Teaching Girls about Modesty and Biblical Femininity: 4 Moms

Modesty and biblical femininity, what is it and how do we teach it to our daughters? moms of many manageThis is the topic that the 4 Moms are talking about this week. You may read the other posts at:

KimC at Life in a Shoe
Connie at Smockity Frocks
Headmistress at The Common Room

I know that, in an effort to enforce modesty/femininity, many families have concrete standards for how their daughters should dress (no shorts, no skirts above the knees, etc.) and while this is one way to have a standard that everyone in the family can adhere to, we’ve chosen to tackle this topic differently with our children.

When most people talk about modesty and femininity, they mean the clothing choices that we make, but modesty is about more than what we wear.

8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. ~ 1 Timothy2

Women are to adorn themselves with modesty, self-control and  good works all this with submissiveness.

Bella (2)

Our daughters can wear loose turtle necks with skirts down to their ankles and violate the heart of this ‘modesty’ command in 1 Timothy. So our approach has been to try to teach them, from the time they are born, to base every action and every decision on the Word of God to submit to Him in all things. This, we believe, will give them a heart of modesty and femininity.

Our three oldest girls are 16, 14 and 12 and they each have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to modesty and femininity.

Daughter A struggles with the femininity part of the issue. She’d much rather climb trees and wrestle with the boys than wear a dress or skirt.

Daughter B struggled with the beauty part of the issue. She dresses very modestly, but had struggled with keeping herself up and choosing items that were pretty on her.

Daughter C struggles with the ‘modest actions’ part of the issue. She dresses ‘modestly’ and she dresses beautifully, but she can be flirtatious and forward.

I think these differences demonstrate the difficulty in writing a post on how to teach modesty and femininity to girls. While we might encourage daughters A and B to wear prettier clothes, add some nice accessories and use a bit of makeup, there is no need for this instruction with daughter C.

And while we have told daughters A and C to not be quite so ‘friendly’ with the boys (in completely different ways, we have to tell daughter A not to wrestle with the boys and daughter C to be a bit more reserved in her speech with them), we’ve clearly told daughter B that she needs to be a little more outgoing and friendly with boys and young men.

Our goal is to teach our daughters to turn to the Word of God as their standard for modesty and femininity in dress and actions.

Teach the Bible

If your girls don’t know God and don’t know what the Bible says, we can not expect them to know God’s standard for modesty and femininity.

I know that I say it a lot, but it’s because we believe it’s so vitally important, your children should be in the habit of reading the Bible every. single. day. You should spend the majority of your ‘school’ time reading, memorizing and studying the Bible, it’s life to those who hear and it teaches us the only way to life and true happiness.

Start Young

Bella (2)

We don’t generally allow actions and dress in our little girls that won’t be fine when they are older. We do not allow them to dress or behave in a way that encourages men/boys to think of them as a sexual object. (For example, while we may dress our 2 year old daughter in a very short dress that shows her little matching diaper cover and looks like a sweet dress for a 2 year old, we won’t dress her in sweat pants that have something written across her bottom.)

We think that it would be confusing for a girl to receive positive attention for the first 4 – 10 years of her life by being flirtatious and dressing provocatively and then to tell her that those clothes/actions are not appropriate.

Build Relationship

If your daughter respects her parents and desires to please God (who commands her to obey and respect her parents), if she knows that you love her and want what is best for her, if you have demonstrated this by pouring time into your relationship with her then, God willing, you should have very little conflict over this issue.

Communicate

I mentioned earlier that we don’t have any concrete, set-in-stone, external standards for modesty. Instead, we make decisions on the modesty of clothes on an individual basis. This means that some of our girls may wear something that our other girls wouldn’t wear.  We talk often and freely about clothes.

Generally, our girls will come to us with questions about whether or not something is modest. One of the first things we do is ask what they think about it. (I’m thinking this my be difficult if most of their daily influencers have never considered or do not care about God’s standard of modesty). Often our daughter’s standards of modesty are more strict than ours, so if something feels legitimately immodest to them, we don’t want to encourage them to wear it.

