December 12, 2013

My Daughter Talks to Her Dad About Modesty

Gary Thomas — 

My youngest daughter Kelsey is strong-minded, as a college editor-in-chief (which she is) needs to be. That has led to some fascinating discussions on what it’s like for a 21 year old woman to sit in evangelical churches. Rather recently, she challenged the way modesty is often handled in local churches. In a follow-up email, she added some thoughts that I’d like to share with you (with her permission), to start the discussion on the best way we can teach this important biblical principle to today’s generation.


So I never really got to finish my thoughts on why I thought the way the church has approached modesty in my experience is harmful. I pulled out a few thoughts from my journal and added to it here. This is really long, so if you make it all the way through I will be grateful.

In all honesty, there are some things that as a man you will never be able to understand.

You don’t get whistled at walking down the street. You don’t experience the feel of men’s eyes helping themselves to your body on a regular basis. You don’t get cat calls walking out of a coffee shop that only get worse when you put your head down, ignore them, and walk quickly. I’m sure you’ve had a girl whistle at you a few times in your day, but the fact is this isn’t a constant reality for you. And for me, and most women, it is.

I can’t think of the last time I went more than several weeks without receiving an unrequested comment or call from a stranger about my body. What you then, as a man, also probably don’t know is that it makes absolutely no difference how we dress. The type of comment might change (“why so covered up, pretty lady?” is as offensive to me as whistling at my sundress), but the frequency doesn’t. Men are able to objectify women with little provocation. In some cultures, seeing a women’s hair or ankles is considered tempting and evocative. Men can undress a woman with their eyes whether she is wearing a bikini or a burka.

The world tells women on a regular basis that they are objects. If they dress “modestly” and are virgins they’re called a prude. If they wear slinky tank tops and sleep around they are called a slut or whore. Either way, women are objectified and considered a sex object.

When women are constantly having this degrading message beaten into them all day out in the world, it would be wonderful if they could come into a church and find refuge from objectification. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Growing up, I went to my share of modesty talks and was told it was my responsibility to cover up my body so that I did not lead boys into temptation. I went to a private middle school that walked around handing out oversized (and smelly) t-shirts to girls supposedly not covered up enough. I have a vivid memory of sitting between Willy Hanson, who was sporting a cut-off, and a girl in a spaghetti strap tank top, when the head of the school came in with her bag of t-shirts and made the girl put one on and completely ignored Willy. In high school I got a rash from having to wear a shirt over my two-piece swimsuit at a church camp while all the guys were allowed to run around without a top at all.

This way of approaching modesty gives women the exact same message as the rest of the world: your body is a sex object. You are a sex object. Your body is dirty and needs to be covered up.

Telling women to cover up for men holds women responsible for men’s lust. And that’s rape culture. It’s no large leap from that to telling women it’s their fault they were raped because they were wearing a short skirt.

My freshman year at Baylor, I went to a seminar for all freshman women on basically how to not get raped. The whole time I was wondering why the freshman boys weren’t forced to go to a seminar called how to not rape girls. And you know why? Because it’s seen as my responsibility. It is my job to cover up my breasts so they don’t lead men to lust, and it is my job to not attract or flirt with a man in case this leads him to have sex with me against my will. At their nature, these two responsibilities are not such different things.

I dress modestly because I have known my entire life that I am loved and I have worth and I am valuable, but it is increasingly rare for women to grow up with an intrinsic sense of self-worth like I did (thank you!). Far more beneficial than telling girls to put on a t-shirt to cover up their bodies is to tell them they are loved. They have worth. They are valuable. They are more than a sex object. Because the world isn’t telling them that.

It is even more crucial for men to hear the same thing: Women have worth. They are valuable for far more than their breasts. No type of dress gives a man license to objectify a woman. It is men’s responsibility to change the way women are talked about and looked at by men.

Basically, I believe the church is objectifying me as much as the world. Yes, the church is giving women a different solution: modesty as opposed to parading their bodies around for men to enjoy. But a different solution is not good enough. It’s time the church stopped obsessing over the length of my skirt and changed the message all together.

This is me (Gary) again. This post is already pretty long, so I’ll refrain from making any other comments except for this short one: what Kelsey hits on that the church might be missing is that whenever Paul addressed relations, he spoke to the men first. He doesn’t tell wives to submit to their husbands until he tells husbands to become sacrificial living martyrs for their wives. Have we missed this with our youth? Have we made young women (rather than young men) bear the burden of dealing with lust?

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47 responses to My Daughter Talks to Her Dad About Modesty

  1. Kelsey, you have some good thoughts on this subject. As with everything else in our pursuit of godliness, the church imperfectly – and sometimes quite clumsily – communicates the message about modesty. However, just because it isn’t always being communicated in a rational or loving way doesn’t mean it isn’t still true.

