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  • Joel Horst


BY: Joel Horst

I don't believe in teaching modesty.

I do believe in propriety. That is, dressing appropriately for the situation. No swimsuits at the grocery store. Don't go to church in your underwear. Don't wear a suit to the beach (unless it's a beach wedding, I guess...). Wear a shirt and shoes when you walk into McDonalds.

But we run into issues when we teach "modesty", even from a vantage point of self-respect and dignity. Because sooner or later, you end up circling back to body-shaming, sexualizing language.

"Girls, respect yourselves. Don't show cleavage." (Message: exposing cleavage is self-disrespecting. Which indicates that breasts are somehow shameful if anyone sees even a hint of them.)

"Dress with dignity, not in tight, revealing clothing." (Message: your body's shape is undignified, improper, and indecent.)

"I've decided not to wear tank tops and shorts, because I want to respect myself in how I dress." (Message: if people can see my shoulders or legs, I am disrespecting myself.)

Let me be clear, especially after that last example: I DO believe that everyone has the right to make choices to cover themselves as much as they want in order to feel comfortable. If you don't feel comfortable wearing tank tops and shorts, then there's nothing wrong with avoiding them.

But when we start teaching others, especially our children, that they need to cover themselves up beyond what is necessary for propriety in our culture, we start down the rabbit hole of over-sexualizing the body. And it's not just wrong, it's very dangerous.

Because when I look at the conservative cultures that I came out of, I see groups that have trained minds to constantly see sexuality where it should not be.

We sexualized the little girl whose skirt was short; who was wearing jeans; who was wearing a tank top; who was wearing a swimsuit; who, in simple childishness, walked out of the bathroom with nothing on. And then we wonder why we have an epidemic of sexual abuse.

We told little boys not to look at the magazines in the grocery store; the woman jogging down the road; the girl with the short shorts; the teenager in the two-piece; the bride in the low-cut wedding dress. And then we wonder why lust is rampant and why men don't treat women with respect.

And oh yes, then we wonder why we have men writing about how sexy bare feet are and how women should always wear shoes.

It's time that we step back and take a deep breath. It's time that we realize that modesty standards don't prevent lust, they foster it.

What we've been doing isn't working.

So let's make a change.

Joel Horst


Born into a Mennonite family in suburban Maryland, Joel Horst grew up in a homeschool cult. In his early 20's, he began studying abuse in the conservative church, after being shocked at the magnitude of the problem. Eventually, he realized that he himself was a victim of spiritual and psychological abuse from multiple sources, and began his own journey of healing. Today, he is passionate about making the church a safe place, preventing abuse, bringing healing to survivors, and learning to know the real Jesus.

***shared with permission

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