Is the "modesty movement" harmful to women?


Modesty is all the rage among people of faith these days. Staged as an alternative to the in-your-face fashion of the Lady Gagas of the world, the movement focuses on stylish but tasteful alternatives to the breast-bearing, leg-showcasing clothing that is popular among many today. Christians girls' conferences are dotted with pre-teens wearing "modest is hottest" t-shirts. Websites such as Modestly, and Secret Keeper Girl are calling females from young to old to opt for more conservative attire that conceals rather than reveals. Department stores are even getting in on the action with Nordstrom’s “Modern and Modest” line and “Shade,” a clothing line created by Mormon women that can be purchased at Macy’s.

On the surface, the movement seems virtuous and even Biblical. One can’t help but think of passages like 1 Timothy 2:9, which says, “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” Setting aside for a moment that even modern modesty advocates fail to meet the literal definition of modesty given in this verse, one can’t help thinking that the movement calls women to align more closely with Christian values.

But many Christians are less positive about the modesty movement, and some have even asserted that the movement isn't theologically mature and may even be harmful to women. Modern modesty advocates, they claim, end up doing the very thing they want to prevent: objectifying women and their bodies.

“The Christian rhetoric of modesty, rather than offering believers an alternative to the sexual objectification of women, often continues the objectification, just in a different form,” says Christian writer Sharon Hodde Miller. “It treats women's bodies not as glorious reflections of the image of God, but as sources of temptation that must be hidden.”


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