I was the Modesty Police.

Beach Pageant, Women wearing bathing suits from different eras circa 1940's
Photo Courtesy of National Library of New Zealand 
     I used to be the modesty police. Back when I was the lead "paid female" on a youth ministry staff, in a conservative (and well meaning) environment.  It was an unofficial part of my job description. The primary enforcer of the modesty rules. Keeping "the most conservative parent happy" was the noble goal of my male colleague (wasn't so much my priority, I cared more about reaching the un-churched crowd) so we had a lot of rules. Like no Christian rap music. It sounded too secular and definitely no Taylor Swift. And NO two piece bathing suits. On a summer beach trip with an entire bus load of students, I was the one handing out the over sized dark "t-shirts" for girls to cover up their 2 piece bathing suits. Once, I accidentally handed a large (ugly) tee to a teenage girl who was not even in our youth group (she happened to be standing near our large group of teens). I realized then and there as she looked at me horrified,  I was done with the modesty rules.
     There I was, a Christian female youth leader who stepped out of a church bus onto a public beach. Judging an innocent bystander. Making her feel like she was doing something bad by showing up in a bikini to the beach with her friends. Yeah, because that's not what we do in Southern California or anything. Like we usually wear parkas and sweatpants. I could not picture Jesus handing out t-shirts at the beach and shaming our teen girls. It no longer made sense to me.
     Another run in with the Modesty Police (me) usually occurred each week at our Wednesday night summer program. Swimming, Bible Study, Worship, what could be better? Our male interns could often be found running around and enthusiastically jumping in and out of the church pool with teenage girls gazing at their muscular (and shirtless) bodies. Some of the moms made mention of "the great view." Yet no one EVER made them put on a T-shirt. The double standard. Men can cause teenage girls to gaze, gasp, and giggle, with their six packs and toned pectoral muscles, yet each girl was doomed to swim in a big baggy t-shirt. Unless she was wearing a one piece swimsuit. When was the last time you could even find a one piece bathing suit in the women's department at Target? (Not at my neighborhood Target anyways).
    Picture a mom and a young pubescent teenage boy walking into your youth room. While standing next to you, they (mom and son) together examine the room. They make it a point to inspect the clothing of every single girl in the room who happened to be wearing shorts that were "too short." This so happened to me! Mom and son wanted me to talk to the girls about their short shorts. I was dumbfounded. How on earth could a mom compel her son to look at each young girl in judgment and condemnation? I had to walk away and muttered something about this being our mid-week "un-churched crowd."
     There is a lot of buzz in the blog-o-sphere about Modesty Rules and the damage it causes young women and the unhealthy disrespect it perpetuates in the way Christian young men view women. Read more HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.
     I was the modesty policy. And for that I apologize. How a girl chooses to dress is between her and what her parents can afford, provide, or choose to allow. What a girl wants to wear (or not) here in Southern California may be different than France, Afghanistan, or the Midwest. It's relative. It's cultural. It's personal. I am not the modesty police.

" Expecting others to live by your Modesty Rules strips them of value in a way that revealing clothing never can. Thinking you are responsible for everyone causes more damage than wearing a deep-v shirt ever did."  -Emily Maynard 

What bathing suit rules do you enforce (or not?) in your youth ministry? 


  1. Mariah Sherman7/14/2013

    What are other peoples thoughts on this? I agree with the pressure to be the modesty police. In my ministry I always default to falling in love with Jesus FIRST and then teaching about following rules as his love and desire to protect us. It is weird for me to come face to face with the fact that I do this in every area EXCEPT modesty. In modesty I slam the rules down first. But dont we need rules somewhere? Does anyone else have an opinion?

  2. Hi Mariah, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I've been really thinking about what "rules" we are called to enforce or not as youth leaders. Lots to think about! Comments on this subject can be found at the original post here written by Emily Maynard http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/my-responsibility/

  3. I appreciate a different point of view on this subject. I just googled "modesty in youth group" and have been reading mostly articles with the opposite viewpoint. I would like your opinion. I am, like you, the lead female in our youth ministry, and am troubled by the clothes (or lack thereof) most of our girls wear on Sunday mornings. My husband (the youth pastor) has actually had the unfortunate experience of seeing a girls underwear when she sat down because her dress was so short. Strapless, low cut, and too-short dresses are a common sight on Sunday mornings. I believe all of these girls (minus one or two) are true Christians who are seeking God in their lives, but it seems this area of modesty has not pierced their hearts. I was thinking about meeting with them and talking through the issue, but my biggest fear is that it will come off as judgmental or as Christianity being about a list of rules. What do you think?

  4. Oooh that's a tough one. I am not enforcing dress code any longer. No one has walked in naked to church yet so I think I am ok. I've seen more than enough yucky butt cracks from guy interns who choose to wear too saggy pants! No one seems to pull them aside. If modesty rules must be enforced ...be pro-active as opposed to reactive. Perhaps have your dress code/youth group rules on the back of your medical release forms and have students and parents sign them. Twice a year (especially before summer) separate the guys and girls and do a basic "BBB" (no butts, boobs, belly) talk. At this point, I am letting parents be the dress code police, because I don't want to shame the girls or make them feel judged and perceive Christianity as rules. If girls are serving on your student leadership team you go over the dress code with them so they can set an example....but honestly I am more concerned about their hearts than their cleavage.

  5. Hi, thanks for responding! "At this point, I am letting parents be the dress code police (of their own children)" -- I WISH this was the case. Unfortunately it seems the moms are either totally clueless or just don't care. Which I guess makes me wonder if it's even worth bringing up, because let's face it, if mom says the 3" inseam shorts are cute and buy them, then everything I said just went out the window. *Sigh.
    Lots to think about. Maybe it's all in the presentation. Surely there's a way to help girls see the value of modesty without shaming them or their bodies...

  6. Kateri Blackwing12/05/2017

    I like to see you do that to me bitch I will turn around and slap you across the face and tell you where to stick your modesty up where the sun don't shine


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