This weekend I read another delightful article from a well-meaning man, talking about how if you dress modestly, you’ll attract a man for who you are, and if you wear revealing clothes, you’ll only attract men who are interested in your body.
After being calmed from my hysterics by my dear husband and his friend, and talking it all out, I decided to pen a few words that I believe all of us girls should remember when reading or listening to other people talk about how we should dress and what our clothes say about us as a person.
1a. How People Work. Yes, your clothes have the ability to say things about you. But one thing we leave out of this conversation is the nuts + bolts part of how communication works. What we say isn’t always what people hear. People hear and read (make discernments and assumptions) based on their worldview, and that is utterly uncontrollable. If you wear something to express beauty and someone else “hears” that you’re an immoral or too-sexually available woman, that’s not your fault or responsibility.
1b. Clothes and Assumptions. We all use clothing as a form of expression. Sometimes they express styles and color palettes we love, and sometimes they express that we are confident in ourselves, or that we aren’t. [On late Sunday nights, my sweatpants express that I’m exhausted and comfort trumps anything anyone thinks about me, hah.] What they can’t do is express the position of someone else’s heart or what kind of value they have as a person, or what they believe spiritually or religiously. Never let someone tell you that your sexy self on a Friday night out reflects the fact that you have Daddy issues or low self-esteem or don’t have a close relationship with Jesus. Just because a person exudes confidence or appreciation in their body doesn’t mean they are shallow. Study up on the logical fallacies, darlings.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE TO MY GIRLFRIENDS: Making assumptions about a girl’s character or priorities based on how she dresses SLAUGHTERS our ability as women to befriend other women. It’s not a competition or a Holiness Assessment Game unless you decide it is, and that will keep you from making friendships with incredible girls.
2. Individuals Don’t Speak for Everyone. No man can speak for all men, and no woman can speak for all women. A lot of us girls like to hear men’s opinions on things, AS WE SHOULD. It’s awesome when genders interact. However, we often make the mistake that one man giving his personal opinion about how he perceives women when they dress a certain way is what ALL men perceive. That “awesome man” writing that “awesome article” about sexiness or modesty in women? Remember that he had parents, was raised a certain way, had certain life experiences, went to certain churches, lives in a certain city, had men and women in his life tell him certain things – – and that’s how all of our beliefs get molded and defined, and in the end, they are individual opinions and views. “He” doesn’t necessarily think like all other potentially dateable men, all other good men, or your husband.
3. Cultural context. Clothing is cultural, and I don’t mean just international. There are plenty of outfits in my wardrobe as a 25 year old woman in Los Angeles that I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in Alabama or Ohio or even the Carolinas. And that’s not because I’m suddenly more convicted when I’m on the East coast, or because men there are more susceptible to lust. It’s because cultural dress is very different in Los Angeles, and what would be shocking to a midwestern small town is “totes adorb” and quite normal here in Hollywood. I dress to be comfortable, attractive, and sometimes sexy if I feel like it that day – but I personally don’t go for the gawked-at outfits. (If you do, MORE POWER TO YA, WOMAN.) The Internet is awesome, but it often means we’re living in one place listening to another person speak about how what’s culturally acceptable in their city or country, not ours.
4. Fear Of Beauty and Sexuality. Don’t be modesty-ed into being terrified of being noticed or being attractive. Often when we say things like “the good men will notice you if you’re modest!” and, “selfish men will just want your body if your shirt is revealing!” we come, naturally, to the conclusion that to be noticed for our beauty, sexiness, or good looks will be terrifying and even dangerous. Not only is this conclusion harmful to both us and men, it’s simply not true. All men (and women) notice attractive people, and that’s totally okay. We all notice how people look before anything else. That isn’t shallow; it’s how our eyeballs work. It used to be that if a guy openly noticed me for my looks or complimented me, I felt like my boundaries had been plowed down and that he’d thought I was an easy girl who would say yes to going home with him. In the real world, he was just complimenting me. But in my terror-by-way-of-modesty-brain, I assumed he was making judgements about my character or revealing his own. And HOLY CRAP that makes normal conversations with strangers and friends nearly impossible. It also can force us into choose each mornings whether or not we’re going to “be good and not feel attractive” or if we’re going to say, “to hell with it, I just want to look awesome today.”
5. If You Want Guidance On How To Dress. If you’re set on dressing in a way to please or attract good men, remember that good men (and nearly all men) are attracted to confident women, and they can determine that based on your posture and whether or not you “hide” [physically and emotionally] in your clothes. I put this pretty brutally because it’s a painful war I’ve been fighting since I got married to The Best Husband Ever. I feel the sting myself as I say it, and I write it to hopefully nudge a few of you girls into learning to be confident in your body. My husband can tell when I’m hiding my body either in fear or because I’m ashamed of it, and he tries to help remind me that I’m a beautiful woman and can be confident in that. He loves when I wear things that fit well, that show off my figure, and give off the comfortable-in-my-sexiness vibe. Not because he’s just looking to see a little more boob, but because he wants me to embrace the woman that I am.
6. Lust vs Attraction. Hey dudes – Just want to make sure you know that noticing how sexy or attractive a woman is ISN’T lust. This is probably really relieving to some of you. You don’t have to guilt trip yourself for your sin every time you notice a pretty girl or a hot girl. Also, if you try to assess which girls are morally sound, are emotionally healthy, and love Jesus, DON’T SKIP OVER THE SEXY ONES. She didn’t choose that body just for you, God gave it to her. That body doesn’t define what kind of person she is. And she isn’t necessarily whoring out her cleavage, she just feels confident and beautiful in how God made her. I’ll say it again: observing isn’t lust.
7. You have the right to be you, whoever that is. How you dress is up to you, it’s no one’s place to assume things about your moral caliber by it. If you choose to dress more on the covered side, there is NOTHING wrong with that! For those of you new to “the modesty debate,” I’m sure you’re relieved to hear someone say it’s okay to show a little more leg. But for those of you familiar with the modesty culture discussions, I know you can feel judged for wanting to show less than others. At the end of the day, remember that how you choose to dress is none of my business. And I will never assume something about you because of how much you reveal, or how little you do. Make your what-do-I-show and what-do-I not decisions on what is appropriate for where you’ll be today, and what will make you comfortable and confident. Don’t make those decisions to protect men from their ‘uncontrollable thoughts’ or because it will take a hit on your morality or value as a person.
END THOUGHT: As Christians, we should view everyone as a person with immeasurable value who was created by God and who is our equal in all things, and letting someone’s clothing choices alter that view should have no place in our life. End of story.
FOR DISCUSSION: A lot of us have been pulled aside or confronted by people in our church to be rebuked for how we dress. How have you handled it? What words did you use to explain yourself? A lot of us simply don’t know what to do or what to say in this moment. What’s a good way to stand up for yourself graciously and respectfully?
Comments arguing for modesty absolutism or our responsibility to keep men from lust will be moderated. Thank you in advance for understanding the intended nature of this post.