Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Cultural Divide of Modesty

A while back I wrote a post on modesty (here).

Modesty seems to be a topic that makes its way around my heart and thoughts every now and again. Right now I am thinking of modesty in terms of our trip. We are visiting a primarily Muslim country. And we are serving with a mission organization for a wee smidge of our trip. And there are dress codes and standards to be observed.

Their modesty standards include no sleeveless shirts and knee length or longer skirts and shorts.

And, I guess that compared to a burka, even these standards are borderline naked.

Personally, I have no problem with sleeveless tops. I practically live in sleeveless all summer.

one of my favorite sleeveless tops
But, as a believer, I am called to deference. I am called to value others above myself, and look on the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) Hmmm...it seems like I wrote on that lately too. (here) I can afford to be gracious and put some cap sleeves on, in order not to offend a culture.

This brings to mind the reminder that modesty is a cultural issue. It isn't just a cultural issue, but it is a cultural issue. Indian ladies have no problem baring their bellies. Well, baring is probably a bit of an exaggeration. But they do often wrap their saris so that narrow swathes of their bellies peek out.

For me, and most of the American culture, bare midriffs are considered improper if not immodest. Which is not to say that you won't see girls walking around showing off inches of their waists. But, for the most part, in dress codes, midriffs are not bared unless you are a life guard or a Hooter's waitress.

Culturally, African women have no problem walking around with their breasts bared. Even in church. They are not a sex object to them. They are merely utilitarian, and for feeding the babies.

Here in the USA, that is not the case. To have your breasts bared for anything but lactation is considered indecent exposure, and is a jail-able offense in most States. Men have more leeway about shirts, but most public places have a no shirt-no service policy.

I have heard that in some cultures, being bare foot is improper. Let me tell you, the Barefoot Hippies have no intention of visiting any of those places anytime soon. Well, actually, we do. In not so ancient Japan, the samurai warriors would pick their mistresses based solely on their feet. (is that a pun or what?) The Japanese are still very into shoes and feet. I wonder what they think of toe rings and nail polish? I don't know. But the Japanese almost always wear shoes or slippers.

A Christian's modesty standards should not change with every shift in culture or fad. Our standard is still the Bible. Our standard is always to glorify God, not stumble fellow Christians, and to err on the side of discretion and deference.

What differences have you noticed between cultures? On what basis have you set your own standard of dress and modesty?