Immodest Proposals: The Rules

If you didn’t grow up in an evangelical context, a homeschool community, or a Red State, you may not understand what the big deal is with modesty. American society oversexualizes girls from a young age, teaching them to find value solely in beauty and to dress to please men. Isn’t it refreshing and good to give girls an alternative? Every teenage girl has run-ins with her mom about whether that one skirt is too short, sure, but that passing angst doesn’t mean the whole system is problematic.

That’s a nice vision of modesty, but it’s not the one I grew up with. It’s not the one the Christian advice books and alternative clothing industries are selling.


So before I say anything, let me share some of the modesty rules young girls and adolescents are taught to follow (and enforce on each other):

  • Shorts must be longer than your fingertips.
  • Actually, shorts must reach your knees.
  • Actually, go for capris.
  • Actually, go for full-length pants. Not too tight, though.
  • Trousers are preferable to jeans. Denim is worldly and a result of the sexual revolution. (Unless it’s a jean skirt. Those are okay, and proof that you can be modest and fashionable!)
  • Actually, wear skirts instead of pants, because they disguise your leg shape and convey your femininity in a society where gender roles are confused and people can’t tell the difference between men and women, much less the sheep and the goats; like the nation of Israel of old, we are a sanctified people and our wardrobes must reflect this spiritual and cultural separation.
  • Skirts shouldn’t be form-fitting or made of a clingy fabric.
  • Skirts shouldn’t be frumpy, because God created women to be beautiful.
  • Tight enough to show you’re a woman, loose enough to show you’re a lady.
  • No slits. If you can’t find a skirt without a slit, add a kick-pleat, slip, or underskirt.
  • Skirts must be longer than your fingertips.
  • Actually, skirts must reach your knees.
  • Actually, skirts must reach your calves.
  • Actually, skirts must reach your ankles.
  • Wear socks or leggings under your skirt to make sure all your skin is covered, especially if you are going to bend over, jog about, or climb stairs.
  • Make sure your tights or leggings aren’t patterned or colorful, because that will draw attention to your gams, and gams make your brothers-in-Christ stumble.
  • Actually, don’t wear leggings at all, because they are too tight.
  • Same with yoga pants.
  • And skinny jeans.
  • Don’t wear pajamas publicly, because boys will imagine you in bed, then having sex with you in your bed.
  • Don’t stretch your body, because boys will imagine you moving your body in other ways.
  • Don’t run when males are around, because your breasts might bounce.
  • Don’t hug males, because boobs.
  • Side-hug!
  • Actually, handshake.
  • Distant wave. From your gender-specific sidewalk.
  • Don’t wear a bikini.
  • Don’t wear a tankini.
  • Don’t wear a one piece with cutouts or thin straps or any ornamentation around your, um, danger zones.
  • Don’t wear a one-piece without shorts.
  • Don’t wear a one-piece without shorts and a T-shirt.
  • You may wear a one-piece without shorts or a T-shirt if it is retro. There was no lust in the ’50s.
  • Actually, just don’t swim when males are present.
  • Don’t have wet hair publicly, because boys will imagine you in the shower, then having sex with you in the shower, and then they’ll probably stop going to church, deny God, and become terrorists or Democrats.
  • Keep your hair curled, because feminine.
  • Keep your hair braided, because then you aren’t flaunting it vainly or sharing its beauty with men who aren’t your husband.
  • Actually, don’t have hair braided, because there’s a verse that says that somewhere.
  • Don’t have short hair, because its length is your glory and because our society is gender-confused and you must be so feminine that people ask you why so you can share the gospel of proper gender roles with them and they shall be saved.
  • You know what? Just keep your hair covered.
  • Do not wear clothing with ornamentation, wording, or a pattern that highlights your bits or curves.
  • If your dress or shirt is sleeveless or has spaghetti straps, wear it with a cardigan or shawl. Shoulders are sexual.
  • In the hottest of climates, you may wear a tank-top if its straps are at least three finger-widths wide.
  • If you wear a tank-top, you must pin your undershirt or bra straps so they do not show. If boys see straps, they will imagine you in your bra, and then not in your bra, and then they will spontaneously combust from lust.
  • If your neckline is too low-cut, wear a tank-top or T-shirt underneath it. Breasts, clavicles, and necks are sexual.
  • Regardless of breast size, always wear an undershirt with V-necks, because when you bend over, males might see cleavage or the top of your bra. Even if you are prepubescent, males might be turned on by the idea of future cleavage.
  • Actually, just don’t wear V-necks. They literally point toward your chest.
  • Low-cut back-lines are a no-no, too. Upper backs are sexual.
  • Lace and silk are lovely, classy fabric choices.
  • Actually, be careful about lace and silk. They are reminiscent of unmentionables.
  • See-through fabric is also reminiscent of unmentionables, even if your undershirt covers everything.
  • Flip-flops are unisex. Avoid them except for the shower or perhaps the beach.
  • Wear jewelry: bracelets, necklaces, rings… so feminine!
  • Don’t wear too much jewelry, though. It becomes a symbol of your vanity.
  • Actually, don’t wear any jewelry. God likes his women plain. It reflects a focus on the spiritual hereafter, not this material present.
  • Ear-piercing is reminiscent of ancient Mesopotamian heathens.
  • Oh don’t be silly! You can wear simple, ladylike earrings.
  • But not any other piercings.
  • Or tattoos. Those hurt your testimony.
  • Unless they are mother-daughter tattoos when the mother or daughter is dying. Then it is brave and a sweet symbol of traditional family values.
  • Wear a little makeup to highlight your God-given beauty.
  • But don’t wear too much makeup.
  • Actually, don’t wear any makeup, because it is secular and draws attention to you instead of Christ and it distorts the face you were created with, and who are you to question God’s creativity?
  • Be pretty, but not too pretty.
  • Dress attractively, but not to attract.
  • Be confident, but not sexy.
  • Be feminine in a specifically white, thin, Western, Victorian- or 1950s-inspired sort of way.
  • Treat your body like a temple, but don’t show it.
  • If your body shows, men will lust.
  • If your body shows, you disobey God and disrespect other people.
  • If your body shows, men might not be able to control themselves.
  • If your body shows, you get what you deserve.
  • Let your inner beauty shine.

