The Object of Modesty

(This article can also be found at

Starr Jones, one of the regular women on the show, said, “Oh, you mean a come-on for perverts?”

Thank you, Starr Jones.

In my work lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time addressing the too-seldom-addressed topic of modesty. Modesty, I have concluded, highlights the difference between abstinence and chastity. Abstinence — postponing sexual involvement in order to prevent pregnancy and diseases — seems to be catching on in many quarters of society. But abstinence stops there — at not having sex — without addressing related issues, like the way people dress. Technically, it doesn’t really matter what one is wearing (or not wearing) while not having sex.

But chastity is different. Chastity is an attitude of respect towards sex: a respect that is expressed in all facets of life, not just in the actual act of intercourse (or the act of abstaining from intercourse). The primary outward expression of chastity is modesty in dress; in dressing to show respect for the human body and for the gift of sexuality.

Now, my assumption is that most e3mil readers have a basic understanding of what modesty entails. Modesty means dressing so as not to call undue attention to the sexual parts of the body. It’s an invitation (and a demand, really) for others to see us as more than sexual objects. It’s an effort to call attention to ourselves as persons.

It’s generally accepted that women hold the lion’s share of the responsibility when it comes to dressing modestly. There’s a simple reason for this — men are more visually oriented than women, and thus more adversely affected by immodesty. However, there is another side of this equation which seems to be lost. The details of what constitutes modest dress can differ tremendously from era to era and culture to culture. Different men differ in their sensitivity. Some are sexually “affected” by dress that other men think nothing of. What is a more sensitive man to do? What is any man to do when faced with immodest dress? In the old days, it was called “custody of the eyes.” He is expected, out of respect for himself and the woman involved, to avert his gaze — physically and mentally. He is expected to regard this woman as a person created in the image and likeness of God, and to turn away from anything that might negate that in his mind. That is true whether the fault lies in her dress or merely in his mind.

I sometimes see another problem among good, conscientious Christians — a tendency to equate dressing modestly with dressing, for lack of a better word, dumpily. They seem to fear all attraction to the opposite sex. Some women seem to make a test out of requiring men to look past their deliberately slovenly appearance to find the “gold” of inner beauty disguised within.

Personally, I don’t think this is such a hot idea. The object of modesty is to elevate the dignity of the human person. It’s to demonstrate that we respect the human body as the seat of the soul, as a gift from God. We keep the sexual function of the body private out of respect; but I believe we also show respect for our bodies when we dress attractively.

God made us visual beings. We experience life through the physical. We experience other people through seeing them, hearing them, etc. Given that fact, we need to make that respect for ourselves visible on the physical plane. Looking our best is showing we respect ourselves. It is calling attention to the deeper beauty within. It’s the best defense, really, against the lust which would ignore that inner beauty for the sake of selfish satisfaction.

Basically, it all boils down to this. You were created in the image and likeness of God, with incredible dignity, so dress that way.

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