“How do I talk to a woman about what she’s wearing?”
I’ve received a number of social media messages from women lately asking how to approach a woman about her clothing choices. In some cases it’s been a work situation. In others a ministry situation.
In several cases, the women asking the question have been appointed by others to be the one to deliver the message.
In other cases, the women themselves are uncomfortable on behalf of the teen boys or men around them, but they also want to do this well.
They don’t want to cause shame, but what do they say?
Before I give some advice, I’d like to share some other women’s stories about modesty and shame.
First, one woman left a comment sharing this:
While I was at a Baptist College, one of the MANY times I got in trouble for dress code was when I wore the exact same dress that a staff member at the college wore. The only difference was that she had a much “straighter” body and I was/am much curvier.
It was one of those shirt-dresses with a collar that buttoned all the way down and tied at the waste (very 1950s-ish, which was the vibe I was going for at the time). We had the same exact dress from the same exact store, just in different colors.
I absolutely tried to contest the demerit, but they stuck to their guns and advised that I needed to do better at dressing more modestly for my specific body type. They agreed that it met the standards of neckline and length, but felt that the tie around the waist made it too “tight” because it accentuated my waist and made me have too much of an hourglass figure.
The double standard across body types was not hidden or even something they tried to shy away from.
It was, in their eyes, perfectly acceptable. In fact, any time I got demerits for dress code, it was almost always because of how the garment fit my body vs the actual garment itself. I think that’s why I made such a stink about this, because I was exhausted from wearing things that covered my body but still told that it wasn’t modest enough.
They suggested that I bring the dress to the office to have a female staff member check to see if removing the tie around the waist would make it work. The thought process was that removing the tie might not accentuate my figure so much and make it more modest for me specifically. But, I’d have to have it checked and approved by staff first before I could wear it again. Needless to say, I didn’t even bother.
Another woman wrote:
We had “dress check” at our Christian high school. Home room was in the gym. After it was over girls walked out to the left and boys to the right. The female staff stood on either side of the left door and male staff on either side of the right doors. The males were looked at to make sure their hair was short, they were clean shaven, and they had a belt. The girls were checked for all things too low, too high, too tight…but the standards were extreme. I was a twig. I hardly ever got in trouble. The thicker and curvier girls were constantly in trouble having to wear oversized polos and long skirts the school provided or having to miss class until their brought them clothes.
So many of my classmates had eating disorders.
Looking back of course they did.
I started feeling self conscious and started to want to be bigger because I kept getting questioned if I had an eating disorder because of my size. Years later I know I have a digestive disorder that kept me small.
Why was that ok?
And another woman said:
I was told, “God has blessed you with a beautiful body, but that also means you have a greater responsibility to protect that for your husband.”
“That’s fine for other girls to wear but God made you differently and you can’t wear the same things most girls can.”
“If you weren’t so pretty this wouldn’t be an issue.”
This was just from people at church, I didn’t even go to a Christian school.
Still deal with all of that several Sunday mornings a year when my insecurities flare and wind up in tears in my closet. And that doesn’t even count the months of closet crisis when I was breastfeeding a newborn and dealing with postpartum body, engorged breasts, and a new tiny human (+ toddlers).
So with that as the context, let’s address the question:
When should you approach a woman about what she’s wearing?
1. Ensure there is an actual, legitimate dress code first.
If you are going to approach a woman about her clothing, it must be because she violated a legitimate clothing code that is universally applied that she should have been expected to know about.
So if she wore shorts to a function and men were upset about how long her legs were, but these men were also wearing shorts, you don’t get to say a thing. The problem is not her clothes; it is the men’s thoughts.
If she is new to the church, you don’t say a thing. She wouldn’t know about the dress code.
If she’s not in a work or ministry situation, you don’t say a thing. You don’t get to go around putting dress codes on women when there isn’t a mechanism or reason to have a dress code–even if you’re worried about her effect on your son (as several of the messages have been about) or even if you’re worried about her effect on the young men around her.
If she’s in a work or ministry situation but there is no dress code, then you still don’t say anything. It is up to the leadership to create a dress code if they want to; it is not up to you to relay a message to a woman about something which has no objective guidelines.
And I want to say, too, that I think dress codes at work or ministry can be appropriate in certain situations. I’m not saying all dress codes are wrong. Some workplaces may not want jeans, or t-shirts, or shorts, or spaghetti straps, or casual clothing, or open toed shoes, or sneakers (except for Casual Fridays or something). Or they may want “business/professional attire” rather than “after work/party attire.” Those are valid for businesses to enforce–IF they are universally enforced; they are clearly defined; and they are gender neutral.
