Dressing Ourselves and Our Daughters
The fashion industry and its attempts to help women accentuate their beauty began, I imagine, when Eve set to work one day to make her animal skin attire more beautiful than Adam’s. Since then the world has seen togas and tent dresses, low-cut designs and Victorian high-buttoned restraints, voluminous petticoated skirts to ultra-mini miniskirts, and a thousand other designs from beautiful to boring. For centuries women have endured fashion, rebelled against fashion, and been enslaved to fashion.
Today we see all extremes of dress from bikinis to burqas. But beyond the external clothing girls and women wear are the internal attitudes that accompany that outer image.
When my girls were still teens, I discovered a book, written by a young single woman based on the research she did for her graduate thesis. A Return to Modesty, by Wendy Shalit, made the network news because as a 23-year-old she dared to challenge modern thinking regarding the immodest dress of today’s women and the attitudes of willing sex that follow. I underlined my copy profusely as it emboldened me to keep on challenging my daughters to a much higher standard of modesty than the world and their friends were offering them.
A follow-up book published in 2007, Girls Gone Mild, specifically addresses tweens and teens, encouraging them to refuse the sleazy look the fashion industry is offering at every store in the mall. You can also go to her website, www.girlsgonemild.com, to join conversations about modesty. Author Dannah Gresh, a contributor to MomBlog, has also written on modesty for girls. Her websites are www.secretkeepergirl.com and www.purefreedom.org, and I encourage you to visit them right now to sign her petition and become actively involved in her quest for modesty in the fashion industry.
How do we as moms help our girls embrace modesty and dress accordingly?
1. Know what you believe. We are the gatekeepers of what our daughters wear for their first 18 years of life. We take them shopping, give approval for choices, and provide the cash for clothing choices until they begin earning their own money. You cannot hold strong healthy standards for your girls if you aren’t sure what you believe. Otherwise you too will be swayed by the world into thinking, It’s not that bad or that low-cut or that skimpy. Read these books and know what you are up against. And watch what you wear. You are always her model.
2. Start young. We began training our girls to think modestly when they were little by only letting them wear one piece bathing suits knowing it would be difficult to explain why suddenly at puberty a bikini was no longer acceptable. Read Jennifer Dyer’s MomBlog post on this same topic. Dress your little girls like little girls, not miniature adults. I remember one of our daughters choosing a rather sheer top to try on at a store when she was about eight. I took the time to explain to her that her selection was not modest and why. It takes more time to teach and train than to just say no, but we must shape their attitudes and thinking if we hope to see them embrace modesty.
3. Nurture her innocence. Girls naturally become more cautious around boys as they enter puberty. It’s an instinctively modest response in every girl that helps her want to protect her purity. Wendy Shalit writes that in cultures where the men and women live almost entirely naked, there is still a highly developed sense of modesty among the women. Their intuitive behavior implies that this attitude is God-given. Help your daughter understand her gift as a woman that needs to be kept safe until marriage. It is a great mystery.
4. The role of dads and boys. When I was in college it was the era of the miniskirt. Everyone wore them in varying lengths of shortness. I was a brand-new Christian and aware of my God-given sense of modesty as I worked to keep my more moderate-length skirts properly tucked around my legs when I sat in class. Compared to other girls on campus I thought my skirts were okay.
In reality it was only a matter of inches. One day a fellow student, a young man, bravely told me he thought my skirts were too short. I was showing too much leg, he implied. He was not arrogant or condescending, but sincerely wanted me to know that my miniskirts and everyone else’s made it difficult for him and the other believing male students to keep their thoughts pure. I knew his intentions were to be helpful to me, that I genuinely might not understand what it was like for the guys, and so I was not offended. He wasn’t singling out only me, but mentioned this to a few other girls who wanted to live holy lives. As a result I was much more aware of my skirts and as I got new ones I tried to get them a bit longer.
I’ve wondered many times recently what would happen if mature young men today courageously spoke truth with young women about all the low-cut cleavage-revealing camis, tanks, and dresses. Frankly, I’m dismayed by how much cleavage is on view everywhere, including supposedly professionally dressed TV news anchors and reporters. So I would encourage you to consider emboldening your teenage sons to help their sisters in Christ understand that all the flesh on display is really hard on them. And fathers should do the same. We give our husbands and sons courage when we let them know we want their protective coaching with our daughters.
5. Don’t over-react. I’ve realized over the years that it’s not the specific style that makes a woman or girl immodest, but the attitude of the heart that accompanies the outward appearance. Peter addresses women in this regard saying, “Your adornment must not be merely external … but let it be the hidden person of the heart …” (1 Peter 3:3-4). God does not have a dress code requiring a certain color and length of skirt or a particular type of garment. Your daughters will want to wear tight jeans and low-cut tops and your job is to help them find a way to be in the world but not enslaved to the message its style is sending. And above all, nurture the inner soul of your daughter so her heart wants to please God and not everyone else.
I still remember the words of a speaker I heard in my formative Christian years, “Do you want to turn heads or hearts?” That is the issue for us as women and for our daughters. I used it with my girls many times and I hope you will too.
And by the way, you might be interested to know that I married the young man who told me my skirts were too short.