As the summer fades into our not-so-distant past, it’s funny that a few blog posts have just recently come to the surface regarding young Christian women, their bodies, and bathing suits – bikinis in particular. As a Christian woman who went on church retreats to beaches, there is one conversation that happens in the girls’ quarters more so than asking how you walk with Jesus is going: “Are you gonna wear a bikini?” and it’s not because some of the women are uncomfortable with their beach bods (although I am sure that’s a factor), it is all rooted in this pervasive activity Christian women engage in: making sure we girls don’t sexually tempt the boys.
This idea is taught to Christian women from a young age. This idea that we need to dress modestly so that we don’t cause men to lust. Modesty is definitely mentioned in the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 2:9-10), but what is funny is that it’s never taught to Christian women as beautiful way to worship God as it is written. It is taught as a restricting law so that women do not cause men to lust. This is an example of a verse that has been warped by a patriarchal society that views women as objects that are subject to men: Instead of inspiring women to dress with “good deeds” in order to worship Christ, we police them to dress in man’s own idea of modesty to guys them from lusting. We take a verse directed at women so that we can worship God and the Church has made it about how women can worship men. Not ok.
Another major issue with this whole idea of women dressing modestly to keep men from lusting is that it shifts the blame of sin from the sinner. If you’re walking down the street and see the hottest person you can imagine and you lust, guess whose fault that is? I hope it isn’t a surprise that it’s yours. It’s your sinful nature that sexualized that person, turned them into in object for your sexual gratification, and lusted after them. That person didn’t make you do or think anything. Even if they were wearing a sign that said, “Hey, lust after my breath taking hiney” it would still be your choice to lust. There is this idea in Christian culture that men are helpless slaves to their lust and so for men to fight against it is futile. Therefore it is no longer their own responsibility to guard their hearts and minds, but it women's responsibility to cater to their "needs." One of many issues with that thinking is that even if every woman in the world covered herself from head to toe, men would still lust because the problem isn’t with the way women dress, the problem is in the hearts of these men. Telling Christian women to not wear a bikini isn’t solving anything.
In digging deeper, these conversations are always heteronormative and often one sided: we never talk about the ways men dress in relation to women lusting, or for that matter the way men dress in relation to men lusting, or women in relation to women. While the 1 Timothy verse is speaking to women, there are plenty of other verses that are gender neutral and instruct us to not to engage in an activity if it causes someone else to sin (1 Corinthians 8:13) and that our bodies should be living sacrifices to honor God (Romans 12:1). The idea that we should care about how our actions and behaviors with our bodies affect others is not limited to women at all. Yet, I can’t find a single blog post talking to men about caring for their sisters hearts when it comes to dressing modestly. In fact, if you Google, "Should a Christian wear board shorts?" The first result is, "Should a Christian Woman wear a bikini?"
I kid you not. The Church has clearly sent a message: women cause men to lust. No one else is responsible and no one else is tempted.
Hear me out: I understand wanting to watch out for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Wanting to do everything in your power to help them in their walk away from sin and towards Christ. Christ calls us to that and it is a beautiful expression of love. My problem with this idea of women and bikinis is that it is completely legalistic and privileges those in power who get to decide what “modesty” is. Here, we are arguing about a bikini, in other cultures and faith’s they argue about showing your hair. It doesn’t seem to matter what women wear because they seem to always do something to cause men to lust. Women that have large breasts with curves are called out for not dressing modestly just for wearing a t-shirt and jeans! This notion of modesty is all in the eye of the beholder.
Another aspect of modesty that is far more important than simply the clothes you wear is context and behavior. Wearing a bikini on a beach isn’t necessary sexualized until you make it sexualized in your head. There is nothing inherently wrong with wearing a bathing suit at a beach or in a pool that shows some skin if that’s what is comfortable in 85 degree weather. You’re not stripping, you’re not soliciting sex; you’re hanging out catching some sun.
Overall, it is absolutely apparent that there is a massive double standard when it comes to modesty that is not rooted in scripture, but is rooted in a patriarchal society that constantly polices and sexualizes women’s bodies for men’s benefits. The question of what kind of swimsuit you wear is up to you. But if you need me, I’ll be out on the beach in my two-piece reading my bible.
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