If you think that you can teach your kids to respect themselves and each others bodies, and also dress them in provocative and immodest clothing, even something as minor as a sleeveless top or bare midriff, just take a moment to think about the principle of graffiti and the broken windows that I mentioned earlier. Think of the first tiny scratch on the new car. Isn’t your child more important than a new car? There is no danger in erring a little on the side of strictness with modesty, and even if you don’t think that dressing immodestly will be ultimately damaging to your child’s feelings of self worth, you must consider the world we live in and what the child predator next door is thinking about when he sees your child out playing in your front yard. I know it isn’t fair. Why should we have to dump those adorable little outfits just because someone else can’t control their thoughts or actions? BECAUSE!!! It is the responsible thing to do, that’s why. Would you send your little darling out hunting in the jungle smeared with meat sauce right after eating a chicken dinner? That, unfortunately, is the world we live in. The way we dress and the way we dress our children (or they way we allow our children to dress) could be a matter of life and death. Are we going to put fashion over our children’s safety? (Yes, she got raped and murdered, but at least she looked cute in her go-go boots, her tiny tank top, and her itty bitty mini skirt.) NO! What parent would say that? It’s absolutely crazy.
I do not buy my children immodest clothing or allow them to dress immodestly. This means no sleeveless tops, no bare midriffs, no bikinis – two piece swimwear is only allowed if it covers from hip to shoulder (personally I prefer the two piece suits that have long tank tops and shorts for bottoms because it makes it easier to use the restroom and they cover more than the traditional one piece suit), no going without a shirt for boys unless we’re swimming, fingertip length shorts (for boys and girls), knee length skirts, and dresses etc., and if I can at all help it, there is no streaking out the front door naked after baths. (LOL) Of course, I provide an example by dressing the way I expect them to, and I am proactive by supervising the school clothes shopping. I will set out guidelines for my older children and then they choose their clothing based on those guidelines.
In the research study “An Examination of Date Rape, Victim Dress, and Perceiver Variables Within the Context of Attribution Theory,” done by Jane E. Workman and Elizabeth W. Freeburg, they conclude that there is enough “evidence [to show] that how a woman dresses may be interpreted as a cue to her character, vulnerability, willingness to have sex, and provocation of a male’s behavior and, consequently, affects the likelihood of sexual assault, including date rape. For example, 449 university students were surveyed about sex, dating, and date rape; 57% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “You can pretty well tell a girl’s character by how she dresses,” implying dress is related to likelihood of occurrence of date rape.” The study also reported that “because some men are confused about women’s sexual consent cues (Holcomb, Holcomb, Sondag, & Williams, 1991), how a woman dresses may be misinterpreted as a cue to her willingness to have sex (Cassidy & Hurrell, 1995). Misinterpretation of sexual consent has potential to result in date rape (Cassidy & Hurrell, 1995; Muehlenhard, 1988; Muehlenhard & Hollabaugh, 1988; Muehlenhard & Linton, 1987).”
Obviously we can’t force our kids wear burkas, but why draw the attention of pedophiles and sexual predators by pushing the limits of what is acceptable in our society, and why teach our children to do so? With the risks we face every single day, it spits in the face of reason. (This applies to children of any age, as well as adults.) Of course I understand that what we wear is not necessarily an invitation for inappropriate sexual advances. But at the same time, sexual predators don’t think the same way as everyone else, and they DO see it as an invitation, and if they take immodest clothing as an invitation for sexual activity, it only makes sense to protect ourselves and our children from that. Sexual assault often happens even when the victim is modestly dressed. Why should we increase the risk?
Of course, you don’t want to make a huge deal about it with your children. You want them to feel safe and secure and scaring them about child predators is not going to help. If you start enforcing modest dress when they are babies simply by choosing not to buy clothing that shows too much skin, then chances are you will never have to say anything until they are a little older. If someone gives your child a tank top or other immodest article of clothing as a gift, you can return it and buy something else, or you can simply donate it to good will. Politely let people know that you are no longer allowing your children to wear clothing that does not fit certain criteria, and tell them why.