2. Any “infraction” of a dress code must be about clothing, not body type
In several cases, women messaging me have explained, “she’s really well-endowed, and that’s distracting to the men around her.” She cannot do anything about being well-endowed. The issue can never, ever be about how her body is affecting the men around her; that’s on them.
3. Ask yourself, “is this really her issue that is worth shaming her about?”
If men are being made uncomfortable, why is it necessary to transfer that discomfort and shame onto a woman? Why not ask the men to deal with their discomfort?
4. Ask yourself, “is this a ‘me’ issue in any way?”
If you’re feeling like you really should talk to a woman about what she’s wearing, ask yourself, “am I feeling jealous about her body type? Am I feeling insecure about my own appearance? Am I feeling insecure about what my husband or son may do around her and feel really vulnerable?”
In all of those cases, those are YOU issues, not HER issues. Now, they may be really difficult and very real “you” issues, in that you may honestly feel very insecure and very triggered, especially if your husband has had porn use in the past. One woman comments on Facebook a lot about how women should be kind to other women and watch what they wear, because a woman showing curves can cause women married to sex addicts or former sex addicts to feel triggered, and we should care about those women.
But again–this is an issue of the sex addict; it isn’t on the woman. It’s very true that the woman may feel triggered, but the reason is not because of what the woman is wearing, but because of how her husband is acting and has acted. And because she has so little faith in him, she has to try to control the women around her.
All this is doing is transferring shame from the man to the unsuspecting woman, and it isn’t okay.
If you’re feeling triggered, that’s a sign that you need to see a licensed therapist; it isn’t a sign that you need to talk to a woman about her cleavage, or cause shame to that woman.
5. Refuse to give any such message to a woman in about 95% of situations.
If you are in a work situation or ministry situation and are being asked to deliver the message, unless the woman is flagrantly violating a dress code that is universally applied and well known, and unless you are in HR or have a leadership position over her, I would refuse.
Often men will use women in these situations to deliver messages to make it easier on the men who want to transfer the shame and guilt. Don’t play that game.
Stand up for her. It is not your responsibility to be a man’s message bearer. And do you really want to work or serve in a place that treats a woman like this?
An attractive woman should not be considered a problem. A woman’s body should not be considered a problem. Appropriateness in dress matters, absolutely. And if people are worried about appropriate attire at work or ministry, then set a universally applied dress code that focuses on clothing, not bodies, that everybody knows about.
Don’t just do it haphazardly, focusing on the well-endowed, attractive young women, or only making it an issue when such a woman comes on the scene. That’s not fair or right.
If it’s about a dress code, make it about a dress code, not about her body, and not about men’s thoughts. Let’s get this right.
What do you think? Have you ever been in a work or ministry position where you’ve been asked to talk to a woman about her clothing? Have you ever felt like you should talk to a woman? Let’s talk in the comments!
Our Modesty Posts
Posts on Modesty
- 6 Reasons we need to stop accusing girls of dressing like prostitutes
- We shouldn't sacrifice teen girls' well-being for adult men's comfort
- My 40% Modesty Rule
- Why "Don't Be a Stumbling Block" is a Really Bad Modesty Message
- Here's the Data on Why We Need to Stop Calling Girls Stumbling Blocks
- 5 Questions to Ask Before You Talk to a Woman About What She's Wearing
Podcasts on Modesty
Plus see Chapter 9 in She Deserves Better, with all of our modesty findings! It's FIRE!
Makes sense to me.
I was in Bible College in a conservative and very white part of the UK. I was slim but with big boobs and a round butt. I was one of the only women there who wasn’t white – so my body was different in shape and in skin tone. There was no official dress code but even if I wore the same things other girls wore, both men and women would tell me I needed to cover up more or that my clothes were revealing. But it felt like there were different rules for me because of the shape of my body and the fact that the colour of my skin was something it seemed they were not used to seeing – various comments made me realise this was the case, they could cope with white skin but a brown arm or calf was ‘exotic’ and would cause the men to stumble. Even when we were at the beach and I would wear a top and shorts over a swimsuit and others wore only a swim suit, it would be me who would be told off by others.
I’m so sorry, C. That’s so dehumanizing!
I’m so sorry that you were treated like that! That’s not okay.
I was around 13 or 14 when I realized the issue wasn’t the clothes it was me. My recently developed, curvy body was the problem not my immodest shirt (the same exact one that a thin girl wore without anyone commenting at all). I quickly came to the conclusion that I would never be able to be a “good” Christian girl because of my body.
