A month or so ago, I got into a conversation on another blog with a woman I’ve never met. Since summer is coming up, naturally the topic was modesty and bikinis. She hadn’t worn one since her honeymoon, would never let her daughters wear one, would be kindly encouraging others to do the same, and said that the real issue is the motivations of our own hearts for why we would want to wear a bikini (that part I agree with!). Her comment closed by saying that she had hoped she had provided a Biblical perspective instead of just an emotional one. Here was my response, lightly edited for clarity:
I’m glad that you don’t want to be the modesty police. Good goal! I think you’re right; we do all draw the line as to what we see as modest or immodest somewhere, and we each do draw it in different places. But the rest of your comment puzzled me very much.
You said that the only time you wore a bikini was on your honeymoon and that you don’t wear them now or let your daughters. All good. Your actions match your views, and you are raising your kids the way you believe, as you should. But you also mention that “we” need to be more concerned with the motivations of our own hearts; however, just before that you say “you” will be kindly encouraging other women who are not you or your daughters to not wear bikinis. That is attributing the motivations of *your* heart to other people’s behavior and asking them to change *their* behavior based on *your* heart. Then you wonder about possible motivations for wanting to wear a bikini and whether or not is because one wants to feel sexy/garner attention.
Let me illustrate the point that not everyone’s motivations are the same. I will be forty years old next month and have six children. I am fairly small-ish, but my stomach has suffered rather a lot of wear and tear over the years. So, do I wear a bikini to attract attention? Not so much. I bought my first bikini in nineteen years last summer, and I wear it because despite the non-20 year old body, I like it. It’s cute and far more comfortable than my one-piece (pulling up a wet lycra swimsuit over your stomach after going to that bathroom anyone? Kind of like wrestling on a skin-tight slug shirt). Plus, it makes me feel unexpectedly pretty when I wear it. Is feeling sexy a bad thing? Is it necessarily tied to wanting attention? I think the answer to both of those is “no.”
I feel pretty or sexy regardless of whether or not someone else is around to see me. The human body is designed to feel sexy sometimes as it is designed to feel many other things, and feeling sexy isn’t always directly related to bedroom time. I tend to feel that way when I succeed at something and feel confident, when I do more than six pushups and feel strong, when I stand in the back doorway to look out at the woods and feel the breeze around me, and of course when my husband nuzzles the back of my neck when I’m cooking. None of those are related to clothes and none of them are related to garnering attention since almost all of those situations occur when I’m alone except for the last one.
Clothes can and do also make me feel sexy, but for me usually (but not always) it’s in reverse. I feel sexy first, and then the clothes I choose reflect that. If I feel confident yet relaxed and have an opportunity to snazz up, on me that looks like pencil skirts with 4″ heels that look slightly like I’m a refugee from the 1940′s. Why do I like that? Beats me. But I reeeeeeally, really do.
When I feel confident enough to wear something I like yet relaxed enough to not care if other people don’t like it, I wear my bikini. Because I like it. Because it reminds me that a little belly flab will probably not spark the apocalypse and I just need to get over myself. Because it reminds me that that belly birthed six wonderful children, and that is a very small personal cost for a gift of such massive return. Because it reminds me that imperfection is ok and to let go of the small things that I want to hold on tightly to and assign far more importance to than they should have. Because when I mentioned to my wonderful, beautiful husband last year that I was thinking about getting a bikini, his response was, “I don’t know why you didn’t do that years ago” and then when I actually got one he smiled like he did when we were young and said I should wear it all the time. (This then raises the question: should I defer to my own husband’s desires or yours?)
So, does that answer your question as to motivations? If you are concerned that in your own heart, your motivation for wanting to wear a bikini might be that you just want to attract gobs of attention, that is a valid reason to not wear one. On top of that, you said your husband doesn’t want you to, and that’s a great reason as well. But those are, as you said you were concerned with at the start of your comment, matters of your own heart and your own conscience and your own family dynamics. My heart and conscience and family dynamics vary from yours, and many other peoples’ undoubtedly vary from both yours and mine. Those things are not across-the-board universals.
Speaking of universals, you ask at the beginning of your comment if we can ever decide something is immodest and then at the end of your comment mention that you wanted to bring some Biblical perspective. That too is a worthy goal, and as Christians we should be doing that in all areas of life.
Last summer after I posted an article about porn on Facebook, the conversation resulted in 80 comments mostly about modesty and what the Bible has to say about it (answer: surprisingly not as much as one would think). I think pretty much all relevant verses were covered, and the discussion was fascinating (and also very time-consuming and thorough enough that I have no wish to post all the Biblical arguments again here). If you have a wad of time to spend reading and are interested, you can see the whole thing here: Porn/Modesty Facebook Discussion.
The takeaways that I found most interesting from all that were that a) the Bible says very little and nearly nothing specific about clothing sizes or lengths or anything, and b) the vast majority (if not all) of the references to modesty in the Bible relate to behavior and/or the interior workings of the heart as opposed to the clothes one is wearing. The other striking point was that even among a group of Christians mainly from my own denomination, there were many opinions on modesty and how to define it and what the Bible said or implied about it. Every single one of the people who commented is someone I know personally and like very much. All of them, every one, are Godly men and women who I respect very much, yet we disagree to some extent or another on how it all plays out.
One last note on something that would not have occurred to me at all had I not started wearing a bikini. Having heard for most of my life that wearing a bikini would be a huge temptation for the men around me (or something) and might be a problem for them, I was immeasurably surprised when I started wearing one to the river last year. You want to know who was bothered? Christian friends who weren’t with me and have never seen me in a bikini (mostly women but not all). You want to know who cared among the people who were at the actual river and saw me in my bikini? No one. Nobody cared. Half of them were wearing bikinis too. No one was turning into a raging lust ball or assuming I was out to steal their husband. It was a complete non-event, which was perfect since I wasn’t trying to attract attention anyway. I just sat on the rocks and watched the kids play, which was what we had actually gone there to do. The sun was warm, the water was sparkly, and I was thankful for a relaxing afternoon.
Anyway, that’s the really long way of saying I liked your comment and it’s always nice to talk to someone who is trying to think about things from a Godly perspective. May your summer be filled with sunshine and laughter.