Hey lovelies, I started this post several days ago and since then the brilliant and talented Rachel Held Evans has chimed in with a fabulous post on this very topic titled: Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means. You should read it too even though I am going to quote it a couple times.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)
Putting on regulations that look and sound good because they make us feel like we are safe from ourselves DO NOT WORK. They are of no value when it comes to stopping the indulgence of the flesh. You want to know why lovelies? Because keeping the “rules” doesn’t change your heart. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, that is just a whited sepulchre: Pretty and clean but full of death.
Summer is upon us kiddos and you know what that has meant (at least in my Facebook feed)? A plethora of articles from my well meaning Christian friends that tell me what I can and cannot wear at the beach or even in my own swimming pool if I am going to claim to be a proper Christian lady. Bikinis are taboo my friends and not just for me but also for my 10 year old daughter if I don’t want her to grow up to be some sort of floozie. The logic goes, men are visual creatures, they can’t help themselves. They are unable, you see, to overcome their biology. They are weak and they need me to cover up so they won’t think about having sex with me and in so doing commit adultery in their heart. So if indeed I am a kind and loving person I will help them out by wearing a one piece. Oh wait but not any one piece, that can’t be too revealing either. Perhaps a cover up over it. But why stop there? Bathing suits are form fitting. Maybe they should be looser. Maybe I should just wear board shorts and a t-shirt. But wait, not if the shorts are too short. Maybe we should go back to some of the old suits or even bathing machines? Where does it end? Where is the line between too sexy and just sexy enough? Because the same folks who tell me there are rules about me wearing a bikini also tell me there are rules about not “letting myself go” and making sure I am still sexy enough for my husband. Sigh. It is exhausting.
Side note: I have friends who say, just ask any man he can tell you where the line is. Well, I’ve got news for you lovelies, every man has a different line.
Several of the articles I have read quote a Princeton study that says,
“Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.”
Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as “I push, I grasp, I handle,” said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.
[You don't want to be seen as a mere tool to be used do you? is the question that comes next. But wait we will get to that later.]
Tamara Smith-Dyer (Full-time data analyst at the University of Pennsylvania and Cabrini sociology professor) asserts that the sample in this study is very biased. “Including 21 undergraduate males from Princeton does not provide a representative sample of the population. For example, the age is limited. Race and socioeconomic status will be skewed in this sample as well.”
“The sample size, 21, is very small. While the scientific community typically holds a minimum acceptable sample size to be 30, which is more than the current study’s sample size, statisticians including myself know that even 30 is very limited and samples should be much larger than this when possible in order to prevent ‘false positive’ study results,” Dyer said.
Not only that, the Christian “anti bikini” articles that I read liked pointing out that, “the part of the brain associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions was inactive while viewing scantily clad women” however this statement is out of context and is also misleading. When performing the study “the participants, 21 heterosexual male undergraduates at Princeton, took questionnaires to determine whether they harbor “benevolent” sexism, which includes the belief that a woman’s place is in the home, or hostile sexism, a more adversarial viewpoint which includes the belief that women attempt to dominate men.” The study goes on to state that for “the men who scored highest on hostile sexism, the part of the brain associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions was inactive while viewing scantily clad women.” One analyst put it this way, “those who viewed women as controlling and invaders of male space—didn’t show brain activity that indicates they saw the women in bikinis as humans with thoughts and intentions.” Do you see the difference that one little fact that these were the men who held the most sexist attitudes prior to the study makes? So now these are not all 21 young men who took part but only those of the 21 who scored highest for hostile sexism.
SO… of the 21 college men those who had the most aggressive sexist attitudes did not see women in bikinis as having thoughts and intentions. Hmmm. It seems to me they thought that before seeing them in bikinis.
It would seem to me that the way we teach our boys to think about women has a bigger effect on whether men see them as objects than what they have on. Don’t get me wrong, I am not naive, I know men will look at women in bikinis and find them sexually attractive. They will also look at women in shorts, skirts, pants, blouses, dresses and for some even shapeless denim jumpers and find them sexually attractive. As RHE stated in the post linked above,
The truth is, a man can choose to objectify a woman whether she’s wearing a bikini or a burqa. We don’t stop lust by covering up the female form; we stop lust by teaching men to treat women as human beings worthy of respect.
Contrary to what some think I personally do not believe the mere biological, chemical and psychological processes involved in sexual attraction are in and of themselves sinful.
