Friday, June 08, 2012

A Modest(y) Proposal

Eric Carpenter has opened a seasonally appropriate can of worms on the topic of modesty, more specifically the wearing of bikini swimwear by Christian women. His post, Bikinis? , started as a Facebook post and drew quite a few comments. His post is brief but certain to draw a lot of comments because as he says there are quite a few professing Christians who fervently defend the alleged “right” to wear revealing swimwear.

My stance on this issue is probably not much of a surprise. I find it incomprehensible that a woman who claims to be a follower of Christ would intentionally choose to go out in public wearing next to nothing to be ogled by strangers, exposing herself in a way that is appropriate only within the bounds of marriage. Even more boggling to the mind is that parents seem OK with their young daughters wearing bikinis out in public to be subjected to the leering of strangers. Context aside, a bikini is functionally not covering more than underwear but women seem to think nothing of wearing a bikini to the beach. Of course we also live in a culture where you can’t really watch TV for very long without being subjected to a Victoria’s Secret commercial with women in various states of undress and many women, even in semi-professional workplaces, seem oblivious in their clothing choices that makes Victoria’s Secret into public knowledge.

This question reminds me of the events of 2009 when beauty pageant contestant and church going Carrie Prejean was asked a loaded question about “gay marriage” during the Ms. USA pageant, an event featuring her and the other young women sauntering about in high heels and bikinis for the prurient pleasure of viewers. She gave a clumsy defense of traditional marriage in response to a loaded question from a judge with an agenda and subsequently came in second place, a snub attributed to her defenders as the result of standing up for traditional values (I blogged about this event here). She immediately became something of a celebrity in the evangelical culture.

For a short time, Ms. Prejean was exalted as a role-model and a champion of Biblical values and courage. Then the revelations came out of some topless photos of her done “professionally” as well as some video footage of an unsavory sort and a lawsuit over a loan for her breast implants and she sort of faded away, although not before penning a book, Still Standing. The irony is that when she clumsily stated her opposition to “gay marriage” she was in a pageant where she was wearing not a whole lot more than she was in her topless photos. Her bathing suit as I recall from the endless footage shown on TV about the issue was barely there and designed to accentuate her artificially enhanced chest. Not exactly the sort of traditional values that people traditionally understand but the hypocrisy on display was missed by most of the evangelical community. A woman on stage in front of millions wearing an outfit that leaves 90% of her body exposed is not exactly living out the spirit of 1 Tim 2:9. Yet many Christians seemed oblivious to raising her up as a champion in a tiny bikini but tossing her aside for wearing slightly less.

Modesty in attire is an issue that gets bandied about in the church a lot but with virtually no consensus. I don’t think many Christians would say that modesty is irrelevant given the Biblical evidence but what that means is pretty broad. Does it mean ankle length dresses and no pants? Does it mean almost anything goes under the banner of “Christian liberty”? Is it simply an individual issue that doesn’t get addressed in the church? We really need to have serious conversations about this because it definitely impacts how the world sees us. If the world sees us talking about sin and redemption but then walking around in a bikini our message gets lost in the rightful accusation of hypocrisy. Run over to Eric’s post and jump in the discussion, I hope it will provide light and not just heat.


Anonymous said...

I agree that modesty is somewhat of a lost concept in our society today, especially with as oversexualized as the culture is.

However, I'd be cautious at just branding bikini's as immodest or, for that matter, any specific clothing style and such. As mentioned, in our hypersexualized culture, a bikini is immodest. However, there are some global cultures where the bikinis on display at Miss USA are conservative dress simply because of the expressed culture.

I recall hearing at one point about a culture where a woman wearing ANY stitch on her upper body was actually considered to be immodest. Why? Because only prostitutes in that culture are rich enough to afford that much clothing and wearing a top is considered immodest advertising of their business.

In short, "modesty" is, in many ways, a culturally relative concept. But, in our western culture, I agree, bikinis are considerably immodest.

Arthur Sido said...

The vast majority of my readers are American and a few from Europe/Australia so my statement was intended for that culture.

Bean said...

Quite a topic!
There seem to be so many instances of "if we can't beat them join them" in American Christianity. Rock music, heavy metal, well now you can find so called "christian heavy metal rock music and bands" how is this good?
The modesty issue, google christian beauty pageant, there are plenty of them. I am sure, or I hope, that modesty is part of the pageant but it still seems to be a contradiction, where in the bible does it suggest that parading ones self around for your own glorification and to win accolades for temporal things is appropriate? Once again worldly activities have been "cleaned" and had the word christian added and suddenly it is okay.
It seems many denominations have turned away from teaching about modesty, anything goes all of the time.
I occasionally visit the friary in Fort Wayne, they have a sign at the door asking that you not enter unless dressed modestly. The sign states what is appropriate clothing, no bare shoulders, short short skirts, bare mid rifts, I am glad they have the sign but at the same time saddened that it is necessary to need such a sign.
Unfortunately there is a trend to do "christian" fashion shows, in my opinion they seem to scream "how to dress worldly but just not push it too far", it seems to be kind of trendy right now. Perhaps instead they should do a bible study and learn what scripture says about modesty rather than being encouraged to pursue worldly things.
Thank you for you post,


Arthur Sido said...

Bean, you are dead on about how sad it is that we need to spell it out. It kills me that where I work (and virtually everywhere I have worked with a business casual dress code) women wear simply outrageous outfits to work.

Aussie John said...


I'm certainly with both, you and Eric on this one.

Debbie said...

What gets really frustrating is shopping for a teenage daughter and trying to find modest clothes. Elizabeth needs new clothes for summer, and one stop in the teen section of the store made me very glad she can still wear the largest size in the girls section. I don't think the teen section had a single pair of shorts with an inseam more than 3 inches long. I keep telling her that she needs to start sewing her own clothes, or soon there won't be much for her to wear!

I guess I wouldn't mind a "christian" fashion show if it encouraged companies to produce more modest clothing by showing them there is a market for it.

Arthur Sido said...

She is going to have to sew her own at some point. We try to get modest clothing when we can and the girls end up with a lack of variety. It stuns me to see girls out with their mothers dressed as they do, I want to shake the mothers and ask them what they are thinking.

Bean said...


It can be hard to find modest sewing patterns, when you do find a good pattern purchase a few copies of it.
Christian Light has a sewing booklet, it is for a home ec. class for a middle school age child, runs about $3. A good booklet as it teaches how to sew without a pattern and gives examples of how to correct problems with the way a garment fits. The books ultimate guide is to teach the student how to make a cape dress with only measurements and it does it well. Although I don't plan to make a cape dress, as a avid sewer I did find many of the pointers in the booklet useful and they were explained well.
I started making my own clothes so that the skirts/jumpers I wear are what I like rather than what I could find at a thrift store. I would greatly encourage you to explore the adventure of making your own, and it is a fantastic skill to teach to your daughter.



Debbie said...


Thanks for the input. I'll look into the Christian Light sewing materials. I've actually done a lot of sewing for our family, and E. knows basic sewing skills. Our problem is that I'm limited in the time available to spend with the sewing machine, and E. - who has the time - doesn't really have the inclination to sew. Maybe this summer we can work on it some.

Thanks again!