    As you described the need for men to be discipled to run away from lust and practice discipline in this area (which they do need to do!), a scenario from Sunday morning came to mind. A friend of mine who has 3 teen and 20-something boys told me their family regularly has to move to a different pew/area of the sanctuary because her boys find it impossiblle to worship and focus on God with the ‘skin’ they are seeing in the row in front of them. It’s a daily battle for these boys. They’re godly young men, pursuing holiness, but our culture is saturated with sexual temptation. They’ve even traded in their ‘smart’ phones for ‘dumb’ ones so they don’t have to contend with the tempations of the internet at their fingertips all day. They’re fighting. They ARE pursuing purity. But girls and women in our church who wear short skirts and show clevage each week don’t want to be told how to dress. I guess they would say these guys aren’t trying hard enough.

    As you and I are women these men encounter at church – and in daily life – shouldn’t we be a safe haven for them? As sisters in Christ, can’t we show them love by dressing carefully and modestly, being mindul of the assault our culture has leveled at them?

    • Intriguing thoughts here, and some which are going to make me think for quite a while (Which I guess is the point, right?). Thanks for posting this.

      I’m learning that perhaps women struggle with lust a great deal too. That’s helpful to know, and as a father of four boys, sadly, it’s not something I’ve even considered. I’m certainly not convinced that it is equal to the struggle with lust that men must battle against, but it’s helpful to see that side of the coin. I have however tried very hard to communicate to my sons the transcendent beauty and value of women. I think that’s the key. If a woman is seen as valuable, then it is more difficult to see her as an object, and easier to see her as a precious creation. I believe the same is true for women. That if women are taught that men are valuable and a precious creation too, then they wouldn’t think twice about attempting to achieve some sense of modesty out of concern for their brothers in Christ.

      Now, maybe I should teach my sons to put a T-shirt on at the pool, or at youth beach camp, if lust is really a problem for girls too. That really is a new thought for me, but if it’s true, then they need to go ahead and put the TShirt on. I don’t think that objectifies them though. I think that makes them thoughtful and considerate of their sisters who are battling against lust. Same is true for women. I don’t get how talks on modesty turns women into sex objects. It’s a struggle, a big struggle for my boys, and when women do dress modestly, it helps them in fighting against temptation. Then they see you LESS as an object, because their eyes aren’t drawn to your body parts, but to your character and personality.

      And I also can’t wholly buy in to the idea that teaching women about modesty somehow puts the responsibility for men lusting on the shoulders of women….and somehow absolves men of that responsibility. No. The responsibility to fight against temptation is theirs, regardless of what the woman is wearing. But, you sure do help my four boys and I when you considerately dress modestly instead of how this godless culture tells you to dress.

      I go to Africa twice a year for mission work, and where we go, it is considered vulgar for men to where shorts, and for the women to leave the back of their knees uncovered. Now, should I go ahead and wear my shorts defiantly and tell them they need to change their cultural views of modesty because it is objectifying me to tell say that what I wear is offensive to them? Of course not. I wear shorts here because it’s no big deal, but in Africa, I will wear pants and conform to their understanding of modesty so that I will not be a stumbling block to any of them. Their conscience is more important than my comfort. Their sanctification is more important than the exercise of my liberties.

      Anyways, thanks for the post. It’s certainly making me think, and for that I’m grateful.

      • Roman Stoltzfoos May 11, 2015 at 10:06 pm

        Ken thank you for your thoughtful and direct considerations. I Agree that teaching about modesty does not put the responsibility on women. It empowers them to do right. The main thing is that we keep the main the main thing and that is glorify God in our body which are Gods. He does have a right to the whole person. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ I Thess 5:23 I want to encourage my 6 sons and 5 daughters to see the sexual parts of the body as beautiful and for a specific and good purpose within marriage but not for public display.

  2. Wow — thank you SO much Kelsey for sharing your thoughts! Like Bonnie, I have been avoiding this article for some time, as I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the harmful messages proliferated by so many well-meaning Christians (sorry I assumed that of you Gary!). I’ve tried to speak out on this issue myself (I was also the editor of my college paper, and now a freelance writer). Sadly, many people are very set in their opinions of this subject. I rather got myself in trouble when I compared the porn industry’s attitude of the female body with that of the church’s.