I am the mother of one middle school aged son and one middle school aged daughter. My daughter wears a bikini. The other day we had a conversation about this topic. I assured my daughter that if someone looks at her and is sexually attracted to her she is not sinning. I assured my son of the same. I also assured them that if they were sexually attracted to someone they were not sinning. Sin enters the picture between our ears and in our hearts when we choose to objectify that person and look at them as something to be possessed. I will quote Rachel again here,
It is important here to make a distinction between attraction and lust. Attraction is a natural biological response to beauty; lust obsesses on that attraction until it grows into a sense of ownership, a drive to conquer and claim. When Jesus warns that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he uses the same word found in the Ten Commandments to refer to a person who “covets” his neighbor’s property. Lust takes attraction and turns it into the coveting of a woman’s body as though it were property. And men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions when this happens; they don’t get to blame it on what a woman is wearing.
I promised you I would get back to the tool thing so here we go…this part of the study was actually done on both male and female undergraduates and suggested that men are more likely than women to link women wearing bikinis with first person action verbs such as “push,” “handle” and “grab.” However when the men looked at fully clothed women they associated them with the third person forms such as she “pushes,” “handles” and “grabs.” The researches felt this implied that the men viewed women who were fully clothed as in control of their own actions. I just think well, duh. It is kind of obvious that heterosexual men would be more likely than women to see a woman in a bikini and think push, handle grab than they are to think those words about a woman in say a business suit. I don’t think this implies a dang thing about their motives or whether they will choose to sin or not. Also, as far as I can tell in this portion of the study no questionnaire was given as to what sexist attitudes any of these men (or women for that matter) may or may not have had and so we do not get to know if there would be the same correlation as before with people’s preconceived attitudes about male and female roles/relationships and what they thought when presented with images of women in bikinis. I suspect there would be. Once again, just because one has a thought come to mind or a biological process kick in, does not mean that person, either the man who’s tool sector (see what I did there?) is kicking in or the woman in the bikini at the pool, is sinning. It just means they are attracted, they see something they want to touch. What seems to matter most (at least to me) is the attitudes they already brought to the table about the roles, relationships and motivations of men and women.
All that said, I think it is up to each woman whether she wears a bikini. Some women are comfortable in one and some are not. Here’s a fun little exercise. Let’s have a look at Romans 14 and how it might look in re to our current conversation…
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome her, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes she may wear anything, while the other wears only what is “modest”. Let not the one who wears a bikini despise the one who does not, and let not the one who does not wear a bikini pass judgment on the one who does, for God has welcomed her. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before her own master that she stands or falls. And she will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make her stand.
One person esteems one bathing suit as better than another, while another esteems all bathing suits alike. Each one should be fully convinced in her own mind. The one who does wears the bikini, wears it in honor of the Lord. The one who wears, wears in honor of the Lord, since she gives thanks to God, while the one who does not wear, does not wear in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to herself, and none of us dies to herself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your sister? Or you, why do you despise your sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of herself to God.
So to all my Jesus loving women friends out there (yes you!) rock that suit, bikini or not for you are beautiful and it doesn’t matter if the whole world knows it. Being attractive is not a sin. Judging your sister is. Being attractive does not cause sin any more than being hungry causes gluttony. And to all my Jesus following male friends out there. Sexual attraction is not sin. Treating a woman as less than you is. Admiring beauty is not sin. Treating a woman as something to be possessed is.
Hey, I just thought of this on my laundry folding break…
We don’t say:
The chef caused me to be a glutton, they are sinning by making the plates look so beautiful and the food taste so good.
They should have to make it less delicious and less appetizing so I won’t over eat.
The car manufacturer caused me to envy, they are sinning by making the cars too fast and stunning to look at. They should design uglier cars so I won’t envy.
The clothing store caused me to shoplift, they are sinning by setting the price higher than I can pay. They should lower their prices so I don’t steal.
He was working with his shirt off, he is sinning by being out where women can see him. He should put a shirt on so women don’t lust after him.
We do say:
Her dress is too short (or she is wearing a bikini), she is sinning by being too sexy. She should wear a longer skirt so men don’t sin.They did something I find annoying, they are sinning by causing me to get angry. They should stop doing that so I don’t lose my temper.
I wonder why this is? I guess that is fodder for another post.