If you found this list offensive, well, that’s the point. I find it offensive too — not because it’s a little snarky, but because it’s true. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s taught to girls every day on websites, at seminars, in Sunday school, at camps and retreats and conventions, in purity and dating books, in teen magazines, on blogs, in homes.

Try wading through all that when you’re nine, or fifteen, and already uncomfortable in your body, already fighting the beauty rules from Barbie and Cosmo. Try wading through all that when you’re told your virtue, your value, your spiritual maturity, your safety, God’s view of you, and the collective sin of men is on the line if you mess up.

And just when you think you have it figured out? Someone changes the rules again.

Other posts in this series: An Introduction (with links list)Learning Shame | Brothers and Sisters | Elephant in the Room | De-Universalizing Conviction | Alternative Principles


  1. There has to be a love button somewhere. Brilliant post! And, yes, I heard nearly all of these growing up. So confusing and ridiculous!

  2. […] The Rules Learning Shame Brothers and Sisters Elephant in the Room De-Universalizing Conviction Alternative Principles […]

  3. Cady Payton · · Reply

    this is absolutely fantastic, and so very true.

  4. Yes. This. Totally sharing this.

  5. What all these rules tell me, is that some people have waaaay too much time on their hands. Talk about over-thinking things. Your quips about the lust-less 50s and the gender-based sidewalks made me laugh out loud, and your line about how this legalistic “purity” is equated with salvation, well, ouch.

    “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” Matt. 15:18-20

    Purity preachers put the emphasis on appearance, rather than the heart (Matt. 23).

  6. My Dad was all about this. Wow! IThis article is right on.

  7. This is brilliant. You are my hero.

  8. The core message is perhaps admittable, and I would agree; I’ve fought my whole life against beauty standards and for personal responsibility. However, Miss Schell is taking every standard of modesty in a completely cross-cultural manner, and so it is no wonder that you have all ranges of standards, many of which are contradictory.

    You can do the same thing about men, or dogs, or what to eat. Short hair, no wait, medium hair, no, guys, it should be long hair. Clean shaven. No wait; just scruffy, no… you should have a full beard or you aren’t manly enough.
    You should treat your woman as if she is a goddess… No, you should treat her as if she is equal! Actually, treat her as if she has an equal but separate role. No, you are above her and should exercise authority. No, you are all wrong… bladity blah blah &ct. ad infinitum.

    1. Cross-cultural? Sadly, no.

      I heard just about all of these statements within the realm of fundamental Christian churches and homeschool groups (or observed them as being implied). The basic implication was that “if a guy could possibly have a fleeting distracted thought about a girl, she should have [dressed even more modestly] to prevent it.” No doubt, any reasonable person would recognize that men bear responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. But that is not at all what was taught to the women/girls (or perhaps even the guys) in that environment.

      I definitely agree with you that many of those rules seem contradictory. Now imagine being a teenage girl having to navigate her way in that environment, appease the ever changing (and increasingly more restrictive) definitions of modesty issued by authority figures, and still trying to not stand out like a sore thumb (b/c “fitting in” as most teenagers try to do was simply too far out of reach, not to mention “godly people aren’t supposed to fit in”).