That’s so sad, Jenn! I’m so sorry!
“One woman comments on Facebook a lot about how women should be kind to other women and watch what they wear, because a woman showing curves can cause women married to sex addicts or former sex addicts to feel triggered, and we should care about those women.”
Just one question: Is this woman going to show equal compassion for the women who will feel triggered by her remarks? For those who have spent decades hating their bodies because of the shame the endless ‘modesty conversations’ have made them feel? For the women who end up in tears because they can’t find any garment that covers them sufficiently for them to feel that they are not dirty sluts?
I remember standing in a room the week before I started at a ‘Christian’ school, wearing the t-shirt that was standard uniform for PE, while two female teachers discussed the size of my breasts and how fitted the t-shirt was and whether I needed to go a size up – they poked and pulled at the fabric to try and decide if it was too fitted. I then tried the size larger and had to jump up and down and wave my arms around while they debated whether or not the larger neck and arm holes revealed too much skin. I still cringe with shame at this memory and the realisation that whatever I wore, my body was still a problem for men. (And no, I wasn’t ‘well endowed’ – at the time I was a B cup. I was sick with shame the day I had to go up to a C cup because after that kind of ‘teaching’, in my mind, larger breasts = more shameful.)
“Still deal with all of that several Sunday mornings a year when my insecurities flare and wind up in tears in my closet.” I hear you, my sister. I thought I was over body shame by now – in my head, I know it’s all garbage. But I realised just this weekend when we had our first really warm weather, that I still delay taking my sweater or jacket off for as long as possible because the thicker the layers, the less obvious my breasts are. I still hate summer, because I can’t wear my thick, bulky coat every time I go outside. I still pick dark colours to try to make myself look smaller and stiff fabrics to try to hide my shape.
Can we all just stop acting as if perpetrators are victims? If your husband is going to start lusting over women as they walk past, he is not the ‘victim’ of this behaviour – they are.
I actually asked that woman that–if she thought it was okay to trigger OTHER women because of the trauma you may feel, where the roots are actually your husband’s sin?
(And that’s awful at gym! Like ick! How did anyone ever think that was okay?)
This is one of those blog posts that is going to be useful in the future to point back to when this argument gets thrown in your (or any one of us) face.
We can just link it and say. Read this first. Then come back and talk to me intellectually and constructively about the details. Otherwise, shut up and quit whining over wanting to enforce bad, woman shaming culture in your church, work, school, life. Quit whining about those poor men when Jesus is the one who calls them into account for their own sin and doesn’t coddle them at the expense of women and children.
I often use so many Bare Marriage articles to help show my points lol
Interestingly I have had some thought about dress code myself lately and while I do understand the reasons behind dress code, I think the bigger problem is the people who are tasked with the job to enforce it. They need to understand the purpose and the limitations. However, what seems to happen is the enforcers take on new beliefs or enforce their own false beliefs and all of the sudden it becomes about their fears and insecurities and their comfort and even sometimes just plain old a method for them to control something or someone. Then the decision makers have to support their enforcers as per “the written rule” and the battle goes round and round. As a male you tend not to get flagged for dress code. Typically when I have been around dress code it is either “written for women/girls” or it is a safety topic ie..no open toe shoes etc. The only guy dress code I can even think of at the moment was one that addressed keeping your pants around your waist as to not expose your underwear. Other than that, I cant really think of any directed at men. I have thankfully not had to address dress code issues in my leadership roles. However, what I have learned is that if one needs to, it should always be done in a 2 deep person format. Hopefully at least one of the people and ideally both have a healthy format to follow…if their is a TRUE dress code violation, I would say if possible man and woman address the person in a healthy way together. I would punt on any other method than 2 deep. Thats just me.
So 2 people get to shame 1, because that is what dress coding someone does, it makes them feel shamed, unless its truly for a safety reason. If its a true need for safety, no baggy clothes around machinery is really all I can think of right now, then one person is plenty to say hey we need you to be safe so please wear more form fitting clothing.
Correction is different than shaming. I agree that dress codes are slanted towards women and often lean towards shaming. The concept of 2 deep is so that the other person holds one accountable. I have heard the 2 shame 1 thoughts and I get that. That is no good. That is however not what I am referring too. The article written is not about dress codes if they are right or not it is about how to address it in a healthy way cuz lets face it. There are some inappropriate things that people man and women do. If I had to call someone out for real I would want the other person there to keep me accountable as to not shaming or causing harm. Thats the point. If your solution is to get rid of dress codes well then, You win I guess. What solutions do you have to offer? I am open to your thoughts.
