What Modesty Means to Me

my best friends and I wearing shorts

This is me with my two best friends, Leena and Erina. All 3 of us come from conservative Asian cultures. Before doing a casual “photo shoot,” we went shopping for shorts. We returned empty-handed because we didn’t find any that were of appropriate length. Even before taking this photo, we had a discussion about whether the length of our shorts were okay or not, and what our families back home would think about them.

My family is conservative, and I was the black sheep of the family when it came to clothing choices. Even when I was in Malaysia, I would wear clothes that my sisters never dared to wear. Their wardrobes mostly consisted of baggy t-shirts and longer-than-knee-length pants. My wardrobe, as I grew older, mostly consisted of t-shirts that were my actual size and jeans that were an inch above my knees. This was a very marked difference between us.

However, ever since coming to the US, I’ve realized that modesty is such a subjective term. Modesty is defined differently by people in the US, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Italy, Kenya, etc. What people in the US thinks is modest is not what people in Malaysia thinks is modest. What people in Malaysia thinks is modest is not what people in Afghanistan thinks is modest. And so forth… You get the picture.

My friend, Marcus, shared this article on Facebook – Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means by Rachel Held Evans – and I think the author hit it on the mark. If you have a few extra minutes, I’d encourage you to read the article. There are some things I would add to it, and I don’t agree with the part that we should dress for ourselves only, but overall, it’s a great, thought-provoking article.

Modesty: /ˈmädəstē/ (noun) behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency. [1]

With this definition of modesty in mind, this is what modesty in dressing means to me – it is about dressing comfortably, appropriately according to the event, and in a way that honors God. If it’s 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside, there’s no way I’m going to be wearing long jeans and a t-shirt, especially when I know that’s only going to make me sweaty (and in the end, stinky, unless I douse myself with perfume) as I rush from one class to another. If the weather is hot, I’m going to wear shorts and a tank top.

Modesty is not a tool for judging others. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard conservative folks judge a girl based on the way she dresses and vice-versa. If you think you’re honoring God with the “appropriate” way that you dress, and yet condemn and look askance at someone else because of the way she dresses, do you really think your behavior is honoring and pleasing to God? We are called to love.

I know that modesty is a controversial topic. There are many things that can be said about it, and many angles from which the topic can be approached from. But this has struck me the most – so many times, a girl is judged based on what she wears or doesn’t wear. I confess, I’m guilty of that too. When I was younger, I would cringe when I see a bride walk down the aisle in a strapless gown (remember, strapless clothing in Malaysia a few years ago was still considered taboo by certain circles).

I vividly remember one minister telling us that he told his daughter that her wedding dress must be modest or else he would not walk her down the aisle. He also threatened to use paper to cover up his daughter-in-law’s body in her wedding photo because he didn’t think that her dress was modest enough. Looking back, I now realize how ridiculous that was, and that instead of laughing, I should have been appalled by his statements. The only thing accomplished is that more focus is placed on a woman’s body, and she is now viewed as a sex object. She isn’t seen as “the bride.” Instead, she is seen as “the bride with the immodest dress.” Her clothing, the gown that she will wear once in her lifetime, has defined who she is.

It’s high time that we stop placing so much focus on the way someone dresses and instead, focus on the character of the person. Everyone has different standards for modesty. It’s time that society recognizes and accepts that. The inner character of a person is what matters the most, not the way he or she dresses. The media is already placing enough focus on the way someone dresses. You and I don’t need to add to that.

Now, when I dress in the morning, there’s only three questions in my mind: Will I be comfortable in what I wear throughout the day – whether I’m in classes, at work, or hanging out with my friends? Am I dressing for myself, others, or God? Do my clothes reflect that I am a child of God, His princess?

Ladies (and gentleman), remember that your identity is found in God, not in your clothing.

To end, I want to share a quote by Evans from her article:

But our bodies are not something to be overcome; they are not dirty or shameful or inherently tempting. They are a beautiful part of what it means to be created in the image of God. These are the bodies that allow us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, the bodies that feel sun on our skin and sand between our toes, the bodies that nurse babies and cry with friends, the bodies that emerge from the waters of baptism and feast on the bread of communion. They are beautiful, and they are good. — Rachel Held Evans

Tell me what modesty means to you!

[1] Oxford American College Dictionary

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Posted on October 11, 2014, in Inspirations, Thoughts, and Ramblings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi again, Evangeline.

    [I also posted on your recent “Asian” blog]

    I suspect that you have put so much thought in this, that a stranger like me would have little to add that you haven’t already considered. To make things worse, I am a male. Let me mention a few things you will likely will not hear from anyone else. I’ll do the best I can.

    – Your feelings on this will likely change over time. And that’s OK.
    – If a woman wears provocative dress to services, it is not a matter of lust for a righteous man. No, the real issue is that his mind is momentarily detracted from Heavenly things – in the sanctuary no less.
    – In my research among Christians, who experienced the greatest spiritual power, within that mix, there were always humble, prayerful, modestly-dressed women. When you meet someone like that, it has a convicting power all its own.

    Yours in Christ always,
    Michael B

    PS: By “spiritual power” I meant verifiable miracles and healings. You know, the stuff we otherwise see so little of today.

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