By Nicole Tittmann
Hi. I’m Nicole, and I am a recovering modesty speaker.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to bash the virtue of modesty. It’s a virtue for a reason, and I think an important one. In fact, I’m such a big believer in the importance of modesty, that I used to give talks on it to young girls. At the time, I was a mother with two girls and two boys, and I felt like my 6 and 8 year old daughters had a pretty good handle on modesty, so I was ready to go out and share all my wisdom with other mothers and their daughters. I’m just glad 48-year-old me was not around to mock 36-year-old me.
We as mothers want to gift our daughters with the virtue of modesty for a reason. Modesty protects the intimacy of a man or woman, and keeps hidden what was meant to be hidden from public view. The virtue is primarily thought to guide how we dress, but it also guides our behavior. St. Thomas says modesty helps moderate our desires. Webster says it is propriety in dress or speech. For moms, it is the urge to start enforcing an “all burkas all the time” dress code for your blossoming teenage girl. And therein lies the problem.
For most of us, when our girls are little, they think we know everything. Those are known around here as the good old days. The time when I could dress my kids all in matching clothes, and they were none the wiser that there was another way. When fashion began and ended with prairie dresses, and leggings were just to wear under flouncy skirts.
Then came the age of discernment, or as I like to call it, the dark years. The time when the girls look around, and notice, “Hey! All my friends wear two pieces to the pool! Why am I wearing a one piece that my mom got at Costco!” Or start conversations like, “Why can’t I wear a crop top? It covers my stomach if I don’t move my arms!” Or, “Mom! You said all the cool girls will be wearing prairie dresses!” I miss the good old days.
The fact is, telling our girls to be modest is not enough. We can give them the necessary boundaries (no crop tops, no short skirts, no exposed undergarments); but if that is all we are giving them we are not making modesty very appealing. Their older brother’s soccer uniform could fit that definition, but that certainly is not going to satisfy your lovely, blossoming teen. If modesty is keeping hidden what is meant to be hidden, what are we revealing? Do we carry ourselves in a way that indicates what is hidden is worthy of love and respect? 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” How are we teaching our children to carry themselves with the awareness that they are temples of the Holy Spirit?
To answer this question, I want to talk about the last time I gave a modesty talk. I started with my visual aids (immodest party girls vs modern day Laura Ingalls), and my list of rules (cover your bra, bermuda shorts are cool). By the end, the few adults in the room raved about the topic, while the teenage girls filed out quietly. A few days later, I saw one of the aforementioned teens at a play. She was wearing wide leg jeans, so I commented how cute she looked. “You only like them because they’re modest,” she haughtily replied. She did not come out of that talk thinking, “Wow! I am a temple of the Holy Spirit! I should carry myself with dignity and joy!” She came out thinking, “Mrs. Tittmann is a killjoy and a dud. Remember to stop wearing crop tops in front of Mrs. Tittmann.”
When we put too much emphasis on what not to wear, we forget that we have not given them a very tempting alternative. Instead of wearing the latest Khloe Kardashian knockoff, what are we presenting as the attractive alternative? Rather than focusing on modesty, what if we focus on teaching our girls about beauty?
One of the questions I ask when I start working with a new client is, who are your style icons? And the names that come up again and again are Audrey Hepburn and Kate Middleton. My girls weren’t even born when Audrey Hepburn was alive, but they both have pictures of her on their walls. Both of these women represent something timeless in their fashion. These are not women that look like they follow the latest fashion trends. Nor are they women who appear to just throw on whatever they can find that looks clean. They are intentional in their look; they are lovely, graceful, refined.
We can guide our daughters towards these types of style icons. Watching an old Audrey Hepburn film for a girls night could be a fun, not-in-your-face way of opening up a conversation about beauty in fashion. Or taking them for an afternoon of shopping. Let them know that this is a mother/daughter bonding time. Maybe you buy some new lovely clothes, maybe you just window shop and have lunch. Either way, you are spending time together, which is always a good thing.
And it wouldn’t hurt if we tried to up our fashion game a bit as well. Give them a role model closer to home. Now, before you start mentally berating me with complaints about how Kate Middleton has nannies, and Audrey Hepburn probably never had to deal with spit up babies, I am not saying you have to start dressing in Givenchy every day or wearing Prada heels (but both of those sound amazing). But aren’t there small ways we could all try to represent motherhood in a more beautiful way?
Nicole Tittmann is a stylist, wife, and mother of six. You can contact her at Nicole@YouMadeBeautiful.com or visit her website YouMadeBeautiful.com