  9. This is perfect! I’ve noticed there is not a criteria list for Christian men to keep their sisters from “stumbling.” Actually, there never has been, and there never will be.

  10. I think this was a good article on the whole but there is a medical note I would like to interject. Wearing tight fitting pants all the time is really bad for women. We need air ladies. I worked in an Ob/Gyn office and some of the doctors remedies for recurrent yeast infections. Wear a skirt, stay out of bathtubs, and stop wearing pants to bed. Skirts for women are a healthy idea, the length is up to you!

  11. Thank you!!! This is the first article on the subject I’ve seen in a long time that is actually honest about the reality of modesty preaching. Whatever happened to common sense?

  12. Reblogged this on Pax Puero and commented:
    Yep. Because “modesty is hottest”.

  13. […] further reading update: It may seem like a joke, but I actually was expected to follow every one of these rules under various circumstances. See also my post Modesty: a ruefully reminiscent […]

  14. Hi Kate! Thanks for sharing this list.

    I think you’ve just pointed out what happens when people forget that modesty’s first definition is humility. A humble woman will dress in a way that modest *on her figure* and with a spirit that is free, both content and comfortable in the body that God gave to her. I think that means maintaining a stewardship of our bodies and trying to look pretty, though I don’t think that “pretty” necessarily equals sensual. That would be to define beauty by sexuality and that just doesn’t hold up; and it certainly isn’t a biblical definition, no matter how many conservative Christians may act as if it is. Just because something may be “old-fashioned” doesn’t mean that it is godly…and just because something is pretty or attractive doesn’t mean it is sensual. Unless you have a really warped mind — then everything is sexual. And the more you think of it that way, the more you train your eye and heart according to the type of thinking described here, the more warped your mind will become and the more you will come to look at your body as a sexual machine that has to be hidden, rather than the good creation of God that is to be clothed and adorned with dignity “for glory and for beauty.”

    And, yes, just for the record, I do wear skirts mostly, partly because they are usually more feminine and I like that, but the more practical reason is because I have always found pants uncomfortable and constricting — especially trousers. I simply hate trousers.

    But, when it comes down to it, modesty is humility, which loves others, considering them more important than ourselves. And this goes for both men and women…. I do think that modesty in attire is important and some general, basic standards can be drawn from the principle — but I certainly think that the hypocrisy you have pointed out here, Kate, is a result of a mis-shapen, Victorian view and not from the Scripture.

    1. Honey, oh honey…..
      Scripture is what the patriarchs got most of this mess from.
      I mean come on: the braiding, the jewelry, the hair covering, the pants being a “guy” thing….

      Dont pretend that it was not religion that made these female-specific shackles.

      And it does not take a “really warped mind” when a boy is taught from the time he begins to understand gender differences that women are “honey traps” looking to entice him into sin… because they are also taught that the slightest notion of sexual thought is sin.

      If a woman can be humble in stilettos and fishnets, a leather mini and a tight red cutout sweater, hot red lips and dark smokey eyes….is she modest? Please. I know that whole “humility” line. It once dragged me back into the aforementioned shackles once when I was just about to break out of the appearance-based works. Not gonna fool me again, fundielite!

      1. Actually, that was my point, Warbler. When Christians train their children (or others via their magazines and blogs, etc.) that women’s bodies actually *cause* sin in men, they are not only ignoring, but denying, the very clear teaching of Scripture that all sin proceeds from the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). This is also why, if a person, male or female, truly is humble towards God, that person will love God and keep his commandments (John 14:15). So, in trying to please God, these people are actually warping the teachings of the Bible by redefining “sin.” Not only that, they are training boys and girls to focus on sexuality every time the get dressed in the morning — which I don’t think is particularly healthy.

        Sin is anything that goes against the holiness of God. And an arrogant spirit is more hateful to him than the miniskirt outfit you’ve described because it is more destructive in more ways. However, please don’t mis-take what I’m trying to say here: a woman who is filled with an understanding of the holiness of God and who loves what God loves — woman who has a godly modesty of heart — doesn’t dress that way because the spirit of that kind of attire is that which is against our Lord’s prohibition of adultery — and the breaking of the marriage covenant is abominable to God because he instituted the marriage bed as the setting for the human sexuality that he himself created and called good. After all, women are affected by how they dress, as well as men….

