Once a month for 12 school years, I watched my female classmates forced to line up in the hallway, one straight line of girls kneeling. As they waited, a teacher would walk by and measure the distance between the floor and the hem of their skirts, then the distance between the lowest point on their blouse and their clavicles. If the distances were too great, they were sent home or forced to wear the school’s official “ugly sweater,” my school’s version of the scarlet letter A.I had three sisters. I watched all of them kneel in that line. And I have witnessed firsthand how my church’s modesty laws have affected various aspects of their lives, from insecurity, to parenting, to how they interact with other women with different modesty ideals.Our ideas about modesty are mostly Puritanically American. No, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but we must remember that our “modesty” is far more a cultural standard than it is a spiritual one. In a society with a history of making sure that women’s parts were things not to be talked about but rather covered up (for the sake of the male’s eyes/integrity!), is it any wonder our culture has grown into one that worships breasts and bodies as only sexual objects?Our rules surrounding modesty have longstanding effects for some people. When I was doing research for the book I wrote about sex, I interviewed numerous married Christian women who confessed that sexual intimacy with their husbands was a struggle. They’d been told all their lives that it was a sin to be sexy. And turning that “rule” off when in the bedroom with their husbands was, for some, impossible. Many felt guilty for “feeling sexual.” And I think that’s sad.The undertone of our definition of “modesty” is shame. Whether the words are ever said aloud or not, how we Christians talk about modesty makes many women feel insecure or shameful about their bodies.
Just recently there was a very similar article in YNET (if someone could find it for me, I'd be grateful) of how religious Jews often find their wedding night to be quite a traumatic experience - where they suddenly go from "even looking at a woman's little finger) is a sin, to marital relations overnight. The continuation of the article is also worth noting:
Modesty as a form of self respect is a theme I would like to see promoted. Discussions on modesty often boil down to a simplistic justification of GIRLS dressing modestly so naughty BOYS will not be led astray. While that argument certainly has a core of truth, it is only one side of a complex issue. Modesty is about one's self image - defining yourself in a non sexual manner. Sadly that aspect of the issue is often overlooked.
While we probably don’t want to admit this, the Church is guilty of the same sin as the porn industry: we objectify women.Sure, it’s different—but how different? The focus is the same–a woman’s body, her breasts. By helping create and maintain a culture that has made a woman’s body taboo, an object not to be looked at, we’ve helped create and maintain a culture’s interest, curiosity and lust for looking at it. Sadly, both sides miss the mark on what is truly modest.Most modesty teaching sets young girls up to begin objectifying themselves. It creates a platform in their lives where “being objectified”–whether its by our culture or the Church–is seen as normal, even expected.If we’re going to offer our daughters lessons about modesty (and I think we should, despite it being a difficult topic to discuss), the conversation shouldn’t come laced with the clause “because we want to serve our Christian brothers!” This reiterates shame and reinforces the idea that men are only interested in a woman’s body. The reason for modesty shouldn’t only be respect for Christian brothers—a lesson that, however subtle, again casts the female as “not quite equal” to man. The reason for modesty should be self-respect.Maybe we hate conversations about modesty. But let’s have one anyway.