An Immodest Standard

One of my good friends reminded me the other day of something I said to her once. It went something like, “When we get to heaven and God is rewarding us for a job well done, He isn’t going to be interested in our dress size or how toned we are or whether our thighs are too fat.”

I still believe this. Can you imagine the Lord God caring about some of these things that we think are so important? And does He really have an “ideal” size or shape He wants us all to achieve? Apparently not, because He made us all to be so different from one another.

But having said that, I’m not denying that we should want to be fit and healthy so we can serve the Lord and enjoy ourselves while we are doing it. But in our health-crazed culture, I’m not sure we know what that means. It is so easy to become obsessive about how we look. What is the price we pay to keep up with an image in our head? Or, how much do we beat ourselves up if we are not matching up to that image in our head?

Jesus said if we love Him, we will obey His commands. And what are those commands? That we love God and love our neighbor as ourself. Dieting and exercise have their place, but women can easily become ensnared either by achieving their goal or by failing to achieve it. It can be a snare and a trap either way. We need to look away from ourselves and get busy with all the good stuff God has given us to do.

And no, I’m not suggesting Christian women throw in the towel and just get dumpy. Far from it. I believe that when we are set free to love God and love our neighbor, we are far more inclined to have a balanced view about all these things. Christian women, of all women on earth, have the capacity for the most loveliness, hands down. And why? Because they are forgiven, and they don’t carry around a load of guilt. And that is a beauty product that cannot be found behind a counter.

Our immodest culture is rigged against the Christian woman. Let’s face it: the goal is to look fabulous with not very much on. That’s what all the magazine covers are promoting anyway. And, truth be told, not many of us would pass the test by a long shot. There’s the disadvantage. But we have another standard, a modest standard. And here’s the advantage: We can be and look beautiful, whatever size we are, in modest dress, even though we would look just awful in the swimsuit that girl is modeling on the magazine cover. She is not and cannot be our standard. She is immodest.

So we can’t meet up to our culture’s standards because they want us to take off our clothes and pass their test of beauty. No thanks. But we can meet the Lord’s standards of beauty and modesty and a sweet spirit to go with it. Thank you very much! This is what we need to keep our minds and hearts fastened to, and not what an immodest culture dictates.

(I just noticed that my husband has a review of the Vaughans’ book, The Beauty of Modesty, here at the Canon Press website. Check it out!)

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30 thoughts on “An Immodest Standard

  1. Well said, and an encouraging word to those who, like me, literally don’t fit into this culture’s standard of beauty.

  2. Thanks for these wise words! This is something I’ve struggled with for 10 years – trying to hang onto my 20 year old body while having a baby every 18-24 mo. It’s encouraging to hear a biblical, realistic standard extolled, instead of the worldly one that is so prevalent – even in the church!

  3. Thanks so much for saying this. It helps me believe my husband when he says he isn’t worried about having my 20 year old babyless body back and that he thinks I look most beautiful when I am modestly covered. Thank you for a very liberating post!

  4. I’m going to go ahead and be a tentative voice of dissent. When you take the world as a whole it’s pretty obvious that our country is getting thicker and thicker around the middle. We seem to be a pretty self-indulgent bunch, whether we’re dieting or gorging ourselves. My personal struggle tends a bit to the gorging end of the spectrum. I love food. :^) I don’t think I should sweat it, or worry over it the way I sometimes allow myself to, but I know when I’m making excuses (or eating a treat because I have had a hard day and food makes me feel better), then I end up in a ridiculous cycle of kicking myself for eating more than I know I should, and then going for it again anyway. What an epic waste of time–if my mind weren’t so food-centered, it would make life a lot easier.

    Also, there’s someone who I am glad gets to see me in rather less than even what they put on the cover of Vogue, and as much as I believe he is content, I’d like to make sure I do my part to keep it that way, without trying to mimic the half-starved models, of course…

  5. Thank you, Nancy. The problem is, of course, not that we don’t *know* this stuff – it’s believing it and applying it that’s the hard bit. 🙂

  6. PuuuuhREACH IT Mrs. Wilson!!!!!

    “Christian women, of all women on earth, have the capacity for the most loveliness, hands down. And why? Because they are forgiven, and they don’t carry around a load of guilt. And that is a beauty product that cannot be found behind a counter.” ~Nancy Wilson

    One of my new favorite quotes of the year. 🙂

    This refreshed my little frustrated heart.

