"Modest is Hottest" is the newest catch phrase circling Christian youth groups and women's Bible studies. But what does this really mean?
Our culture, which Christians believe was created by the Enemy, tells us that women are valued primarily by their appearance. If you aren't hot - by standards even the most air brushed model cannot reach - you have no value. Women and girls suffer psychological damage and emotional destruction comparing themselves to an impossible standard.
Furthermore, women are pressured to dress in an immodest manner. Clothes should be tight, short; cleavage should be deep; there cannot be wrinkles or a grey hair (youth is idolized); and putting yourself "out there" means on display as a sexual object.
However, even for the non-Christian woman, this is disrespect of the self. A recent study showed that when men view women dressed provocatively, the part of their brains associated with tool use lit up. Tool use. As in, this is an object I am going to get some use out of! I don't know about you, but I am not a screwdriver (pun fully intended).
While there are some semantic issues with the "Modest is Hottest" phrasing, overall this movement is a positive one for women raised in a culture were "hottest" usually means "least dressed".
What is "modest"? As Emma Watson was famously quoted, "The less you reveal, the more people can wonder." Standards vary and opinions on what constitutes "modest" also range from strict Islamic burquas to a mid-thigh coverage being sufficient. In general, a good piece of advice I received was to dress in the way I would want women to dress around my husband.
For the average Christian woman, this would generally mean tops that cover from the collar bones down and are "tight enough to show you're a woman, but loose enough to show you're a lady" (as stated by Edith Head); skirts preferred over pants, with the hem reaching the knee or lower (often with leggings or a lace-edged slip underneath, although a new craze for pantaloons has begun...I haven't tried them yet, but I am sorely tempted!); hair that is long enough to be styled modestly (buns, etc...); make up that highlights features, but is not overwhelming; appropriate accessories without overwhelming the outfit or the viewer. Often, but not always, hair will be covered. Shoes should be appropriate to the outfit without being impossible to walk in. Practicality and beauty. (I adore heels so...yea.)
But you don't have to be a Christian to embrace the movement away from over-sexualization and objectification of women. This is not about dressing modestly so men don't have to "control themselves". This is about dressing so as to show the world you respect yourself.
This is most important for young girls, who are dressing in provocative clothing at younger and younger ages. I recently read So Sexy, So Soon by Diane E. Levin Ph.D. and Jean Kilbourne Ed.D which related that girls as young as six years old are concerned with their weight and insisting on clothing that matches that of their toys - Bratz Dolls, My Scene Barbies, etc... that show cleavage and wear micro-minis. A cursory glance at the children leaving our local public primary school (grades 1 - 3) revealed more skin than I felt comfortable seeing...in the moms and the kids.
The impact of our culture - the lies we imbibe from bottle to grave - have been addressed recently in a book (and a companion workbook) Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Being in the culture, we don't see the lies we are told. This book works from a Christian perspective, but I believe it would be a valuable resource for women of any faith who suffer with feelings of worthlessness, ugliness, and of being unwanted. Every person is valuable, worthy, and beautiful. It is not outward appearance, especially compared to an impossible and fictional standard, that determines value.
As a final note, a beautiful (inside and outside) woman I know was recently hospitalized. At 45 years old and 5'7" tall, she weighs 76 pounds. Her anorexia will probably kill her. The lies - the feelings of worthlessness, ugliness; of not meeting that fictional standard; are going to cost the world the life of a wonderful mother, great friend, and talented singer. If ever there was a time for us to start believing in our own worth as people and not objects, it is now.