Modesty Myth #1: The modesty movement forbids the expression of feminine beauty [VIDEO]

RESPECTRespect is at the heart of God’s intention for sexual expression. Lean in while I unveil to you one of the best-kept secrets in the Bible: a single word. The Hebrew word for sex. The Old Testament uses the word yada for sex. It means “to know, to be known, to be deeply respected.”

God’s very definition of sex transcends the physical act and emphasizes emotional knowing and an exchange of respect. Respect of others, and even of ourselves, requires self-control. This is one, though not the only reason, that our sexual lives must be characterized by self-control.

Morality aside, sex thrives in an atmosphere of control and respect. A study referenced in Sex in America found those having both the hottest and most frequent sex were not college co-eds with a variety of sexual partners but middle-aged people who embraced mutual lifetime monogamy out of respect for themselves and their partners. Another study concluded having more partners in their lifetime actually predicted less sexual satisfaction for men. Sexual self-control makes sense for both moral and practical reasons. You wanna have a great sex life? It’s got to begin with self-control.

This self control begins with the delicate power of modesty.

For fifteen years, I have taught that the deepest sexual beauty of a woman is for just one man, as opposed to many. At times this has been taken out of context as if the purpose of her sexual beauty is to both attract and please a man. That is not true and I’ve never said it. But it gets implied when you pick and choose what you want to hear.

Today, I’d like to begin to set the record straight by clearing up four myths about modesty. We’ll tackle one per week for the next four weeks.

Myth #1: The modesty movement forbids the expression of feminine beauty.

I have two Barbies in my office. The American Barbie wears very little, making sure to show off her breast, belly and legs.

The other, a Muslim Barbie named Fulla, is dressed in a burqa. The only flesh you can see surrounds her eyes.

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These dolls create the same end result: a hyper-focused obsession on female sexuality. Both raise awareness of a woman’s sexual nature and reduce her to being a mere body.

In some Christian settings, women might as well wear burqas. In those settings where the female body is hidden in shame, men seem uncomfortable. I do not find this same sense of discomfort in environments where women demonstrate a healthy expression of their feminine beauty.

Last year I spent some time in the Dominican Republic where the Christian brothers and sisters kiss! Every time they greet each other, it’s with a kiss on the cheek. The first few times a pastor or other church leader moved in on me…well, I will tell you I was quite uncertain as to what to do? But then, I saw that the Christian culture of modesty wasn’t laced with repression of or hyperawareness of sexuality that we sometimes experience here in America. It was a natural, innocent, beautiful, and familial expression and something I wish we did experience in my own culture more comfortably.

A healthy message of modesty can allow—and in fact, encourage—women to celebrate their beauty. And if the men want to celebrate along with us…who am I to stop them? After all, FIVE TIMES in the New Testament Christians are told to “greet each other with a holy kiss.”

If you’ve been believing the lie that teaching modesty means we can’t have women who express their beauty, you have believed a lie. There is a much better truth to unravel.

TRUTH: We must teach women to celebrate their beauty while we teach them the self-control of modesty, enabling them to embrace self-respect free of hyper-focus on their bodies.

Do you think that we have a long way to go to achieve that in your Christian community?  What can we work on? How can I communicate this as a leader? How can you? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below. I’m giving away a free copy of my Cedarville University edition And the Bride Wore White to ten randomly selected people who leave comments below. Answer one of the questions above below to be entered to win. Winners selected Monday January 18th.

Interested in more intelligent faith conversations on the topics of love, guys, and God? I’m on tour in February. I hope you’ll come spend an evening with me and Copperlily. Learn more here.

More on Barbie and Fulla in this video below originally delivered at my alma mater Cedarville University.

Join me next week at this blog when we unravel the myth that teaching modesty promotes rape culture and is a form of misogyny.

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17 Comments

  • I love how you are teaching us that modesty isn’t just about our bodies. I do definitely believe that modesty is about respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting others, and showcasing our beauty without giving ourselves away to everyone around us. How can I communicate this to those around me? Well, I think that I could focus on complimenting people on their skills, positive character traits, and selfless actions instead of directing most of my comments to how beautiful they are. They need to know how much I value them for who they are as a person. They need to know that their fashion sense is not what makes us friends, even though we all like talking about clothes! Shifting my focus is another way that I can get this message across. The things that I talk about around others, the things I think about before I go out, and the activities that I chose to spend the most time on are ways that I can live this out in my own life. I must show people by example and get the strength and wisdom to be an example from Jesus, who is stronger and wiser than I will ever be.