  7. I’m not sure our reformed subculture genuinely believes this. We give lip service to it, of course, but there’s a double standard. A fat reformed man reminds us of Chesterton or Spurgeon — joyfully living the good life. A fat reformed woman is just another unattractive fat woman. I think I just have to decide to accept that as a not necessarily bad reality — another difference between the sexes that is to be celebrated rather than resented.

  8. Well, Valerie, maybe that’s true for some people, but I’ve never been much interested in obesity in either sex. :^)

  9. I think we are confusing the issues. Nancy is right. Modesty in public is right and is to be commended.

    There is nothing to be commended about fat, although we are not under the Law regarding fat, or anything else. Fat does not determine our worth or acceptability before God.

    However, each of us should desire to maintain a standard of beauty to benefit our husbands. This is not a worldly value, but it is a Christian value; read the Song of Songs. We should desire to be wildly sexually attractive to them. If your waist is larger than your hips, deal with it; don’t over-spiritualize it, i.e. thinking that God will rapture the fat away if I read my Bible enough.

    Finally, marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. My desire to have an attractive body for my husband is not dependent on his waistline, just as my desire to act in a Christ-like manner does not depend on his being “nice” to me.

  10. Thank you Mrs. W!
    My husband has told me a number of times that supermodels are not the standard in our household :o) And if I am being honest I know that my desire to be thin and in shape quite often has less to do with pleasing my husband then vainly hoping to please others.
    I have wondered if my tummy being covered in stretch marks despite my efforts to lose weight and exercise is really a big deal since my husband doesn’t mind…..who else will ever see them?!
    My husband and I joke quite often that the closest most Christian women can get to Supermodel looks is by eating well to maintain a healthy weight and nursing babies (hence the big bosoms) :o)

  11. I understand what M. Okimoto is saying…and,
    1.) God gave us bodies to be stewards of and we abuse His good gifts by abusing them. It’s not the ONLY thing He will reward us for (or not), but it is part of it.
    2.) God created us to be able to use a certain amount of food, and isn’t it a sign of greed and discontent to eat more than we need: grasping for more than He, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, has given us? –instead of rejoicing in the vast bounty that He HAS given?
    3.) It seems a bad testimony to unbelievers (I mean here, of course, not a woman who has just had a baby, but someone who is just plain fat because of over-eating). Also, if the whole world can see with one glimpse that someone has very little self-control with food, it must be hard for them to receive instruction from that one about self-control in other areas (i.e., wine, speech, hard work, etc.)

    Just some thoughts…the part about immodesty was right on.

  12. I very much appreciated your post, Mrs. Wilson, many thanks.

    Emily’s reply prompted me to think this one thought. I know many thin women who eat a lot of food. Great huge amounts of food, more food than I, who could be described as…ahem…Titianesque? can ever choke down. Mrs. Wilson’s point about God not having a set standard for weight being obvious because He made us all differently does apply here. Frankly, when I see a beautiful, hard working, soft-hearted Christian woman with a belly and some thighs on her, she is the one I wish to emulate. I can relate to her person as she helps me not to envy the small or wish to become something God never made me to be.

    Valerie’s point is also well taken re: Chesterton etc. I have long wondered what in the world that’s all about.

    As long as my children rise up and call me blessed, they can call me fluffy at the gates of the city and I don’t care. If I provided a soft landing spot for them in times of need and a hard wall of reality in times of self-deception, I will have done well. As long as my husband is satisfied with my breasts and speaks well of me I am content. And when I am in my new body, I somehow doubt it will be petite.

  13. Thank you, Nancy, for this excellent post! Weight loss is such an emotionally charged issue for our culture, including our reformed culture. It is courage on your part to remind us that we need to “look away from ourselves and get busy with all the good stuff God has given us to do”.

    To Megan and Emily: Unfortunately, this is not a one-size-fits-all issue. There are so many aspects to weight gain (or loss, for that matter) that we are fools to rush and make pronouncements on our Christian brothers and sisters when we do not know if perhaps they take medications that can cause weight gain, have a medical condition or suffer from a myriad of other causes that can be attributed to “obesity”. It is not always a simple issue of “self-control”.