    I remember the first time I did an in-depth study of modesty in scripture. I had always considered myself modest, but I ran into trouble when I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest. Things only got more confusing once I started attending a Christian college. I decided to take a look at all relevant scripture passages and was shocked to find how few even dealt with modesty in the sexual sense. The touted 1 Timothy passage is aimed at women who are finding their value by exposing their economic standing on their bodies. Paul encourages women to focus on good deeds, not their wealth. The sad irony is that it’s not unusual to hear modesty talks from women wearing long, designer-brand skirts, big hair professionally dyed (read hundreds of dollars of salon upkeep), routinely manicured fingernails, wearing expensive jewelry.

    I came away from that study with a new perspective on my body. I hadn’t noticed how skewed even my “balanced” understanding had been — deep down, I had ingested the message that my body was dirty, a sex object just waiting to tempt unsuspecting, helpless men. For the first time I saw my body as clean (don’t know what other word to use) — the same way I viewed the male body (I grew up with brothers who ran around topless all the time). Yes, our social standards require a different dress, and that’s fine. But, on an ontological level, my body is no more a sexual temptation than a man’s.

    As for men being more visually stimulated than women, while people throw that “fact” around, it’s actually disputed scientifically. There is also evidence that men are socially conditioned to be more visually aroused (notice how many movies zero in on women’s body parts while playing sexy music). Little boys grow up getting told to view women in this way. To make matters worse, many Christians imply that men cannot help themselves. One teen book given to my little sister said that young boys could not help imaging girls naked if the girl was wearing shorts. What a different message from that of Christ! By the way, THANK YOU for pointing out that Jesus counseled men to look the other way, NOT to make the woman where a longer robe.

    More and more women are admitting to a struggle with visual lust. Studies show that 1/3 of all porn site visits are from women. The genders are not so different as many might think. The great difference just might be that women have been empowered to control themselves in ways men have not. Remember, “In the Middle Ages, priests informed the laity that women were naturally more lustful, insatiable, and visually stimulated. Can you imagine that? … Men, the celibate priests taught, were the naturally spiritual and rational ones.” (Confessions of a Lustful Christian Woman, Christianity Today)

    Anyway, I’ve rambled on quite enough. Thanks again for your thoughts and courage. Keep up the good work!

    • Candice – thanks so much for your thoughtful response, and I’m glad this resonated with you.

      Speaking of porn (as you and several commentators brought it up), it’s really not at all a good indicator of whether men or women are more visual because the vast majority of porn is made for straight men to turn straight men on. The second largest group of porn is for gay men. It’s possible that far less women watch porn than men because very little porn is made for women. Obviously I’m not saying that more porn should be made, but the idea that all men want is sex and all women want is an emotional connection is far from accurate.

      Also, thank you for pointing out the 1 Timothy passage’s focus on economic modesty. It’s something I didn’t have the room to bring up here, but very important in the conversation.

  3. I’m so sick of feminism. As a christian male in his 20s, I’ve recently had an awakening from my feminist upbringing spurred by my inability to connect with women.

    As a church, we don’t need more discussion on rape culture and women covering up. These are indeed issues, but small ones in the context of our current culture. What we need are more discussions on how we are going to liberate men and women to fill the classic gender roles that God designed us for.

    Women need to be told that its ok to seek motherhood. Men need to be told start taking some responsibility and being the sort of leaders that a woman can respect.

    We need to continue teaching girls to be modest but we also need to have frank discussions with our guys about … well porn. Its the giant elephant in the room that seems to be largely ignored. Its effects are incredibly more poisonous to both men and women than anything discussed in this email and in the ensuing discussion. If Baylor is going to have discussions with women about modesty, they also ought to have discussions with guys about porn.

    • Hi! Thanks for joining the conversation. I think we have a fundamental disagreement on this point: when there are millions of women worldwide being raped and assaulted and forced to marry as children, I cannot agree that that is a small problem. I think it’s a huge problem.

      Also, I’ve been told lots of things pertaining to womanhood in my 21 years, but that it’s not OK for me to seek motherhood has never been one of them. I’d be surprised if any of the women I interact with regularly felt that they were not free to pursue motherhood.

    • Hello unorthodox

      It’s truly great that “rape culture” isn’t important to you. I love how you hate feminism and probably think woman shouldn’t be paid the same as men.

  4. In response to Kelsey Thomas asking to hear from a guy on this subject, I will take her up on that. I would also like to thank her for having the guts to share her story and perspective.


    I am a single, 27-year old, Christian man. Growing up, I attended a private school in north Texas. I, too, have heard my fair share of purity talks.

    The purity talks were not so much about living sexually pure as they were about not viewing women as objects, not looking at porn, and not having sex before marriage. I would leave chapel thinking, “There is a whole lot of stuff that I can’t do. What the heck can I do?” (In your case, the communication was don’t wear spaghetti straps or two-piece swimsuits because it will cause men to fall into temptation.) Notice, our purity talks did not communicate the value of women or the value of our minds, but they centered on not sinning.

