I learned something new this week: a good message can have a bad effect if repeated too frequently.
Wednesday was our first discipleship group since school began, and I have an outstanding group of girls this year. I felt like we bonded quickly as we laughed our way through a game of telephone charades, examined this year’s text (McDowell’s More than a Carpenter), and explored the purposes and goals of discipleship groups. We had some great interaction and time to pray for one another.
Our discussion of discipleship groups in general led to reminiscing about topics from previous years. One girl mentioned the modesty theme from two years ago, and both seniors rolled their eyes and groaned. “The only thing we talked about in girls’ chapels for the first three years I was here was modesty,” said one of the seniors. “I got so sick and tired of hearing about it. It made me feel rebellious. It actually made me want to dress immodestly.”
I knew exactly how she felt. All four years at my Christian college, I could confidently expect that every month I would hear about exactly how much of my body I could expose. Sometimes I would hear about the Biblical reasons behind modesty, but mostly it was a pragmatic lesson in selecting the right shirts, shorts, and skirts.
I understood why they did it then, and I understand it even better now, as a teacher. Immodesty is the most noticeable and (at least in theory) easily correctable of female problems. Some girls don’t have the first clue how men’s minds work, and they think they’re being “cute” when they don miniskirts and halter tops. The messages they are sending are as destructive to these young women’s futures as they are to our Christian men’s minds. It’s even worse to watch the girls who know exactly what they’re doing with their seductive dress, girls who are willing sacrifice their dignity and self-respect in exchange for attention.
However, in both communities in which I have seen the modesty message pounded into the ground, immodesty has been by far the exception rather than the norm. And I think that the effects of overemphasizing this message are more harmful to the majority than they are helpful to the minority. The problem is that harping on modesty alone, at the expense of talking about other urgent issues facing girls today, sends the message that young women’s bodies and their appearance before men is the only thing that matters about them. Not their brilliant and creative minds. Not their vulnerable feminine emotions. Not their strong, persevering wills. Not their immortal souls. Their bodies. Young women already obsess enough over their bodies. Don’t we want to avoid encouraging or adding to this fixation?
Our approach must address the whole woman: body, mind and soul. We must help our girls take a stand against a tidal wave of culture that tells them that they are worth no more than the labels on the clothes and the makeup on their faces. We must call them to fulfill their unique, God-given roles in churches, homes and schools. We must prepare them to grow in strong, beautiful, confident, faithful, Godly women who know what it means to bring every aspect of their lives into subjection to Christ.
In all honesty, I have never witnessed those modesty talks make any difference in how girls dress. But I have seen young women come to know Christ. I have watched the Holy Spirit bring girls to repentance and faith, and I have watched that saving faith transform every aspect of those girls’ lives, including the way they dress. Sometimes, modesty needs to be addressed. But let’s put the main emphasis where it ought to be: on the eternal soul rather than on these earthly tents that are being destroyed.