Sunday, June 23, 2013

Modesty Schmodesty

Or, Why I’m Fed Up With the Bikini Question

This blog post has been percolating in my subconscious for several years, and the summer solstice brought it to the forefront. I’m not going to tackle “The Bikini Question” head-on, but rather examine some aspects of modesty that aren’t talked about as much. In many ways this is a letter to my younger self, who wondered and worried about this so much.

Presented in numerical form, since lists are one of my favourite things.

1) One-piece bathing suits are inherently more modest than bikinis
In this video, Jessica Rey talks about the evolution of the swimsuit, noting that its inception was a “bathing costume” of many layers that was accompanied by a small hut on wheels that allowed women to enter the water without being seen in their outfits. She goes on to say that “we have certainly come a long way since then, from practically wearing a house of 36 square feet, to wearing about 36 square inches of fabric.” (Math is hard.) So yes, a 36 square inch bikini would be pretty “itsy bitsy.” But just exactly how many square inches does a bathing suit have to be in order for it to be modest? I have seen many, many one-piece suits that are just as, if not more, immodest than a two-piece. So who decides how much coverage is enough? Do we need to have a panel of pastors rate each style on a scale of hell-bound to angelic?
Furthermore, I’m certain that there are men who are more attracted to a girl in a one-piece. I’m not talking about a “I am attracted to her dignity and self-respect” kind of thing, either. I mean they just think one-piece suits are visually and sexually more appealing. “But Emma,” the masses say, “this one-piece is covering up my extremely erotic belly button.” Sorry, ladies. The world is full of all kinds of people and they all have different desires.
And honestly, can we really say that any bathing suit is modest? Let’s go with the popular “bikinis are the same thing as underwear!! gasp” argument. Would you wear a leotard and a microskirt to church? I don’t really think so. But that’s the same amount of coverage that you’d get from what would probably be considered a modest swimsuit. Even if I wore a wetsuit from knees to neck to elbows, it would still reveal all my curves. I think it’s time to acknowledge the fact that virtually all bathing suits are immodest, regardless of what they’re called.

2) Modesty is a sacrifice that women make to protect men
Now hold on just one diddly darn minute. Rachel Clark talks about this topic here, and it makes me want to have a quiet talk with her. I am responsible only for my sin. If I wear a bikini despite clear convictions that they’re not for me, I am accountable for that sin. If a man lusts for my stellar bod (regardless of what I’m wearing), he is responsible for his sin. And like I said earlier, some men may be just as stumbled by a girl in a one-piece. There are even perverts and sexual deviants out there who think random stuff is super hot. If I believed that my clothing makes me responsible for the way men treat me, I would wear a burka and never leave the house. I think this train of thought is particularly distressing because it’s an easy step to justify sexual assault with “she was asking for it because she wore a revealing outfit.” I cannot say it enough: how a woman dresses does not make her culpable for someone else’s sin. The heart of modesty shouldn’t be about women doing men a favor – it should be about honouring God and proclaiming His gospel. That being said, we all are to help one another not to stumble. This applies to both genders in every part of life, not just modesty.

3) Angels and Demons
Women’s modesty understandably generates a lot of discussion, but therein lies a dangerous double-standard. Men are expected to lust. Women are not. I don’t want to get into comparisons about who struggles more; I want to suggest that men should consider their modesty, too. Many Christian girls are conditioned as early as the womb that physical lust is such an unnatural, heinous crime that they can barely even allude to it even under duress – but we still experience it. Brett Harris talks a little more about men’s side of modesty here.

4) Swimsuit-Shaming
Bathing suits, and modesty in general, are a really hot-button topic. It’s easy to get defensive of one position or the other. One side shouts, “Don’t be so old fashioned! Womyn can wear whatever they want and be proud of their bodies.” The other side insists, “Have some self-respect! You look like a French whore in that tiny thing.” (That was obviously a dramatic reenactment.) No matter what our convictions about modesty are, we all need to treat each other with understanding and love. So you’re a hardcore one-piece girl; that’s awesome, but it doesn’t automatically make you more virtuous than the girl across the pool in a bikini.

5) In Conclusion
I’m not even going to tell you whether I wear a bikini or a one-piece, because that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I honestly believe that the modesty difference between the two is marginal. What we must remember about modesty is that as Christians, we have direct access to the Holy Spirit. God convicts our hearts individually! Instead of turning modesty into a legalistic analysis of how many square inches an item is, we need to approach it with a spirit of humility and gentleness. Modesty is much more about our heart attitude than how awesome we look in something. 


Laura Katherine said...

Beautifully put, my dear.

Bethany W. said...

Thanks for this. It's so easy for me to be self-righteous about some of the clothing choices I make, defeating the whole pint of modesty in the first place. I appreciate your thoughts!