    We have a major problem with how sexual purity is being communicated.

    Christian men refer to “lust” as the never-ending struggle. I’ve heard pastors say that they think “lust” was figuratively speaking the thorn in Paul’s side. We make excuses, which you touched on, for objectifying women by saying things like, “If only she didn’t wear that bathing suit,” “It’s the burden we (men) bear,” or “It’s natural.” My point is that we consider ourselves the victims of lust, rather than the victors. In fact, most Christian men don’t think it is even possible to live sexually pure.

    I bought into the never-ending struggle lie until I read what Jesus said in the book of John. Jesus said that he comes that we may have life. Well, which is it? Did Jesus come so that we would have a life of never-ending struggle OR have life more abundantly?

    Because Christian men have the victim-mentality, we keep our mouths shut about the subject. Literally, I had zero men in my life communicate that living sexually pure is possible and that there are benefits (yes, obeying God has it’s perks!). The main advocate in families for sexual purity is usually the mother, not the father (I won’t elaborate here on why I think fathers fail to speak up). We need both, the mother and father, championing sexual purity.

    Kelsey, it is our (men’s) responsibility for guarding our minds, not yours (women’s). I am sorry that we have made wimpy excuses. I am trying to put an end to that.

    I pursue sexual purity, because I value my mind. Nothing that I possess is more valuable than the mind that God gave me. I must protect it (psalm 119:9 ESV).

    I have to be on guard about what I allow into my mind, and I have to be intentional about filling it up with things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.” In other words, because my mind is valuable, I only want to fill it with the best stuff.

    To any men out there who are reading this: living sexual pure is the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve moved on. Now, I embrace the challenge head-on, and I hope you do the same. Never quit. Whatever it takes. Remember, God didn’t give you a wimpy Spirit, but one of power, love, and self-control. I believe in you.

    Protect It,

  5. Hi, Kelsey

    I’m sorry that you are objectified by men while walking through the streets. It is very uncomfortable. Believe it or not, as a man, I do know what it’s like to be objectified. Lust is not a unique activity ascribed to men only, or something only men do. Women do it too. Just in different ways and it’s more subtle. Proverbs 4:23 says we must keep our “heart with all diligence…” and that means to guard it. So I’m not saying the Lord doesn’t hold lustful men as being guilty. They are guilty. No man (or woman) has the right or permission from the Lord to lust after another person. However, I do not agree that the church “obsesses” with the idea of women covering up. I think on the woman’s side, it is important to encourage modesty (1 Timothy 2:9). The church has a a right to desire modest adornment from women as Paul desired of the women in the church to adorn themselves– modestly.

    No one has an official definition of the word “modest,” but we can know what makes another person stumble and adjust accordingly. It doesn’t mean that you as a woman are looking to make men stumble. I definitely don’t get the sense that you are.

    You said that men lust no matter what you have on. I really do believe there are many like that, and yet there are some godly men who don’t want to lust after anyone. Men who would rather remove themselves from a lustful situation than to give into it. In my experience as a man, most brothers I have known in the church have focused on my responsibility; giving me advice to “flee youthful lust”, which is the right thing to do. They often encourage me by saying “God will help you” and I agree with them.

    There have been attempts to deal with this issue from the guys side of things: books like “Every Man’s Battle” “When Good Men Are Tempted.” I can’t speak for the churches or places you have been to, but I do think some members of the church are trying to deal with this issue from the point of helping the men with their lustful ways.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with this article, especially in how it highlights how we place great burdens on the actual and potential victims without addressing the basic responsibilities and boundaries and related self control that are required from the potential and actual perpetrators in our culture.

    However in response to Gary’s commentary. I see Paul in terms of first and foundational priority; address men and women apart from their gender to mutually honor and love one another as God in Christ loves us. As an example, read the order of thought from Ephesians 4:1 through 5:21. That foundation of love grounds both the role of men and women and the specific ethical instructions and particulars given to them beginning in 5:22.

    A womans honor for her husband is not grounded in his sacrificial love for her although that sacrificial love can and should provide an environment for that honor to have great freedom to flourish in practice. Likewise the sacricial love a man is to show for his wife is not grounded in her submission to him although such submission can provide him with great room to develop and practice this virtue and order of life.

  7. Can I say one more thing – because, in light of all the misconception out there – as well as bad advice, even from Christian sources – it’s important for women to hear.

    Kelsey, I think, like many women today, you may think that your looks matter. You are young and perhaps frustrated with how you are treated by ungodly men and an ungodly culture, and you may believe that you are measured and valued by your body.

    But I have very good news for you. I would contend that looks don’t really matter!