  14. This was a great post, Nancy. And Liz, that was one of my favorite parts of Nancy’s comments, too.

    I have recognized how easily I am tempted to be discontent with my physical shape. But all those ads and catalog photos are, in a sense, imaginary, not real life, certainly not real lay-down-your-life-for-others life.

    An Olympic gymnast said that among her peers, eating disorders are very common. Among models, their bodies are maintained as their prime commodity. I expect that most of them have never given birth, never nursed babies. Closer to home, one of my female relatives told me she chose not to breastfeed her babies because it would make her “sag.”

    Well, there’s no gallon meter I can point to and brag about, but this body has been on active duty for a long time and I don’t regret a minute of it. I have to remind myself of that, especially when I am shopping for clothing.

    Everything done unto the Lord, and done in faith, is the great regulator, isn’t it?

  15. A quote from Mrs. Wilson’s post, “Bed and Board”:

    …Children love fat mothers. They like them because while any mother is a diagram of place, a picture of home, a fat one is a clearer diagram, a greater sacrament. She is more there. I can think of no better wish to all the slender swans of this present age than to propose them a toast: May your husbands find you as slim as they like; your children should always remember you were fat. “

    I love this! I also love that my husband’s idea of a beautiful woman is a healthy one who can go a week w/o eating while she and her family all have the flu and not look like death warmed over at the tail end of it! 😉 As far as worrying about our weight, I really think this is the answer: (another Mrs. Wilson quote–from this post) We need to look away from ourselves and get busy with all the good stuff God has given us to do. At this point, I’m a little cushy, but God has given me a barn to build and a garden to plant! Bring on the farmer’s tan! If I’m dressed modestly, no one but my husband will notice that, either!

  16. Gluttony is a sin, but being fat (esp. by the narrow standards of the world) is not a sin. Gluttony is a sin committed by both fat and thin. Gluttony is also not just about overeating. It’s about making food an idol of sorts. I know many who could be considered gluttons because they give too much attention and credit to some particular diet (whether vegan, high-protein, or the latest fad) as THE answer to all problems.

  17. 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
    Well I just love it! God has certainly given food as a delight and wine to boot and don‘t even get me started on sugar and chocolate. Nancy, you once told me a little story about a difficulty God was walking your family through and you made sure to have good food and chocolate on the table for dinner during this time. You tipped me off to the comfort and joy God provides to His children through the really good things He has made. I have never forgotten this lesson and it is a standard in our household. If the kids have had a rough day, then we bring out the cocoa and marshmallows. If my husband and I are hard pressed, we bring out the wine and the chocolate.
    What makes me laugh about this it that the “world”, (sadly even some Christians who are like minded with the world,) are so busy with the burden of diets and self obsession, making an idol of the body, that they can not truly or fully enjoy these wonderful things God has given us. “They see the can of peaches, but God has not given them the can opener to open the can and delight in the goodness.” To roughly quote you Nancy. As always, thank you for the perspective. 🙂
    One more thought;
    As grown women raised in an over sexed and underdressed generation, our perspectives and feelings about our bodies may never be fully redeemed on earth, but we need to look to the future for the perspectives of our children. Our minds ought to be shaped by what God says. In the Old Covenant, in the sacrifices held by the Lavitical priests, the fat was offered to God. It was considered to be the best part. Also, often if a women was gangly, she was considered unattractive and poor. Lastly, the bible does not give us a shape for “beauty”, it gives us character examples. We are told in the bible that women like Rachael where in fact regarded as beautiful, but God does not give a description as to what that looked like. Being fat ( not obese,), literally fat, has been looked on as prosperous, blessed by God. What a wonderful thing when God blesses a community and they can feast on God’s goodness. These are just a couple of things to think about when forming opinions about these areas. I am always challenged by God’s word, and God’s words should be ours. This is where our perspectives should come from and how we should teach our children.

    -Mrs. Butler
    I am fond of you because of the perspective God has given you. Thank you for sweetly sharing it.

  18. Well, I’m all for the Proverbs 31 woman who made her arms strong! We moms don’t always have a son or husband around to help lug that 40# bucket of wheat!

