What, exactly, is modesty? And why, when modesty can be defined and described with poetic words like “restrained by seemliness” and “delicate”, do I struggle with a number of myths about modesty?
A myth isn’t, usually, an out-and-out lie. There’s some truth in a myth. That’s what makes a myth so confusing, especially when it’s about something so personal as modesty.
Myth 1: Modesty is about the clothes I wear.
Modesty is about so much more than the clothes I wear! It’s about the way I wear the clothes I wear. It’s about the way I sit and stand and walk. It’s about the way I talk. It’s about the way I look when I talk. It’s about the way I smile and laugh. Clothes are only a bit of the story of modesty.
Myth 2: Modesty is boring.
Says who…? Modesty can be boring. Anything can be boring! Modesty, however, doesn’t have to be boring. It can be creative. Exciting!
You don’t have to buy just one style of skirts or trousers. You don’t have to wear tops of just one colour. What styles and colours do you like? Take the time you need and rise to the challenge of being creative and frugal. Build a wardrobe that is as tasteful — and as far from boring — as you like.
Myth 3: Modesty is restrictive.
What does “restrictive” mean anyway? If it means choosing to show restraint in my dress, my behaviour and my speech then maybe modesty is restrictive.
A restriction is a limit. Modesty is an outworking of limits — limits that say “this should be concealed”. What am I concealing? Not something I’m ashamed of — something that is good, a body created by God, a flesh and soul person made in the image of God. Something, however, that should not be seen by everyone.
The limit of how much of my body or my soul I reveal is for my safety and dignity and that of others. The limit, like a fence, isn’t about restriction, but freedom. Freedom to dress and walk and talk and laugh and be without fear of compromising the sacredness of a body created by God or the mystery of a soul made in the image of God.
Myth 4: Modesty is about hiding my body and concealing my personality.
Showing restraint in my dress requires that I hide bits of my body. Showing restraint in my behaviour and speech requires that I conceal bits of my personality. That, however, is only half the truth. By showing restraint in my dress, behaviour and speech I allow my heart to shine through.
If I wear a scanty outfit then I tell the world that, “This is what I am — a body!” If I behave and speak in a way that draws attention to myself then I tell the world that, “This is what it’s about — me!” When I wear modest, tasteful clothes that reflect my personality, I tell the world, “There’s more to me than meets the eye.” Talking and laughing loudly if God has given me a clear voice and a hearty laugh? That’s not the issue. And this isn’t about acting a part or being secretive and sly. Spilling the secrets of my soul indiscriminately or laughing provocatively is the issue. When I talk and laugh with discretion — with delicacy! — I tell the world, “There’s more to me than I’m sharing now and it’s precious.”
We don’t hide and conceal for the fun of it, but for the sake of protecting the sacredness of our bodies and the mystery of our souls.
Myth 5: Modesty is about rules.
Rules like “modest girls wear skirts”? No. That isn’t modesty; that’s legalism. Modesty requires a practical application. How low is too low? How short is too short? And how tight is too tight? What details do we want to share with whom? We all have to consider these issues. To think. To pray. To study the Bible. To seek the counsel of others who are wise. And then, having decided where the limit is for the protection of the sacredness of our bodies and the mystery of our souls, we have to consider, “Does this skirt, this pair of trousers, this top or this comment — does this break the limit?”
Sometimes we have to practice some restraint and say no. That’s hard when we know we’d look great in this outfit or people we don’t know well want us to share something personal! But do we want to look great and sound cool or do we want to be chaste and pure? How are we best going to reveal the grace of God in our lives?
Modesty, at heart, is about grace. The grace of God that saves us. That redeems us. That calls us His children. We have the privilege of representing Him to a broken and hurting world. We probably won’t do that best by dressing in an insensitive way that makes it hard for people to connect with us and realise that Christians are real people. We’ll do it by dressing and talking in a chaste and pure way that reflects the work of grace in our hearts.