You don’t have to scroll very long on social media to come across an article on modesty. They tend to range from one extreme of “Cover up! It’s all your fault if a man lusts!” to the other extreme of “Girl power! Wear whatever you want, you’re not responsible for a man’s thoughts!”.
Personally, I’ve understood and related to both sides of the argument at various points in my life.
I remember the “one piece or T-shirts” rule in youth group when it came to summer camp. I also remember the insecurity I felt when I was a young newlywed driving past the Hooters billboards with my husband. And I remember sharing a fitness progress pic on social media and a church member asking me to take it down because it wasn’t appropriate for a group leader.
There’s so many opinions, and I get them all.
But I realized something recently that gave me a brand new perspective—and it has to do with tidal waves.
You know what I mean. That feeling that comes when you’re standing in front of the mirror, trying to squeeze into your skinny jeans. Or when you’re eating chips and watching TV and a commercial comes on featuring models who probably haven’t eaten a chip a day in their life. Or when that lady at church asks when your non-existent baby is due. Or when your husband didn’t notice your new lingerie.
It hits hard—a tidal wave of body shame, guilt, regret, and hopelessness. A seemingly inescapable tsunami of the worst emotions possible, washing over you all at once, drowning you in depression, anxiety and desperation.
The tidal wave is bad enough, but the worst part is typically what we do when the wave recedes. When the deep waters of insecurity and defeat retract, we’re left standing coated in a lot of grit.
And as women, there’s a variety of ways to wash it off. Sometimes that means stuffing our hand back into the bag of chips. Sometimes that means torturing ourselves with an hour of cardio. Or sometimes it means a shopping spree. When we feel insecure and less-than, we will try to seek validation in any form within reach.
We’re wired that way and we know it. So the best means of offense is to wash ourselves in pure water. Instead of going to food or the mall as means of washing off the grime, we must plan ahead of time to go to the Word. To worship music. To godly friends who will build us up.
Having a plan in place serves as a guardrail from additional pain. Because with the other methods, the consequences bring new waves. Like numbers inching up on the scale or our savings account dwindling into the red or our hearts breaking from seeking out misplaced affection.
I’ve known this wisdom, but I often struggle to put it into practice. When my heart aches, I want to shut it up. Sometimes that means chocolate, sometimes that means extra hours at the gym, and sometimes that means new shoes. I’ve done it all—and so have you.
But let’s get honest. More often than not, it means seeking out male affirmation.
When I was single, especially post-divorce, this was my go-to. If I could get a double-take or a wink, I’d be okay again. A little bit of that insecurity would wash off with every flirty text from a guy friend. The lie of “you’re not enough” would quiet with every “like” on social media.
Now that I’m re-married, I see it differently. I see the way my husband makes effort to stay pure by setting up guardrails so he’s protected emotionally and visually. That means everything from setting filters on his phone to finding male accountability partners to completely avoiding popular TV shows. He makes those efforts because it glorifies God, but also because it honors me, his wife.
When I was struggling a while back with a particularly fresh tidal wave, I found myself seeking out that second glance again. I wanted to feel attractive and validated because of the lies and negative self-image attacking daily. I wanted a reprieve, and in my pain, I was defaulting to my old methods instead of defaulting to the Lord.
Until my husband told me about a morning when he was at the gym and a suggestive woman walked by. His reaction? He literally closed his eyes (while jogging on a moving treadmill!) so he wouldn’t do a double take.
It was an “aha” moment for me, because I’d never considered it from that angle. When I strut around, looking for affirmation for my wounds, I’m more often than not tempting a married or committed man. While I’m trying to feel better by gaining a second glance, I’m creating the exact feeling of insecurity that I’m trying to rid myself of inside another woman.
My husband works hard to stay pure. I’d never want another woman to intentionally lead him astray. What a betrayal against our fellow sisters when we do the same thing!
You might feel better after posting a sexy selfie on Instagram when you’re rejected or having a “fat day” and watching those “likes” stack up. But at what cost? What are you doing to your fellow woman and her marriage/relationship?
Next time you’re in front of the mirror, debating whether your dress is too short or your bathing suit too revealing or your neckline too low, don’t get caught up in the unanswerable questions of deciding if modesty is fully your responsibility or if a man’s lust is your fault or if girl power rules after all.
Instead, get specific. Ask yourself if you’d want another woman wearing that in front of your husband or boyfriend. Look for the motivation of your heart in wearing that particular outfit. Is it to fix an ache, or are you wearing it because you feel pretty and like the colors? Is it to look suggestive and get attention, or because it’s comfortable and flattering?
Face it. Some men will struggle with lust whether a woman is wearing a string bikini or is fully covered in a pant-suit. The point isn’t taking responsibility for another person’s sin—it’s in not creating more sin within your own.
Because when we seek affirmation and validation from a source outside of the Lord, it’s empty, pointless and yes—sinful.
The cultural modesty debate will continue, and you’ll likely find yourself leaning toward one side of the fence or the other at different times. Our responsibility as women is to navigate this as purely as possible within ourselves, and that means putting our sisters in Christ first. Philippians 2:3 (ESV) “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
This doesn’t mean we wear shapeless sweatshirts and never don a bathing suit or post a selfie on a good hair day. It simply means we frequently self-check our heart, stick close to the Lord, and learn to hear His whispers of truth and beauty over the lies of the enemy.