    True, we don’t want to make the Cosmo or Oxygen woman the measure of our beauty. However, we do need to be good and mindful stewards of our bodies. Some of us have our genes, church suppers, and sedentary lifestyles working against us and absolutely must exercise. A little bit of “fluff” is one thing, but when I look at my parents and siblings and see every single one of them obese, I grab my free weights. When I consider that each one is on blood pressure medication, I put on those runnings shoes and head out the door. I know that I can not follow proper stewardship of my body and health without taking the time to have a focused workout almost every day. We certainly want to avoid the idolatry of health and fitness of our culture, yet we do not want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

    We live in such a sedentary culture that we don’t even know the exhilaration from getting our heart rates up and producing a good sweat. Getting out there and sweating provides other benefits as well. Exercise has provided for me the freedom to be able to get away from the distractions of the immediate and allow me to think, to plan my homeschool studies, to memorize and meditate on the Word, to listen to good sermons, and to pray, pray, pray.

    We forget what a wonderful gift physical activity is until we witness a loved one relearn how to walk.

    May the Lord bless you, dear sisters, as you seek the Lord’s and your husband’s health/exercise/beauty goals for you.

  19. It’s easy to judge “fat” people when you are thin. It’s easy to think you’re doing it “right” when it’s working for you. I used to.
    But when suddenly you have a baby and your hormones are all out of whack and you start gaining weight for no reason (even tests and Doctors can’t explain) and not because of over eating and lack of self control.
    You start looking past the skin. You see the one-size-fits/pleases-all-sexually models as being empty of any beauty and filled with a thick sticky lie that has them enslaved.
    And then you see good godly woman, not a one-size-fits-all but a one-man-in-mind-size and see that they are filled with an uplifting, light-filled beauty that radiates from heaven. So many “fat” woman are working just as hard to have a healthy, pleasing body as the “fit/slim” ones. It’s humbling to be “fat” and a wonderful experience that teaches you to let go of pride and a judgmental spirit. I know that what I am trying to say is not coming out quite right so I’ll quit while I can:o)!
    It’s a long hard journey to lose a lot of weight and a slow one that can be sometimes very frustrating. But my hope is that as I work to shrink my hips/waist, that I will also work to make my soul fat and pray that the Lord in His grace will fill me with the beauty of holiness so that is what people will see first and not my size. Thanks so much Mrs. Wilson for your sweet words and reminders. You have such a lovely heart and it spills out onto the page, with your encouragement and kind balance!

  20. Rayia,
    Well said, very well said!! I agree whole heartedly, everyone should be fat at some time in their lives. (Kind of like the idea that everyone should have to be a server at some point in their lives.) It is a wonderfully rewarding challenge. I have grown in so many ways while dealing with the weight change that can come from having children. I count your comments as brave and thought provoking. Bless you!

  21. Rayia, I have to second Crystal’s comment. I think you spoke my heart after my first baby was born. Very well said.

    Mrs. Wilson, I hope it’s alright–I put a link to this post and your post on chastity on my blog.

  22. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve so needed to hear this sort of encouragement recently. Clothes shopping can be depressing, especially when trying to find affordable, modest clothes that don’t make me look like a frump.

    I especially love your emphasis on our freedom from guilt over our bodies. I’ve lost a lot of weight since our son was born, but I know I still have a ways to go to be healthy. Still, it’s encouraging to me to know that I don’t need to fret about these last 20 lbs because in Christ I am already a new creation. I’m just being a good steward by attempting to keep this one in good health. 🙂

    I haven’t ever bought anything from the following two sites, but if I ever get some money for a gift, I might splurge, since EVERYTHING they sell is modest! I love the focus on womanly fashion that shows how a true lady should dress! (Like skirtys for little girls!) If nothing else, they offer great ideas for what to look for when shopping in brick and mortar stores.

  23. “And here’s the advantage: We can be and look beautiful, whatever size we are, in modest dress, even though we would look just awful in the swimsuit that girl is modeling on the magazine cover.”

    I’m wondering if that is an advantage or not. I honestly don’t dress to please anyone but my husband. And knowing that I “look just awful” in that swimsuit that is thrust before my husband’s eyes on every magazine rack I see breaks my heart.

    And I’m not fat. Actually, I’m the opposite. My husband guards his eyes, but I get so frustrated with what’s out there. I dress modestly because God calls me to glorify Him. But I have a hard time relaxing (disrobed) around my husband knowing so many better samples have been displaying their wares all day.

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