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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