A friend of mine posted a link to this blog over at Christianity Today’s blog for women. The blog responds to the common phrase that “modest is hottest” which seems to run around in many Christian circles, particularly youth groups. The response is a good one, pointing out that the phrase actually objectifies women by making the female body a thing to be feared rather than an expression of God’s beauty.
The conclusion is one I cannot sum up better than it was originally said, so I quote:
Finally, language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. 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.
I think the phrase “understanding the body’s created role” is a bit ambiguous, though of course we are to pursue God’s glory (I do know a book on the role of the physical body, if you’re interested).
An interesting off-shoot of this thought, though, is a discussion of the idea that anyone who pays attention to physical beauty is shallow. I think that if our bodies are to be cherished, they should be cherished in our marriage or even dating relationships. My instincts tell me that we should value other peoples’ bodies in the same way that we value their minds or hearts, though perhaps the limitations are different. The reason that this view can be problematic, though, is that we struggle with seeing beyond our own particular cultural expressions of beauty; we often only have two or three body types that we would call ‘beautiful.’ I think the key here is to recognize beauty in more than just those few body types or facial structures, seeing–and I actually do mean seeing, not just claiming that something is beautiful when we don’t truly believe it–beauty in each bearer of the image of God.
I want to make sure I am clear here, since what I’m saying may be counter-intuitive, to some; if bodies are important–and the Creation narrative and the Incarnation both suggest that our bodies do matter–we shouldn’t be so quick to write them off completely when we begin to talk about dating or marriage. The suggestion may be controversial to some primarily because we have spent a good amount of time proclaiming things like ‘modest is hottest.’ Because we treat the female body as a thing to be feared, we (men and women) have glorified other forms of attraction, be that personality or intelligence or perhaps proclivity at some shared hobby. These things are good, of course, and certainly worth appreciating and admiring. My point is simply that we mustn’t throw off the body in such a way that we ignore it. If God saw fit to take a body and to create mankind with bodies (remember, bodies were once sinless), then I think we would be wise to avoid simply discarding them.
Yes, I do think we tend to focus too much on physical attraction during our ‘dating years’ and, of course, it is true that our looks will change over time. But the solution to this is not to ignore our bodies or turn them into objects to be feared; rather, we should develop our own visual palate that we may enjoy and appreciate beauty that steps beyond what our particular culture sees as attractive. Seeing real beauty in an aging body is a mark of wisdom, not foolhardy romanticism.
Don’t hate your body, but don’t fear others’ bodies either. Remember that God took the form of a body and continues on in a glorified body. Remember that we were created as perfect, embodied images of God. Exercise modesty as an orientation of the body; let’s glorify God with all of our selves: body, mind, and soul.
Image from Flickr.