    What I mean is, deep down inside of every man, whether he knows or acknowledges its existence, is a far holier measure of a woman than her physical attributes. It’s holier, because it is God-given, planted inside of each man, from birth. I believe it carries a voice, even within the most hardened sinner’s heart, and, though he may choose to ignore it, override it, or is blind to it, it will influence him until the day he dies, for nothing this rudimentary to the psyche of a man can ever be fully squelched.

    What I’m talking about, when you really peal it all away, and dissect the heart of a man, what you find that really draws him to a woman is not her looks, but her humility and her respect for him.

    That is why I am very sorry to say that, at least from the perspective of this 40-something male, the modern woman is becoming less and less beautiful and attractive to the modern man – even if she looks great – because deep inside us men, that’s not what really matters.

    However, this is actually great news for women! It’s liberating and relieving to know that your primary focus should switch from something you cannot change and control (your body), to something you can, by the power of Christ – that is, your heart and your attitude.

    What I’m saying, women, is seek first to be godly, the meaning of which for women – according to God, not this author – has most to do with humility, submission, and respect for men and authority (hmm, 3 things that satan and liberal feminism hate the most – no wonder), and it will go very well for you, indeed. The kind of man you really want, a godly man, will be attracted to that like a moth to flame. Beyond that – and certainly below – yes, seek also to be physically fit and beautiful, in a modest way, because that matters, too, but, in the long haul, over a lifetime, to a holy man of God, to a lesser degree.

    Exercising these three things may not seem natural to the modern American woman. In fact, it may require amazing – even supernatural – faith, strength and courage, because, to succeed, it requires her to yield to the power and control of someone other than herself – something culture has taught her along the way to avoid, and so the very notion may immediately spark fear and anxiety within.

    But, put your trust in Christ and overcome the temptation to retain control and defense in life as a woman, and I truly believe God will bless you for your act of faith. Your effort to fearfully work out his role for you will not return void, and you will become the mighty woman of Proverbs 31 – one who is exemplified by warmth, love, kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice like the godly women of old.

    If I may, I would further say that the decline of our culture, and all the wonder and misunderstanding as to what has brought it about, can be summarized in a nutshell. The erosion of all the things of God that American society once held sacred can be traced down to the family and, even more so, to the relationship between man and woman, and anyone who supports the independence, elevation and protection of women in society beyond the delicate balance evidenced by God in scripture, Christian or not, does a great disservice to our culture and its future. Indeed, such people are enemies of the cross of Christ, for, by doing so, they, perhaps unknowingly and with good intent, further undermine the delicate balance of God’s proper order of things.

    It is this order of God – which carefully and importantly separates roles, responsibilities and authority between men and women – that American society has tragically lost sight of, choosing instead to believe that the two genders are clone-like – interchangeable, even independent of one another, best suited for competition, rather than honoring one another and working together for the common good.

    • Thanks Johnathan as another 40 some guy in a marriage with a Christian feminist, I could not agree with you more. In all my many struggles with lust the root was the desire to have someone that would be responsive to my desires. My wife was and is now perfectly able to provide this kind of love but chose instead to worship control and listening to her friends that advise her to not give of herself until she is positive that I have earned the intimacy that I desire. The problem is that the cost of that intimacy keeps going up and changing. I have tried to Love my wife unconditionally and pray that God will continue to give me the strength to do so. But my heart continues to long for someone that will respect, submit and be humble.

  8. Ruby, God bless you! I couldn’t agree more with your Biblical wisdom and advice.

    As Christians, we should approach every subject from a sacrificial position (as our Savior did), forsaking our own rights and freedoms while asking ourselves and our maker, what can I do to better the problem, to help right the wrong. By approaching any argument from the opposite point of view, we immediately lose the battle, from the very get-go, for we speak from a perspective of self-protection and self-centeredness – two traits that are of the flesh and not of our God.

    We see so much of this perspective in the world around us, with people protecting themselves, their rights and their freedoms, while expecting others to change for them, that I find it truly refreshing – and regrettably somewhat unique – for a woman to speak from a sacrificial perspective and call other women to do the same, as did Ruby.

    Christian women have a unique opportunity – and responsibility – to stand up against the cultural tide of independence from men, of which they aren’t and were never intended to be. The Apostle Paul’s instruction (but not really Paul’s, but Christ’s) to young women to dress modestly and submit to their authority – as he instructs men to do as well – is just as true today as it was when written.

    On another note, Gary, I listened to you on Focus on the Family this morning and heard the heart of God, which caused me to run a search and find your website. Spot-on, brother, in your discussion about marriage. Your eloquence and wisdom was appreciated.

