I don’t understand the deal with modesty. If a guy has a bad imagination, that should be his issue and not mine. Why should I have to dress a certain way for his sake?

Women deserve respect regardless of what they choose to wear. If a man can’t look at a woman in a respectful way, then the problem is not her body. The problem is his mind and his heart. It is profoundly wrong to shame women for the abuse that they sometimes suffer, saying, “By the way you were dressed, you were asking for it!” This is shifting the blame from where it should be placed: upon the man who failed to treat her with dignity.

As you know, there are countless men who fail to treat women with respect. If you are fed up with the way guys often treat women and wonder what can be done to restore a sense of respect, modesty is a solution. The problem is this: Many men today do not know how to relate to women. Part of the remedy for this ailment lies in the hands of women. Wendy Shalit said, “Ultimately, it seems that only men can teach other men how to behave around women, but those men have to be inspired by women in the first place; inspired enough to think the women are worth being courteous to.”[1]

How will this happen? Well, many young women are aware that they have the power to seduce a man, but few girls are aware that their femininity also has the power to educate a guy. The way a girl dresses (not to mention the way she talks, dances, and so forth) has power.

I have read tens of thousands of pages of information about relationships and human sexuality, but I never learned how to treat a woman until I dated one who dressed modestly. It was captivating, and I realized for the first time that immodest dress gets in the way of seeing a woman for who she is. Immodest outfits might attract a man to a girl’s body, but they can distract him from seeing her as a person. As one man said, “If you want a man to respect you, and perhaps eventually fall in love with you, then you must show him that you respect yourself.” [2]

A woman who dresses modestly inspires a guy in a way that I am not ashamed to admit I cannot explain. I suppose it is safe to say that it conveys your worth to us. When a woman dresses modestly, she doesn’t look like she’s begging for attention. She knows that she’s worth discovering. Such humility is radiant. Unfortunately, many women are so preoccupied with turning men’s heads that they overlook their power to turn our hearts.

Sometimes femininity is confused with weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. A woman who is truly feminine is well aware that she could dress like a collection of body parts and receive countless stares from guys. But she has the strength to leave room for mystery. Instead of dressing in a way that invites guys to lust, the way she dresses says, “I’m worth waiting for.” She knows that she does not need to make boys gawk in order to catch the attention of the right man.

So what is modesty? It is not about looking frumpy. It is about taking the natural beauty of womanhood and adorning it in a way that reflects one’s true identity. When a girl knows her dignity, she does not allow her outfits, conversations, and mannerisms to distract from this. This brings about a certain humility of the body, since humility is the proper attitude toward greatness.

This is not an “I am woman, hear me roar!” bit, but a serene sense of not needing to grope for attention. Sure, guys will gawk at a woman who dresses provocatively, but in your heart do you long to be gawked at or to be loved? You want real love. When a girl dresses immodestly, she often does not realize that she robs herself of the intimacy for which she yearns.

When a girl wears outfits that could not be any tighter without cutting off her circulation, guys will think she is trying to tell them, “Hey, boys, the greatest thing about me is my body!” They will stare and will probably agree. But if her body is the greatest thing about her, it must be all downhill from there. If that is the best she has to offer, why should they get to know her heart, her dreams, her personality, and her family? They want to get to know her body.

Consider a magazine I recently saw at an airport newsstand. On the cover was a woman wearing a short skirt that could be mistaken for a wide belt. Her airtight top was scarcely the size of an unfolded napkin, and in big bold letters across the cover was “Suzie [or whatever her name was—I don’t remember] wants men to respect her!” I wished her the best of luck and walked on to my gate, after covering up the magazine with a few issues of Oprah.

In the heart of a woman, there is no desire to be a sex object. Is there a desire to receive attention, affection, and love? Certainly. But is there a desire to be reduced to an object? No girl wants to go there, but many do for the sake of receiving emotional gratification.

When a girl puts on a belly-button-showing, spaghetti strap shirt, she is not thinking about how she hopes to lead men to sin. She’s probably thinking, “That’s a cute top, and it will look perfect with my shoes.” But beneath this simple desire to be attractive is a deeper desire to be accepted. If a girl understands how visual guys are when it comes to sexuality, she may look at the outfit as a means to receive attention. She may see the scantily clad mannequin and think, “That outfit turns heads. If I wear it, guys will look at me. Maybe I’ll even meet a nice one.” But her logic will not pay off.

If your heart is saying, “Is this too short?” or “Does this look too tight?” listen to that voice. It has already answered your question. Listen to this voice for your sake and for ours. For your sake, realize that as a moat surrounds a castle, modesty protects the treasure of chastity.

Some girls spend more energy trying to make guys notice them (even if they have no interest in the guys) than they spend trying to focus young men’s attention what really matters. As a woman, use your beauty to inspire men to be virtuous.

[1]. Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty (New York: Touchstone, 1999), 157.
[2]. Mike Mathews, “Sexy Fashions? What Do Men Think?” Lovematters.com (newspaper supplement), 4:2001:10.