Before I talk about “sexy”, I want to first talk about modesty. I recognize that to do so is about as dangerous as walking out onto thin ice around here. (Do you hate me already?)
I believe that the essence of modesty can be found in this old quote by Frederick L. Collins:
There are two kinds of people in this world:
Those who walk into a room and say,
“Well, here I am!”
and those who come in and say,
“Ah, there you are!”
Can we take the discussion about modesty away from rules and requirements? Can we instead remember the root meaning of the word itself and recognize modesty as a character trait, not as a style of clothing.
What about the athletes who humbly shares the credit for a win with their coaches? Or the musicians who are grateful for those who have invested into them? Or the colleagues who don’t hog all the glory for a job well-done. Isn’t modesty a noble attribute?
Modesty, according to definition means, “the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of oneself.”
Webster’s dictionary links the word with “propriety” which is defined as “the quality or state of being proper or suitable; appropriateness.”
Therefore, one could say that to wear a three-piece suit to the beach would technically be immodest, just as to wear scuba gear to a wedding would be immodest. Why? Because it is not appropriate for the setting, and would garner extra and unnecessary attention towards oneself.
Why do we want attention so badly?
Don’t get me wrong – I know that many of us have an internal struggle between wanting to blend into the background, while simultaneously having a fascination with ourselves that we think the whole world should share.
Thus the temptation can be to walk into rooms, wondering why more people aren’t applauding and shouting out compliments. Modesty? In the mix with narcissism? Admittedly, a lot of talk about modesty has now been reduced to our fashion choices, and most often is targeted at women and containing their sex appeal.
I don’t want to start a fight, but rather, I’d love to share some of the process that I’ve had to walk through as a woman.
Ever since I was about 11 or 12 years old, I started thinking about fabric choices, necklines, hem length, and layers. But, even before that, as a 5 or 6 year old, it was though I intuitively began wanting a level of privacy when it came to my body. I was not ashamed of my body at that tender age; in fact, I thought my body was so important that I didn’t want just anyone to see it in it’s entirety.
I didn’t give everyone complete access to the secrets of my heart. Why should everyone have visual access to the totality of my skin?
As the years passed though, I began to feel a pressure to loosen up a little bit. I remember the summer when I was about 15 years old, when I went to the mall with a friend and we bought short shorts together. She convinced me that it wasn’t a big deal. The length was clearly a common occurrence of girls our age. I was kind of uncomfortable about it, but I didn’t want to be the odd one out.
I remember a pale-yellow shirt that I wore the year that I was 16. It was that clingy type of material. I was uncomfortable every time I wore it, but all my friends told me that I looked good in it. So, I wore it. One summer, I wore a two-piece bathing suit to the beach for the first time. But I wore it under a tank top and pair of shorts that I planned to keep on. When the girl friend there with me saw my intentions, she frowned because she thought I was just insecure about my appearance. That was partly true. I hated feeling pressure to do something I wasn’t comfortable with.
Simultaneously as I was trying to fit in with girlfriends, I was also beginning to want a boyfriend. I was imagining things like hand-holding at the beach, or small gifts or gestures of kindness that showed us that we belonged to one another. I thought of watching fun movies with him, or having a snowball fight, or baking cookies together.
The thing was – as I was simultaneously trying to fit in with girlfriends and hoping for a boyfriend, I was also surrounded with a message about what would get a guy’s attention.
The message was in the 1000’s of advertisements coming my way. It was in conversations with my heartbroken friends who told me what their ex-boyfriends had wanted. The message was in the way that rom-com movies always included the steamy scene that showed us what the pinnacle of all good relationships would be. I tried to be a good girl who looked away during those scenes, but the message was right there, filling the room.
The message was in fashion magazines that boasted that they included tips to help me lose 10 pounds or guide me to my flirtatious best. The woman on the front was always captivatingly sexy. A goddess, some would say. The raised eyebrow, toned muscles, pursed lips, hands on hips. I knew that I would never look quite like her, but I figured that if I didn’t want to be lonely, I’d at least need to learn a LITTLE, try a LITTLE, flirt a LITTLE.
I felt like a fraud, but I tried. Tried to be sexy.
When I was 18 years old, I was at a church service and the guest speaker was preaching from Scripture about matters of sexuality, identity and relationships. I can’t recall anything else from that sermon, but I remember the moment when he spoke to us girls directly about the pressure we face to be perpetually sexy.
“You don’t have to be a sexualized ‘woman’ with everyone. You are free to be a daughter, a sister, and a mother with everyone else, and then freely express the sexual part of your identity with one man in your lifetime - your husband.”
My soul gasped and gratefully breathed in the new freedom that was being offered.
It took me some time to work this concept into the decisions, conversations and interactions of my life. I wrestled with the fear that no man would ever be drawn to me if I closed down the marketing department of my sexual identity. I faced many awkward moments and threats of rejection as I tried to explain my decisions to girlfriends, without making them feel pushed away for THEIR choices.
Ladies, the most important part of who we are is not our sexuality.
It is certainly a valuable, incredible part of our design. Sex was designed to be pleasurable for men and women alike, and the deep connection that can grow between husband and wife is both a biological wonder, and a spiritual delight. (This is a huge topic that could be extensively explored in future blog posts, which I will happily lean into in the future!)
But you are so much more than your body. Understanding this can release a joy, innocence, and simplicity into our friendships with men (including our husband). We become free to express our hearts, regardless of whether it is “sexy” or not. We can focus our attention on developing who we truly are, in the fullness of personality, passions, and gifting.
You are so much more than your body.
Funny how those magazines that are supposedly curated for the empowerment of women, but never seem to include topics that develop leadership, artistic skill, global service, innovation, conflict resolution, or true friendship.
That stuff is all on the inside of you. Those things come into the room and make space for others. That is the essence of modesty - being fully alive and confident, but not hungry for attention or affirmation.
In the Bible, specifically a letter that the leader Peter wrote to the early church, there is mention of this very matter. Of course, you can see that some of these details are from another era, but the concept is the same, because the women then faced the same pressure that we do today.
“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3 NASB)
It could be translated as,
“Your focus should not be only on the external – the constant stepping on the scale, the compulsive purchasing of clothing, the pressure to be “put together” at all times; but remember who you really are, at the heart level.
Cultivate a spirit that is at rest, not always pushing yourself forward. Of all the beauty in the world, this catches God’s attention, because He knows that you’ve fought off fear and have chosen to trust.”
Single woman, fight to get this part of your heart back.
Married woman, some of you may feel like you attracted your husband with an identity that you can no longer sustain. I pray that you have wisdom to navigate a change to increased freedom for you and your spouse.
Mothers, I want to briefly add, your presence in the home as a beautiful, healthy woman who doesn’t feel the pressure to constantly cling to a sexualized identity, gives permission to your daughters to do the same. It also gives your sons a chance to experience the joy of a relationship with a real, at rest woman, not an airbrushed experience.
I pray a blessing over you in the brave choices it takes to restructure your own expectations of yourself.