        At the same time, a woman who loves what God loves doesn’t legalistically set rules for her clothing as if what she wears is all about hiding her sexuality because somehow that will make her a better person. A woman is a woman — which, well, has a sexual aspect to it. And that isn’t something to be ashamed of (because that is saying that our standards are better than God’s or that he created something wrong), nor flaunted (because that is prideful, essentially saying that God’s holiness is wrong). We are all only covered and delivered from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ Jesus — and are free in him, free to obey him without legalistically trying to merit his love and favor by setting our *own* standards of holiness — which so many (usually) well-meaning Christians do. Hence, the contradictory list that Kate so comprehensively compiled….

    2. myvalon haney · · Reply

      very well written. there is a lot to be said for modesty and I for one would much rather see people with some clothes on that going around with it all hanging out. I backslid once and the further I got from the Lord the shorter my skirts became. modesty and the heart are connected.

  15. This post reminded me exactly why my childhood and purity culture were/are both so horrible. My parents systematically taught us that our bodies were to be ashamed of and hidden. Leaving fundamentalism and rejecting most of it’s lies was the best thing I’ve ever done. Ironically, I’m even more modest on a day-to-day basis now, as I wear an Air Force uniform that covers up even more than those denim skirts did. But on my off time, I’m free. Free in Christ. And free to not wear skirts or pants or much of anything if I don’t want to.

    1. myvalon haney · · Reply

      we are not free to use our liberty as an occasion to the flesh.

  16. lol! I love love love this! You made me laugh on a day when I really needed to. Been there, now I’m here.

  17. What an exhausting list! Not being from the cover up everything practice, I still shake my head at the silliness of some of the reasons. Oh well, each to his or her own. Thanks for sharing this list.

  18. Even as a guy, I can totally agree that this is true. I can’t help wondering, though, who is proposing a 21st century solution?

  19. Dresses-only. Yep, that’s been my existence for a LOOOONG time – and I hated EVERY minute of it. My life’s a little drear now looking through that. I’ll use the list though; I know what you mean. The rules are so inconsistent and DAMNABLE STUPID I can’t believe anyone follows them – oh yeah, fundamentalists.

    Oh – could you tell me from a historical or Biblical point of view why it is ACCEPTABLE for women to wear trousers? I would appreciate an answer to the question so much if you wouldn’t mind.

    1. This would probably need some finessing before you could use it to address someone about the trousers question, but have them consider that in ancient times,both genders wore skirts, robes, etc, and no one was cross dressing. How can pants now be considered off limits for women, simply because men have worn them longer?

      (Not to mention, who is more likely to be showing evidence of something gender specific and sexual while in pants? MEN.)

      1. Chinese women were the first to wear pants. :) so… maybe men should not be putting on womens clothing. ;) And, just maybe, men are more immodest in pants than women are. Also, while studying this topic a few years back, it seems that the scripture was actually telling women not to put on mens armor. Dont take my word for it…

  20. “Regardless of breast size, always wear an undershirt with V-necks, because when you bend over, males might see cleavage or the top of your bra. Even if you are prepubescent, males might be turned on by the idea of future cleavage.”

    As a parent of a toddler, one of my biggest concerns for his future is how many modern societies hyper-sexualize teenagers, & even sexualize pre-teens. & the most ridiculous part of all the “modesty” rules is that they sexualize human beings, including children, just as much as “secular” society does.

  21. […] family did not follow the more extreme modesty rules. My parents did not require head coverings, daily floor-length denim, or any strict uniform; they […]

  22. […] This parody list of modesty rules is a perfect illustration of Christian culture’s contradictory standards for women—that they must both be attractive and not cause men to lust: “Wear a little makeup to highlight your God-given beauty. But don’t wear too much makeup. Actually, don’t wear any makeup, because it is secular and draws attention to you instead of Christ” (the author is currently doing a series on modesty and I’ve been enjoying her other posts as well). […]

  23. so i had a “purity culture” raised boyfriend at one point who admonished me to not wear a necklace long enough to hang under my shirt because males will see the chain beneath the shirt in the vicinity of my breasts and they will…i don’t know…want to be the necklace? and then obviously they will “spontaneously combust from lust” : p

  24. Grew up this way…. swallowed the kool-aid….. hook, line, sinker….. taught my own kids this way… MADE them grow up this way….. When they were old enough to choose, we let them choose their own way and church. God help me for making the mistake of loving the rule rather than the RULER at times… loving the system rather than the Son……. Loving the church rather than my children. God, please forgive me. Help me be a better mom and gram. Help me.

    1. We left fundamentalism and the church/school where I taught for nearly 30 years. Best decision ever to nuture our young adult children who are still living with us while in college. Thankful

  25. Does anyone know where I can find Fundamentalist Recovery help? I need help. Really.

    1. I need help

    2. There is a website called Stuff Fundies Like. It has many people in various stages of leaving and recovering from fundamentalism of all types, but especially Independent Fundamental Baptist. It is meant to be funny, but there is also a lot of comiserating with people who went through the same things.

    3. Check out They have a lot of great articles in their archives.

    4. Brenda, There’s a support group called FreedomBuilders. Everyone “gets” this kind of lifestyle and helps each other grow.

  26. Stephanie · · Reply

    so disappointed. It’s true that there has been some legalism in the past with those in fundamentalism, but it’s also true that girls today still do not know why they shouldn’t show off their chest and legs. Rules are there for us when we do not have the discretion to wear things that are appropriate. Hopefully by the time you are in college you gain discretion, but that is obviously not always the case. It’s true that the heart is a big deal. A girl who dresses with here whole body covered can still and often has ended up pregnant and not married. The girl who is not shy about her body and is willing to show it off will much more likely fall into the same sin because she has no discretion. If you don’t want someone to make rules for you, at least read the Bible and follow what it says about being chaste and pure in our attitude of life. And please do not encourage Christian girls to ignore boundaries. Everywhere you go, there will be boundaries.

    1. This isn’t about “boundaries.” This is about the church teaching women that they are nothing but sexual objects for men to touch and look at, and that if they don’t keep those men from doing so unless they are married to them, its THEIR fault. This is about a culture that utterly fails to teach its men and boys to see women as full human beings, and instead teaches them that if they fail to have self-control they can just blame those temptresses for their problems. I assure you, this is not just “legalism in the past”, either. It is alive and well today.

  27. I went to a high school that taught this. My family doesn’t hold these particular convictions as far as dressing for women. We dressed modestly but also fashionably. Jeans were okay and we were persecuted for it. I was rejected by every person in that tiny high school. My younger siblings were subjected to similar cruelty. Told we were sinners, that our pastor didn’t teach us the bible, that we wouldn’t go to heaven. This has gone far beyond staying pure until marriage. This has crossed into the bounds of Pharisee. Washing the outside of the cup and bowl so it looks clean and shiny and perfectly righteous but on the inside, most of the kids I overheard were seething with rebellion. You can change the way people look, talk, walk and indoctrinate them that their salvation and testimony rely solely on their own shoulders OR you can tell them that God is ALL mighty! He is ALL powerful and He holds the hearts of men in His hands! He has chosen His followers from before the foundations of the world! HE is the one who saves us! Not us! We are the ones who are DROWNING no, DEAD! in SIN and HE is the one who jumps in and pulls us out and breathes the breath of LIFE into us! When you have a clear understanding that your salvation is not of yourself and not dependent on you, the pressure of the LAW fades. You have a desire to dress modestly, to talk a certain way and walk in a certain path because GOD put it there! Forcing it on someone is NOT salvation OR ministry! Missionaries will go to tribes and tell them to “put on some clothes!” and to “Stop smoking!” and so on. Is this the gospel!?!? NO!!! The gospel is “God created you! He made you perfect, but we fell into sin! We are all sinners no matter how good we act. We deserve punishment! BUT GOD!!!!!! Rich in mercy and abounding in hesed love SAVED US!!! We don’t have to face punishment! We can live for eternity with Him in a PERFECT WORLD! God also created your culture! And it is beautiful! Tainted by sin like all others but still beautiful!” I’m tired of this fake gospel being preached from pulpits. You can’t change your heart by changing your clothes. *end rant*

    1. Melanie clement · · Reply

      You are so correct. Do not provoke your child to wrath.

  28. […] modesty rules young girls and adolescents are taught to follow are contradictory and […]

  29. txcollies · · Reply

    Oh my goodness. I heard every. single. one. of these growing up. Brings back bad memories.

  30. Melanie clement · · Reply

    This isn’t dress but it’s just as crazy. Elderly church lady “Melanie, I saw that you let Doug drink after you. Do you know what he thought?” Melanie “NO, I have no idea” Elderly Church Lady “It was the same as you kissing him” (soon to be in trouble) Melanie “that’s OK his not the first and I’m sure he won’t be the last” Melanie is now on her was to the principals office to sign up for future harlots of America.

    1. Elderly church lady has apparently never been kissed.

  31. Reblogged this on rodalena and commented:
    What she said…

  32. Reblogged this (which I *rarely* do), because it’s brilliant.

  33. Ugh! I was raised this way and sadly, I believed it. Having been in the Navy I was told many times that because I was modestly dressed and covered up they had more graphic fantasies about me than the women with more skin on show. I lost the plot and gave them hell. I then went home and raised hell and told them they should be extremely ashamed of themselves for GUARANTEEING me that being modestly dressed would protect me from ALL harm. What a load of bollocks. A realistic chat about men would have better served. I was soooooooo angry!