How often does a 2 to 1 approach actually keep one of the 2 accountable, because it do not ever see that happening? If a manager or better yet an HR department cannot address the employee alone to say hey we require all pants to touch the top of your shoe, or we require shirts be pressed and white, not gray, then that is a problem, why would you need a second? If it is a simple we only allow x color, or y type of clothing one person can address that. Sharon we require pants or knee length skirts doesn’t require 2 people. Sharon your blouse is too tight for Georges comfort, is not appropriate and shouldn’t be approached in a any way, not 1 on 1 or 2 to 1.
I can understand a uniform or something similar. The rules I have to follow for court attire in Canada are a bit bonkers – grey or black pants or skirt in solid or pinstripe, white shirt with wing-tip collar, black waistcoat, black gown over all of that. Everything is supposed to be neat and buttoned, and we have to wear that even in the middle of the summer.
Still…they at least made the rules gender-neutral, they allow accommodations as needed for pregnancy (my friend got yelled at by a judge for being too sloppy when he couldn’t see that she was pregnant, and then she stood up, turned to the side as she walked to the podium so it was obvious, and the judge immediately felt awful) and we complain when the odd judge decides to make up additional rules like complaining about open-toe shoes.
Thank you for this set of advice! It’s helpful to any woman who may be put on any side of this position, and I’m especially happy to get this advice as the mother of two girls who seem to be budding into different body types. I am so thankful to have your body of work to refer to when raising all of my kids, but especially my girls.
There is plenty of shame to go around when it comes to women’s body types. I’ve had curvy friends be on the receiving end of being targeted by dress code/modesty issues at church, and I know how much it gets curvy girls down. That’s not okay. As someone who is not curvy, though, this doesn’t come across to me as a “godly bodies” vs. “sinful/bad bodies” issue–it’s more about who is seen and who is ignored based on body type. Curvy ladies–your bodies are fine just as they are. Your less curvy friends are not being accepted–they are being ignored or overlooked. That’s why they can wear the same thing is you and get not consequences. Unfortunately since your body is noticed it is also the main recipient of the sort of bad reactions purity culture and toxic teachings have made possible in church or ministry settings. Again, this is not okay. If I am ever put into a position where I am asked to confront a conventionally attractive girl or woman about her dress code I will take to heart your pain, the pain of my friends, and the good advice listed here. I’m already nervous about things I’ve seen done in our homeschool co-op now that my girls are getting older, and this is empowering to me as a mother.
For me shame has long come in the form of my body not representing a “real” woman. I have carried, birthed and breastfed three children, but, you know, “real women have curves.” We’ve been living in a Kim Kardashian world my entire life as a young woman, and I’ve been assured that entire time that I am not “real” because, instead of having a waist gap, my jeans are tight in the waist and baggy everywhere else. Only surgical intervention would make me a “real” woman. We simply cannot escape being shamed as a women. Even though my shame has come from a different angle I do feel the pain, and I’m so sorry that purity culture has unfairly targeted you in a church setting. It just sucks all around.
(Adding in it should go without saying that having babies is not the only measure of being a “real” woman, and I am not trying to be hurtful to anyone who has had struggles with that or who has chosen not to have children. It is just pertinent to me in my experience because my body type is so consistently portrayed as mannish, and I really wish that would stop.)
I just had this conversation with my daughter about shame. And we talked about the “dress code” at her international school growing up overseas. The principal would have girls who broke the code wear an overlarge Tshirt. My daughter was horrified bc she could wear the exact same thing as another girl but it would look different on her.
I went through the same thing! I’ve never been very well-endowed, and it always felt like I was being judged for that too.
