Modesty Blaise: a guy's reflections on modesty*

On Feb 8, 2012, the 21y.o. model Kylie Bisutti announced her decision to leave Victoria's Secret because she was a Christian. She wanted to be modest, to be a good role model to young women as well as to honour both her husband and God. She saw that her role as a lingerie model was conflicting with that. Her decision has had a mixed reaction. (For more info, click here)

Jenny 60s (15)v1Modesty has some bad rap

 As I [Mrbonchapeau] was researching this topic, it became apparent that not many people have written on the topic of physical modesty in a positive light. Modesty, for many, has a legalistic, prudish, Victorian sound to it. It’s entirely possible that women haven’t had much of a say in what they wear for a lot of history and various social norms have been imposed on them. Those who wanted to show more skin may well have been perceived as unvirtuous and provocative.

Also, female modesty has been thought of by many in restrictive, physical terms such of inches of fabric and amount of skin showing, rather than an attitude of being unshowy, non-flirtatious and humble. It seems to us [Mrbonchapeau and his sister, Craftiegirl ] that women who desire to be humble will in both manner and dress be distinctly different our Western culture of ‘flaunting what you got’. 

By placing the right emphasis on a modest attitude in this discussion of physical modesty, hopefully it will be clear that the effort of women and men to be modest is a very positive thing. Modesty rocks.

In this post, I’d like to emphasize the attitude element to modesty and also talk practical.

Some modest comments

Some disclaimers before I start on the biblical basis for dressing modestly:

  • This post is primarily written for Christian women, and so some of the logic I use might be foreign to you. I hope you find it thought-provoking regardless of where you come from. 
  • Suggestions I offer are suggestions, not rules.
  • I’m a guy.
  • I'm concerned about the downgrading sexualisation of  women and would like to encourage women to proactively resist that cultural tide.
  • I think what is appropriately modest varies from culture to culture. However, ‘accepted styles’ of dress in a given culture can still be unhelpful, so it’s worth asking questions.
  • Physical modesty is subjective. 
  • Grace is paramount. 
  • Beware of looking down on others of inferior dress-sense. 
  • Be kind in giving advice to other women about dressing more appropriately. Ask God’s help in how to word it!
  • Women strongly influence men in how they dress, but men are still fully responsible for their own sexual lust. 
  • I think man-to-man accountability, regular prayer to a life-changing God and sensible practical measures are vital factors for change from male lust to genuine, self-sacrificial love for their complementary gender.

Motivated to be Modest

The Bible teaches that God made us sexual beings, and that by no accident. In fact, in the Bible we see a celebration of male and female sexuality. Notably, the Bible clearly states that sex is 
specially reserved for an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman: marriage. Why am I now talking about sex when the topic is modesty? 

The problem is that we live in an imperfect world where males and females do not think and act in a sexually appropriate manner, that is, they don’t think and act according to God’s design. We must be sensible of this. Modesty is key to expressing our sexuality properly and wisely. 

It is good for women to be modest physically because of at least 3 reasons. Firstly, men are helped by modest women to see women for more than just sexual objects and start to consider their feelings and character. By dressing modestly, women are saying, non-verbally, 'I'm not easy game.’ Guys tend to realise that, to get the girl, they themselves need to start growing up, caring for others, rather than getting their distorted desires met ever so easily.

Secondly, physical modesty as previously mentioned is an extension of an attitude of humility and not attention-seeking (1 Peter 3, check verses 3-6). I can guarantee you that if you dress more provocatively than everyone at a ball, you will most certainly get lots of attention. But do you really want people perving on you? Personally, I wouldn’t wish that for anyone. When a woman deliberately wears the most provocative hot short shorts she can find, she is relying on people’s attention for her self-worth, rather than founding her I.D. on what God thinks of her. The attention that she is craving is actually negative and hurtful. You’d be crazy to want it. For the Christian woman, life is not primarily about herself. Living life ‘to the max’ is about living so that the limelight is on God the father and his son Jesus, rather than on herself (Timothy 2, check out verses 9 and 10. In this passage, Paul writes to Timothy about how churches should function, and in the historical context of 1st century Ephesus, it is likely that Paul was referring to women who were dressing as high class prostitutes at church). Dressing to impress isn't actually a good thing, but dressing well is; our attitude affects what image we portray to those around us.

Thirdly, and this is a new idea for mrbonchapeau, physical modesty can be thought of as an allegory of how God clothes us in his righteousness, when we are ashamed and naked ( Genesis 3, check verse 21). He covers our shame and inadequacy, treats us as family though we don’t deserve it and gives us a ‘rightness’ in his eyes that we could never muster ourselves. And so dressing well is an intially counter-intuitive but very real implication of God’s grace to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For a superb, in-depth article on this last point, click here. Modesty rocks.

What’s modest and what’s not?

Sadly, even if you don’t deliberately dress provocatively these days in Western culture, the clothing range available to discerning women is not an easy one. Imagine: one day, you decide to visit your local Myer store. You begin looking at each Women's Clothing section and checking out all the clothes racks for bargains. And you realise, shocked, that nothing fits you properly! And it can get to a point where you buy and start wearing an article cos everyone else is, even though in the back of your mind you wonder whether it's a good choice. Indeed, the pressure to conform and wear the type of clothes that the girl-next-door is wearing is very strong. Furthermore, clothing manufacturers well know that if they can make provocative clothing that pushes boundaries then it will be a seller, as girls discover when they wear these pieces, guys take notice. But I promise you, you don't want this type of attention.

Guys also take notice when women are well-dressed. But the type of attention is most likely different; their attention is often that of admiration rather than lust. Also worth noting, the type of guys it often attracts is different too... What follows is Mrbonchapeau’s attempt to explain some of the elements he considers deal breakers in dressing well, plus suggestions (with Craftiegirl’s help) on some alternatives to the current clothing trends.

A Spoiler and a Plan

If you hadn’t figured this out already, then here's the spoiler: guys are visual. They notice girls! Guys notice their curves, their hairstyles (well, some guys anyway!) and most definitely their sense of physical modesty. I’ve read that if a provocative woman walks into a room filled with men and women in conversation, within the next 2 minutes all the guys will have noted her presence. Guys notice exposed bra straps, exposed lingerie, attention-grabbing leggings, body-hugging skirts, unbuttoned blouses, deep V-necks and bare midriffs. 

To explain this a bit more, I’m going to use four categories: imagination, connotation, exposure and direction. Hopefully these categories will help you navigate the pitfalls of the modern clothing store for the sake of helping your male counterparts.

1. Imagination

Have you ever heard the phrases “I’ll leave it up to your imagination what they did” or “she didn’t leave much to the imagination”? Imagination is a powerful part of our mental faculties and is of great relevance when it comes to how we dress. Guys imaginations are incredibly active throughout their lives but sadly are poorly used by many. When a typical Aussie guy 
(even the decent guys) sees a ‘hot’ girl in a bikini at beach, he will most likely have trouble keeping his thoughts in check. 

After all, she’s already halfway there with only undies on. When girls wear boob tubes in the summer to get a nice shoulder tan, guys see the girls' boobs (hence the name) through the conveniently form-fitting piece and it can be a real challenge for respectful guys to look away from their boob tube and actually have a convo! For some guys, they actually have to leave the situation to avoid lust. Boob tubes are just one example of how the tightness of an article of clothing is as important as how much skin is exposed. Sadly for guys, many girls don’t leave much to the imagination during summer. Modesty rocks.

2. Connotation

A connotation is an indirect or implied mean from a symbol, such as loud mufflers or huge spoilers on a guy's souped-up car to give the impression of ‘masculinity’. When it comes to how women dress, there are connotations which guys pick up super quickly. 
  • Shorts with phrases like ‘naughty’, ‘cute’ or ‘princess’  on the butt give guys the idea that you are ‘sexually available’.
  • Exposed bra/bikini underwear straps are generally unhelpful for guys' imaginations as well.

I’m not saying that guys always follow these lines of thought to their end, nor am I justifying guys letting their imagination run wild, but I just want women out there to be aware of the kind of messages they are sending to about 50% of the population. Please help guys by hiding your bra straps and consider avoiding shorts with slogans on the rear and leopard print. Modesty rocks.

3. Exposure 

On July 5, 1946, Louis Réard, a French engineer, released what he proclaimed was "smaller than the world's smallest swimsuit." It was none other than the Bikini. Disturbingly, back then no supermodel was willing to wear it due to its shock factor, so Réard paid Micheline Bernardini, a Parisian nude dancer, to model it. Yes, that’s the embarrassing western history of the modern-day bikini, yet nowadays the bikini is an almost universally acceptable and standard form of swimwear. History can teach us something if we are willing to listen.

Also, the popular spaghetti top exposes a female’s shoulders, arms, neckline and depending on the style, some cleavage too. Granted, there is a range of styles and some are indeed more covering than others. The mini-skirt and mini-short present the same type of problem: ample eye candy. All 3 types of clothing--bikinis, spaghetti tops and mini-skirts/shorts -- they all fail to perform the function of clothes: to cover up appropriately. 

I would recommend women aim to keep 100% of their cleavage covered and when wearing shorts, aim for knee length.  When it comes to amount of exposure, a great question to ask is 'How modest could I be?', rather than 'I wonder what I can get away with?' Modesty rocks.