Mark and the children on one of our sunrise walks at Holden beach 2012

I realize this post is a bit of a hodge podge on this topic. If you have other specific questions or want to know more, please feel free to ask in the comment section.

Visit the other moms of many to read their thoughts and ideas:
Smockity Frocks
Life in a Shoe
The Common Room

You may also be interested in:

 

For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.

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23 Responses to Teaching Girls about Modesty and Biblical Femininity: 4 Moms
  1. Janee Campbell
    September 27, 2012 | 9:19 am

    I love the fact that you address the actions part of modesty along with the clothing. I also really like that rather than a “set standard” each daughter is treated as an individual with emphasis on each child’s area of difficulty. Your blog often inspires me to look deeper into issues than just the surface. Praise God he has given you all wonderful insight and wisdom. God Bless your family.

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  2. Jama
    September 27, 2012 | 9:30 am

    http://westernconservatory.com/reclaiming-beauty-webinar

    My oldest daughter is participating in this webinar offered by the Botkin sisters. It is covers many areas related to modesty, beauty and femininity. I completely agree that modesty is more a matter of the heart than a list of rules.

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  3. Lisa
    September 27, 2012 | 10:07 am

    Thank you and thank you! My oldest just turned 16 and asked for her first pair of jeans for her bday. I battled and debated over this decision. I have taught her to be modest, etc. and feel that it is more important to know and live the Bible than to be confined by rules. She has a meek and quiet spirit and when I asked her to wear longer tops with them to cover her bottom she agreed. Tough topic and you did it justice!!

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  4. MomBH
    September 27, 2012 | 10:17 am

    This is so interesting- as with many things i think you have hit the nail on the head. I am an orthodox jew with a big family. We definately take up the sidewalk and then some. We dress our girls modestly after age 3- knees and elbows and collerbones covered. No tight or flashy clothes. Our boys cover their hair and never go outside in sleeveless shirts or short shorts. We go for the refined look. Many people in the community are rebelling. But you are so right when you mention the main odea to teach the kids is their relationship with G-d and would He like to see them dress this way or not.

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    Emily M. Reply:

    MomBH, I find your point of view fascinating. I myself, am an Evangelical Christian. I was raised in a Christian home. My brother and his wife are converts to Orthodox Judaism. They were recently blessed with their first child, a son. The baby is only a few months old and I was sure to ask my sister-in-law about how he must dress, as his aunt, I wanted to get him clothing, but I wanted to be sure I got him things he could wear. She said there wasn’t a set standard at this point. I’m wondering if 3 years old is a standard age your family has set or is that a pretty common standard in the Orthodox community?

    Kimberly, As always, I very much enjoyed this post and appreciated how you got to the *heart* of modesty. I have 3 girls (and 2 boys) and while everyone is still little we definitely try to train them to be modest and I know that as they grow it will become crucial for them to grasp the importance of this issue.

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    EstherH Reply:

    Hi Emily,
    Just to help you with your baby gift – 3 years old is generally the age the Orthodox community starts with stricter dressing guidelines.
    For babies – definitely buy whatever looks the cutest and most comfortable. I would advise though, in a similar vein to Kimberly’s post, that it shouldn’t be too flashy – they may not like large words printed across the clothes, or anything with too much bling or loud colors.
    Good luck!

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    Emily M. Reply:

    Thank you Esther. I appreciate your help! :)

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  5. Dawn
    September 27, 2012 | 10:19 am

    Great article as usual!! I would also love to hear 4 Mom tackle Modesty as it relates to boys – i.e. turning from and shielding themselves from immodest girls (since currently I have no girls!)

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  6. Momma Ley
    September 27, 2012 | 10:52 am

    Hello! You have quoted a beautiful passage and set out with a good heart to follow God’s desire for your daughters to live and dress modestly.