  9. Hi Mr. Thomas,
    I read your blog post a few days ago and it stuck with me because I think there is a lot of truth in what Kelsey said. This morning, MY dad sent me a video of a speech given by Jessica Rae. It touches base on modesty and I instantly thought of your post. So I thought I would share it, and I hope that Kelsey will watch it too. It is another perspective to consider.

    The link is:

    Thanks again for the post,

    Rina v.

  10. Thank you, Kelsey, for your wonderful thoughts. As the mom of 5 boys and 1 girl I agree that it’s the responsibility of both males and females. I think you strike the right balance. Indeed, even in American history there was a point where a woman was thought to be a provoker if her ankles were not covered!! Propriety is important for women and so is turning the other way for men. We have taught our sons (2 teens so far) to look away when they feel tempted because the culture if full of women that bear what only a husband should see. Likewise we’re teaching our daughter (only 4yo) that “she” is beautiful because she’s the daughter of King Jesus, her clothing doesn’t define her (at her age she associates being pretty and beautiful with her clothing). I will be sharing this with my boys so they understand the “other” side. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  11. Well stated Kelsey. Thank you for sharing Gary. I have found most often that the things that tempt me have little to do with amount of skin shown but the internal frustrations, unfulfilled desires (not necessarily sexual desires) and emotional fragility inside of myself. For men, giving in to sexual temptation (from looking lustfully to engaging in sexual acts) is caused by more than seeing too much skin once or twice. It is about hours and days and weeks of feeling something missing inside yourself and trying to fill the void with the easiest way to feel valuable: viewing the female form sexually, without earning the right to do so from that person. The burden of restraint is NOT just on women to dress modestly. A woman could wear a trash bag and I can still imagine what her body looks like under it. The Burden is on both sexes to respect one another as sons and daughters of God. The male burden is the first line of defense for sexual restraint and we men should keep ourselves from the things that are tempting to us. We should avert our eyes from the stimuli that tempt us and treat with respect each person we come across.
    Final note: Women are our are sisters in Christ and our friends. They have as much intangible, spiritual value as men. It is our society and the continued acceptance of traditional gender roles that propagates sex-object rhetoric. Bottom line, the sex-object rhetoric is, and has always been garbage. Women are far more than that.

  12. I have 2 daughters, 2 granddaughters, and all I can say is you are right Amen!

  13. As I was reading this, a thought finally crystallized in my head that I’ve had for a long time. Ad your daughter discussed being raised to have self-worth and empowerment, I thought, “men need that, too.” It’s not enough to just say, “don’t rape girls.” A person who feels empowered from the inside has no need to try to create a sense of power by exerting his or her will over someone else. And yet we have done precious little to help our boys (men in the making) break out of the gender roles that instruct then that males are born to be emotionally detached, violence-loving, aggressive creatures that have to be “tamed” to even live in a civilized world. To challenge those ideas is to be labeled “girly” or “gay” (like those are bad things to be) . How frustrating it must be for a man to feel like he can’t just be himself. Let’s teach out boys to be people, full of their own power and worth, and teach women the same.

    • Melissa, I agree with you that our culture often encourages men to worship and embrace power, sex, and violence, often at the expense of putting down women. I can only speak to my experience as a woman, but I would love to hear from a guy on this.

      • Thank you for pointing out the connection between eyes and thoughts and the verse about eyes and the heart. That was helpful to me.

  14. I love this, Kelsey. And I’ve changed my mind about this issue the past few years (I feel the same way you do about it now). I even wrote a book about marriage with a big chunk of “modesty talk” in it. (Thankfully, it went out of print, and I re-released it as an e-book and left that part out.)

    I’ve always dressed modestly, but it’s because I always felt valued and loved (just like you). You’re right–it’s rare for a woman to feel like that these days. (Part of what God has called me to do with my life is to help girls/woman feel valuable.)

    And this? “The church is objectifying me as much as the world.” YES. You nailed it.

    • Thanks for reading, Marla! I’m glad it resonated with you.

      • I shared this on Facebook, and it resonated with lots of people. Including some former youth pastor’s wives who hated the part of their “job” where they had to tell girls to cover up because some lady in the church told them to. Someday, in all your free time, maybe you could write something specifically for them? Practical ways to love these girls who aren’t feeling valuable? (Does that even make sense?)

  15. Please share the rest of your daughter’s e-mail. It is most definitely not too long and i feel like it was just building up and she had a lot more really important things to say. This is amazing. I feel like this often. This is wonderfully expressed.

  16. Sweet Kelsey, I am in tears. This is so…I’m just speechless. There are no words…just my soul deep within me shouting “AMEN!”

    Thank you SO much for posting this, Gary!

