Modest is Hottest
A deeper look at the motive for modesty

I laughed when I saw this "Modest is Hottest" music video. It's certainly creative and catchy and I'm sure the motives are purely to encourage men and women to embrace the godly virtue of modesty. But....is that really the right reason to dress modestly?

T-shirts are being sold, conferences are being held, Pinterest boards are being created, and popular musicians are all promoting the slogan, "Modest is Hottest". But doing the right thing with the wrong motives is as bad, or worse than not doing them at all. The most scathing rebukes in the Bible were aimed at the Pharisees who did the right things (pray, fast, tithe, etc.) for the wrong reasons (to gain attention to themselves).

Apparently motives make a huge difference. In every topic I cover, I believe it is critical to know the right WHY as much as the HOW.

Of course, often we have many reasons for why we do what we do and don't often know which ones are primary and which ones are secondary. But let's examine some of the reasons people promote the "modest is hottest" movement and evaluate why we should and shouldn't be modest.

1. Modesty is not about making yourself more attractive to godly men

In a survey of 1,600 single Christian men, 95% admitted that modesty is an important quality for their future wife to have.

So, if you're a single female who wants to marry a godly Christian man, shouldn't you consider dressing more modestly? If they really think modest is hottest, then dressing modestly would make you hot, and therefore increase your chances of getting married, right?

Let's consider the word "hot." Being described as "hot" means you are sexually arousing. When animals are in "heat" they are ready to copulate. The Bible says that you should get married if you are "burning" with lust. Modesty should NOT give a guy a boner! And to say that "hot" actually has some other definition seems, "baloney flavored."

Have you ever heard people say you should be modest so "it leaves room for the imagination"? The point of modesty is not that surrounding men imagine you naked!

Sharon Hodd Miller, a writer and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School argues that the slogan "modest is hottest"  is "equating purity with sexual desire....Making modesty sexy is not the solution we need." (Christianity Today)

2. Modesty is not about reducing the incident of lust

"Don't cause your brother to stumble" is heard all the time, based on Romans 14:13. To conceal instead of reveal is an attempt to protect the purity of our brothers in Christ. While this is a noble and selfless goal, it has led to a mindset that a woman's body is a dangerous weapon that will kill a man's nobility. Women are portrayed as walking temptations because they provoke sexual attraction.

I've got news for you. Being sexually attracted to someone is not a sin. And being sexually attractive is not a sin. God made the woman and man's body and called them "good." Our Creator designed men to feel quickly aroused and He designed women to be arousing.

Not wrong, just different. Both guys and girls should not be afraid of their bodies or feel guilt over the divinely endowed plumbing we both have.

A man's body is naturally more muscular and therefore he feels valued by his level of strength. Men have a sense of responsibility to work, provide, and protect and their body strength enables them to do that better. They feel a sense of shame if someone were to call them "weak" or criticize their performance as a provider.

A woman's body is naturally more soft and curvy, and she feels valued by her level of sexuality. In the Song of Solomon the bride's beauty is praised 34 verses while the groom's handsomeness is praised for only 7 verses. The woman gets 4 times as much attention for her body! But this is very comforting and affirming to Solomon's wife. The problem comes when women are "reduced to the sum of their body parts, heavily Photoshopped to fit into an ever narrowing ideal of female beauty" (Huffington Post) This has caused a great deal of shame for women if they don't "measure up", leading to eating disorders, plastic surgery, and fashion addictions. And for conservative Christians, they feel ashamed if their body is seen as appealing to anyone except their husbands.

Sharon Hodd Miller, author of an online article in Christianity Today explains that the slogan, "modest is hottest" "treats women's bodies not as glorious reflections of the image of God, but as sources of temptation that must be hidden. It is the other side of the same objectifying coin: one side exploits the female body, while the other side seems to be ashamed of it. Both sides reduce the female body to a sexual object."

The problem with telling girls to cover up so guys won't lust "leads to blaming women who dress a particular way for being sexually harassed or even raped. (“Well, she was asking for it with the skirts she wears.”) Listening to such people leads one to think that it is apparently a woman’s responsibility to keep men from thinking impure thoughts or acting inappropriately." (source)

Let's look at this another way. If my children throw a fit because they didn't get something they wanted and I got irritated and hit them in anger, did they deserve that? Is it their fault that I abused them? Were they "asking for it?" Of course not. No child should ever be treated like that. Would it be helpful to me if they communicated their displeasure differently and therefore not provoke me? Of course. But my response is my responsibility. And a man's response to stimuli is his responsibility. Should a woman walk around intentionally trying to distract a man with sexual thoughts? No. Just as a child should, out of love and respect, limit their "freedom of expression" (demanding, whining, screaming) to wholesome communication, a woman can and should, out of love and respect for the vulnerabilities of men, limit their "freedom of expression" (seductive clothing) to not provoke them. But ultimately, the man's response is his responsibility.

Job, a righteous man, made a "covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a girl (Job 31:1). He didn't go around shaming women for being attractive and blaming them for his heart's response to their beauty.

Again Sharon Hodd Miller's commentary about the "modest is hottest" slogan is that it still teaches shame. "Shame is great at behavior modification, even when the shaming is not overt. But shame-based language is not the rhetoric of Jesus. It is the rhetoric of his Enemy."

