« CDs I can play without skipping a songWeather »

What (Not) to Wear

2004-03-04 | by Sara [mail] | Categories: faith/skepticism

If there is one issue that incites passionate feelings from all ages and degrees of liberal- and conservative-ism, it the issue of personal modesty. Perhaps it is because, according to most parents and other adults, adolescent girls are dressing too provocatively. Perhaps it is because, according to said adolescent girls, there is no conceivable way to dress according to a standard that is incredibly outdated and prudish. Whether for these reasons, or for a host of others, the fact remains: the teenage wardrobe has become a breeding ground for harsh words, hurt feelings and confusion. Add in the problem of "causing others to stumble" and modesty, or a lack thereof, becomes a major forum for Christian debate.
What is the issue, exactly? Too much skin, or too little discretion? A world filled with impossible standards, or Christians who hold impossible expectations? And if modesty can't be defined in objective terms by unbiased parties, should the problem simply be avoided? Not according to Leida Pickett, a Certified Health Education Specialist who teaches teens about abstinence. Pickett admits that she once thought modest dress was an unimportant concern, but now believes it does have merit. She does not, however, agree with the methodology many choose to employ.
"I'm not comfortable with adults trying to make fashionable things taboo with guilt, punishment, criticism and shaming. I don't think that works," she said. Pickett even disagrees with using the word 'modest' as an exhortation to more pleasing behavior, describing it as, "antiquated, outdated, outmoded and unrealistic—every connotation is negative." Embodying the typical teenage mindset, she explained, "'Modest' kids don't get noticed, they don't have any fun, and they aren't fun to be around—your basic downer."
If this is the message girls are receiving from adults, no wonder it gets such a cool reception. In fact, to a perceptive Christian teen, this message seems downright hypocritical. "The Bible doesn't teach that the body is something evil or shameful that needs to be hidden. Modesty should grow out of a sense of gratitude for what God has given us and a sense of responsibility about how God wants us to use our bodies," explained Melissa McBurney in a 1996 Christianity Today 'Q and A' segment.
Demanding modesty from non-existent Biblical texts leads to little or no compliance and more rebellion. And even if the right reasons are cited, adults are often guilty of overlooking the core of the issue—teens are learning to make the difficult choices that go hand-in-hand with growing up. "[Girls are] frustrated by the clash between their values and by their very real, very valid need to be noticed and appreciated as females," Pickett explained.
Whether we would like to admit it or not, telling a teenage girl she can succeed in anything she wants with one breath, then telling her she must be modest with the next is contradictory. To these young women, a harsh stance on modesty today comes at a price—present success in their own world, which is often a primary concern. The adolescent life is based on acceptance, and a major blow in this area can have harsh consequences, as feelings of self-worth seem to develop substantially in this short time period, but often last a lifetime.
Should we put this issue aside because it carries the potential for damaging self-esteem? Perhaps a look inside the teenage mind will bring clarity. "I think that it's very important for Christians to dress conservatively," says Lisa Wainwright, high school sophomore and ACC member. "You're a reflection of God for others." Wainwright is far from the typical modesty advocate; she admits she likes clothes that are "really cute" and enjoys dressing in the latest fashions. But her concerns reach farther than her own closet: she realizes that wearing some types of clothing carries a lust-inducing risk in members of the opposite sex.
"I hate when guys look at girls because of what they're wearing: it's disrespectful. But then again, girls shouldn't wear clothes [that cause] this, Wainwright said.
On some level, Wainwright and her adult counterparts agree on a solution. But if resolving the modesty issue is as simple as "wear more clothes," then why is it currently unsettled? Danny Ferguson, ACC's Associate Minister who works primarily with youth, said he thinks the problem may have more to do with adolescent males. "Sure, [young men] are affected by the way girls dress, but I don't think we can get girls to dress in a way that won’t affect them at all," Ferguson said. He added, "I don't think a girl can force a boy to sin because of [what the Bible says in] I Corinthians 10:13 –there's always a way out."
Ferguson is not hard-hearted, he is simply realistic—the male mind is tuned to female frequencies, and no amount of clothing will stop a lustful thought if it is going to be had. While he admits that "girls can make it less difficult" by wearing less-revealing clothes, he knows that images of the female body can be everywhere, and not every female is concerned with covering her body.
Ferguson shares a message of hope for the young (and older) men who do try to think modest thoughts. "Most of the guys who are making an effort to [think pure thoughts] spend a lot of time feeling like they are terrible people. I think they need to understand that everyone has a problem area and you can do better."
Ferguson's own practical suggestions, "view women as people, not objects; look women in the face; walk the other way if necessary," demonstrate that he, himself, is not immune to immodesty's potential dangers. Modesty is an issue to which most women and men can relate, whether in their teenagers' lives or in their own. For those looking to make a real difference, both Pickett and Ferguson offer advice.
"Parents should have a standard of modesty for their kids; if they're too strict on it, their kids will rebel, but if they're reasonable and can explain why, it can help kids develop their own convictions," Ferguson said.
Pickett also believes in setting standards. "Adults should help kids come up with workable alternatives—work with them, not against them," Pickett encourages. "Don't fight the fashion—change it. If a daughter wants to wear fashionable V-neck shirts, but mom thinks they show too much cleavage, mom should buy her an equal number of higher-cut tank tops that she is required to wear with them."
Pickett said she believes that if adults will model modesty in their own lives, and if they will teach young men to not only accept, but to praise and to respect modesty in their female peers, the issue will be closer to a resolution. And if Christians of all ages are working toward purer lifestyles, real spiritual maturity cannot be far behind.


1 comment

Pickett said she believes that if adults will model modesty in their own lives, and if they will teach young men to not only accept, but to praise and to respect modesty in their female peers, the issue will be closer to a resolution. And if Christians of all ages are working toward purer lifestyles, real spiritual maturity cannot be far behind.

Lead by example, I like that.

Jeremy [Visitor]  http://prudence.wordpress.com2006-11-28 @ 03:40

Form is loading...