Immodest Proposals: An introduction

In days of old, some Mesopotamian philosopher, probably King Solomon, claimed there is nothing new under the sun. If you’ve ever doubted the truth of that sentiment, just join a social media platform. Every few months — like clockwork, like sunsets, like seasons — some blogger writes a post about modesty, and thousands of moms share it on Facebook with messages like “so true! What I want my daughters to know!!” and then progressive Twitter responds with laughter, feminist theory, and parody pieces. The original blogger writes a follow-up, everyone gets out their final soundbites then moves on to the next hashtag.

Recently, the cycle was set off by a post about #christiancleavage and another post about that perennial Modesty Wars favorite, yoga pants. Oh, and the Utah girl’s slutty dress. Ideological madness ensued.

A year and a half ago, I myself wrote a few thousand words about my experiences with modesty culture and how I’d come to disregard such clothing rules. I never posted them. I was afraid of judgement from more conservative friends. I didn’t want to offend anyone’s dearly-held beliefs. I wanted to wait a while and re-read them to make sure I wasn’t being illogical or flippant. So they have sat in my Google drive unread.

1950sI’m going to post them, with a little revising. Nothing I’m going to say hasn’t been said before or said better. A lot of it is more personal experience than academic critique. Nothing I’m going to say is particularly original. I came to most of these conclusions myself, but have since seen them iterated by many a writer.

That is, essentially, why I’m choosing to publish this series now, a year and a half after the fire that fueled all those words has settled into a simmer of mild derision and amusement toward modesty. I came to these conclusions myself, from my own experience and reasoning, but I thought I was the only Christian to have such objections. I was afraid to think this way, because I had been taught so thoroughly that modesty is next to godliness — really, that modesty is godliness for a woman, whose depravity is embodied in each curve and inch of skin revealed.

The first time I stumbled across someone else’s writing on modesty, which led me to other women telling the truth of purity culture, I cried. Because I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy. Because here were all these women of faith and conscience asking the same questions I was, and speaking of beauty and autonomy and worth in a way that didn’t leave me feeling defiled. Their truths set me free, and I started the long, slow process of thinking of my value and my body differently; the process of fighting insecurity continues, but I’ve finally rid myself of the shame.

I don’t get nearly as angry as I used to about modesty propaganda. I just can’t. Mostly, I laugh. Sometimes, I roll my eyes. Sometimes, yes, I participate in the Twitter hubbub (the #christiancleavage response was particularly fun and irreverent; good job, blogger dude, for choosing a headline that parodies itself). But modesty doesn’t personally hurt me anymore, and in ways I feel like it’s not my fight anymore, as I am no longer involved in any Christian communities where modesty is a thing. (Though I was when I wrote much of the series.)

I am posting this stuff now, not because I need it, but because maybe someone else does. There is nothing new under the sun, and maybe this will just seem like more of the same to those familiar with the Modesty Wars; but a couple of years ago, this was new to me, and others’ stories of shame and critiques of this ugly doctrinal brainchild of evangelicalism and patriarchy freed me. So maybe my story will be someone else’s “me too.”

Or at least I’ll free up some space on my Google drive.

If you don’t want to take my forthcoming words for it, here are some other writers you can peruse:

Modesty vs Humility: 6 Ways to Move the Discussion Forward by Liz at It’s Complicated

Modesty, Lust, and My Responsibility by Emily Maynard at Emily Is Speaking Up

My Body is Not a Stumbling Block by Samantha Field at Defeating the Dragons

How Modesty Made Me Fat by Sierra at Role Reboot

On objectification {or, how people aren’t objects no matter what they wear} by Suzannah Paul at The Smitten Word

Much of the Immodesty Rail by Hannah Ettinger

What Christian Men Don’t Understand About Boobs by Dianna E. Anderson

Breaking all the (modesty) rules by Alyssa Bacon-Liu at All Things Beautiful

Modesty: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means by Rachel Held Evans

On Modesty and Christian Culture by Claire at Claire She Goes

Modesty: Covering Up is Not the Answer by Jonalyn Fincher at Soulation

Negotiating Black Female Sexuality in the Black Church by Olivia Smarr at For Harriet

How ‘Modest Is Hottest’ is Hurting Christian Women by Sharon Hodde Miller at Her.meneutics

Why The Concept of ‘Modesty’ Disgusts Me by Mohadesa Najumi at The Feminist Wire

Are You A Secret Keeper Girl by Melanie Springer Mock at Ain’t I A Woman?