Discuss modesty with your older children. You can say to your child, “I know it’s a cute top, honey, but in our family we have decided that we don’t wear clothing that shows our shoulders.” Or “yes, those are adorable shorts, but we don’t wear clothing that doesn’t at least come to fingertip/knee length,” and then you show them how to test for fingertip length by straightening your arms and extending your fingers. Where your fingers end is the shortest a piece of clothing is allowed to be. Or if you prefer knee length, show them how to kneel on the floor with legs bent at a 90 degree angle and if the skirt touches the floor, it is ok. If it does not, it is not ok. If you start this when they are small they will accept it. If, however, you wait until they are 11, then you are going to get all of the usual arguments you would expect from a child that age. If you wait until they are 13 chances are they will sneak clothing to school and change where you can’t monitor their behavior.
If this happens, and your child refuses to get rid of an article of clothing that you feel is unacceptable, you are still the one doing the laundry, and it will have to come through the wash sooner or later. When this happens, intercept it and get rid of it. If you refuse to argue over it with them, and you stay firm in your decision to enforce modest dress, they will eventually accept it, especially if you make an extra effort to be patient and loving with them and take time to help them find fashionable clothing that meets your standards. It also helps to discuss with them your reasons and to explain that you are sorry for your oversight, and that you feel it was a mistake to overlook the issue of modesty the way you have up to this point, and now for your family safety, and out of respect for your bodies, and for your desire to help them develop self worth and promote healthy sexual attitudes as they mature into young women and men, you are making some changes in the way you dress. Have a party where you get rid of any immodest articles of clothing together. Go over your new standards, and then make a list of clothing requirements. Let your kids help you choose a new outfit based on the guidelines you have set. . . Look at it this way – now you have an excuse to get a new wardrobe!
Another very serious thing to consider: if a young girl thinks of herself only in a sexual way and perceives her own happiness to be inextricably connected to being sexy and pleasing men sexually, how good are her chances going to be for success academically? Also, will she ever be able to experience true happiness if she can only be happy by pleasing someone else? Will she be able to find personal and individual happiness? Even in marriage, it is very important for women to feel joy in their own individuality. Modest dress allows young girls to be able to grow and develop in a way that allows them to build healthy feelings of self worth rather than building a future of codependency and unfulfilling personal goals centered on their sexual identity and appearance. Modest dress allows young men and young women to explore who they are and what they believe in without the distractions of false sexuality. On the other hand, immodest dress puts added pressure, especially on young girls to live up to the unrealistic sexual expectations, real or perceived, that are pushed on them through the media.
Clothing and media influences the way children grow to think about their bodies, and in our society it seems that as children grow, there is an ever increasing unnatural need to be seen as sexy, even before the age of puberty. Fashions like low cut hip-hugger jeans paired with thongs are being marketed to preteen girls, the idea being that the thong along with three to six inches of their backside will be displayed to anyone within line of sight. This fashion has become so prevalent that some cities across the nation are actually considering legislation to prevent people from walking about with their underwear showing. Yet another reason for teaching modesty to our children! Do we really want or even need our underwear to be legislated? And if you have ever been in the line of sight to someone who is dressed this way, what is your first thought? I guarantee it isn’t WOW! (at least not in a positive way.)
Even in cultures where people do not wear clothing there are behaviors of modesty. In The Psychology of Modesty and Clothing (American Journal of Sociology 5, (1899): 246-62.) William Isaac Thomas observed that “the girl of the unclothed races [often] . . .takes in sitting a modest attitude, covering herself, perhaps, with her hand,” and that “this more or less instinctive recognition of the suggestive power of her person and her corresponding attitude of modesty have been assisted also by her observation[s] . . . of other women.” He also observed that this was not done out of self consciousness or self loathing, or even out of disgust, but out of a combination of attitudes including self-respect and the respect for others that she learned within her culture. It was interesting that he noted that the acts of immodesty lay in the intentional display or withdrawing of the sexual organs at culturally inappropriate times, as well as in the display of those in provocative positions or through inappropriate sexual advances. In these cases, a person was looked down upon and talked of with disapproval, in much the same way as happens in our own society.