4. Direction
In the women’s clothing show ‘What Not to Wear’ , hostesses Stacy London and Clinton Kelly give advice to women about, you guessed it, what not to wear. Although I haven’t watched much of the show, I want to say beware. Often an underlying assumption of women's clothing ads and shows is that 'if you've got it, flaunt it' and modesty isn't a high priority. One of the concepts that London and Kelly are well aware of is ‘direction’. Direction is a simple idea: you draw a viewer’s attention to your assets and draw their attention away from less flattering parts, at least in What Not to Wear’s book. 

Where direction can be misused is where you over-accentuate, or overly draw attention to, the legs, buttocks, torso or bust. For example, the problem with deep cut V-neck tops is that it directs guys toward your cleavage. But using 'direction' in a positive way is a challenging but achievable goal, and we’ll now start discussing how each of these four points can be addressed in a stylish and wise manner.

Actions speak louder than words

There's actually another component of the 'direction' principle which is hard to talk about (as if the rest of this blog wasn't). It's what we do in public. Please take what I'm about it say in an understanding rather than disgusted way-- I realise it might be a bit shocking. 

Here are some examples of some of the things women do in public that are often unhelpful for guys:

  • When ladies adjust their bra/ bra straps in public, especially by reaching under their otherwise modest top to do so. I know it sounds a bit excessive, but going off to a private place to adjust it might be an idea.
  • When bending over, like the lady above in a red spaghetti top. It is a very troubling temptation for guys, giving them a undesired eyeful. A simple way to avoid this, is to cover the upper edge of your top, holding it up while bending. Also, bending at the knees is always good, even from a 'occupational, health and safety' standpoint! (cue kooky aerobic class music from 80's "Bend at the knees")
  • Stretching back while seated can also be a bad idea, as it often leaves little for the imagination around the chest.

Please don't get too upset if you've been saying 'YES' to all the things I've been saying 'NO' about! I would imagine my opinion is different to yours. And take what I've written with a pinch of salt. It's just my opinion. Most importantly, remember it's in the context of God's grace. The onus is on the guys to guard their minds under God, but it is a gracious and proper thing to help one another to resist sin. And now... (drum roll)... there is positive stuff yet to come. :) Enjoy.

Some Modest Suggestions

There seems to be a growing trend of innovative women who are displeased with the sexually revealing clothing that seems to be all but pervasive, and so they have started their own clothing outlets in response. This is an encouraging trend and should give hope to the women out there who are losing hope in finding appropriate garments. Stores like: Beautiful One, SensiblyStyled, (a collection of store links) are highly recommended. Not sure about Rey Swimwear, but worth a look. Also recommended is checking out vintage clothing stores.

Being Creative, having Fun and using Savvy

If a top doesn’t cover your stomach, why not use a ‘fabric belt’ aka ‘material belt’ or alternatively wear high rise jeans? They may not be in fashion, 
but I greatly admire trend setters who go against the mold.

If you have mini-shorts or mini-skirts but you want to still keep them after reading this, perhaps they’re still wearable, provided you wear dark, thick hosiery to avoid drawing undue attention to the legs. Be careful of this one, though, as it can be a big problem for your guy friends. 

Multi-layering is also really cool. It has great scope for creativity and accessorising. For example, if you have a spaghetti top, why not wear a light cardigan/shoulder warmer/scarf/ thin long-sleeve (underneath) or princess seams shirt with it?

Finally there's nothing like buying your correct size. It may sound obvious, but it's only sensible!

One for the guys

Woah, there. We haven't finished yet. If you're a guy reading this and you think that dressing modestly is only a issue for females, think again! Things I reckon we blokes need to rethink:   budgie smugglers, low revealing singlets and going shirtless at the beach. 
The ladies don't need to see our supernaturally buff, washboard stomachs! It's also what we guys do. Guys, let's just be a bit conscientious of what body parts of ours we're touching in public.

Let's wrap up

These are guidelines not rules. After all, the Bible leaves choosing what clothing articles we wear up to us and offers general principles. If you are a Christian woman, please pray for wisdom about how to dress. Please pray for your Christian brothers that God would grow them from selfish boys to unselfish men.
Asking God for a humble attitude is integral to being modest (1 Peter 3:3-6). You could be the most physically modest person in your city but have a seductive attitude which would make a joke of your prime and proper attire. So please note our emphasis.
Ladies and gents, thanks for listening and stick at your efforts to be different in the way you dress. 



Anonymous said...

Sorry, I disagree completely. Should girls always toture their minds about what kind of weired thoughts others may have? Nonsense! Should they all around the clock be afraid they might have bothered anyones feelings? Stupid! This is the safest way to go crazy. Thank God most of the girls just feel free and don´t bother about the stupid and weired feelings of others because that´s really not their problem. It is only the problem of the weired men´s curled up minds. But not their responsibility. So just keep calm and let them be as they like to be!

