The Bikini Question
When I read an article/book that I strongly disagree with, I tend to:
1. Bang my fists on the table/desk and have a one-way shouting match with it
2. Vent about it to Eric for at least a couple hours
3. Write a passionate response against it
4. Read someone else's thoughtful response
5. Go back and actually give a decent response.
SO. This is what I'm doing. While I still stand by everything I said in my original response, I think I could have been more explanatory and a little less emotional about it. I've done a lot of thinking in the past few days about the whole issue of modesty, and will attempt to pour out those thoughts here (and it may turn into a two-parter).
I grew up in the Modesty Culture. (Feel free to read a post I wrote from the other side of the fence about 4 years ago here) While it wasn't pushed on me by my parents (which I am very grateful for), I encountered much of it in my high school (a private Christian school), my church, and my college. As I went through high school, I thought that "being modest" was just something Christian women did - I never knew that there was such a debate about it. I knew girls in my high school who would push the dress code to the limits and even outright break it, but I always thought of those girls as the "troublemakers" and "attention-seekers." I never thought that their viewpoint (as flawed as the execution may have been) could be valid. I simply discredited them because they didn't follow the rules.
It actually wasn't until I got married that I started to actually think about modesty and what it means to different people. As I have talked with others and done my own research, I've been blown away to find that modesty really means something different to everyone. This isn't just a "denomination" thing or even just a cultural thing. This is an incredibly individualized belief system. I can almost guarantee that even the people that seem most alike in their beliefs on what is "modest" or not may actually disagree on at least one thing. Which, by the way, I have realized that I leaned more often on older women's opinions and ideas of what modesty was instead of just asking men myself what they thought about the issue. Not sure if anyone else has had that experience, but it's interesting to me.
After Eric and I got married, we started to talk about this idea of "modesty." The Bible talks about an attitude of the heart and not dressing for the sake of drawing attention (1 Timothy 2:9-10), but a specific list of rules is never mentioned. So then, why do we go around telling women exactly what they can and cannot wear? (I'll answer this question a little later.)
Once I started breaking out of the Modesty Culture, I remember feeling very, very aware of myself. When I wore a bikini for the first time, I automatically felt a sense of shame. I felt like I was doing something wrong, that people were either ogling me or judging me. That is so false.
How did our "Christian" culture get to this point? How did we get to the point of making women feel as though they should be ashamed of themselves if they don't follow every rule that we have laid out for them? Now, don't get me wrong - I'm all for following dress codes in schools. If you have made the decision to attend a certain school then you have made that decision (hopefully) knowing what the dress code is like, and I believe that should be followed. What I'm talking about here is the judgment that I so often see (and still catch myself doing it far too often) where we see another woman and judge her in two seconds by the outfit she's wearing.
I know I'm not the only one out there who has done this. We do this all. the. time. We look at a woman walking toward us, and we may think one (or many) of these things:
"That shirt is way too tight."
"That girl is way too big to be wearing that outfit."
"That skirt is way too short."
"Gross. Bigger women should not be wearing skin-tight clothing."
"She is way too old (or young) to be wearing that."
"She looks like a hooker wearing that."
Okay. I need to stop listing things - I'm starting to get revved up again. When did we get like this? Why did we get like this? Do we all feel so insecure about ourselves that we have to point out what we see as flaws in other women so we can feel better about our choices? I am sad to admit that I have thought (if not said out loud) all of those things I listed above at least one time in my life. Whenever I have done that, I realize now that it was not at all out of wanting to protect men from lusting (which is a post for another day...why women feel the need to "protect" men besides wanting to have control is beyond me), but rather it has been an opportunity for me to feel like I'm better than the other woman.
We are so judgmental. It's true - we really are. When I look on Facebook and Twitter I see judgment upon judgment toward other people. I know it's true, because I do it myself. We have this inner-sense of wanting to make ourselves better than those around us so we point out the flaws in everyone else and completely forget to focus on our own issues.
We want to control everyone around us and make them more "appealing" to our own personalities and preferences. We feel uncomfortable when someone wears something that we would never dare to wear in a million years (as comfortable as I am in yoga pants, I don't think I have the courage to wear leggings out in public without something covering me - not out of "modesty," but simply because I'm super self-conscious), so we judge them for their decisions and make them out to be sluts or desperate for attention. And these judgments are toward people we don't even know! I know nothing about the girl who wore a mostly-transparent top at Mayo last week. I have no clue if she is in fact dressing in order to seek attention, or if she just likes that kind of fashion. ALSO WHY AM I FOCUSING ON HER CLOTHING CHOICES RATHER THAN WONDERING IF SHE KNOWS JESUS OR NOT? And if she does know Jesus, WHY AM I FOCUSING ON HER CLOTHING CHOICES RATHER THAN HER RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS?
I am fed up with this culture focusing on surface-level issues and forgetting about what's really important. I would say 9 (or even 10) times out of 10 we judge women's clothing not because we actually care about them, but because we like the idea of judging each other. We like putting ourselves above other people and feeling like we're doing what's "holy" (because a one-piece is certainly more holy than a bikini...), while the other person is just "lost in her sins."
I don't have all the answers, and I'm certainly not going to give a list of do's and don't's that I think women should follow - to quote my previous post,
"I respect your decision not to wear bikinis. That is your decision and your right. But it is also my decision and my right to wear a bikini if I want to, because I’m not convicted otherwise. That’s the material point. If you are convicted not to wear something, great. Follow your convictions. But don’t push your personal convictions onto other people, especially in the form of a list of rules."One thing I do know is that we as Christians need to stop pointing the finger at everyone else (especially their clothing choices) and focus on our own walks with Christ. God doesn't care whether or not we think Susie Q is dressing modestly or not. He cares about our own hearts and our own attitudes. He cares about our relationship with Him. He cares about whether we are loving Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and whether we love our neighbors as ourselves (whoops, I think we dropped the ball on that one). I don't think that when we get to heaven God will tell us about all the times that we wore something that "could have" caused men to lust after us. I think He's going to be much more concerned with how fervently we pursued Him and how deeply we loved others. We need to stop acting like the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14 and start acting like the man he was comparing himself to:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' but the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven [emphasis added], but beat his breast saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."Matthew 7:1-5
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite [emphasis added], first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
[Special thanks to Emily, Emily (yes, two Emily's), Abi, Dianna, Kristen, Rachel, Danielle, and my husband Eric for all your own personal thoughts on this issue and for helping me think critically through this issue.]
*I will be posting about women's and men's responsibilities in the issue of modesty later on in the week. *