We do not live in a society where nudity is acceptable, and so justifying revealing clothing would be quite a stretch by any measure. The point I am making here is that even in societies where people do not wear clothing there are standards of modesty and these standards go much farther than the clothing we wear and how we present ourselves. These findings merely suggest that immodesty is much more than inappropriate dress or behavior. Modesty is a highly complex combination of cultural attitudes, behaviors, and dress, pertaining to what is acceptable in a particular society. Clothing is more than simply a covering for the body. It carries with it an even deeper significance, connecting us to who we are, and communicating a combination of signals about how we feel about ourselves, our status in society, our reverence for our sexually, and our sense of self worth.
In A different Perspective on the Modesty Question, Kathleen van Schaijik, states “that it [is] a mistake to put so much emphasis on the danger of tempting men to sin. It is certainly a part of the problem, but it is at most only a secondary part. Treating it as if it were the “main point” of modest dress can make matters worse, in two ways. For some it will only aggravate the puritanical tendency Regina [Schmiedicke] rightly lamented for causing many women to dress in ugly, bag-like clothing that hides their shape. If the main idea of modesty is seeing to it that we don’t tempt our brothers to sin, then obviously the more invisible we make our figures the better. Modesty is reduced to its negative aspect, i.e. sexual-sin-avoidance. Its deeper essence as reverence for the sexual sphere is down-played or lost entirely.”
The article Kathleen refers to is Modesty and beauty – the lost connection, by Regina Schmiedicke. She asserts that “In our fragmented society, scanty clothing has somehow become associated with women’s social progress – as if the “right” to wear less indicated that we are moving up in the world. But my casual overview of history leads me to almost the opposite conclusion. It seems to me that in most cultures, the more clothing a person wears, the more important that person tends to be in society.”
“In history, slaves were often forced to go naked; royalty and other important personages were draped in robes. . . Women of rank were outfitted with long garments -queens of ancient Egypt, medieval France, and Victorian England all wore gowns that fell to their feet. . .Even in the debased symbolism of our modern culture we can find remnants of the association between clothing and human dignity. Judges still wear robes, as do priests, bishops and popes. On ceremonial occasions, professors and graduates wear them as well. In our society, only women are culturally permitted to wear “robes” at any time if they wish. I began exercising my “cultural prerogative” to wear robes (long skirts) as often as possible when I realized how crucial and valuable a woman’s role is to society. We’re meant to be much more than sex objects.”
Regina goes on to say that, “at a time when some men are learning to respect women as their equals, too many women are debasing themselves in men’s eyes by the way they dress. Women will complain about the lack of knights in shining armor, but it hasn’t occurred to many of them that they are scarcely dressing like the chaste ladies of the days of chivalry.”
Kathleen takes this a step farther, stating that we must be careful not to take this so far that any change in women’s fashions is considered evil or taken as a declaration of sexual availability. She goes on to say that “if we [women] want to be recognized and respected for who we are in our deepest essence, we should have nothing to do with the my-bod-in-your-face fashions of today. In clothes like that everything about a woman except her sexual value is pushed into the background, while her body is thrust into the public glare for comparison with all the bodies in Hollywood. If she happens to have an especially good figure, she will certainly attract a lot of attention, but it will be the degrading attention of impure men. If her figure is not so attractive, she will feel mortified by rejection, and tempted to self-hatred.”
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines modesty as “a quality of mind, heart, and body, modesty is an attitude of humility, decency, and propriety that may be evidenced in thought, language, dress, and behavior. Modesty or immodesty is reflected in almost every aspect of human life.” Modest dress is a reflection of the inner person, and an outward expression of respect for self and others that does not provoke envy or strife. It is also an outward expression of humility, as a person who is modest does not draw undue attention to herself, or make himself out to be more important than he really is. In contrast, immodesty draws all attention, having all attention focused on them selves or making them selves out to be overly important. In this case where we are specifically discussing modest dress and clothing, immodesty could be considered a forced or unwelcome expression of a person’s sexuality onto others. When you look at it this way, immodesty begins to look more and more like a mask for hiding feelings of low self worth.