I think Dannah Gresh needs to pay attention to #4 (and the rest of them tbh)
In a corporate job I had about 6-7 years ago, the company policy was that skirts, dresses, etc., had to at least be long enough to land 3 inches about your knee for women. As I generally wore things that were at my knee or just above, I didn’t think I had anything to worry about — I grew up with the fingertip policy after all. However, I ended up getting reported a bunch of times. One time, my supervisor got an email about my dress in the time it took me to walk from the elevator down the hall to our department office at the beginning of the day. She was constantly looking at my clothes, and approving them. I even started using a ruler to mark a line on my leg 3 inches above my knee to make sure I wasn’t violating anything & I would still get reported if I was in a skirt or dress. I think the issue was, most of my height is in my legs, so my legs are pretty long, and things hit me differently on my body than they would on someone even a little shorter than me, but I always made sure my dresses were the right length. The other issue I think was I wore a lot of dresses with elastic waists, which means while walking they may ride up a little and while sitting, the edge of the dress was way above my knee. But the dress code didn’t specify sitting or walking, and I was always evaluated standing up & still. It became such a problem I stopped wearing certain items of clothing, because it was exhausting justifying their length, and I didn’t want to be formally written up. Plus, my supervisor said sometimes I had to be make sure I always had my dresses pulled down when walking, which is a stupid way to walk if it’s not windy outside. Eventually, our department director actually changed the dress code for our department from 3 inches above the knee to 2 inches above the knee to be more modest than the company-wide corporate policy. I wasn’t even in that job 2 full years, because it became toxic for other reasons, but those dress code incidents in the first several months should have clued me into the culture. It was my 2nd office job, and I had worn almost everything at my prior office job without incident. It was such a strange experience, and was actually incredibly stressful. I still cannot believe I was sitting down in the morning to put a ruler against my leg to mark a line for where my dresses/skirts could hit. I was living with a friend & her family at the time, and after talking with them about it, we decided it might be easier for me to simply retire any dress/skirt that had been reported previously, and try on everything else and sort them critically for how they might look at any moment of my work day — standing, sitting, walking down the hall, crouched slightly at the water fountain. I ended up stopping wearing about half my dresses, and went out and bought work slacks, a few more blouses, and low & behold, the dress code violations stopped. I think I was being reported for showing any leg at all, despite never being in violation of the dress code as written. It made me so mad, but my friend’s mom counseled me that fighting it wouldn’t go well as a nobody in a giant corporate machine, so I changed what I wore to survive.
Editors’ Note: I deleted a couple of comments between two of my favourite commenters today! Nothing personal–just didn’t think it was helpful.
But I totally agree with the gist of both of your comments and the emotions behind them. Yep. Jesus would have railed on the guys blaming the girls!
I was happy with the results thanks
I have had a couple situations where I spoke to women about their attire. One was a close friend who was wearing an dress with sheer tights that her workplace had said was inappropriate. And I had to agree that it didn’t look professional because the length of dress was more tunic than dress and the tights were sheer. This was back when tunics with leggings were coming into fashion. So it just wasn’t work appropriate. We were close and she knew there was no judgement in my words.
In my professional life I taught job seeking skills. That meant discussing how to dress when applying, interviewing, etc. Sometimes young women’s dress clothing consisted of what they wore to the club during college. They were cute; but didn’t fit a professional environment. Men were more likely to be sloppy or even grungy. Some people had hygiene issues. Fortunately most of the time the message could be delivered in class time without singling anyone out! But sometimes it was in progress meetings and had to be handled carefully.
I have caught myself being triggered once. I was having body image issues and my husband had recently confessed struggling with lust. Fortunately I knew immediately that was not correct and I rejected the thought. It gave me sympathy and compassion for other women hurting and directing their pain to easier targets. I was one when I was young because I was also thin and busty. God can heal that hurt.
Love what you said about professional attire! Yes, there are some things that are considered professional and some that aren’t, and it is important to teach people about that!
If a dress code is going to involve seeing if fabric is stretching around curves for women and women pushing on fabric to see if it springs back, be sure to implement exactly the same process with men and the fabric around the crotch on their pants. To verify that it isn’t stretched too much, you need to have a gay man on-staff to check to see if the crotches are too tight and if the subject of the inspection needs to go up several sizes. If having a gay man inspect your crotch–or your husband’s or son’s–feels icky to you, then don’t do it to a woman about her curves. Hint: there are MANY men out there with beer bellies squishing themselves into too-small pants with a belly spilling out above. If you need to have a dress code about tightness of clothing, you must include the beer belly (so-called Dunlap syndrome, as in it done lap over the belt) problem for men, as well as making sure that pecs aren’t showing through a shirt. (And if your dress code requires a shirt for females, it must require the same for males.)
If you are a woman who is being triggered by scantily clad women because you are scared about what your husband/boyfriend will do, there’s a medical diagnosis for you–betrayal trauma–and there are treatments for you. (It’s basically PTSD from being cheated on, whether ogling, porn, or actually doing the deed.) I recommend reading Intimate Deception by Sheri Keffer.
Yes, on all! Thank you for this!
Years ago my dad came home from an elders meeting (we were at a fellowship Baptist church) and said the whole meeting was about discussing dress codes for people at the front/worship team. This would have been late 90’s/early 2000’s, the era of bare midriffs, tight pants, tank tops.
