I recently read a blog post about modesty and bathing suits. Now I love modesty (and my one piece bathing suit… and blogs) so I was pumped. Plus the blog post came up on Dannah Gresh’s Facebook page and good things usually come from that lady. Then I read the short article that followed two pictures of a really pretty girl in a really cute polka-dot one piece all made up with hair curled looking cute on the beach. And at first I was all, “Yeah, well, I guess.” Then, as I continued to read, I was like, “But, really?” And immediately after finishing I started really quickly typing up a comment that had stuff in it like, “Why doesn’t someone write about….?!?!” and, “Well, in my experience….” And God said, “Well, you have a blog! You write about your experience.”
So here are (some of) my thoughts about bathing suits and modesty prompted by this blog post.
I have to start off by saying that I don’t necessarily disagree with anything this sweet girl is saying. I am not calling into question her salvation status or whether or not she really wants to glorify God with her whole self. What I am doing is calling us to please, please, please think. To not just accept what we’ve always heard about why we should wear one-piece bathing suits as good enough reasons but to think about what we believe about modesty and how that affects not only what we wear but also how we view ourselves and others.
I grew up in a Baptist church. After high school I went on to attend a Baptist University. I am currently a Baptist missionary. I’ve owned and worn a lot of one piece bathing suits. If you are a gal who grew up going to church camps and church BBQs and church pool parties, then I’m sure you too have seen your fair share of one-piece bathing suits*. And done your fair share of rooting through clothes racks to try to find one that was not hideous.
For some ladies, all of this forced “modesty” meant that as soon as they were out from under their parents’ roof, they were all about the bikini baby! For some, this meant a false sense of superiority from the belief that they were “guarding their brothers’ hearts.” The aforementioned blog post took the “guarding our brothers’ hearts” approach (although those words were never used) by saying that, “Girls are walking around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying to see past all the bodies to find the smiles and personalities within the girls.” Her argument was that by wearing a one-piece instead of a bikini we are aiding the guys in their tough quest to look past the bod to the girl within.
The problem with this kind of logic is two-fold (or three- or seven-fold). First of all, I find it very hard to believe (and please correct me if I’m wrong, fellas!) that covering up our stomachs and love handles really makes that much of a difference. I understand that bikinis are often more revealing than one-pieces, but for a guy who struggles with lust I think it’s the tanned cleavage and barely covered butt that get his juices going, which are often just as exposed in a one-piece. (At least if you’ve got cleavage like mine, which is hard to contain in any bathing suit situation.)
Secondly, and please hear me here ladies because this is what really stands out to me, modesty needs to move past our focus on the opposite sex. Ultimately, whether I am wearing a bikini because I want guys to notice my body or I am covering up because I want guys to notice my not-body (my smile? my personality? my singing voice?), I am making my decisions about what to wear based on guys. We don’t want to be noticed by him because of our bodies or our bikinis, but it seems like we really wouldn’t mind being noticed because of our choice to wear a one-piece. We can use the excuse that guys are sexual beings and we just have to keep them from self-destruction and backsliding and porn by covering up! But from what I’ve seen and heard and experienced, men who set their hearts on things above will be able to say no to self-destruction and backsliding and porn because of who Jesus is and not because of what you wear. And from what I’ve seen and heard and experienced, males do not have a monopoly on the sex thing. Humans are sexual beings.
Frankly, when a boy is running around the beach with no shirt on I am thinking about how nice his abs/back/chest look and what it might be like to be held by those arms. And knowing about his smile/personality/singing voice/Christ-like character only make those struggles more difficult. Because we as humans are body and spirit, cleavage and Harry Potter knowledge, abs and the ability to take things apart and put them back together again correctly. So I don’t think that focusing on the “inner beauty” detracts from the “outer beauty” but rather enhances it. If my guy knows that I’m super hilarious and a decent speller, then he’ll probably appreciate me in a bathing suit even more than he did before knowing those things about me. Maybe? Maybe not?
