When I was 18, one of my favorite items of clothing was a top that was teeny tiny shredded strips of black cloth that draped from the neck to the waistline. It was a long-framed rectangle of strings, basically, that slipped over my head and buttoned on each side with a single button.
I remember how attractive I felt in that top, and I won’t ever forget the way both men and women sized me up for wearing it.
It’s an unavoidable fact: People make judgements, discernments, evaluations, and categorizations according to what we look like.
As a professional model for 8 years, I had a front row seat to the psychology behind presentation. This included lighting, makeup and hair, body posing, facial expression, and clothing.
And it all centered around one main goal: What product(s), idea, or lifestyle did the producer want the audience to buy/buy into?
What were they trying to draw attention to? What were they trying to highlight? Emphasize?
In one photo shoot it would be a pair of pants, in another a hair styling product, in another I’d highlight a “utopia” with all the elements surrounding me “needed” to purchase such a life.
I had directors and photographers say some of the dumbest phrases you can imagine in an attempt to express how they wanted me to model.
“Pretend you’re running through the air, as happy as a puppy… Now shake your hair… ” click. click. click. click.
“Okay now give me a sexy, serious look. Like you’re really angry. Angry pretty! Angry pretty! Make me a little scared…” click. click. click. click. click.
“Now act like you’re going to bite the guitar… Take a great big bite!… ” click. click. click. (This one was during a photo shoot I did for JCPenny’s waaaaay back when Avril Levigne was “cool”. Am I getting old?? Carry on.)
Some of the stuff I heard was just hilariously wrong and some was wrong in the literal-meaning kind of way. But the whole modeling/fashion/photography industry is dead right about one thing:
A lot. Quickly. Profoundly.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Yep.
So how I approach the white-hot easily-viral topic of modesty is through the experiential lens of this selling-stuff, drawing-attention-to, images-communicating background.
Please hear this loud and clear: I am not honing in on, or making a case for or against, any specific item of clothing (like some articles I’ve read about the modesty of yoga pants or bikinis etc.) Specific items of clothing are not my point in this article.
My point here is also not about heart motives. One of the main reasons I believe there is so much offense and defense surrounding this topic is because we can feel someone is misjudging our motives.
I know women who sincerely love and adore Jesus and want to serve Him with their whole heart that sometimes wear clothing I consider to be immodest.
As in all areas of following Christ, the heart motives can be good and the application a widely varied, confusing mess.
Despite what anyone says, discerning what is modest is not easy. It’s not simple. It can be downright infuriating, frustrating, and disheartening to attempt to wear clothing that feels like “you” and “cute/attractive/not frumpy” and still be modest. Especially during summer. In Texas.
You need to know if we meet: I am not sizing up your outfit. Honestly I couldn’t tell you hardly anything that anyone has worn for the past few years. It’s got to really be a stand-out kind of outfit for me to notice your clothes instead of my kids that are inevitably trying to destroy something or themselves. Fashion is barely a blip on my radar right now. In truth it’s a total flat-line except for the rare occasions I’m going some place where I think my pjs would probably be distracting.
When I’m hanging out with you I don’t focus on what’s hanging out or not — I am interested in you, your heart, and how I can serve and love you.
But we have to make decisions about modesty every day. So I am sharing some questions and scriptures that help me discern what in the world I should do. I hope something I share will help you.
No cookie cutter solutions will work. We are all unique, and each of our life settings and seasons are unique. Modesty, as all other areas, can only be lived out well if our ears are pressed against God’s heart.
Some questions and scriptures I consider to determine if my heart perspective is in line with God:
- My standard question to determine if an item of clothing was too tight/too short/too loose/too low/too bare used to be essentially: “Is this permissible?” Now I ask “Is this beneficial?”
When this perspective shift happens, your whole wardrobe is likely to undergo a major overhaul.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” 1 Cor. 10:23-24
- What example am I living to the younger generation of glorifying God by how I clothe myself?
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42
- Do I consider His glory my highest priority when making choices about modesty? Do I have an undivided heart for His glory?
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31
“Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11
- Am I willing to deny myself in the area of my wardrobe preferences?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. ” Matthew 16:24-25
- Could I speak, with a clear conscience and no conviction of hypocrisy, the words of Jesus to a girl/woman who is struggling with image/body insecurity, or a boy/man who has/is struggling with keeping their thoughts pure about this topic of modesty while wearing this outfit? Am I considering the interests of others in this area of modesty? Am I being careful that exercising my rights is not a stumbling block to the weak?
“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Cor. 8:9
The bottom line about modesty for me is this: Grace needs to be the heartbeat of all interactions.
As that young woman with the shredded shirt — I needed grace.
As a 20 year old single mom trying to figure out how to wear something I didn’t feel like a sloppy mess in and still keep those suddenly voluptuous, leaky baby bottles out of sight — I needed grace.
As a mom who is already navigating the complicated role of Mom/fashion explainer/allower/approver to four girls — I need grace.
As a women who is called to serve other women (sometimes from different kinds of platforms) I need grace.
Images communicate. And we are made in His image.
Let’s do the hard work of communicating His creative, humble, beautiful heart through modesty.
You are already a masterpiece. An incredible, individual work of art. The most stunning parts of you are the parts that look like Him.
What we wear is another way of framing the glorious Art inside us. Let’s not detract from Him. Let’s highlight Him.
I do not claim to be one to take modesty+fashion cues from. 90% of my life right now is spent rotating my simple black cotton t-shirts and two favorite pairs of jeans (when I make it out of pj pants). This fits my personality and life season and I am happy and content… But if you are in a different life-place with a different style I encourage you look to some godly women who dress modestly and fashionably to get some fresh wardrobe inspiration.
If you can’t find anyone who meets that description and fashion is really important to you, maybe God is drawing your attention to a “gap” in our society that He wants you to fill? By all means, if clothing is your thing — help a sister, mother, brother out!
I love you. I adore you. I think you are so wonderful and beautiful and powerful.
Let’s intentionally seek God, again, about how to clothe our souls to best draw all eyes and hearts to Him.