Reality TV is all the rage these days. Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice – they all share the same premise: ordinary people confronted with extreme adversity.
I have an idea for a great new reality show – one in which the task is so challenging as to be nearly impossible. Take a typical mom, dad, and daughter. Now, drop them in a shopping mall with $500 to buy the daughter a new wardrobe. The catch: everything they buy has to pass the modesty test.
Sound simple? Let me tell you, it’s not. When my daughters were small, the fashion world had little impact on their clothing choices. Dad and Mom made most of the decisions for them. For many years, in fact, I made their dresses for special occasions myself, and these were always received with great excitement. As they grew and their worlds enlarged, so did their perceptions of fashion. Our shopping expeditions became exercises in endurance rather than enjoyable outings.
As just one sample of what we’re up against as parents, one very popular store markets thong underwear emblazoned with sexy slogans like “eye candy” and “wink, wink” to girls aged 7-14. When asked to defend their product, the company spokesperson said, “It’s cute and sweet and fun.” Granted, this is an extreme example. But even when shopping for basic items like jeans and t-shirts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find attractive, fashionable clothes for young girls that don’t show off a whole lot of skin. Tube tops, crop tops, clingy fabrics, low-cut dresses and low-rise jeans are all the rage. CNN and Fox News Channel commentator Betsy Hart complained about one national retailer, where she found everything for her young daughter to be too tight, too low-cut and too short. In her words, “dressing my not-yet-six-year-old like she is Britney Spears is at best silly, and at worst unnecessarily sexualizing our littlest girls.”
In this cultural climate, what is a parent to do? Drawing from my experiences as a mother of three daughters, I’d like to share a few suggestions that might be an encouragement in this critical parenting issue.
1. Embrace modesty
Given the current state of things, does modesty even matter anymore? Our culture tells us no, and we’ve been so affected by the world around us that sometimes we don’t even stop to think about what our appearance says about us, or how it measures up to God’s standards. God calls us to a life of purity, and modesty is a natural outworking of a pure heart.
A speaker I heard recently told of young men in her church youth group who were complaining about what the girls in the group were wearing. These boys were sincerely coming to youth group to worship God, and they really felt that they were being distracted from, and even led astray, by the immodest dress of the girls in the group. They didn’t know where to look, and it was very hard on them as they tried to obey God and keep from lusting.
Yes, the men have a responsibility to control themselves, but we women also have a responsibility not to add fuel to the fire.
Keep in mind that these were boys who were actively fighting against temptation. Imagine the impact of improper dress on men who have serious lust problems, or who don’t even recognize it as a problem. I think that the proliferation of pornography and blatant sexual messages in our society today is linked to widespread immodest dress. What once would have been considered unacceptable and risqué is now, not just accepted, but commonplace. No wonder some men have great difficulty in this area! It is a battle for them to protect themselves from the onslaught of our sex-crazed society. Yes, the men have a responsibility to control themselves, but we women also have a responsibility not to add fuel to the fire.
The way in which a girl dresses will also impact the kind of guy she attracts, which will in turn impact their behaviors and attitudes toward sex. As one young lady shared, “I know that the kind of things that I wear draw a certain kind of guy. And ultimately the guy that I want to have as a husband is a guy that’s committed to purity. He doesn’t want to lust. If I’m dressing kind of seductively in what I’m wearing, I’m going to be attracting a guy that is okay with that, and it almost says that I’m impure, but that he’s okay with that; whereas, if I’m dressing modestly, it’s going to attract a guy that respects that and appreciates that.”
Ultimately, the most important reason for embracing modesty is that God’s Word tells us to do so. If the Holy Spirit lives in us, our bodies are God’s temple, and revealing clothing is not honoring to Him. It is also not honoring to our spouse (or future spouse). Our bodies are meant for our spouse alone to enjoy, so a girl who displays her body publicly is actually defrauding her future mate.
2. Define family modesty standards
What is modesty? Modesty means different things to different people and, like other words, its meaning has undergone a metamorphosis over time. The dictionary tells us that to be modest is to avoid impropriety or indecency, to be reserved in sexual matters, and to be unpretentious in appearance. Indecency is a strong word, meaning ‘highly unsuitable,’ but unfortunately our society has redefined this word as well. What was once considered unsuitable dress in public is now the norm. Perhaps it is better to focus on the idea of being unpretentious in appearance. A modest person does not call attention to themselves by the way they dress.
Kids are being made to grow up faster than ever before.
In order to teach our daughters to value modesty in a world where modesty is seen as prudish, we must make the effort to establish clearly what we consider to be modest. This is made more difficult because society’s standards of modesty have changed so much over time. When I was in high school, for example, exposing a bra strap would have been extremely embarrassing for a teen girl. Today it’s considered no big deal, and in fact many girls in elementary school purposely wear designer straps as a fashion statement.
So how do we know what constitutes modest apparel and what doesn’t? Ultimately, it is up to you as parents to set the family standard. Discuss it with your spouse and come up with some guidelines that you can pass on to your daughters. Determine what you consider to be acceptable clothing choices. Talk about a specific age when it becomes acceptable to wear make-up, heels, etc. and be prepared to explain your decision-making process. I’d encourage you to give this some serious thought and refrain from changing the standard if you have more than one daughter. With an eleven year span between the eldest and youngest of our three daughters, this has been a test of our memories!