3. Modesty is not about breaking free from being objectified

The modest is hottest movement also comes from an attempt to reduce objectification of women. Jessica Rey, former Power Ranger turned modest swimsuit designer, shares a fascinating 10 minute Ted Talk about the evolution of the bikini (see below). I have transcribed a portion of the research she shared which proved that the less a woman wears, the more a man will see her as an object.

"Male college students at Princeton University participated in studies of how the male brain reacts to seeing people in different amounts of clothing. Brain scans revealed that when men were shown pictures of scantily clad women the region of the brain associated with tools such as screwdrivers and hammers lit up. Some men showed zero brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that lights up when one ponders another persons thoughts, feelings and intentions. Researchers found this shocking because they almost never see this part of the brain shut down in this way.

"And a Princeton Professor said, "It's as if they are reacting to these women as if they are not fully human. It is consistent with the idea that they are responding to these photographs as if they were responding to objects, not people." In a separate Princeton study, when men viewed images of women in bikinis they often associated them with first person action verbs such as "I push, I grab, I handle". But when they saw images of women dressed modestly they associated them with third person action verbs such as "She pushes, She grabs". Analyst at the National Geographic concluded that bikinis really do inspire men to see women as objects as something to be used rather than someone to connect with."

So women should all get on the Christian modesty bandwagon right? That way we won't be treated as an object. Enter the popular "modest is hottest" slogan again.

Miller again says, "...the church needs to overhaul its theology of the female body. Women continue to be associated with their bodies in ways that men are not. And, as a result of this unique association, women's identities are also uniquely tied to their bodies in a manner that men's identities are not."

Her solution is to do away with the concept that "modest is hottest" because it is body shaming language. She also says, "We must affirm the value of the female body. The value or meaning of a woman's body is not the reason for modesty. Women's bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting. On the contrary, women's bodies glorify God. Dare I say that a woman's breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord! Each womanly part honors Him. He created the female body, and it is good."

Modest is hottest focuses on hiding the female body instead of understanding the body's created role. Miller again says, "Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body. Men and women are urged to pursue a modesty by which our glory is minimized and God's is maximized. The body, the spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty..."Modest is hottest" is foundationally human-centered, whereas biblical modesty is first and foremost centered on God."

"Modesty isn’t about covering up what’s bad, but about revealing dignity."
-Jessica Rey

4. Modesty is about glorifying God

When you take an honest look at the Scriptures, the passage exhorting women to dress modestly comes from 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and the central message has nothing to do with how tho opposite sex responds.  It’s an appeal for women to focus on inner attitudes and character instead of indulging their vanity and having a superficial preoccupation with fashion.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” (1 Tim 2:9-10)

The sister verse, similar to it is this, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” KJV

The problem that the Bible points out is the female's inclination to vanity, not the male's inclination to lust.

Modest is Hottest? or Modest is Honest?
The word “modest” actually means “unpretentious.” Synonyms for unpretentious are honest, natural, real, simple, sincere, and unpretending. If I told you I had a “modest home” or a “modest car” you would understand that my car or home were not really showy. It means I’m not trying to impress you with any element of extravagance, excess, or extremity. When you adopt Christian modesty, it means more than clothing.

Modest is hottest still fosters pride. True modesty means humility.

This includes

  • A greater fear of the Lord than the fear of man.
  • Your treasures will be laid up in heaven, not on earth.
  • The imperishable things will now absorb your time, attention and treasure, not the corruptible things of the earth.
  • You’ll spend less time on Pinterest creating a board of fashion ideas and more time in your Bible.
  • In every area of your life you will seek to bring glory to God, not yourself.
  • You will care more about what people think about the Lord and spiritual truths than what they think about you.

Of course, being adequately covered so that you are not sexually alluring will help you avoid bringing the wrong kind of attention to yourself (unless it’s for your husband), but be careful of going to extremes. I’ve seen many who are zealous for Christian modesty, actually bring MORE attention to themselves (the opposite of modesty), and they look outdated, inappropriate for the occasion, and exude the pride of self-righteousness.

Conclusion

Although modest is hottest rhymes, sounds cute and was probably coined with good motives, there are some underlying messages being sent which aren't really the motives for which the Bible assigns for modesty. It is also hurting the men too, a concept I haven't even touched on but you can read it in this article.

The Modest is hottest movement and teaching typically,

  • equates purity with sexual desire,
  • uses shame as a motivator,
  • places too much responsibility on the female for men's lust
  • maximizes human glory instead of God's glory

It's time to promote modesty because it keeps our hearts where they should be, on the Lord and not on ourselves. We promote modesty because it's a virtue and virtues aren't dependent on someone's reaction to it. Modesty frees up our time to do "good works", ministering to others, instead of worrying about our appearance.

Modest is hottest falls short of the goal of being "conformed to the image of His son" (Romans 8:29). To glorify God is to reflect Him. 

Jesus, he had "no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." (Isa 53:2) and yet David yearned to dwell in the house of the Lord ALL the days of his life " to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4)

He had no beauty but we all love to behold his beauty. The Lord's beauty is obviously internal. Ours should primarily be the same.

This is why the virtuous woman is clothed with strength and honor. "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised." (Prov 31:30)

So you're good on why modest is hottest shouldn't be your driving motivator, but still don't know how to apply the concept of modesty practically? Afraid of looking ugly if you were to be modest? Read my page on the practical application side of Christian modesty.

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