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Does Teaching Modesty Harm My Daughter’s Body Image?

By Dannah Gresh, Creator of Secret Keeper Girl

Cultural backlash against the concept of modesty has never been greater! Not only does the secular media take stabs at the Christian modesty movement claiming there are “hidden victims” but the Christian media has taken pot shots, too. I’ve addressed their criticism and held back no punches, even including a rather graphic pictorial showcase demonstrating what led the Grammy Awards to issue a modesty code for celebs in attendance.

In recent months, one of the “Christian watchdogs” who claim the modesty movement to be harmful to the development of girls asked to have full access to our Secret Keeper Girl event. And we said “yes.” She came armed for battle with the intent of writing yet another critical blog and tweeting every detail of what we did to harm little girls. At the end of the night, her worst tweets included complaints about how much pink she was exposed to at our event (so this season we’ve added blue) and that there was way too much screaming (there’s still a lot of screaming)! At intermission, with no reason to shoot her ammunition of criticism at us, she left. Her last tweet was this:

“As far as modesty ministries go, this is one of the better ones.”

I’ll take that! And give her this: some modesty teachings and movements are very harmful. I outline two specific ways that modesty teaching can go bad in this article. Let me tell you how you can use it for good in your daughter!

1.)  Start early to send a clear message about the clothing, not her body. One reason I recommend teaching modesty to 8-12 year olds is so that we begin before your daughter’s body develops. This keeps the message clear: some clothes are bad. Her body is not. It is very, very, very good and a wonderful masterpiece created by God! Spend a lot of time in her 8-12 years helping her learn that her body is beautiful, and prepare her to embrace the changes that will come!

2.)  Keep the conversation focused on clothes, not her body and use questions to empower her. Some of the harmful messages focus on words like “butt”, “boobs” and “belly.” These aren’t something to be ashamed of, and are a part of the masterpiece God has woven together in your daughter. Instead focus your conversation about the clothing. Think: “shirts,” “pants”, and “hemlines,” not body parts.

3.)  Use questions to empower and train your daughter to make good decisions. Remember, she’s only going to live this one out if you’ve internalized the decision making process. If you just make rules and force her to conform, you have failed to train her hear. Let me see if I can demonstrate how you use tip number 2 and number 3 together…

“That shirt seems like it’s not quite right. What do you think might be making it look like it doesn’t fit?”

“Are those pants giving you enough room to move around comfortably or are they restricting you because they’re too small?”

4.)  Be creative, not legalistic. Throw out the hard and fast rules. “One piece only swim suits.” “Two inches above the knee.” “Shorts must go to the tip of your fingertips.” These rules don’t work! First of all, every girl’s body is different. Second,  If you’ve been to one of my live events, you know we teach the Truth or Bare Fashion Tests. These are silly tests that let a girl go through the process of deciding for herself if her outfit is modest. One example of our test is the “Raise & Praise.” We invite you to try it now. Raise your hands up in the air as if you’re praising God during a really good worship time. Now, check yourself to see if your belly is exposed. If it is, maybe you need a shirt that fits a little better! 😉

5.)  Tell her that these are family preferences, not God’s rules. Modesty is not really addressed much in the Bible. And when it is, it is very unspecific in terms of what we should and should not wear. And where it is, clothing is a very small part of it. God focuses the modesty conversation on our hearts, not our bodies or our clothing. Be sure to tell your daughter that your conversation about modesty is based on your family preferences with a heart to honor God, but don’t confuse her by telling her that your modesty guidelines (or mine) are God’s rules. They’re not. And one day, she’ll figure that out and wonder if his rules matter, too.

At the end of the day, sometimes clothing gets in the way when we focus on it. A healthy modesty message is really about protecting your daughter’s heart and exposing it fully to the Word.