For our family, necklines are close to the collarbone and hem lengths are to the knee or longer. Makeup is worn to enhance rather than to attract attention, and the first makeup to be used is a little mascara and lipgloss around age thirteen. Clothing is clean and well kept. In developing your standards, you may also need to educate yourself on current fads and slang. Some clothing and accessories may look innocent, while actually conveying a much different message. For example, a lot of kids today are wearing t-shirts carrying slogans of a sexual nature. Because the terms are different from what we grew up with, this often flies under the radar of parents – but rest assured, the kids all know what they mean! If your child wants to wear something and you suspect it may convey a hidden message, ask them about it. Be assured, modest clothing can still be stylish and attractive. Be prepared to spend some extra time searching out suitable fashions for your daughters. They are out there, but you’ll have to be willing to cheerfully make the effort and, in some cases, spend a little extra.
3. Get the kids on your side
Once you’ve set your standards, the next key is to get your kids to buy in without a full-scale revolt! It’s easy to say, “I’m the parent and you will do what I tell you,” but while that approach may bring about outward conformity to the standard, it will not help your daughters to begin to value modesty in their own hearts. Instead, you want to help them to understand why modesty is such an important character issue and teach them to make good decisions on their own.
We’ve found it very helpful to be able to give our daughters reasons as to the suitability or unsuitability of a piece of apparel. It’s good to be able to explain to them how a young man regards some of their fashion choices. This explanation, of course, must be purposeful and age appropriate. Your daughter may honestly not realize that the item she’d love to wear may cause guys to look at her in a way she was not anticipating. She may respond by saying that this is the guy’s problem and that he should have more self-control. And, again, young men should demonstrate self-control, but God has designed males to be visually attracted to females. Your daughter needs to understand that this is very powerful, and she does not need to contribute to the problem.
4. Offer a role model
The teaching of modesty should begin as early as possible. Model a modest form of dress. Provide bathrobes for family members and be aware of the way you dress both within and outside your home. Minimize the impact of the brand name mentality by beginning early in their lives to teach them the value of money, and that a brand name item is not necessarily a better item. Often we get our kids hooked on brand names by dressing our young children in these clothes, and it becomes hard to backtrack when the price tag inflates or the styles become racier.
Dad’s approval is extremely significant in a daughter’s life
Be on the lookout for good role models that are older than your own daughter and allow these friends to influence them. They can be a tremendous help to you. Also, watch for positive examples in the world of entertainment and introduce your kids to them. Encourage your daughter to cultivate a vibrant walk with Jesus Christ by being a character model before her and taking a genuine interest in her spiritual life.
5. Counter the media onslaught
Realize that fashion is big business. Kids’ and teen clothing represents a multi-billion dollar industry, and the advertisers know exactly how to entice our children. Your daughters are bombarded from an increasingly early age through the media – music, videos, TV and technology. In fact, marketing that used to be aimed at teens has now shifted to the tween group (ages 8-13). This shift is having a noticeable impact on girls in this age category. Kids are being made to grow up faster than ever before. Adult clothing styles are being mini-sized to fit young girls. As Betsy Hart pointed out, this has led to the sexualization of pre-teen girls seeking to emulate their media heroes. And it’s not just the clothes that are being adopted, but also the attitudes toward life in general and sexuality in particular.
We can diminish the influence of media by helping our daughters make wise choices concerning TV programs, videos, movies, music and reading material. It’s important to begin at an early age to instill values and guidelines for making discerning choices. Talk about these choices in entertainment and fashion selection with your tweens and teens before they ever become issues.
6. Value character over appearance
It is important to tell your daughter how beautiful she is, so that she doesn’t have to go outside the family to hear this message. Even more vital than praising her appearance, though, is affirming her character. We need to counteract our culture’s influence by placing value on what God values – the inner heart and character of an individual. The Bible says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). Compliment your daughter on her inner character frequently. Most importantly, pray for your daughter daily. It’s a very different world than the one that we grew up in and the temptations are more overt and bold. Pray fervently that she will have a heart that seeks to know God.
7. Recognize dad’s critical role
Never underestimate the influence of a dad. My husband went on many shopping trips — even though this was not his favorite activity — in order to show his interest and have some input into the selection process. Dad’s approval is extremely significant in a daughter’s life, so fathers need to be careful in how they relate to their girls. Both words and tone matter greatly. Even though she may act like she resents your intrusion in her life at times, your daughter really does care about what you think of her. Dads, let your daughter know that you think she is beautiful and that she is unique in your eyes and God’s. Your girls carefully watch your reaction. Your opinion counts!
“For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:10-11
Preparing your daughter to follow God’s standards in this area of modesty is a gift that will last a lifetime. I like to think of modesty as a pattern that I am helping my daughters weave into their lives — a pattern that will become so much a part of their moral fiber that it will enable them to freely and fully enjoy being the women God has designed them to be.