Seeing From Both Sides: A Discussion on Modesty in the Church

(Photo by Selma Komisky)

Seeing From Both Sides: A Discussion on Modesty in the Church

By Jehn Kubiak

“You can’t wear those shorts––it’ll make boys stumble,” a mom tells her daughter. “You can’t wear that dress––it shows too much cleavage.” Ladies, have you heard things like this before?

As a camp counselor for junior and senior high school girls three summers ago, many of my campers asked me questions about the dress code and modesty: “Why can’t I wear these shorts?,” or “Why do boys get to go around with no shirts, and we have to wear one-pieces?”

To be honest, I get their point. Most girls don’t choose their clothing to lure boys as bait. A few might wear a shirt cut too short to attract a guy, but these girls usually have a specific guy in mind to begin with). However, the majority of girls and women choose their clothing based on style preferences and what feels comfy.

It doesn’t help that fashion designers and brands tend to create similar clothing cuts. For instance, I can pretty much guarantee that most of the shorts in mall stores these days don’t even reach mid-thigh. So, if nobody sells what we consider “modest shorts,” how can we expect girls to dress modestly without forcing them to wear jeans in 90-degree heat?

Furthermore, certain clothes can look more modest or immodest on various body types. I generally stick to bermuda or midi-cut shorts because I have stocky swimmer legs. Therefore, shorts that look normal on most girls look very short on me. Similarly, a girl with a big chest can’t generally wear tank tops without showing at least a bit of cleavage, while flat-chested girls can wear spaghetti-strapped tops and look okay.

The thing is, our culture too often blames girls and women for their “seductive powers,” and modern culture isn’t even to blame. This trend started in the olden days, when women could only wear full-length dresses and were forbidden from wearing pants. Some cultures still force women to cover their entire body.

This problem is a both-and for each gender. Females cannot receive the blame for seducing males––especially since we are naturally sexual beings––but they also can’t just ignore any sort of responsibility or boundaries.

Ultimately, boys and men cannot blame girls and women for their personal lust. That’s something they must work out with God and themselves. However, girls also can’t cross the line with this principle. For instance, they shouldn’t wear shorts that show half their booty or a dress that exposes half their chest. Girls don’t need to only wear one-piece swimsuits, but they also should pick a two-piece that has a more modest cut.

We can’t continue following the “boys will be boys” cliché, but we also can’t let girls lose their purity from a lack of responsibility. Purity is key. Girls and women must consider if their fashion choices detract from that purity or not. When in doubt, ask a close friend if they think something is too immodest. Intent is another important key. Ask yourself, “Do I intend to attract guys with what I wear, or am I wearing this because I like how it looks?” All in all, follow your gut feeling. If you feel like something’s wrong when you pull on a specific outfit, then it probably is.