After discussing around and around they settled on my dad’s suggestion, which he had mentioned at the beginning of the meeting: “neat and tidy”.
Sheila, I’m genuinely baffled none of these men have connected the dots that women are just as capable of objectifying men (romance novels, anyone?). In the spirit of fairness, why not suggest a complementary “dress code” (more like body code) for men too?
“So you are fit and buff? Well, that’s too enticing for women. You’ll need to up the size of your clothes to hide your pecs and six pack. No more tight shirts. Maybe think about wearing a 3/4 sleeve, or better yet long length shirt. Yes, even in summer. And if we can’t show our n*pples, neither can you. Maybe go to the women’s department and find a sports bra.
And absolutely no calling attention to your “lower body parts”. You just don’t understand how hard it is for us women, it’s so bad we have to bounce our eyes. If you’re well endowed in that area, baggy pants are your friends. On second thought, bring back the kilts! But with leggings of course, modest is hottest. And no more bending over. The crack showing is just way too much for us to handle.”
This sounds beyond ridiculous. Yet it’s all the things women are told. Can you imagine how ashamed these young middle school boys would be having to try hard to hide their growing body parts, being told that if they are naturally more fit they should hide it? Being shuffled off to the women’s bra section if they are larger up top? It’s a horrible parody that unfortunately betrays the irony that saying these same things to women is acceptable.
Ah, double standards!
You should post these instructions somewhere that can make them go viral. This is excellent!
I highly recommend the FB page “man who has it all,” as it daily does this exact kind of script-flipping.
Scrolling through that page, and it’s so funny, but sad too, because you never notice things like that until they do flip the script.
It’s like, how many other lies have I been told by the patriarchy?!
And don’t forget ties! Look where they’re pointing! 😱
Of course, men have a built-in excuse, since they insist “women aren’t visual.” And they know this because men are SO visual and women are SO different that it must be true. 🙄
There’s always two or three women in every church that appoint themselves the morals police. They believe that they are called by God to assure the morals of the entire congregation. If you don’t accept their rebuke with all Christian humility well then, you’re just not right with God.
Unfortunately, I had two widowed aunts that took on that duty at church and accepted the further burden of responsibility for the morals of all of their nieces and nephews. Since my mom was one of 13 children, that was a job.
I’ll never forget their rejoicing when my cousin told them that he had sold his 1974 Harley Davidson. Their rejoicing turned to weeping and gnashing of teeth when the next weekend I rode up on that same bike. Yeah, I bought it at the ripe old age of twenty. They immediately called my mother to find out if she knew of my transgressions. They informed her that I would never get a decent girl again because we all know just what kind of girls ride Harleys. Mom reminded them that when my Dad first came calling when she was 16 he was riding a 1931 Indian Scout and she hopped on the back and rode all over the county with him.
While the above is a bit light, the really sad thing is that they rode all of my female cousins hard about their weight. They even went so far as to tell them that no boy worth having would ever want them if they gained a little. It made for some serious arguments and family rifts.
As for me, I just put on my Rayban Aviators, Dad’s old leather WWII pilot’s jacket, grinned, gunned the engine and rode off into the sunset.
Nice story Boone. I smiled
Honestly, Boone–you’re an amazing writer. You remind me of John Grisham when he tells these vignettes from growing up in the south!
Aah, the old unmarried aunts… my great aunt would pop out with the weirdest comments; once she looked at my tall slender cousin and said she was “sure to get r***d.” Ugh. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt as the mom, much less the girl!
(To be fair, she was known as an oddball in the family.)
Did she forget to put on pants?
Then you don’t need to say anything.
PSA: I know a woman who went to a church for a few weeks in a row for the first time in her life. The women asked her to stop wearing tank tops. She never went back to church again. Don’t be that church.
I greatly appreciate this thoughtful response! I was very skinny with large breasts in Junior and High school (and throughout my 20’s). I was never reprimanded by a man, but repeatedly by insecure women. At one point, a pastor at the church told me “it wouldn’t matter what you wore, you could be covered in sackcloth, and you will still be criticized…” He was gently chastising the messages I had been given, and trying to embolden me to start wearing women’s clothing again. By that point, my attempts to hide my figure had gone so far as to wear a sports bra to minimize my breasts, and boys shirts so my curves couldn’t be seen. “Walking shorts” were a new fashion trend and I wore those but was still criticized because, in order to fit at the waist, they were too small to reach to the top of my knee…. I was trying everything and everything, even “cross dressing” and it still wasn’t enough.
It’s a true shame that I am viewed as a whole and untarnished person better in my secular work environment than I have ever been in the church. We can (and should!) do better.