When I think that my bathing suit decision should be made based solely on how my decision will affect a guy I’ve missed the point. And I’m so glad I’m learning this because it’s so freeing. When I make my decisions about what I do or do not put onto my body I am thinking about God. (What? That’s weird.) I am thinking about women of valor. (Of course you are, everyone relevant on the Christian internet these days is thinking about women of valor.) I am thinking about my future husband. (Well that’s not new, you’re always thinking about your future husband.) I am thinking about me. (Again, not new….) And it is with these things in mind that I decide to put on that one-piece or that tank top or that dress or whatever. (It is also with my actual body in mind that I make clothing decisions, but dressing the body you have versus the body you want is a whole different discussion, and one best reserved for people like Stacy and Clinton.)
I just think you should know that in the blog post that got me all worked up today, the author says, “I think we can all agree that as girls, exercise is important to us. We want to stay healthy and are often working on getting fit. We work out and stay away from carbs or sweets. We use all of our willpower to not eat the chocolate cake on the counter!” And that’s really where she lost me. I can’t relate to any of that. This doesn´t really add to a conversation about modesty except to remind us that we shouldn´t assume every woman in the world thinks about things the way we do.
The thing is, my body is for my future husband to enjoy one day (too far?) but for right now my body is to teach and to clean the litter box and to do my laundry and to walk to the grocery store. And at the beach I use my body to enjoy God’s creation (seriously, I love the beach) and to swim and rest and run to the ice cream man in a cheetah print one-piece bathing suit that is probably too low-cut but was cheap and kind of flattering. So to still hear this stale (not necessarily invalid but stale and shallow) argument about guarding guys’ hearts I just really believe we’re missing the point. We are still focusing on only one aspect of who we are. We’re still counting ourselves (as women) as nothing more than “chocolate cake” for a man to fight the temptation to “break down and eat.”
And we really think that choosing a one-piece over a bikini is going to solve this problem?
Stop viewing yourself as chocolate cake! You are not responsible for how a man sees you.You are not responsible for how a man sees you or for what he thinks about you.
Stop viewing yourself as being a blessing to the male gender just because you wore a one-piece or choose a dress with straps over a strapless one. Be a blessing by actually being a blessing. Be a blessing by praying for each other and challenging each other. Be a blessing to guys by asking them about what God is teaching them, by letting them hold the door open for you, by telling them how great they are at what they love to do.
Stop viewing each other as chocolate cake, too. Stop judging her for wearing a bikini or short shorts or a low cut shirt. Check your eye for the plank, and then get to know her for who she is. Otherwise you’re just as bad as those lustful, sexual boys who can’t get past your bathing suit to your winning personality.
I have to say it again – You are not responsible for how a man sees you or for what he thinks about you. Your judge, your standard, your mirror, your guy-to-impress should be Jesus. Not your dad, not your pastor, not your boyfriend, not your gal pal, but Jesus. When you hold yourself to His standard you realize just how far off you’ve been. You realize just how filthy those one-piece clad righteous acts really are. And you realize the only place you can find grace and restoration and hope is in Him. And ultimately He cares a lot more about your heart than your bathing suit. He really does.
*I would like to take this opportunity to say that not all church pool parties are created equally.** For example, a good ol’ fashioned United Baptist Church pool party meant boys and girls were never to be in the swimming pool at the same time. It also meant t-shirts for everyone (boys, embrace the farmers’ tan). It also meant that one-piece bathing suits were to be worn but never seen (as in, keep those t-shirts and shorts on even while soaking wet, ladies!). On the flipside, a Trinity Presbyterian Church pool party meant we were going to the lake and tankinis will do. Sure, hope on that jet ski with that shirtless guy you’ve been crushing on for years!
**I would like to take this opportunity to say that I am not endorsing one type of church pool party over another. This is not the part of the post where I am asking you to think. Just chuckle and move on.