Think Before Wearing: My Personal Principles for Dressing Well8:00 AM
The modesty discussion needs to be reordered around this central issue: respect for a woman’s body as an intrinsic part of who she is and what it means to reflect God’s image.
With all this clamor to cover up and how tight is too tight, I think women feel shame for their bodies—shame that their bodies seems to automatically trigger disrespectful thoughts in men, shame that their nakedness and beauty is seen primarily as sexual. There’s shame for uncovering too much and shame for covering it up. Sometimes it seems that a woman cannot dress without someone criticizing her for wronging a man—those nice jeans will cause a stranger to stumble, those looser jeans will disappoint her husband who wants an attractive wife.
What men think and how other people react form the central hub of modesty conversations.
Let’s step away from that.
God gave women bodies in a perfect union of body and soul in the perfect creation of woman for the perfect human reflection of what it means to be God. A woman’s body is not just for bearing children or attracting and pleasuring a husband. A woman’s body is a part of who she is—a part of being human, a part of being an image-bearer. Her bodily beauty has value. Her body itself has value. It houses a woman’s soul, it enables her to love others, to serve God, to worship, to live.
And that is not shameful.
|Favorite spring dress. Not a size 8.|
The origin and the purpose of women’s bodies is beautiful and God-given. It means women’s bodies are not to be seen as primarily sexual. A woman’s body should be celebrated and respected as a woman ought to be celebrated and respected—by both herself and by others around her, including men who struggle with lust.
For some people, this principle gets twisted into hiding a woman’s body—hiding her curves, her legs, her breasts, her nakedness. This principle stems from seeing a woman’s body as primarily sexual. It replaces her body’s shape with cultural stereotypes: to be a woman, wear a skirt. That’s how you’ll identify her: not by her creation as a woman, but by her conformity to cultural womanhood.
That attitude is wrong. (There’s nothing wrong with wearing skirts or enjoying a particular culture’s feminine fashion. I like pink twirly skirts.)
For other people, they think a woman ought to bare all and enjoy her sexual power expressed through her body. That’s just the same wrong on the opposite end of the spectrum—not even the woman herself ought to view her body as a sexual engine.
Both the purity culture in conservative Christian circles and the counterattack to it often fall into viewing a woman’s body as sexual.
Let’s stop that view with the right attitude—a respectful celebration of women’s unique bodies.
I saw a photo series where a photographer took photos of her post-childbirth body. She posed in the nude, covering her private areas. It was one of the most beautiful series I’ve seen honoring a woman’s body and particularly how a woman’s body can mother well. It wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t disrespectful, it wasn’t tasteless. In her nude photographs, she captured more for me of what it means to celebrate and respect a woman’s body than many women in their ankle-length skirts striving to be modest.
But that’s art, not real life. I’m not going to be running around naked. Here’s how I apply this principle of respectfully celebrating my particular womanly body in everyday wear.
|Another cute dress...that I lost.|
2. Clothes were made for the body—not the other way around. The primary purpose of clothes is to be functional and comfortable. God invented clothes, actually—He invented them to hide the shame of nakedness that Adam and Eve felt about their bodies. And they were also necessary for blocking out UV rays and protecting them from the thorns and thistles that came with the curse. If a certain article of clothing impedes my hobbies, work, or everyday life, I ditch it. I’m not going to wear a skirt while working out (I’ve totally done that, though). I’m not going to wear high heels on the beach. I’m not going to wear long sleeves while weeding a summer garden when I’m sweating and in need of a tan—I’m going to throw on some shorts and a tank top...and then make myself some lemonade.
|I can drive sisters in this outfit. Check!|
5. Dress appropriate to the situation. After my general guidelines about keeping private parts covered, appropriateness is situational. It’s important for me to be sensitive to cultural norms and others’ expectations. I’ll wear sweatpants and workout leggings up the hill to eat after a trip to the gym with no qualms—it’s a college campus, the cafeteria is the equivalent of my dining room, and nobody bats an eye about it. (Well, it might cause a stir: Bailey’s athletic?) For class, meetings, and work, I dress up—or at least leave the lounge clothes at home. I love dressing up, so I’m ever only dressing down when I’m sick or cold, or rolled out of bed too late to throw together an outfit. In workout, dance, swimming, or formal wear situations, I’m fine showing more skin and wearing tighter clothing, just because those are culturally acceptable situations to do so. There’s tacit agreement between audience and dancers that the body becomes part of the art form in dance. It’s safer and easier to dance in skin-tight clothes. I’m fine with that within the dancing-world context. For the same reasons, I’ll be wearing a strapless bridesmaid dress for my best friend’s upcoming wedding. I hate strapless anything, generally, and find them out-of-place outside of formal situations.
|Favorite formal dress -- a hand-me-down from my boyfriend's mom! Aaaand chocolate strawberries are awesome.|
|Jesus accepts my worship even when I'm in jeans.|
And those are my personal principles for dressing well. Emphasis on personal.