A Modest Proposal For My Critics

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FtWayneIn the past thirty days, CBS has issued a modesty code for celebs attending the Grammy’s while Christian websites and blogs have decried the modesty movement. Has the world been turned upside down?

I encourage you to look at this very graphic visual showcase of just what caused CBS to become so “conservative.” If a picture paints a thousand words, these five might paint a few million! The Daily News’ pictures of Lil’ Kim, Pink, J-Lo, and Toni Braxton are all the reason we need to speak of modesty to our daughters. (In an ironic twist, Lady Gaga is the most modest of them all in this photo review of breasts, bellies, and buttocks.)

Meanwhile, some Christians are saying out loud that the modesty movement might be harmful to women. I’m reading what they have written and seeking God’s heart so that I can learn from them.

In fact, I’m even fine-tuning the language at my Secret Keeper Girl website to reflect some thoughts in their critique. (I so appreciate the good thinking of writer’s like Jonathan Merritt who walks the fine line of embracing truth and demanding grace. He is posing questions, not casting undue and untruthful criticism.)

My heart is aching at some of the things I’m reading from other writers: “Dannah Gresh’s “Secret Keepers” is teaching girls to hate & be ashamed of their bodies. Absolutely deplorable, esp under the ‘good xian’ guise.”

Since my name keeps popping up, may I speak in to this?

Here is where I can agree with my detractors.

Some Modesty Advocates Are Legalists Who Objectify Women!

So many times when the Church addresses modesty, it’s from a heart of rule-based living. “Your skirt should be two inches below the knee.” “Your shorts need to come to the tips of your fingers.” “A Christian woman should never wear pants.” Others can choose to dress like that, but they cannot make it a mandate for me. Making these Biblical mandates and overly obsessing about the female body is both objectifying and shame-based. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a healthy conversation about what’s appropriate for public showcasing of our beauty. Failure to do so places our daughters in the risky position of experiencing the consequences of  expressing their beauty through their sensuality. According to a task force report by the American Psychological Association, the hyper-sexualization of little girls by making them grow up too fast and expressing themselves through more sensual fashion increases the risk of eating disorders, depression and body image issues. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health has determined that girls (and boys) who “look older than they are” are at risk of an earlier sexual debut. How does a girl look older? By the way that she dresses and the make-up she wears. Years ago, something in my fashion-loving self just knew that I needed to be a woman who sounded the alarm to say: “Let’s let little girls be little girls!”

Most Modesty and Purity Advocates Have Inadvertently Made These Virtues About Getting The Boy!

For many years, the shallow end of the purity and modesty movement has offered the false promise of a guy in exchange for her purity ring or modest attire. How sad I am for that! Without even realizing it we have convinced girls they can make a deal with God: a turtle neck now and a wedding ring later. Modesty is not something you use to bargain with God or hide the female body. Here’s where I can agree with the critique of Sharon Hodde Miller:

  • …language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body… When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty.

The purpose of the body is to glorify God. Do we do that when we embrace the “skin-is-in” fashion that puts our daughter’s at risk? Good critiques like Miller’s and Merritt’s have been shaping and forming the way I have been communicating my messages about modesty and purity. Accountability through kind dialogue is always welcome! The modesty and purity movement must be careful not to unintentionally send a message that purity and modesty are about saving yourself for a man. The purpose of these messages is to protect and respect yourself, and—ultimately—to obey and glorify God.

When Christianity Today’s her•menuetics columnist Elrena Evans posted about me and my efforts to teach modesty, she wrote:

“…the underlying assumption the Secret Keepers seem to endorse is that the female body, if not bad, is at least overwhelmingly tempting and tantalizing: something that must be covered, hidden, and locked away.

The goal of Secret Keeper Girl is for a little girl to believe that she is a masterpiece created by God. For that reason, I’m going to take even her critique to heart as I write content that is careful not to express otherwise. She did find some areas where I can improve. But with all due respect, the female body is tempting and tantalizing. God created women to be especially beautiful.

Why do they use women’s faces to sell men’s razors? Why was the Grammy awards modest standards focused on female body parts? Why don’t men wear belly shirts (Forgive us, God, for the eighties!)? Because female beauty is a powerful force. Advertising gurus have discovered that if you put the photo of a woman in an ad, you can increase the length of time someone spends looking at it by as much as 30%! It doesn’t quite work that way when you use a photo of a man. Proverbs 5:18,19 reads “May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you be ever intoxicated by her love.” That’s a steamy verse. A more literal version of the last phrase might be, “may you be intoxicated by her sexuality.” The female body is powerfully tempting and tantalizing and in the context of marriage this is a wonderful thing, but this is not the core message of Secret Keeper Girl. Our underlying message is that a girl is a masterpiece created by God.  Still, we do not throw out pieces of God’s truth when we talk about a woman’s body or beauty. And the fact that her body is intoxicating is definitely a part of His truth. We do our best to present that in an age appropriate way and over 40,000 moms loved how we did it at our live events last year alone.

Should a girl’s beauty be locked away?  Scriptures don’t directly address modesty all that much. There are four verses that give us specific advice and they don’t tell us if jeans are OK or how low our neckline can plunge. So we are left to surmise and come to our own conclusions about how much skin is too much. And that is why debate is good, but please be careful in how you present your opinions or you lead people to believe that the good work of some of us…well, isn’t good.

So here is my modest proposal for you: when you’re tempted to take things out of context and lead others to believe the worst, try thinking the best as I will choose to think of you.

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