In a happy family, parents encourage their children into paths that will lead them to build confidence and a strong feeling of individual worth. Allowing our children to behave in a way that clearly demonstrates feelings of low self esteem is counterproductive. In Your Daughter’s Wardrobe: A Battle Worth Fighting? Dannah Gresh cites research done by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH). It was found that “the most formative years for a young woman’s sexual values are between the ages of 8 and 10.” and that “When age-appropriate guidelines and truths in the areas of sexuality, purity and modesty are established during these years,” they will be receptive to your counsel on these issues. She also stated that immodesty and young girls who dress to appear older than they are, are at higher risk for becoming involved in sexual activity at a young age. Many professional therapists assert that there is nothing wrong with this and that sexual activity among teens is a normal part of sexual development. They would have us believe that the problem lies in educating teens about the proper use of birth control, mainly condoms. Right now I am telling you that if you have any interest at all in the happiness and quality of life of your family and your children, this is an outright lie. Condoms are not effective in preventing the feelings of low self worth, the spread of sexually transmitted disease, and the unwanted teen pregnancies that result from this behavior.
There are countless studies and research on this topic, and the results are grim at best. In the executive summary of a study conducted by by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., Lauren R. Noyes, and Shannan Martin, The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women: A Book of Charts the findings were that “early initiation of sexual activity and higher numbers of non-marital sex partners are linked in turn to a wide variety of negative life outcomes, including increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, increased rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth, increased single parenthood, decreased marital stability, increased maternal and child poverty, increased abortion, increased depression, and decreased happiness.”
Research entitled Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide, conducted by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Lauren R. Noyes, found that “approximately 48 percent of American teenagers of high-school age were or had been sexually active” in 1997, and that “when compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy and more likely to feel depressed.” And, “when compared to teens who are not sexually active, teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly more likely to attempt suicide.” Also, they found that “every day, 8,000 teenagers in the United States become infected by a sexually transmitted disease. This year, nearly 3 million teens will become infected. Overall, roughly one-quarter of the nation’s sexually active teens have been infected by a sexually transmitted disease. . . In [the year] 2000, some 240,000 children were born to girls aged 18 or younger. Nearly all these teenage mothers were unmarried. These mothers and their children have an extremely high probability of long-term poverty and welfare dependence.”
Does this sound like normal teen development to you? This study goes on to state findings that “in addition to its role in promoting teen pregnancy and the current epidemic of STDs, early sexual activity is a substantial factor in undermining the emotional well-being of American teenagers.” According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “a nationally representative sample of 501 teens ages 12 to 17 were surveyed and 41 percent of them had had sexual intercourse. Among those who were sexually experienced, 63 percent reported wishing they had waited before becoming sexually active.” A study by the National Center for Health Statistics and the University of Maryland showed that “those who are sexually active before marriage are 71 percent more likely to divorce than those who are virgins on their wedding night.” Teen mothers account for nearly 765,000 out-of-wedlock births and 300,000 abortions each year in America. In a national survey, 93 percent of youth ages 12 – 17 said that they want a stronger abstinence message from our society.
Instilling modesty in our children at an early age can counteract most of these problems. As parents, we have a lot more control over this situation than you might think. Remember that the Medical Institute for Sexual Health found that children between the ages of 8 and 10 are very receptive to parent’s encouragement when it comes to modesty and sexual purity, so I will say it again: erring on the side of strictness when it comes to our children’s modesty and standards of dress will be less painful in the long run than the possible damage that could be caused by our being too lenient. Children need structure and will gratefully accept your teachings if you start when they are young. Convenient or not, modesty is a critical factor in the happiness of your family. If you have any doubts about this, please do more research, either on your own or by reading the books and articles under further reading at the end of this section. Believe me, I know how hard it can be to find clothing that is fashionable and still covers all of the angles, especially when you have a choosy teen aged daughter! But it can be done, and you will one day be pleasantly surprised to hear your daughter say something like “I really think it’s gross how everyone is going around with all their blubber hanging out!” and you will (hopefully) choke back your laughter and gently chastise her saying something like, “Be nice sweetie, they just don’t know any better.”
For Further Reading:
Clothes Talk: Parents and Teens by Shirley R. Klein
Why IS Modesty a Virtue? by G. F. Schueler
Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Lauren R. Noyes
Safe & Sound: The truth about abstinence, premarital sex and sexually transmitted disease
A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit
Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good by Wendy Shalit