By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
They tug. They pull. They attempt to “rearrange.” They are obviously uncomfortable. Yet, apparently wanting to “fit in” with their peers or trying to look like pop culture icons, they continue to dress immodestly. Many of us have been embarrassed for these young girls (and some not so young ones) who struggle to “adjust” their mini-skirts or short shorts when they sit down; or frequently try to stretch their tops to cover their midriffs; or pull their jeans up; or. . .well, you get the picture.
If they continue to dress in this manner, their innate sense of modesty and innocence will be compromised; they will be desensitized; and they will no longer be uncomfortable. This is what has happened to many (young and old) in our society. The cultural elite believe that a sense of modesty or embarrassment about states of undress are old fashioned. Sex education programs intentionally work to tear down this sense of embarrassment or modesty.
In reality, natural embarrassment and modesty are protective. They send a message that something is not quite right. When absent, girls may become vulnerable to inappropriate overtures from the opposite sex.
Writing for Living With Teenagers magazine, Walt Mueller expresses the sad fact that “ . . .modesty is no longer a virtue. Clothing styles have long been a matter of concern. The decline in modesty has left kids oblivious and shameless as they are more and more willing to expose every nook and cranny of their bodies— either by leaving them uncovered or covered too tightly.”
Jennifer Hooks, in the March-April, 2004 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine writes, “It’s no secret that today’s clothing trends leave little to the imagination. In an attempt to tone down students’ wardrobe choices, schools across the nation have instituted bans on buttocks-baring low-rise jeans, exposed thong underwear, explicit T-shirt logos, midriff T-shirts, and diving necklines. And these bans aren’t just in high schools—many have been put into effect in junior high schools and even elementary schools.”
The way we dress speaks about who we are
Many of the girls (and women) dressing immodestly are not trying to be immodest, but whether they know it or not, the way all of us dress sends a message. The question is: what message do we want our clothing to send? Does the way we dress reflect our belief in chastity and purity?
Evangelical pastor and author, Joshua Harris in Dannah Gresh’s book, And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity comments:
How you dress is one way of showing that you do not trust God. Shannon, my wife, talks about this a lot. She knows girls face the temptation to pick out the shorter skirt in the closet because they know that it grabs the guy’s attention. But girls have a responsibility to their brothers in Christ to help guard their purity. They have a responsibility to the guy. The way you dress makes a huge difference in how a guy views you and how he guards his heart. You have no idea how difficult it is for a guy to look at you with purity in his heart when you are dressed immodestly. I think a lot of you are naïve. You don’t understand how a male works….Christian or non-Christian. You don’t know that we are stimulated by sight. You just see the style, ya know? But you run the risk of really defrauding your Christian brother if you reach for the immodest outfit. If you could just see where girls who dress immodestly lead guys mentally.The average teen or adult female who dresses immodestly will most likely claim that she is not dressing to be seductive or provocative, but rather is just dressing to be “in style” or fashionable. While that may be true, it cannot be denied that immodest clothing does draw attention to the female and may be an occasion of sin for others.
RADIX—a Catholic ministry that travels the country presenting the teachings of the Church through drama, music, and comedy—addresses this topic on its website:
Maybe you dress immodestly but you think it’s okay since, “your intention isn’t to tempt others”. You say that it’s what you feel comfortable in, or that you have to dress that way because it’s part of a uniform, for school or work. That may not be as serious a sin as trying to tempt others, but if you know that what you are wearing is something that is, or will most likely be a source of temptation, then out of charity, wear something else. Why would that be charitable, you might ask? It would show that you’re considering the soul, yours and others!! It would show that you are putting the salvation of souls before your comfort, or sport, or desire to fit in with the fashionable crowd. That is a great and awesome sacrifice . . .
When Britney Spears first appeared on the entertainment scene, her image was considered wholesome by Hollywood standards. She publicly proclaimed her virginity as well as her Christian faith. When her dress departed from “wholesome,” she continued to proclaim that she would retain her virginity until marriage. Her clothes and “moves,” however, were sending a very different message.
Grammy-award-winning Christian pop star, Rebecca St. James had this to say about Spears: “The biggest thing I feel for Britney is I feel sad for her. I also feel sad for the nine or 10-year-olds watching her who see her dressing in a very promiscuous fashion, almost asking for people to treat her as a sex object. They are going to start dressing that way too.” And, they do.
Spears had this to say, "These parents, they think I'm a role model for their kids, that their kids look at me as some sort of idol. But it's the parents' job to make sure their kids don't turn out that shallow. That's not my responsibility. I'm not responsible for your kid."
It did not take long for Spears’ virginity pledge to be broken. Certainly, there may have been many factors contributing to her slide into non-marital sex, but it cannot be denied that sexual sins frequently stem from some form of immodesty. She also left her Christian faith for Kabbalah.
The parent factor
With the exception of how much they cost, the average parent today does not think much about the clothes their daughters wear. Some even think dressing like Britney Spears is “cute.” Here’s what television commentator and columnist, Betsy Hart, had to say: “. . . while I’m not a prude by any means I think dressing a not-yet 6-year-old like she was Britney Spears is at best silly, and at worst unnecessarily sexualizing our littlest girls.”
Some mothers set a poor example by actually dressing immodestly themselves. Tragically, some even encourage their daughters to dress ”hot.” Girls and women can—and should— look great but what message are they sending if they want to look “hot?”
Dressing modestly does not mean looking dowdy. But how can that be achieved? While it is easy for adults, it does take a little extra effort for young girls and teens. But, it can be done. And it should be done!
For excellent practical advice, I encourage you to read an article by Dannah Gresh, “Your Daughter's Wardrobe: A Battle Worth Fighting?” which may be found on the internet at:
Author and radio talk show host, Colleen Kelly Mast, recommends that parents begin teaching about modesty when their daughters are as young as six. She says, “Teaching modesty should be a normal part of the discipline of children on the road to self-mastery, It can remind them of their inner dignity as a child of God. Each time a child shops for or gets a new outfit, the question of modesty should be addressed. Children can begin to think about the statements they are making with their clothes.”