  • This is right on–hyper focus on the female body make the conversation more out of whack. When we are legalistic about modesty, it makes even our little girls concerned about something they can’t even understand (or maybe make them understand it too soon)!

    a

  • I believe we can work on helping young women understand the boundaries of healthy expression. In our culture holding hands to walk or pray is as acceptable as a kiss on the cheek in the Dominican. But, also teaching them that some men may either be drawn to or prey upon them if their attire is alluring or revealing.

  • I do think we need to work on “modesty” in church and in our culture. Modesty does not mean the same to everyone, as you have also shown by your Barbie examples. I do believe being modest or viewing women modestly (having self control) are both the responsibility of the woman and the man. I would like to see women expose themselves much less and I’d like to see men not lust after women.
    Thankyou for sharing your article.

    • Have a post about the men coming up in another week or so! Heartily agree! We often inadvertently leave them off the hook. That’s nonsense.

  • Modesty has always been a controversial subject but seldom addressed in church with Scriptures to back it up. Great to see you discussing it!

  • The shock of going from a person with a body who could do things, cared for by many, to a person with with a body that was seen as a temptation to be ashamed of, was a terrible shock to me growing up. Thankfully, there were some father figures in my church who continued to see me as a person and did as your article talks about – celebrated my beauty, inside and out, without shaming me or seeing me as an object. That has made all the difference on my life, even today, at 30.

    • So sad that this was your experience. Forgive those men. And leaders. Glad you have had godly role models loving you appropriately through the way.

  • “What can we work on?”
    I’ve found that clothing is a major issue in dealing with modesty. It’s really hard to find appropriate clothing for girls once they get out of the Toddler/6X section of the stores. Retailers lump the 7 year old in with the 14 year old, the teenager in with the young adult. Skin tight, short in length, inappropriate logos or messages. All of these. When shopping for my two daughters, it literally takes hours of searching to find clothing that they like but that I also feel is appropriate for them and “modest”. I think we, as parents and as Christians, really need to push retailers to stop selling sexuality in clothing. When the length of shorts only slightly exceeds underwear, that’s a problem.

    • A few years ago, my ministry hosted a Shop Til You Drop event in which we partronized several retailers who we voted consistently sold age appropriate and tasteful clothes. We encouraged them with out dollars. A Positive campaign!

  • Did you mean… “If you’ve been believing the lie that teaching modesty means we can(*’t) have women who express their beauty, you have believed a lie.”?

    I believe beauty is best celebrated when a heart of humilty is present in a woman. Hand in hand, a woman with a heart of humility should practice self control because it honors herself, God and those around her. I believe in the context of discipleship relationships and women only events the topic of modesty and self-respect is more likely to be addressed than it is in a churchwide setting. We could work on making modesty a topic of discussion in the broader church community discussed with both genders. Panel discussions, series topics and testimonies are some ways to open up the topic of modesty churchwide.

    • Great thoughts. Yes, we should talk more. Thanks, Areisa. I did make that edit. Thanks for catching that. Oh, the power of one letter!

  • I’ve never thought about it but it’s true. Purposely trying to completely cover yourself draws just as much attention. I’ve never seen modesty viewed this way. Thank you!

  • I believe there are a lot of broken Christian women out there. Broken women period. With Christ not being the center of their lives for such a long period of time throughout their childhood, young adult & middle aged life, the healing & change from their “normal” lifestyle to a modest lifestyle will take time. The more one reads the word of God & conforms to a modest lifestyle, one continually grows to love herself more & respect herself more, becoming more modest & sharing the gospel. This has been a personal experience for me. I thank you for your ministry, Dannah. You have been a blessing for me to grow & learn from. I truly enjoy following you!

  • What a great article to read, it really resonated with me. There are just so many highly sexual images of near-naked bodies in magazines, advertising, etc. It is a trend that women are posting highly sexualized images of themselves on Facebook and Instagram, as a way to get male attention. And these images are ofter described as “female empowerment.”

    It is so refreshing to read an article that describes modesty meaning self-respect and self-control, as a way to celebrate our unique beauty. Its like a small voice of truth in a crowd of noise.

    (I just stumbled across this website today after hearing a podcast with you – really enjoyed reading the articles and topics!)

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