing large amounts of skin? They do that because it brings about a response in consumers. Sometimes it’s a physical response, sometimes an emotional response, and they are hoping it will be a financial response as well.
So what does a parent do about understanding modesty and helping daughters (and sons!) learn to consider it in their clothing selections? Here are some ways to approach the subject.
*Make sure you are not creating a “do as I say, not as I do” requirement. In other words, mom needs to evaluate what she is wearing and if it meets some modesty guidelines.
*Have a frank discussion with your pre-teen/teenage daughter explaining to her the power of modesty and the effect of immodesty. Revisit that discussion often, explaining the implications of immodesty rather than just giving rules.
*Define limits on clothing such as no cleavage, no bare belly, no short shorts, no spaghetti straps, and no bare backs.
*Make a game out of finding fashionable, yet modest clothing. Go through a catalog together making note of the cute clothing that works within a modest mindset.
*Take a shopping trip just to see how many outfits you can find that meet the standards you have set for your family. Select 2 or 3 outfits that your daughter can add to her closet.
On that shopping trip several years ago I finally put a halt to our looking. I realized that I had some teaching to do. I suggested we take a coke break and I used the time to explain to my daughter the workings of the automatic nervous system. I told her about the wonderful way that God created our bodies and how sexuality is a beautiful part of the marriage relationship. She blushed several times during our discussion, but the next few hours bore the fruit of our discussion. She would pull a dress out and say, “Isn’t this pretty?” Then she would notice the halter design and say, “Well, the color is pretty” and place it back on the rack.
It may be a challenge to consider modesty in today’s fashion culture, but it’s not impossible. We, as parents, need to lead and equip our children to make good choices in the clothing they wear.
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Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I think that often Christian families may, without thinking about it, get lured into what's acceptable in the culture. Your story is such a beautiful example of looking at the big picture and taking advantage of a teachable moment. After a challenging clothes-shopping experience with my 11yo dd, she decided she wants to open a clothing store for in-between sized girls like herself (she's between a child's size & a junior) with modest AND pretty clothing for a low price, and we came up with the slogan: "Only our prices are low!" =)
I appreciate your instruction & love Dannah Gresh's stuff too. We hope to go to a SKG conference here in Feb! God bless you!!
Such an overlooked issue I think. My husband has been teaching my girls about modesty since they could walk. At 4, and 6, they correctly evaluate the modesty of an outfit. Of course, they don’t yet know all the underlining reasons which Dannah explains so well. Last summer, I stumbled upon an article in the paper about a group in Sacramento that sponsors the Pure Fashion Show–A trendy, fashion shows for girls who want to be modest. I loved their modesty guidelines and suspect we will adopt them as the girls grow. I wonder what you think. I still don’t know enough html to make links in the comment field but go to http://www.purefashionshow.com and click on modesty guidelines.
My husband and I started at a very young age with modesty with our girls. (Like 6 month old!) We never dressed our duahgters in short rompers or dresses that showed off the cutesy diaper cover they were wearing…. we never saw the point. We always have taught our girls the ‘modest’ thing to wear and they are to a point (at only 5 and 6 yrs old) that they help pick out there clothing and know if it is something should be wearing. Like Laura above said- right now my girls don’t understand all the underlying reasons why they can’t wear those clothes, but they do not know that their body is a specail gift from God that everybody does NOT need to see. We knew that starting young was the right thing for our girls and even t 5 and 6… it has made all the difference. I wish now as an adult, I would have had someone talk to me about modesty, not just that is wasn’t ‘the christian thing’ to wear revealing clothes, but the real reasons and the stumbling blocks I place infront of men- both Christian and non.
Thanks for this post!
Thanks for sharing, Jill!
My children often ask me why other parents don’t teach their kids about modesty. It always strikes a chord within me – ‘out of the mouths of babes’ – and my kiddos are almost 12 and 14. I praise God for other parents who are willing to tackle these subjects and guide their children, as well as other parents.
What an incredible ministry!
Thankyou for sharing this, Jill. I used to think that cleavage was only a fashion accessory – (that is even after growing up in a Christian home with a mother that dresses very modestly). God is working on my ideas of modesty – but I've never heard the reasons behind it explained so well. (And I'm almost 30) I hope to set a better example for my children & to teach them what you have said! Thanks again!