  17. Wow, Gary. Hard to read. I’m glad you shared it though. I’ve read this perspective before, always from a feminist mindset though. This is different presentation. You’ve given me (or your daughter has) stuff to chew on. Will definitely be sharing with the Future Marriage University community at

  18. Kelsey has some great points, but I disagree that it doesn’t matter how a young woman dresses because she will be objectified either way. Men are more visually tempted than women. That’s just the way they are wired. Women are presented with less of a temptation from a guy in cutoffs than the reverse scenario of a guy seeing a girl in spaghetti straps. And yes, if you choose to show up at school knowing you are violating the dress code designed to make it a place of modesty, you will face consequences. I think the Church has made efforts to talk to the young men about respecting women, but they are losing the battle with the culture. I’m shocked to see what young Christian women (and older) feel comfortable wearing in public and even to God’s house. It may not be fair, but women always have had to shoulder the responsibility for the power they hold over a man’s eyes, and hence his thoughts — and the man must also answer for his part by having eyes that turn away in silence when he is presented with a visual temptation. Unfortunately, women in our culture are giving him something to look at no matter where he tries to avert his eyes.

    • How about we as children of God look at each other in the eyes with respect. The objectifying of women Kelsey is refering to is culturally influenced learned behavior and can be changed. My experience as a youth leader is that some of the girls that show up in clothes that are not modest need acceptance not more shame and not a message that they are not good enough. I Honestly can’t see Jesus carrying around extra robes before healing someone or telling them about Gods love. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Both boys and girls need love and respect for one another modeled to them by the church.

    • Hi Ruby,

      A few thoughts came to mind in response to your comment:

      1) Part of the reason I find modesty rules a bit arbitrary is that what is considered modest or immodest is very relevant to culture. In some cultures, women carefully cover their ankles yet feel no qualms about their midriff showing. In some, topless swimsuits are the norm. To try and dress to not allow any men that we might encounter anywhere to not stumble is not only harmful, as I have stated above, but relatively fruitless.

      2) Jesus’ response to lust is to tell men to control their eyes and thoughts, not to tell women to cover up. His solution for “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” was not to set strict regulations involving appropriate swimwear, but to encourage believers “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” I am NOT saying we should run around naked. I think propriety is important. But I do think telling women they have to shoulder the responsibility for men’s lust very harmful.

      3) Lastly, I am surrounded by college girls every day… lets just say women are visual too.

      Just my two cents! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      • It takes a lot of courage to put your thoughts out there for public critique Kelsey, and I admire you for doing it so fearlessly and articulately. We need more young Christian women like you who consider important issues like this and engage others in dialogue about it.
        The Body of Christ needs to be calling BOTH men and women, young and old, to value purity in this area as you stated so well. A heart that longs to please Christ is what motivates us to holy behavior in all things, even in the way we dress. Culture does play a part, but Paul would not call women to dress modestly in 1 Timothy 2:9 if he could not assume that most women in the Body understood what was immodest. We are not to cause our brothers to stumble, and women have the power to at least “increase the risk” of that by dressing provocatively or in a revealing way. We are accountable to be mindful of modesty, not out of a desire to conform to a set of rules (although in a school or work setting we are called to respect the rules and authority over us), but because sin is so abhorrent to the godly woman, she does not want any part in furthering its decay in a fellow human heart. We as women do not bear the responsibility for someone else’s lustful looks, but out of love for Christ and for others, we seek to avoid any contribution to it whenever possible.

      • Kelsey, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for having the guts to share your heart on this topic! My sister posted the above article on facebook, and kept asking me if I had read it yet. Honestly, as soon as I heard it was on modesty, I was a little skeptical, because it seems every time I read something on modesty lately, its the same old message, and the same old message is really just not that helpful. I always considered myself conservative: I grew up in a Christian home, my siblings and I were all home educated, and I was considered to be a bit of a prude when I decided to go along with the courtship movement. But, that was when I lived in the northwest. My family was from CA originally, and then we lived in OR and north ID, and we finally decided to move down to the south. That is when I really realized that modesty IS cultural. I think that is part of the difficulty with trying to be modest here in the US. We do not just have one cultural standard of modesty we have to measure ourselves to, we have many many cultures all mixed in together, and each culture has their own standard. What seems perfectly modest to one group is seen as obviously immodest to another. I think it is right that we should try not to make our weaker brother stumble, but I have found that the way I dress will probably always be offensive to someone out there. Modesty is SO much more than what you are wearing, or how much skin is showing. What really matters is that we are loving God and others well! Modesty is an attitude, and like you said, the attitude behind both the secular culture, and the Christian culture is still the same: you are a sex object. The secular culture says the female body is a sex object, so why cover it up? The Christian culture says the female body is a sex object, so you better cover it up! That is the real problem here.

