This article originally ran on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog. I encourage you to check out their treasure trove of other articles and resources as well!
This is not another article on Matthew 5:28, hem lengths, or the horrors of uncovered shoulders. Today I’m writing more as the concerned mother of a teenage girl than as a biblical counselor. I want to take an unflinching look with young people of both sexes at the reality behind immodest dress; the desire to be desired; and where it can lead.
Sixteen-year-old “Vanya” was raised in a Christian family. A former AWANA protégé, she is a superb student and overall good-girl. When she started high school and began social networking, however, she noticed “sexier” girls wearing the fashions her parents forbid. She became dissatisfied with her own looks, associating beauty with short, tight, and low-cut.
On Facebook, pictures of teen girls with cleavage and entire legs showing would receive hundreds of “Likes” within hours. When Vanya posted pictures of herself fully-clothed, few people would “Like” them. She began to change her style….subtly at first; then more openly. Her makeup became heavier; her shirts more revealing; her jeans tighter…until her parents confronted her. Was this “love of fashion,” as she claimed, or a desire for male attention—at any cost?
Her “mature” look attracted the attention of 28-year old family friend George. Texts and phone calls turned romantic, all behind the backs of Vanya’s parents. She snuck out of the house to meet the man—for a long walk in the woods. When caught, she tearfully confessed, “He was the only guy who I could really talk to! He understood me and cared about me…we were going to wait until I was 18 and then get married!”
By the grace of God, Vanya’s parents discovered and stopped the situation before anything more serious happened, but Vanya was devastated. Vanya was seeking emotional intimacy and George seemed to provide it. (Whether George was seeking easy sex is open to speculation, but 28-year-old men do not seek emotional intimacy with 16-year-old girls.) Despite being raised in church by believing parents, Vanya was deceived by the lie that dressing and acting seductively will secure the kind of approval (and intimacy) she longed for.
Like all Christian mothers, I want my daughters to dress in a way that reflects love for Jesus. (This is a real challenge when current fashion involves wearing one’s underwear on the outside.) Wanting to avoid ‘legalism,’ I’ve often said that if we have the Holy Spirit within us, guiding us in purity, it is not necessary to carry a tape measure into the dressing room. Attempting to give some Christian liberty backfired in the name of “fashion” and “fitting in.” This battle for purity is one of the biggest reasons American evangelicals choose to homeschool, a choice I respect. However, my husband and I have decided to fight the battle by preparing our children to be on the front lines—living in this world, and ultimately responsible for their own choices.
As a woman who has counseled, parented, and evangelized teenage girls for years (on two continents), I can say with certainty that sensuality is the most common reason teenage girls who profess faith sometimes fall away. In simple terms, when they ‘count the cost’ of following Christ, they decide purity is too high. Of course, few would confess bluntly to such a decision, but the reality plays out in their lives. In school; with their friends; online—being seen as “sexy” becomes more important than being seen as a daughter of the King.
The natural, God-given desire to be beautiful and loved has been perverted, a cross-cultural phenomenon to which Christian girls are not immune. A British friend wrote, “There needs to be more teaching for the young people on honouring God in all areas of their life. There are some girls who are expressing faith, yet still wearing short dresses, striking provocative poses.”
Girls as young as 13 post pictures of themselves in dresses that cover no more than towels, sporting the infamous “duckface” pout (is that supposed to be sexy?). The social-media gamble for attention is a double-edged sword. Girls compete with one another to be the most “attractive” (equating sex appeal with beauty); guys pay attention and encourage. The same girls then jealously destroy each other’s reputations.
We cannot blame the media or ‘the world’ for the lure of immodesty, or for the lie that it promises love. The blame lies in our own sin-deceived hearts. While the world offers an evil and corrupt moral code, there is no getting around the fact that each one of us is responsible before God for our own sin (Ezekiel 18).
Young ladies, you were created to glorify God. You are made in His image. Your true beauty, which comes from your union with Him, is of great worth to your Heavenly Father (1 Peter 3:4). Stop objectifying yourselves and live out your position in Christ. Young men who truly love you will care far more about your holiness than the shape of your legs.
Young Christian men, 1 Timothy 5:2 applies to you whether you are involved in ministry or not. I am not going to lecture you on the dangers of lust; your pastors have already done that. Rather, I appeal to you as an older sister in Christ and a mother. Your Christian sisters are looking to you for approval, and they are just that—your sisters. Every time you hang a poster, wear a T-shirt, or “Like” a picture of an immodestly-dressed woman, you are celebrating impurity. You are also sending young women a dangerous message— their worth lies primarily in being physically attractive.
Tell them you value their friendship; appreciate their intelligence; admire their devotion to Christ. See the beauty in their smiles and the joy in their eyes; not the size of their chests or the daringly-short skirt.
Glorifying immodesty is a symptom of a deeper problem—the belief that sensuality attracts love; which will lead to lasting satisfaction. It reveals a heart that screams “Look at me!” rather than “Look to Jesus.” Ankle-length skirts and denim jumpers do not eliminate the heart issue of impurity, but embracing the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” is a good place to start.