And for the moms worried about what their sons might think while being in the proximity of an attractive woman, I think there’s a great opportunity for us to believe in our sons. They can choose to take their thoughts captive, and they can control what they allow their minds to dwell on. We need to have a higher view of their abilities.
Deanna, the number of women who have said that they were treated better in secular society than in church society is staggering. It is humbling. It is infuriating. I’m sorry you were ever treated like this!
I remember in highschool (secular but with a lot of Christians on staff and attending), some of the girls wore crop tops, short shorts, and ripped jeans with tears all the way up their thighs. Nothing shocking, but they never got dress coded, while I and some other girls would get reprimanded for more modest clothes than that. I remember I once proved to the teacher talking to me that my shorts passed the fingertip rule, and she still told me I shouldn’t wear them because I should do a little extra just to be sure nobody thought I was breaking dress code. I wasn’t even “well endowed” or whatever. It was just so weird.
Very good post- I will definitely share this on my blog. It’s amazing to me that you’re approaching it as a dress code that applies equally to EVERYONE regardless of body type- this is totally different from the teaching I’ve heard on modesty, where it’s about the effect that women’s bodies/clothes supposedly have on boys/men, therefore there are different rules for different women’s body types because the effect on men is different. And, as a result, some body types just have NO OPTIONS AT ALL, there’s nothing they can wear that will satisfy the “modesty” standards. Which is very NOT COOL because women are people and we deserve to be allowed to participate in church etc regardless of our body type.
I’ve been an accidental misogynist for many years, and I’m loving the process of un-learning the bad teaching I’ve internalized. So, here’s a “dumb” question. Feel free to rip it apart, or even help me frame it better. I’m here to learn:
New woman walks into your church. She was walking home after a frat party the night before and decided to walk in as-is. Aka, not dressed modestly by any one’s definition. (I understand that this is extreme and highly unlikely). She likes the church and decides to start attending regularly.
What would it look like for a church family to disciple her towards healthy modesty?
My own thoughts:
Welcome her in. The whole church should be expressing gladness that she attended, and inviting her to sit with them for the service. She should have several offers to join lunch plans.
After several weeks of this welcoming and invitation into the regular life of the church, I imagine that this woman will begin to naturally pick up on the social cues of the church, and will dress more typically to the others in the congregation, which we hope is an expression of a healthy/positive view of the body.
IF 3 months later, she’s still showing up with her frat party outfits, what happens next? Is that a moment in which an older woman in the church steps in for more intentional mentorship to guide this gal into understanding modesty? Not just walking up and telling her to put on more clothes. I mean an invitation into a several months process of understanding inherent value from Imago Dei, the unconditional acceptance found in the gospel, demonstration of relational security, etc.
Basically, I’m suggesting the way to address immodesty is to show love and acceptance until the heart of the “immodest” person is genuinely desiring to express modesty as a way of life. Never to impose some external set of rules defining what a modest life must look like.
That sounds right! We talked in She Deserves Better how the order should be Belong, Believe, Behave, yet often we flip it!
Thanks, Iove that order and how you simplified it. She Deserves Better is on my reading list, and I’m working through The Bible vs Biblical Womanhood currently.
Belonging first, changing internal beliefs from a safe place of belonging, and THEN changing behavior. My own story of addiction is being completely rewritten using the same process, just different words.
Jesus touched the leper first, then healed him.
Jesus stands with the woman caught in adultery, then he forgives her and sends her to walk in freedom.
The father runs to meet his prodigal son and walks with him back up to the house, then he puts a new robe on him.
Such good stuff, keep it coming Sheila!
As a worship leader, I want to protect my young worshippers and block shame as much as possible. The style for high-schoolers is so different from what the older generations understand and accept, so I stick to this “dress code:” whatever you wear, make sure you can freely worship in any posture without showing midriff or cleavage. Hands up, bowing down, etc. Guys and girls.
But beyond that, my girls struggle to actually find modest clothes at the store, so I got some of our super fashionable young adult females to take the younger ones shopping at a discount store near us. We talked all about body types/style/colors, etc and enjoyed an amazing day, paid for by the worship budget. It was amazing. I try to approach dressing on stage as a worship leader as freedom and not shame.
Hello Sheila. 😊 I greatly appreciate this message. It’s definitely something I wish More people would consider before saying anything to women about their clothing choices.
Something I wanted to ask, can you make a post about how we can respond as the woman being chastised for our clothing choices?