        Also, I have heard many people say that men our more visually tempted than women. I wonder if that is really true. Maybe most women are just not as comfortable being open about what IS tempting to them. Maybe I am just abnormal, but I think I am just as visually tempted as any man. I simply have learned to be disciplined and not allow my mind to wander where it should not go. I too experienced the double standard in college. I had guys tell me I should not wear cutoff shorts, but then these same men would walk around campus with no shirts, and very low-rise shorts, etc. Do not misunderstand me, I always tried to accommodate these young men, by wearing longer shorts, putting on a jacket, etc., because I wanted to love them by helping them out in this way, but that does not change the fact that in general, I think these men viewed me as the problem.

        Maybe some people will not resonate with what you shared Kelsey, but I assure you that many–like me–certainly will.

        Lastly, even though I consider myself a strong Christian, this attitude toward modesty has been very hurtful, especially when I was younger. I cannot help but wonder, if this has been hard on me, even though I am well established in the faith, what has it done to women who do not know God, or who have a weaker faith? How many women have been driven away from Christianity, because they were treated badly by Christians, all in the name of modesty? And what message does this send to young men? I think this attitude only serves to demean men as well as women. Basically, the message it sends is that men cannot help themselves. That men are just not strong enough, not disciplined enough, to train themselves to think, and act like mature men. That us women have all the power, and they are left to our mercy. Well, I personally believe that God made men of tougher stuff than that.

        On a more positive note, seeing articles like this one is very encouraging! It gives me hope that Christians–as a whole–can grow in this area and perhaps begin to focus more on loving others and extending grace, instead of criticizing and tearing others down over cultural differences.

    • I am addressing ruby by the way ^^^

    • Unfortunately the stereotype about men having a greater temptation from visuals is not universally true. I have often wished for young men to cover up a bit more for my benefit like I was for theirs. In the final analysis, inappropriate sexual thoughts are each person’s own responsibility regardless of what their eyes might come into contact with, but we can still all help by making sure we are all adequately covered for the occasion. If I was a parent, I wouldn’t want my girls ogling over men’s rippling muscular bodies in a workout magazine or movie anymore than I would want my boys watching porn (yet many parents tolerate the first but not the second, a disgusting double standard which also assumes that girls have no sex drives or lustful thoughts). Thus the same should apply for men’s wardrobe choices. I’m not saying a guy can never have his shirt off, but he should use it with careful discretion just like a girl does with skirt lengths or the cut of her shirt. But all too often the onus for modesty feels like it is just on girls. Granted girls perhaps do have more parts that need covering, and perhaps are more likely to have the temptation to want to show off their bodies since God made woman beautiful to man, but that doesn’t change that both men and women should be thinking critically about their clothing choices.

      It may be true that for many women there is less sexual temptation or uncontrollable visceral reaction than for the average man, but there are plenty of ladies with equal or greater sex drives than that same average guy, and such ladies can be in the church too. While she is responsible for her own thoughts, help from brothers’ in Christ modesty would be greatly appreciated.

      I speak from personal experience and from the knowledge of my peer’s experiences.

      Thankfully, one great help to all of this is removing such a purely sexual view of the human body and thinking of them primarily as a beautiful, complex and extremely multi-functional God-given creation and sexuality as just one part of that and also viewing such people as friends and siblings in Christ; greatly lessens the negative impact of that occasion where you do see something you rather would not have.

      When I see a flash of flesh I would rather not see, rather than lusting after it or blaming that person for it, my first thought is a forgiving one saying they weren’t aware that moment could be a stumbling block for someone.

      In that way love can covers a multitude of sins/problems

      When missionaries first go to tribes where clothes were not generally worn, rather than being sexually tempted, such missionaries were filled with the Gospel and with compassion. That doesn’t mean they never taught such people to cover up, it just means they were more concerned with loving that person than in woodenly mandating them for reasons personal or otherwise.

      When you start to view the human body as just a natural thing, a sacred thing, another gift from God, temptation can be greatly lessened. This is possible for boys as well as girls, as I have understood it from both boys and girls. But focusing primarily on “shaming”, the shame of the naked body, will only continue to focus on the body as a purely sexual object, which it certainly is not, and the knowledge of naked bodies as bad things only came after sin, after the Fall. but through Christ even our bodies can be redeemed. With our bodies we also serve and love one another, move and have our being. I’m not advocating Christian nudist colonies here, just that when some one does make a fleshly faux pas, our first thought be of love-covering that person rather than legalistic overreactions or shameless lusting. God stripped off Adam and Eve’s pathetic attempt at covering themselves, and gave them something decent to wear: to cover and protect them. This wasn’t because God was tempted or because he was looking down his nose at them, but because he loved them and was taking good care of them.

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