Purity & Modesty Movements and How They Have Mislead Us by Rebecca Lujan Loveless at My Thoughts, Exactly

How I Went From Slut-Shamer to Woman’s Rights Activist by Becca Rose at xoJane

Don’t Just ‘Reframe’ Purity Culture – Rethink the Whole Concept by Tope Fadiran Charlton at RH Reality Check

On glittery boobs and translating clothes into meaning by Sarah Moon at Sarah Over The Moon

Modesty: Some Historical Perspective by L.P. at the Salt Collective

Woman Aren’t Cake by Abi Bechtel at Adipos Rex

Appearance and Christianity by cinderace at cinderace blogs

Why I Ultimately Have Rejected Modesty Teachings by Lana Hope at Wide Open Ground

Curvy in a Christian Home by Becky Brinkerhoff

Modesty, Lust, and Emotional Rape by Lauren Dubinsky at Lauren Nicole Love

Purity Culture’s Racism Robs Women of Color of their Reproductive Agency by Dianna E. Anderson at RH Reality Check

What Rape Culture and Modesty Culture have in Common by Faith B. at Roses and Revolutionaries

Purity Culture, Grooming, and Sex Offenders by Maureen Farrell Garcia

“Dear Women, You Are Causing Me to Stumble” by April Fiet at At the Table with April Fiet

Our Bodies, Our Selves by R.L. Stollar at Overturning Tables

Seeing a Woman: A conversation between father and son by Nate Pyle

“Christian Cleavage” Probably Isn’t the Problem by Jayson D. Bradley

When purity culture hurts men too by Preston Yancey

And don’t forget the parodies:

Autumn’s Modesty Problem by Liz at It’s Complicated

When Suits Become a Stumbling Block: A Plea to My Brothers in Christ by L.P. at the Salt Collective

The Male Equivalent to Modesty by pnumber628 at Tell Me Why The World is Weird

The Problem with Christian Facial Hair by R.L. Stollar at Overturning Tables

Let’s Talk Men, Sin, and Afghan Shorts by Melanie Mock Springer at Ain’t I A Woman?

What I Wish Women Knew About Men by Micah J. Murray at Redemption Pictures

This series:

The Rules
Learning Shame
Brothers and Sisters
Elephant in the Room
De-Universalizing Conviction
Alternative Principles


  1. I am ridiculously excited about this. I look forward to your series.

  2. Love this, Kate. You write beautifully, as always. Being a mom of five grown kids — three girls two boys — I am so over the whole modesty thing, which is an attempt at “sin management.” It tries to reduce risk of a big bad world but is devoid of all life of a huge, generous, loving God.

  3. Thanks for the link! I’ll definitely be checking out your series. :)

  4. I can’t wait to read the rest of this! I’ve read about half of the links you included, but I’m looking forward to discovering the rest.

  5. […] to go into a detailed discussion on this, for now, but please take a look at Kate Schell’s blog series on modesty culture for a more thorough […]

  6. Thank you for this little series you put together… It was very helpful in my process of deconstructing the lies I had lived by consciously and subconsciously for so many years. For a long time the purity/modesty/gender roles obsession that runs through many Christian circles has shaped the way that I view myself, my body, males, and my sexuality. Growing up in that environment, this kind of teaching never sat well with me. It always irked me, but I couldn’t really construct why. As an adult I struggled with a healthy view of myself and my relation to men that sometimes was debilitating. I have just begun to uncover the source of these views and the effects they have played on my psyche. Reading this helped me frame allot of the thoughts i had and feelings I experienced. Thank you for writing this and posting it for others, it was very instrumental for me.

Comment away

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: