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Jessica Rey’s video, “The Evolution of the Swimsuit,” has stirred up some heated debate in Christian circles, most notably the response in Her.meneutics. Comments fly all around, noting that the Harvard study she quotes in the presentation was flawed, that modesty is a societal construct, that it’s not the clothes but the attitude that matters, that she’s really only trying to sell her own swimsuits and this was a marketing ploy.

All this fuss and bother misses the point.

There is room for disagreement when it comes to the discussion of modesty as it related to clothing (for both genders, I might add). A tank top with a two-inch strap might be scandalous to you; I wear them all the time. Shorts and skirts with a hemline higher than two inches above the knee make me squirm; other women are fine with three inches. So, yes, there is a sense in which the clothes aren’t what truly matters.

And, no, women should not be shamed about their bodies. God created our bodies, with their numerous dips and curves. He said that they were very good. Women do not need to dress in shapeless clothing for fear of “causing their brothers to stumble.” A brother’s stumbling is his own business. He’s responsible to God for that and he doesn’t get to blame it on anyone else.

Let’s get real, though.

Ladies, stop pretending to be so naive. When we put on a low-cut top, or a skirt with a questionable length, or pants that are tighter than our own skin, or, yes, that bikini, we aren’t celebrating our bodies. We aren’t striving to dress attractively out of an attitude of appreciation and thankfulness. We’re revealing one of two things: a desperately damaged self-image or an inflated emphasis on the surface. We know that dressing in such a way will get us attention, from men and women.

I used to wear bikinis. I did it because I wanted to be noticed. I was the so-called “enviable” skinny shape, and I wanted to flaunt that. I wanted people to think I was “sexy” (whatever that means). I wanted to stand out in the crowd. I wanted to be “on trend” and “in fashion.” The authors of the Her.meneutics article strive to make the point that a woman can wear a bikini and communicate a message of modesty, but I have major doubts about that. I can’t think of a single woman I know who, if she were being truly honest, wouldn’t admit to the same motivations when going for the bikini.

Look, I’m not going to yell at you if I see you wearing a bikini at the beach. But I will be distracted by you. Let’s be honest about that, too, ladies. When another woman’s chest endowments are popping out all over the place because her stringy top gives her no support, it’s distracting. When the teeny bottoms are riding up into regions where they should not be going, it’s distracting. And let’s get even more honest: if any of us sees a woman who is over, say, a size 10 and over the age of 35 (unless she’s fantastically youthful), prancing around in a bikini, we think, “Oooo, girl, that was a bad choice.”

I believe that clothing choices reflect the heart. Modesty is about more than clothing; it’s a pattern of life. But that pattern is best shown in what we adorn ourselves in. Does that skirt reveal my body in a way that is both attractive and God-honoring? Will people be distracted from the Gospel message if I wear that shirt? Am I so overloaded with jewelry that my words about drawing attention to God ring hollow? 

Fashion is fun, a world of expression. But it is a world that should be approached with discernment.

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