Mrbonchapeau said...

Hmmm, interesting response and I appreciate your honesty. I realise that what I'm writing won't be easy to take for women and there is a risk that a lady could be paralysed with worry about what's appropriate and what's not, which would be a sad outcome. Please again note my emphasis on the guy's responsibility to be pure in thought. However I am convinced that if women know they drive guys crazy with how they walk, talk and dress and don't do anything about it, then the women are culpable too in God's eyes. I agree with you that it's sad and stupid that our world is filled with people that have corrupt thoughts. The Bible is dead serious about this and says that God will hold everyone in the world accountable for their actions, thoughts and words. Thank God for his generosity in Jesus, so that Jesus takes our penalty rather than us! The right response to God's grace is acceptance of that gift and obedience to his better ways than our own.

Another reflection: So you think that women should be blaise about how men are visually stimulated? One way of seeing it from a different perspective is this: if guys know that they hurt women with their non-commitment in relationships and broken promises, maybe they should just 'feel free and don´t bother about the stupid and weird feelings of others because that´s really not their problem'? Do you see how dangerous it is to say 'do whatever'? I sure hope you'd agree with me that guys who are players are not behaving appropriately. Why is this not then true for women,too?

Please note also that I'm still in editing process of this post, so it's not necessarily well worded. Thanks again for commenting!

Emily said...

Great musings!

1) I think it is so important to put effort in to educate ladies on the genetic/natural make up of men.. this is something I have been totally ignorant on.. but am slowly understanding. We have such an important role to play in keeping our brothers pure & accountable. I think more could be done to help females understand.
I think one reason is because men are not good at talking honestly with many ppl. This means, secondly that there is a gross ignorance which causes a massive stigma within Christian circles between brothers & sisters in Christ. How can we realise th enormity of modesty when no part of our mind realises th in-built struggle of men?

2) I agree modesty is primarily a heart attitude!! I think changes come as you focus on ur relationship w God & get validation from Him. It is very in built in females to be desired.. it took me a while to realise wat ppl meant by unwanted attn.. and that that sort of attn is degrading & not healthy. If girls don't have a male role model in their lives, that has taught them th value of attn because of virtue..this idea can seem absurd. I think it is equally important for brothers to uplift and encourage their sisters and notice Godly characteristics in them.. if not, its no wonder they feel th need to exploit their physical bodies in a way that WILL attract men.

3) I realise that th idea behind 'modesty is hot' - is appealing somewhat to th girl that wants to be physically affirmed.. but I kinda feel th whole point is that modesty is beautiful.. not associated w meat :). We long to be loved and desired and treasured for who we are. I just feel that hot has associations to *fling and *superficial beauty.

anyway, I enjoyed reading & think its deffinatly a topic that needs more attn. I think u r brave for approaching th topic as a man in our feminist valued world! :)
cheers, sister in Christ! Em
p.s. thanks for th reminder :)

Anonymous said...

I have only read half this post so far. but these are comments so far.

I think that Guy's could also wear a shirt i.e. with bathers or at other times, I find it awkward when they don't have a top on.

I personally dress like "I don't want to show... and when shopping I make sure of that, before I buy it. but at the same time I want to buy something that looks nice.
I find finding modest clothes a lot more difficult to buy during summer and layering gets to hot to wear.
I always end up wearing a top under the top I wan't to wear, Just because unfortunately it was made to show more than what I wan't to show.

I wish designers would make some nice, modest clothes for everyone, not just "the Parents" As I want to wear clothes that where not made for my age group, look my age, but still be modest. This is is so hard to find in the shops.

Thanks for posting and writing this post on Modesty :) I look forward to reading more when I have time.

Mrbonchapeau said...

Hi Em and Anon -- thanks heaps for your feedback. Anon, I sympathise with the challenge of finding suitable clothes -- it's really hard during summer! Thanks for your feedback, Em, about usage of the word 'hot'. I intended it in 'desirable, preferred' sense and obviously redefining what is 'hot' in our culture, so I had hoped that the negative connotation of 'hot' would be minimised. Do you think it could be a problematic phrase?

Cheers, Mrbonchapeau

Faye Medina said...

This is very interesting! It is quite interesting to read a guy's perspective on modesty. I have a lot of Christian guy friends who have been great reminders of this unpopular way to worship God - through modesty! Indeed, there's no limit in worshipping Him! This also reminds me of Romans 6 which says that we should offer every part of our bodies to the Lord! And dressing up, if done for mere vanity, is a mark of how much you limit how you serve God.

You might wanna check out my thoughts on modesty in my blog! :)

Mrbonchapeau said...

Hey Faye, cheers for your comment- nice blog you've got going yourself ;)

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