I for one, freeze up and instantly feel the same old shame and disgust with my body. And I don’t know how to respectfully decline people’s opinions about what I should wear to cover my body. I’ve had the usual experiences of being told by christians (because of my clothing), that men will lust and it’ll be my fault, I’ll be raped and it’ll be my fault, it’s because I’m so beautiful that I have to work harder to cover up, no man wants a pre-opened gift and my body is a “gift” only for my husband to unwrap, etc etc etc. I even heard the young men in my church saying that in movies the strippers are the first ones to get shot, so if gunmen come into the church, I’ll be one of the first to die… But that at least it’ll give them more time to react.
I feel so much shame afterwards and feel so dirty. I’ve never even worn anything super revealing because I’ve always felt so ashamed of my body. I was raised as if I was born sinful, just for being a female. I used to wear hoodies and jeans, all year, even summer to cover up. But ever since I’ve started choosing my own style of clothing, people feel free to come up to me and tell me what to wear and Always with the heavy message that I’m a bad Christian for what I’m currently wearing.
How do I respond to these people? Even just the ones who say “you shouldn’t wear that” or the ones who tell my husband “you should teach your wife how to dress” in front of me
Ember, can I ask a question? Why are you in the Christian community you’re in? That sounds absolutely AWFUL! They’re saying you deserve it if you’re raped? The men are strategizing that the gunman will kill you first and that’s good because it gives them time to react to protect others?
That’s horrifying! That’s awful!
Sometimes it’s hard to see when we’re in the middle of it, but that’s not okay. None of that is okay. You should not be subject to that. I haven’t had ANYONE comment on my clothing choices in years (now, granted, I’m in my 50s, but still). There are places you can go that aren’t like that.
The only response that I would have in the moment is simply, “How rude!” But I don’t think that would go over well.
I hope you can find a place where you’re safe.
Sheila. Thank you for your kind and understanding words. ❤️
I was raised in that community. My dad is actually the pastor of the church I grew up in, and he’s been a pastor since before I was born. I’m 25.
I moved away almost 3 years ago. I didn’t move away sooner because I was basically raised in a cult 🤷🏼♀️ I was homeschooled, with very little internet access, I was prevented from getting my driver’s licence, I lived with my family in a very rural country town with nothing around us and the only socializing I had was my dad’s church and my family. So I didn’t know any better until more recent years. I very fortunately married an amazing man who treats me like a person, his equal partner and he has had a huge hand in freeing me from the abusive teachings of my church. Like, “men are the head of the household, women are here to serve” etc.
But I’m still quite entangled in my dad’s church and it’s culture.
We are around my husband’s family a lot and some can be very vocal about what I Should and Shouldn’t wear. It’s crazy. My husband addresses these people, but his family can be stubborn, so he actually suggested i take time away from them for now until some understanding can be made. Which I appreciate because I can be very sensitive and easily triggered from all that I experienced growing up.
About that time I heard the men talking, I just wanted to clarify that I’m not, and have never been, a stripper. They were just saying that because I was wearing sundresses that showed my shoulders a fitted dress or dresses that were 2″-3″ above the knee. They also said that if we were attacked by gunmen, at least it would “get rid” of me and the women who make them lust because of our clothing choices. That’s why we deserved it, according to them.
Thank God I do have my husband and a safe place at my home, but the minute I walk out of my house it feels like I’m being attacked from all sides.
Sheila, I just want you to know that I love your podcast, your books, and these blog posts. They are a healthy, freeing, bright spot when there’s so much unhealthy, abusive and oppressive teaching in churches today. It encourages me and refreshes me to learn from you. Thank you for all the work you do. I believe you’re making a difference in people’s lives.
I’ve thought about this article. And written several things and then erased them. =D
The idea of when people talk to women about dress codes and what to wear and what not to wear is abhorrent to me. I experienced that behavior throughout high school and in my first two years of college. I found it irritating then, and my feelings have only gotten stronger in the decades since. Thank goodness I married a man who has always encouraged me to wear what I’m happy in. Including bikinis. Yep. Even though I’m not a size six figure…
The only reason for coaching, yes COACHING a woman or a young lady about what to wear is to help her learn what flatters her body shape best. And what she will feel good wearing. Not some silliness about how men are so weak (well, that part is hardly ever spoken out loud) that they can’t control their minds if they see cleavage or thighs or whatever…Men need to man up and take responsibility for their own thoughts and not make this something about women. It’s about them.
Thank you for your recent conversation on Voxology. It was a huge blessing and encouragement to me! I especially loved Suzie’s “Apology Tour” as I’ve made a few stops on my own in recent years…