Being a teenage girl is tough because our bodies do weird, new things at random times. Boobs grow, hair grows and all of a sudden you’re buying pads at the drug store (never making eye contact with the clerk, of course). It’s all quite stressful and embarrassing, but transforming from girl to woman within the walls of a church can be even harder. When purity is the name of the game, going through your body’s sexual transformation can involve a whole lot of stress, confusion and shame.
When I was 15 I wanted to wear a cocktail dress to my Christian homeschooling group’s formal night. It was a classy dress, one which my parents completely approved of. But people in high places caught word that my dress had 1-inch shoulder straps, decided it was immodest and demanded I wear a shawl to cover my shoulders. I refused because 1) I had style and 2) I didn’t think my shoulders were sinful. My mom received a phone call informing her that she was raising a “worldly” daughter. My mom was awesome, so instead of buying me a shawl, she let me and a couple other “worldly” girlfriends go to our own formal dinner at a fancy restaurant. We had a marvellous time – without shawls. To my knowledge, no one died or was sent to hell as a result of my shoulders being visible.
Modesty is a very fluid term. Who is the gatekeeper deciding what qualifies as modest? A bikini isn’t modest, but a one-piece covering a few extra inches of belly is? In churches across the country, teenage girls dressed immodestly are called “stumbling blocks.” The metaphor paints a clear image. A man walks down the road of life, trying to be a God-glorifying, pure worshipper. A woman’s body showing a bit of skin is an object in the middle of that man’s road and a very distracting object at that. The man then stumbles over the object (woman) and falls into the sin of lust or – gasp – fornication. The answer for this problem is obvious, right? Girls just need to put on some church-approved clothes. Cover up.
Even though I knew there was something wrong with teachings like this, and even though my parents never made me feel like my body was bad or sinful, I still struggled with this mindset for years. My body was not my own. In a weird way, it seemed to belong to any man who passed by – any man with two eyes who could look at my legs, my ass, my shoulders or my boobs. I was 23 before I could let go of modesty shame. I can now walk around in a tank top and shorts, show cleavage or wear a bikini and not feel worried that I’m causing all the men around me to sin. I can feel free in my own skin.
But first, I had to accept two facts:
- I am a sexual creature…and so are you. The fact that a man (or a woman) could find me sexually attractive does not make my body worth hiding. We are wired for sex. We are wired to get turned on. If somebody takes it to an unhealthy or obsessive extreme, I will not adjust my life to accommodate it. That logic leads straight to defending rape based on the victim’s outfit choice.
- I am more than a sexual creature…and so are you. My body was also designed to do other things. I can walk along a beach, cook a meal, lift weights, play sports, create art, dance, run a business – you name it, I can do it. When I feel shame about my body, I’m ignoring all the other amazing things it does every single day.
Ladies, our bodies do incredible things and there is nothing evil about them. They are not objects and they are not responsible for a man’s choices. You should feel comfortable owning everything sexual about your body and everything else about your body, too. Why? Because it’s beautiful.