    1. I was also raised that modesty was a safeguard and that I would be safe. I dressed like a nun, and after a few years out in the world as an adult I learned that there is quite a number of strangers willing to tell me they have sexual fantasies about nuns or that they were turned on by my long hair pinned up etc. for every pervert who thought it was ok to say that, how many more were thinking it?

  34. Several things cross my mind in answer to this.
    Why do we wear clothes in the first place? What constitutes covering nakedness? That is a question each woman & her husband need to answer in clean conscience before God, not to satisfy a list or so nobody makes fun of her. (This was actually my husband’s thought.)

    Your purpose is less to edify, more to offend, & that disturbs me. There *are* hypocrisies in the history of fundamentalism that need to be addressed, but a grave, helpful manner would do more service. I can see this post being a stumbling block to young ladies who have chosen to attend colleges where this type of dress code is still enforced. If you have the Christian liberty to wear skinny jeans, fine. If I don’t, fine. Why write an inflammatory post about it? (I went to one of those colleges & there was no “rape culture–it’s all the girl’s fault if a guy has a lustful idea,” but it is a fact that there is seductive power in the way a woman can choose to dress. The world readily acknowledges that; it’s almost amusing to hear Christian women denying it.)

    Most importantly, I keep stumbling across article after article that my friends are sharing mocking & attacking Christian ladies for well-intentioned personal dress standards. I expect to hear this from the lost & misunderstanding world, but I’m horrified at the “I can wear what I want & no one can stop me” attitude prevalent in blog posts shared all over Facebook. Modesty isn’t a set of rules, though some in fundamentalism have focused too much on this & less on the *why* behind it. It’s an attitude of the heart that comes out in your dress as much as in other areas of life. If I choose to retain some of the principles that my mother–a godly, old-fashioned lady–taught me, why should I face ridicule from my sisters in Christ? The idea today seems to be that if I decide to wear dresses, I am automatically a “Pharisee” & living by rules rather than grace. Are they inseparable? Can I not worship & walk with God in sincerity of heart & wear clothes that might be different from what you choose?

    I could make a similarly amusing list of the rules my parents taught me at the dinner table, but I’m not throwing off those as I have reached the freedom of adulthood. Rather I’m teaching my children to eat quietly, chew with mouths closed, etc, because I’m raising gentlemen & ladies. And just as my Mom tried to teach me, I’m striving to impart a heart of humility & modesty in every area of life, which might at times necessitate rules to guide them in their way, just as eating at the dinner table requires guidelines. I hope that as adults, they regard it seriously & establish their own principles as they walk with God, rather than throwing this teaching to the wind & making public mockery of it.

    1. Two things:

      First, I notice that any time I am reading a blog post that depicts a fundamentalist doctrine unfavorably with a dose of humor, a fundamentalist will come along and protest. Yet fundamentalists never seem to hold their own to this same standard. I grew up in fundamentalism, attended several different churches, so I know that mocking, railing, name-calling, etc. are par for the course when it comes to talking about non-fundamentalists, all with the intention of being offensive and shocking. Do you hold your leaders to the same standard of “helpfulness”?

      Second, the problem that I (and likely many others) have with purity culture is not particular points on the list given, but the overall attitude. The idea that my body is nothing more then a sexual object, and so must be covered up, is what gave rise to so many crazy and constantly changing rules. I was taught that it was my job to keep men and boys from lusting, because they just couldn’t help themselves. The underlying message was that sex, having babies, and pleasing men was all that God had made me for. Part of my exit from fundamentalism and purity culture came when I began to ask questions like, “Why isn’t there a similarly restrictive set of rules for men, when women are just as capable of lust?”, “If modern church culture’s emphasis on female ‘modesty’ (as they define it) is correct, why doesn’t the Bible talk as much about it as they do?”, “Why doesn’t the church’s expanded definition of modesty fit the Bible’s single sentence mention of the word?”

      You say, “It is a fact that there is seductive power in the way a woman can choose to dress.” Why do you believe this to be a fact? Why do you think that a woman wearing clothing holds some great mystical power as compared to a man wearing clothing? This “fact” comes from the same mindset that blames women for men’s lust. Old fashioned, yes, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s time to stop putting the burden on women dressing to cover for men who want to objectify them, and expect Christians and the church to take the lead in teaching men and boys that they are fully responsible for their thoughts and actions, and that woman are equal humans instead of sexual objects.