 

Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper Girl Tour is a faith-based mother-daughter connecting experience. This 2 1/2 hour event features two fun fashion shows that demonstrate modesty and true beauty, deep Bible teaching, live worship, and stories that help girls aged 7-12 embrace true beauty and modesty. Incredible balloon sculptures, bouncing beach ball competitions, mother/daughter conversation time & colorful confetti cannons make the night unforgettable. Click the video below for a sneak peak.

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS!

Dannah Gresh
 

Dannah Gresh is the best-selling author, speaker , and creator of Secret Keeper Girl, America’s most popular tween stage show for moms and daughters. Dannah has authored 27 books, including And the Bride Wore White, and Lies Young Women Believe (with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth) and is considered one of the leading experts on the subjects of sexual purity, modesty, and true beauty. More than 350,000 people have attended her live events. She has been a guest on CNN, Fox News, and the 700 Club and is a frequent guest on Focus on the Family and Family Life. Her TEDTalk on tolerance for virginity offers thought-provoking look at why sexuality is enhanced by self-control. She lives in State College, Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob on a hobby farm with a menagerie of animals. The couple has four young adult children.

susan nelson - September 3, 2013

Dana,
even if it would be a short period of time(6 wks or so)of emailed video’s to each young lady(my daughter and I have gone to both age appro. seminars of yours),to encourage them in their relationship with God,empowered by the Holy Spirit to chose wisely clothing.
By the age of 17, it helps to hear from others to reinforce what we have been taught.
blessings,
sue

Dawn - September 3, 2013

Great points! But the last paragraph of this article, especially the last three words, left me scratching my head.

    Stephanie West - September 5, 2013

    I’m with you. Not sure what that last sentence means.

    Julie - July 11, 2014

    While I agree with your ministry and love your books, I’m curious how you can say that “the Bible doesn’t address modesty” ??

    1 Timothy 2:9
    1 Cor. 6:19,20
    1 Pet. 3:3,4
    Mat. 5:28
    1 Cor. 10:31

      Dannah Gresh - July 15, 2014

      Sorry for the confusion. The Bible DOES address modesty. The sentence in our blog read, “The Bible doesn’t address modest much. And when it does…” We were not implying that it didn’t address modesty. It is just that we don’t have any black and white directives. We have modified the post slightly so that others are not confused. If you’ve read Dannah’s books or attend a Secret Keeper Girl event, you will see that she uses scripture a great deal to teach about modesty. So sorry for the confusion and thanks for the list!

Elisa Pulliam - September 3, 2013

Great article on modesty, Dannah. It is filled with grace and truth. I especially love your last point to be clear with our girls on the matter of preferences yet also offering the Biblical thinking in terms of those opinions.

Jennifer C - September 4, 2013

I love what you all are doing! My almost 7 year old son began noticing immodest clothing last summer (at age 5), which has lead to our now 4 year old daughter being very aware of modesty and appropriate clothing. The battle for our sons’ minds and our daughters’ modesty begins so early now!

C Pierson - September 4, 2013

Dana
Is there anyway I could contact you? I am a first year assistant principal at a public school and need to talk to the girls at the beginning of the year about this issue? Need the right words to say that are god centered in nature. Would appreciate your wisdom.
Thank you.

    Dannah Gresh - September 4, 2013

    Hi friend. Feel free to call my assistant, Eileen King at my office. 814-234-6072. Tell her that I told you to call and we’ll do our best to squeeze in some time to talk.

Mary - October 10, 2013

I’m pretty sure you meant “not what matters” in that last sentence. Just a typo.

I loved this. I’ve been fighting against the harmful modesty training that shames girls and blames victims. We live in a society in which 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be victims of predators before they are 18. That includes Christian children being raised in good homes!! We NEED to make our children aware of the value of their bodies and their right to be safe. Modesty is a separate, but related issue. The message we must give our kids, both boys AND girls is your body is a precious, beautiful creation of God, and deserves respect and care. Modesty is a part of that.

I love SKG. It was a great stepping stone for me with my daughter when she was that age, and I was even able to point out that her shirt was a little inappropriate the other day by referring to the Truth or Bare rules. It helped me gently remind her who she is in Christ without being preachy or legalistic. It’s easy, now that she’s almost 17 (!!!!), to get into fights when she thinks I’m treating her like a child. The common sense behind the Truth or Bare tests make them relevant to adults as well as young girls.

Thank you, SKG ladies, for all you do!!
Mary

Candice - February 6, 2014

The last part of this post is SO important:

“God focuses the modesty conversation on our hearts, not our bodies or our clothing. Be sure to tell your daughter that your conversation about modesty is based on your family preferences with a heart to honor God, but don’t confuse her by telling her that your modesty guidelines (or mine) are God’s rules. They’re not.”

Having lived all over the U.S., I’ve seen just how cultural modesty is — even among Christians. The heart, however, is something we all should share.

With this dynamic in mind, it’s crucial to emphasize to girls that we cannot judge another person’s heart based on their clothing. Too many Christian girls/women are quick to make assumptions about another’s motives for certain types of dress. This attitude is destructive to the body of Christ and damages our witness. Rather, we should recognize our differences and seek to know a person’s heart through relationship, not by appearance.

Thanks so much for your balanced post!

Laura - March 31, 2014

I agree with most of what you said except for the age. You suggested starting around age 8-12… Many girls ARE developing that young, and even if they are not, their clothing is! My 4-year-old daughter and I have talks about some of her clothing… “those pants are too tight to wear without a skirt over top” or “that shirt is kind of see-through, so you have to wear another shirt underneath if you want to wear it”.

I think one problem parents face is that ‘cute’ outfits on 1-6-year-olds are just that… “cute”, but all of a sudden WE start treating them differently when they get to be in middle-elementary school. The clothes don’t really change, but all of a sudden we start acting differently about them. The kids know the clothing hasn’t changed, so they’re left thinking something must be wrong with their bodies. I say we start from the beginning and keep the standards consistent as they grow and mature.

    Dannah Gresh - March 31, 2014

    Of course. That is implied. But my heart is this…most parents don’t start to talk about these things until their daughters are too old. We have to start before they are fully developed but after their hearts and minds can handle the conversation. While you can start the conversation when she is younger, much of it won’t be well comprehended until she’s about 8. As for clothes maturing, I really think that we should be careful about dressing them to be too mature too soon. There’s no reason to do that. Keep them age-appropriate so the conversation will revolve around them being careful in what kinds of clothing they wear as soon as they start seeing the trend to dress older. I think we have more in common than not!

      Erica - June 3, 2014

      I REALLY appreciate this article, because I tend to naturally be a legalistic person. Its something i have to keep a watch out for, in my parenting especially! The examples you gave are wonderful, and have shown me some mistakes i have made (in my wording when talking with her about modesty) already…and my daughter is only 6! 🙁 Grrrr! But i will change that now. 🙂 Thank you so much for your wonderful ministry!!

Katie - July 12, 2014

I really appreciate this ministry! Having two boys, I have so much to learn about raising a girl! We are celebrating our daughter’s first birthday this weekend, but even a year ago was not too early to begin modesty standards! One gift when she was born was a 18 mo. size bikini! I did not keep it. Instead, when we started going swimming this summer, she’s been wearing a one-piece swimsuit.

Julie - July 17, 2014

I need some advice regarding modesty and bathing suits. Whenever the youth group has swim parties or lake trips, the girls are asked to either wear a one piece or wear a tank top over their bikinis. Recently, I noticed that both our youth pastor’s wife and our female worship leader, posted pictures of themselves in bikinis on Facebook. I feel it is in bad tase considering what we are trying to teach our teens. Any advice on how to address this without sounding judgmental?

    Dannah Gresh - July 17, 2014

    Hi Julie

    I’d absolutely, lovingly confront this. It’s not at all about whether you should or should not wear bikinis. It’s about the double standard and double mindedness it presents to the youth group kids who no doubt follow the youth pastor’s wife on Twitter or are friends with her on facebook. This is BAD FORM! And I don’t mind saying so.

    I would start by gentle, personally, (as in face-to-face) talking to the youth pastor’s wife. This would be in keeping with the Bible’s directions for confronting someone in Matthew. It would be inappropriate for you to go around her! Tell her that you just want to clarify something: what is the standard that the youth are being taught regarding modest swimwear. Is it still one piece or a tank over bikinis or has it changed? Because you happened to see the facebook photo and it’s not consistent with what you thought the policy to be. Then listen. With a good heart. And a gentle spirit.

    If you are not satisfied with the results of the conversation, you are now free to go to talk to her with someone (maybe you and your husband can talk to her and the youth pastor).

    The Bible teaches that being double minded creates instability. If you want to raise up spiritually stable teens, this double standard has to be confronted.

    My preference is that people not post bikini photos on facebook. We don’t show up in someone’s living room in a bikini, why would we post a bikini photo of facebook? We (thankfully) don’t post photos in our underwear on facebook (unless we want it taken down), why would we post photos in similar attire. There are tasteful ways to present beach shots and pool photos.

    I’ll pray for you. This is important and must be handled delicately!

      Adam - July 23, 2014

      We are having a similar problem to Julie’s listed above in our youth group & in our home. My wife & I are leaders in our church youth group & recently went to summer camp. The girls were to wear shirts over their bathing suits when at the pool but I was confronted when I let the boys not wear shirts while swimming (the boys & girls pool times were different). Our culture lets girls cover up with a shirt but lets them wear bikini bottoms which show off their legs & butt, & somehow we are ok with that. Yet we make boys wear full length swim trunks but can take their shirts off. Isn’t that un-modest for the boys?

      We have 2 daughters, one of which is in the youth group now (just turned 11 & going in to middle school). We make her wear shorts over her bikini bottoms & cover up her top as well.

      We have also have other leaders showing off their beach body in 2 piece bikini’s while posting pictures on facebook just recently as well.

Amy - July 28, 2015

We have 3 daughters (10, 8 & 6 years old). We started this conversation very early, like when they were 2. We started out simply–Barbies needed to be dressed. And it went on from there. Our catch phrase became “Keeping your private things private.” We don’t shame our girls. If something looks a little tight, we remind them that they are growing up and what fit 3 months ago just doesn’t fit now. I do the comfort test–can you squat in those pants without revealing anything? Are the pants comfortable? If my two oldest tell me “This shirt makes my belly show a little bit. Is that okay?” I redirect and ask them “What do you think? Are you comfortable?” Usually the answer is “no” and they go back to the drawing board, meaning they wear a camisole underneath. I have decided to be very open about puberty and adolescence. I’m not inappropriate by any means. I just want them to be comfortable with who they are and realize things are changing. And, it’s something to be excited about and not dread (although I am freaking out. lol). I also encourage my friends who have daughters. We talk about modesty and our girls’ mood swings and other stumbling blocks. It’s helpful to have other moms to bounce ideas off and support me as I walk this very precarious path.

    Kitt - July 11, 2016

    How is “having mood swings” a stumbling block. Gid designed us females to be harmonal. This is not something that a female child can help or control.

    There should be no shame or belittling placed on our female children for their because of the way they are created or the hormonal condition of their bodies and developing parts. This is normal.

      Dannah Gresh - January 20, 2017

      Just because something is “normal” doesn’t mean it’s good. It can be easily argued that before sin entered the world, a woman didn’t have mood swings.But, now we do. That doesn’t mean they are goods. When hormones kick in, we can feel like being mean, depressed, angry, or isolating. But those are not good behaviors.

      It is “normal” for teenagers to want to have sex, but it’s not healthy or good. They are not developmentally ready and God wants them to wait. But hormones drive this desire.

      Hormones are a funny thing. we have to approach them with self-control and yielding them to God.

      There are lots of tips you can give your daughter to help her be in control of her moods.

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