When I was about thirteen I went to a conference with the rest of the girls in youth group. It was a “modesty conference” geared at teaching young women the “biblical” truth of their role as a female and how that translates into how one dresses. We were taught that we are responsible for the relationship between our brothers in Christ and Jesus. One of the ways that we can make them fall is wearing too revealing clothes. If we wore something too tight, too low, or too short, the men wouldn’t be able to control themselves and would sin in the eyes of Jesus. We were encouraged to wear loose t-shirts and shorts that went to the knee in order to keep our brothers from sinning.
The last night was the long awaited fashion show of the conference and we had all stayed up the night before eagerly finishing the dresses we would be modeling the next day. At the end of the fashion show the lead pastor’s wife came out wearing a bikini. We were all cheering her on because she looked great. She stood at the end of the runway shaking and grabbed the microphone. As she spoke, the mood of the room dramatically shifted. She said she would never wear a bikini in public because her body is for her husband alone and other men looking at her would cause them to sin. The sadness and guilt her voice conveyed sobered all of us. We all vowed we would never wear a bikini again and from here on out it was modest, one piece bathing suits for us.
Looking back at this experience, I recognize quite a few issues I want to address. First, teaching young Christian girls that we are not only responsible for our own relationship with Christ, but also the relationship of all men feels wrong to my spirit and isn’t even biblical. Second, teaching us to be ashamed of our body’s natural shape and covering it in baggy clothing so men won’t sin when they look at us is detrimental to both men and women. The detriment to a young girl’s self-esteem because she has strict guidelines reinforced with guilt around dressing herself leads her to thinking there is something “wrong” or “bad” about her body. This also perpetuates the lack of accountability for men, as they grow up thinking they can’t control their sexual being so they don’t even try, placing the responsibility on women. Why do you think the question “well what was she wearing?” asked in the case of a woman’s rape comes up so often? (This thinking comes from the common misconception that rape is an act of uncontrollable sexual urges, not a man exercising an intentional act of power.) These innocent teachings have further reaching effects on society than we think.