  35. Downtown Demure · · Reply

    I completely understand the sentiment of this article. Modesty is confusing because *people* have made it confusing by enforcing rules that don’t exist in the Bible. But I don’t agree with the extremist approach in opposition to modesty and the lack of balance in this argument. Just because people have made modesty confusing doesn’t mean we should totally disregard it. God values modesty (because He wants us to be pure and holy), so we should work through this together. We can start by clearing up a major misconception: We aren’t in sin when someone chooses to lust after us (that’s their choice that we can’t control). We ARE in sin when we present ourselves in sexual appealing ways (Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 18:6-7, Matthew 5:27-28) And let’s be real, here. We KNOW when we intentionally dress in appealing ways.

    As someone who became a Christian and started dressing modestly as an adult, I’ve learned modesty becomes a lot easier and more tolerable when we seek to be pleasing to GOD first, not other people and not ourselves (that’s the humility part). We can seek and value the opinions of our brethren (again, the humility part of modesty), but we should seek to please God first. I think we have to start by asking ourselves, “am I really honoring God by wearing this mini-skirt? Am I really seeking purity when I wear this bikini (or am I trying to highlight the sensual parts of my body)?” When we bring God into the equation, everything (even the motives in hearts) becomes clearer.

    As a fashion blogger who tries to encourage modest yet modern dressing, I can confidently say modest does NOT mean frumpy, and it’s honestly not that complicated. There is way to dress that’s attractive AND honorable to God, ourselves, and our brothers and sisters (even those who have different views of modesty). We just need to try, and thankfully God’s grace will cover us when we fall short.

  36. I love this list so much.

  37. […] Schell recently published a long list of modesty “rules” that girls have to deal with, especially in religious fundamentalist families. These messages teach […]

  38. […] I was in a discussion in a Facebook group about immodesty for young Christian girls, when someone linked to this blog post. […]

  39. […] of this section is constantly shifting goalposts. Kate Schell wittily satirized this concept here, but unfortunately, A&E are dead serious. The bit above about “shameless hussies” was a […]

  40. revelatory (pun intended) list.

  41. Yup, you nailed it! I heard most of these while growing up in the church and nearly 40 years later I’m still trying to get some of them out of my head.

  42. I’ve read or heard all of these at one time or another, Kate. Well done.

    “… gams make your brothers in Christ stumble” – what a hoot!


    P.S. Re modesty rules and putting the responsibility for lust where it really belongs: Owning Your Lust.

  43. Actually breasts were created by God for the sole purpose of nourishing our young. If you look at the original language in Genesis, Adam and Eve were covered in girdles or aprons after the fall. The same word is used for both and refers to a garment that covers the genitalia (by the way, breasts are NOT genitalia). We have shamed young girls to the point that we now live in a society where young mothers are afraid to breastfeed their babies in public for fear that someone will be offended.

    1. Elizabeth · · Reply

      I don’t think you can claim that its sole purpose was nourishment. There are numerous passages that reference sexual pleasure with breasts in Proverbs, Song of Songs and other places in Scripture. And personal experience… I am not arguing the girdles word or anything, but don’t, please don’t, say that our breasts are only for nourishment. It is kind of like saying sex is only for procreation, which we know that at times the church has claimed this, but it is not the full truth, either. Yes, I have been a mom who at times retreated to the edge of a room or into a corner to nurse, and sometimes left a room to nurse. But I never nursed in a bathroom! I refuse to be “shamed” for caring for my baby or toddler. But I won’t act as though sexual enjoyment of our breasts is something we discovered that was not part of God’s original plan for the beautiful body God gave us women.

  44. You’re definitely on to something when you address the legalistic/confusing maze of rules on modesty. At the same time, what are you proposing? You offered no solution to the problem besides the underlying “stop” that the caricature suggests. What do fashion and style mean to a Christian person? How do Christians go about doing all things for the glory of God (including the area of physical appearance)? Does the majority culture have it right when it preconizes suggestive wear (female cleavage, belly button, man’s cleavage etc.)? Is there a limit to what the Christian can adopt from fashion? Help me out.

    1. Downtown Demure · · Reply

      Bravo, Welson. It’s one thing to point out the issues of legalistic rules concerning modesty in conservative Christian culture in an effort to collectively find a healthier position on modesty. It’s another thing to mock it while providing no alternatives. Thank you for eloquently voicing my frustrations with your comment!

      As to your questions, I answer a majority of those at length on my modest fashion blog, Short answer: It’s absolutely possible to dress stylishly while dressing for God’s glory. Hemlines should be longer and cleavage unexposed. But I think leaving a little mystery adds grace and style to any outfit.