    But I don’t understand why you “might encourage daughters A and B to wear prettier clothes, add some nice accessories and use a bit of makeup”

    and how you reconcile that with,”not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire”

    To me this clearly states- don’t dress “pretty” dress humbly. If the desire is to dress pretty I posit it is not modest.

    Dressing pretty means dressing so as to physically attract the opposite sex. Whereas dressing modestly means dressing so as to spiritually attract the opposite sex. So they seem to be opposing values.

    I hope you take my thoughts in good heart and know that they are written in love. Love for God and for my fellow Christian. God Bless.

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    I respectfully disagree with your definition of pretty. You say, “Dressing pretty means dressing so as to physically attract the opposite sex.”

    Here is the definition of ‘pretty’ from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

    Pretty – “This word seems to be connected with priawd, appropriate, proper, fitting. 1. Having diminutive beauty; 2. Neat and appropriate without magnificence or splendor. 3. Handsome; neatly arranged or ornamented. 4. Neat; elegant without elevation or grandeur.”

    This is what I mean when I use the word. :)

    The portion of 1 Timothy that you quote, “not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire” must be understood and studied in context with the entire Bible.

    Exodus and Chronicles clearly state that God designed the priestly garments and the temple for beauty. (Ex. 28:2 is one example).

    We know through the entire Bible (especially the Psalms and Proverbs) that God describes Himself as beautiful and full of beauty and we know that man is created in His image as a (imperfect) reflection of Him.

    Throughout the Scriptures beauty, ornaments, crowns, rings, necklaces are portrayed as blessings, beautiful and good. (Prov. 1:7-9, Ez. 16:9-15, etc.)

    Biblical curses talk about God taking away beauty (if God curses us by taking it away, it must not be something that is bad to have in the first place) and blessings speak of God bestowing beauty.

    I think that 1 Peter 3:1-6 helps us understand the relationship between the 1 Timothy passage and the obvious positive place of beauty throughout the rest of the Scriptures. Our adornment isn’t to be merely external and it certainly shouldn’t be our primary focus.

    Now, perhaps we may disagree on how this practically should work itself out in us an in our daughters. We may wear makeup and shorts and you may not. That’s fine, it’s a difference in how we apply the biblical principles. The error comes when we try to force others to comply to our personal preferences or standards.

    I do personally think that it’s a mistake to say that we, as Christians, created in the image of Christ should not seek to be appropriately ‘beautiful’. Christ is beautiful, the world He created is beautiful and we as His image bearers should seek to reflect His beauty, primarily with our hearts and actions, but without ignoring our outward appearance.

    Blessings to your family.

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    Momma Ley Reply:

    Wow thanks, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you for such a thoughtful reply too!

    I do think I’m most hung up on the make-up. So you’re exactly right about your base assumption.

    I completely agree that it’s wrong to try to force others to comply to our personal preferences or standards. And I try my best to only mention complying to God’s standards, but hey, I’m not perfect.

    Back to the make-up… clothing and priestly garments were symbolically beautiful the richness of the fabrics and the colors were often associated with holiness and Godly beauty. They were beautiful because they meant something. I could hardly equate a random pretty bracelet or even mascara to priestly garments in their meaning or accomplished goal. Would you?

    So I guess the question remains, how is make-up accomplishing Godly beauty? How is it adorning your daughters with humility and modesty? (and I mean this sincerely, because I don’t have any idea). Thank again. God Bless!

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    Melanie Reply:

    If I can jump in here, I’m not sure you’ve grasped the foundation of Kimberly’s point.

    First a point of clarification. I don’t see make-up as any different in principle from wearing a blouse with a pretty pattern on it. They are simply different ways of making one’s self more beautiful. If you disagree, that may be part of the issue.

    I think Kimberly’s main point in her reply to you was that all beauty is a reflection of God’s character. Many things in nature and Scripture testify to the fact that God’s is Himself beautiful and a lover of beauty–physical beauty as well as spiritual. We beautify ourselves because we are made in God’s image to reflect His character.

    You said, “They were beautiful because they meant something.” The point is that all beauty ought to reflect the same spiritual reality. The priestly garments were a specific application of the fact that the physical often represents and reflects the spiritual.

    The rebuke in Scripture often comes when women are not really what they seem to be, i.e. they’re beautiful on the outside, but then reveal that it’s not so pretty inside. (Prov. 11:22)The spiritual reality is primary, but should be reflected on the outside.

    Or think of it this way. How could God describe himself as “beautiful” (metaphorically, of course, since God has no physical being)if beauty were not a basically good thing?

    How is beautifying our persons any different from beautifying our homes or gardens or painting a beautiful picture? Why should I afflict everyone else with the plainest, least pleasant looking version of me? :)

    I know that was a little scattered, but hope some of it helps!

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  7. Shannon
    September 27, 2012 | 1:18 pm

    As always you give food for thought! I agree that pretty isn’t just for the opposite gender. Feeling pretty and looking pretty can give a women a much needed boost to get things done, it just brightens up the day. Personally I don’t think makeup needs to play a role in that, but I also know that for some women just slicking on lipgloss can do amazing things in their psyche.
    I personally don’t encourage my girls to wear makeup, but I don’t forbid it either. We talk about the why, the how much, the color choices, all aimed at them making the right choices, not just doing what mom says.

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  8. Katie
    September 27, 2012 | 1:56 pm

    I think “pretty” is very distinct from dressing to attract the attention of men. Prettiness will have the secondary effect of being noticed, positively, by both sexes.

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  9. Momma Ley
    September 27, 2012 | 3:15 pm

    Haha, perfectly put! I see exactly what you are saying. :)

    There’s definitely a cultural aspect at play here too. I think that decorating a house is typical, but where I was raised wearing make-up was not typical. So to me it seems like going out of the way… buuuut, if it’s normal where you live that woman just wear make-up it’s is just like you said, decorating your house to be pleasant (something most considerate folks do.)

    And it would be just like priestly garments because it would almost like a right of passage into womanhood and would almost be immodest to not accept it. Which, again, is not the case where I live.

    Thank you both for taking time to respond to me so kindly. I’m a straight forward talker so I don’t always receive such patience and consideration. God Bless!

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  10. jonnie
    September 28, 2012 | 1:57 am

    I appreciate this post. This has been a topic I have been needing to discuss with my 9 year old daughter. I have always encouaged her to wear dresses beneath the knee. But we never really took it any farther than that, And I wasn’t sure how to start a conversation about modesty without telling her too much, but to make sense to her at the same time. Thank you for the post.

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  11. Lucinda
    September 28, 2012 | 8:16 am

    Thank you for this very well written post! I agree very much with your opinion and would love to hear more about what you teach your boys about modesty, something I think is just as important but often overlooked or ignored. As the mother of 6 boys and 2 (ages 16 to 2) girls modesty is something that we talk about quite a bit but so far its never been too much of an issue :)
    Thanks again for this!

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  12. Belinda
    September 28, 2012 | 2:48 pm

    Excellent pointers from a biblical perspective! While I have only boys (4 of them), this is a matter that concerns me: one day, my boys are going to viewing “your” girls as potential wives. I only trust that I will have raised them to be the godly husbands and fathers that you long to have for your girls. What I can walk away with, and apply right now, is the encouragement to make the Bible the center of focus in homeschooling and life. I have only just started homeschooling, and am figuring out what “works” for our ever-changing family, but this is a wonderful reminder. Thank you for this encouragement.