    2. its ok to point out something is wrong without offering a suggestion. Maybe someone else will have the suggestion once the conversation is opened. Maybe there are issues that each person has to resolve for themselves. Maybe there are not any easy answers, but the issue still needs to be talked about. No one person is obligated to have all the answers. We are, after all, a body. And telling people to stop pointing out a problem unless they have a solution is widely considered to be a silencing technique.

  45. JoyAndrew · · Reply

    Thank you. Thank you for saying this! I heard this daily from my parents and a church that they attended. It was difficult to say the least, I wish there had been posts like this back then! I hope my daughter never has to go through this!..although I am afraid of raising her, because I know that some of these rules are engrained in my being!

  46. It’s sad because it’s true. This article outlines just one set of reasons that I grew up thinking church was useless and stupid. It took me decades to unravel the emotional turmoil I associated with religion/ church and spirituality.

  47. […] Immodest Proposals: The Rules […]

  48. Isabella · · Reply

    Omg this is literally my childhood every little one!!! I laughed through each one, how you thought up every rule (there are so many!) is amazing I could barely keep up on them as a child 😄 I think it’s ridiculous that we have ti totally change so the men don’t have ‘lust thoughts’ and if they do SURPRISE it’s our fault. So ridiculous like men how about stepping up and having control maybe?😄 Also there is a reason god created our body a certain way, also we had way more guys and people in general looking and judging us while wearing sack skirts then we do now with pants. Again this article is amazing I wish I had this when I was little!

  49. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter · · Reply

    I’m so glad I’m not American.

  50. So funny- my approach as a Catholic mother is to not overthink this but not to let it get out of hand, either. I try not to portray males as animalistic pigs who can’t control themselves and I try not to raise daughters who think that what they wear is who they are. My rule of thumb for the teenage girls is in a questionable situation is,” Go ask your brother.” When my daughter came home with a black elastic strapless dress that was decidedly slutty, her oldest(very protective brother) took one look at her and said,” Where the hell is the rest of that dress?” This approach worked in ways that all my ranting would not have.
    And to be fair– my daughters are very vocal about what their brothers are wearing– but it usually has more to do with hygiene
    In general, like everything else in life, it’s better to go for a healthy balance
    Thanks so much for such a comical but insightful look at this touchy subject

    1. Aren’t you worried that this will foster resentment between your children, or that you’re setting a bad precedent by allowing your sons to look at a woman and say “where the hell is the rest of that dress”? I would be pretty angry with my son if he ever spoke to a woman that way, but it’d be even worse if it was his sister.

  51. Holy crap. This was brilliant. I love how you ended the list: “you get what you deserve” followed immediately with “Let your inner beauty shine!” It shows the whole thing to be so much crap. So much finger-pointing at girls and so little at guys, when ideally there would be no fingers pointing at anyone telling them how they should dress to preserve the thoughts of other people and strangers.

  52. […] what isn’t. That’s why there’s a long list of rules that comes with the teaching: (the shameful rules of Modesty – a great post with excellent comments!) Not only that, but the modesty teachings are flexible from one church to the next – something […]

  53. You’ve certainly done an excellent job in pointing out the hypocrisy with modesty standards, Kate Shell. And I agree with you, that these ever changing standards put too much responsibility on women to “save” their brothers-in-Christ from sexual sin, when only Christ can do that. I personally believe that the reason these standards are so hypocritical and constantly shifting is because they are man made, and men/women are fickle at best.

    However, I do have three simple principles of modesty for you to consider. First, that modesty starts with the heart. (A woman in a skirt with a proud heart is immodest. Same for a woman in jeans.) Second, modesty is an effort to not bring attention to oneself, stemming from the first. In short, be appropriate. A wedding calls for nicer apparel than a hayride. The idea is to look nice and appropriate for each setting. And third, modesty is about covering up. Where you draw your line in this area (one-piece vs bikini) is somewhat subjective. Though, I believe the heart of the matter should be decided my the first two principles: humility and appropriateness. But it is obvious that we all have some standard in this area because if we didn’t, people would be attending church topless. And we aren’t, and I’m sure we wouldn’t want others to.

    In the end, I hope we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water because of the hypocrisy of others. Womanhood is an invaluable gift from God. And modesty is a part of womanhood, and humility is the key to modesty. May we let go of the legalistic standards and turn to Christ.

    These are just some things to consider. Well done on your post.


  54. […] trying to say, but what you’re saying is stupid and illogical and you shouldn’t say it. Here’s an example of the modest standards women are told to hold to and are taught. It’s amazingly convoluted bullshit. However it’s absolutely how people in Independent […]

  55. […] perhaps by ascribing to some version of the “modesty movement” in an attempt to hide the beauty of their female […]

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