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  13. Audrie
    October 3, 2012 | 7:09 pm

    My husband and I primarily work with tees and with college students as our ministry. I just want to say how much I appreciate you ladies focussing on the heart of the matter and not just on the outward appearance! Too many young women are completely judged on their outward appearance- labled as good girls or bad girls by their parents as much as anyone. I was the homeschooled “tom boy” who was “modest” but a serious flirt that no one bothered to correct because I dressed “modestly.” This was the case with a bunch of my homeschooled friends. I also had friends who wore way too much makeup, skimpy clothing but were not even remotely flirty. They just had no one to direct them. Both of us needed gentle, understanding correction addressing our hearts and attitudes and not just our choice of clothing and over use or lack of makeup. I’m so grateful for my mentor who addressed my heart attitude and also helped me to become more of a lady in my dress and behavior. A submissive heart to Christ has to start just there, the heart, then the rest follows. If more moms would pay attention to that, my job of ministering to young women would be much easier!

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  14. EstherH
    October 4, 2012 | 2:26 pm

    This was a thoughtful post, loved it. In our community especially (Orthodox Judaism), we try very hard to instill these values or modesty and femininity into the girls. There are strict guidelines for dressing (below-the-knee skirts, elbows and collarbone covered, nothing tight, etc), and so it is especially important to give over the values of modesty that are not as easy to set rules for, so we don’t dress one way and act another. It is important for boys to learn modesty as well, though the clothes guidelines are much more flexible. In my own home, the children are very young (3 and under), but we try to encourage them to speak gently, without yelling, speaking politely. We also dress them appropriately, with the idea to look neat and presentable, not attention-grabbing. This is the first step to giving them a view of themselves as carriers of a precious soul that should be housed in a refined and modest body and spirit.

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  15. Cschroeder
    October 11, 2012 | 3:37 pm

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post! I couldn’t agree more with your perspective. This has given me much more to discuss with my daughters than just their choice of clothes.

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  16. Naomi
    October 25, 2012 | 11:57 pm

    Thanks for this post, and for everyone’s comments, I learned a lot. I actually came onto your site this evening because I was doing some searching in my bible and thinking about some things you (kimberley) have said that I read earlier today about God’s word always being our standard, and in interpreting scripture, using the most obvious interpretation first. I was looking at several passages, the one above and also the one about wearing a head covering. (1 Cor 11) I really appreciated your thoughts about this passage in Timothy in regards to how we as women should or should not adorn ourselves and about beauty in general. However, I am still feeling some concern about head coverings.
    We are not and have never been in a church where women wearing a head covering is taught, but I had a very good theology professor in bible college who liked to ‘provoke’ us all a bit and make us think and would bring up difficult passages such as these ones for us to think about and debate. We never did come to a consensus about head coverings.. except that it’s not necessary for salvation :) I was just wondering if you could comment or write about that, and what you and your husband beleive. To me this passage is rather strongly clear about women wearing a head covering in church. ” Therefore she should have a covering on her head” 1 Cor 11:10 My amplified bible adds in brackets that this is as a symbol of her submission to her husband. You could call it cultural, which is what I think my husband would say (he’s out at the moment) but if we are to take the most obvious interpretation… Have you and your husband talked about this? what are your thoughts? I know I’m about a month late commenting, but I thought I’d try. Blessings! I learn so much from you, being a young mom with just 2 little ones at this point. Thank you!

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Naomi,

    I’m not going to go into much about this simply because I don’t know. I’ve looked into it and would probably come to the conclusion that you’ve come to, but since head covering is a sign of submission and since my husband thinks it’s unnecessary, I don’t cover my head. (A woman actually said to me one time something to the effect that her husband didn’t think she should cover her head, but she knew he was wrong and so she did it anyway. Seems to me to contradict the MORE important point of head covering and that is submission.)

    That said, I think there can be discussion as to whether the passage is talking about an external covering or a woman’s long hair.

    Also, since the passage says,

    But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head

    and since we are commanded to pray without ceasing. It is my personal opinion that if this means a literal, external head covering, a woman’s head should be covered at all times.

    Those are just some of my thoughts. :)

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