If you're a child of the 80s, you remember the commercial, “Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts!" That commercial had a strong hook and a clear message, "If you dare wear short shorts, Nair for short shorts.” I'm not promoting Nair or trying to induce nostalgia. I'm in more of a lamenting mood. If that commercial were remade in 2023, it might go like this, "Who wears short shorts? Well . . . virtually everyone." The truth is it's no longer daring to wear short shorts. It's actually daring not to.
Before you write this off as some kind of over the top judgmental article, please hear me out. The first lament I have is for myself. I’ve been there. I’ve worn short shorts and other types of clothing designed to accentuate the parts of my body that only my husband should see. I'm thankful to the Lord for opening my eyes, and I feel compelled to speak up in hopes that I am not the only concerned mom, wife, sister, and daughter among us.
When I was in middle school, our school dress code said that shorts or skirts could come no higher than the place our fingertips landed when we put our arms by our side. I can remember holding my shoulders as high as I could to give myself the extra few inches needed to be within the dress code. As a high school student, I once wore a pair of super tight pants that had a snakeskin pattern on the fabric. While standing in the lunch line, a student teacher got in my ear and quietly said, “I know how you are,” and then he roared at me. That was completely inappropriate regardless of what I was wearing, and I was NOT
what he thought I was. I was grossed out by his comment, and I never wore those pants to school again. However, looking back, I am not surprised by the conclusion he reached based off of some of my wardrobe choices.
I need to be really honest. I enjoyed the attention I received when I wore something tight or short. It felt great when my girlfriends told me, “I wish I could wear that!” or when I caught boys looking at me. I was convinced that as long as I wasn’t sinning through sexual activity, I was pure. I was good.
But I was not. I was far from pure! There were people in my life teaching me about purity, and it is very possible that they said many things that I don’t remember or ignored. Regardless of what they said, all I heard was avoiding sex = purity. As I have matured in my understanding of purity, I have mourned over my sinful behavior and thanked God for His redemption and forgiveness. I'm also very thankful for God's gracious protection from the very just consequences of sin he could have allowed me to experience.
God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor – not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. 1st Thessalonians 4:3-5
The big word that jumps out to me in this passage is honor. I was not presenting myself in an honorable way when I dressed provocatively. As a believer, I had been designed to be a reflection of the glory of God and not a reflection of my friends or magazine models. I was the president of the Bible club at my high school, and everyone knew I was a Christian. I shared my faith with teachers and classmates regularly, and I abstained from wild parties and all the “big” sins that many of my friends were experimenting with. At the same time, I was captain of the dance line wearing short little pep rally skirts and tight dance costumes. I was part of the "in crowd" and often wore trendy, tight clothing. In hindsight it is clear–I was sending mixed messages by not honoring the image of God with my body. I dressed just like all those same people I was trying to reach with the Gospel.
Fast forward to 2023. In the past few months, I've seen countless cheeks, and I’m not talking about the kind that Jesus told us to turn. I don't go around looking for "cheeks." They just seem to keep turning up. I've seen the cheeks of teenagers, young adults, and, well, women old enough to be mothers and grandmothers. The thing is, I wasn’t at the beach or the pool when I saw these things. I saw a grown woman’s panties and behind when she bent over to pick up something at a wedding. I’ve witnessed this kind of thing in multiple settings. Unfortunately, my kids have witnessed this as well. The tight, short, highlight-private-parts-of-your-body style is the kind of fashion they are constantly seeing. That has a tremendous impact. It shapes their ideas of normal.
And then, there's social media. I'm not talking about some seedy corner of the dark web. I'm talking about "Hey, check out my family!" And in some of those cases, it was hard to tell if some members of the family were wearing anything other than a shirt.
For me and my husband, Derek, this has been one of those challenging parenting moments. When we noticed the problem, we had to analyze our role in leading our children through it. What our children are seeing in the culture around them is vastly different from what is honorable. It was one of those times parenting was not so fun. We had to do the hard thing, but then again, we are the parents–that’s our job. We have been called to create boundaries for our children that they need but would not choose to set for themselves.
We cannot afford to wait for the culture to change for the better. We cannot expect culture to influence our kids in the way they ought to go. We are the primary disciplers and spiritual leaders of our children. We must be the ones to lead them to the path of life no matter how counter cultural that path might be. To help our family, we decided to create a family dress covenant. It is designed to shepherd and protect our entire family from cultural fashion norms that would steal, kill, and destroy their joy, honor, and safety. We call it a covenant because it is an agreement between all members of our family. It is not a dress code. A code is something passed down to subordinates by authorities. I’m sure that many of the teachers who enforce school dress codes do not abide by the same dress codes outside of the school setting. This is different. It is for our entire family. We all agree to follow this family covenant because we all agree it leads to life and freedom rather than death and slavery.
Here is our family covenant.
This covenant occupies a prominent spot in our kitchen. We have frequent conversations reminding one another of the importance of keeping it. Just today we talked about it with our kids again, and we compared it to a firefighter’s suit. It would be foolish and irresponsible for a firefighter to go into a fire without a fire suit. Likewise, sending our children out in public dressed inappropriately would be foolish and irresponsible on our part.
Recently, Derek and I heard a powerful story from one of our friends. He is a father of young children, and he told us about some recent issues with one of his sons. After all the usual parenting methods failed, he finally looked at his son and said, "I don't care anymore. Just do whatever you want." To be clear, this is not their normal style of parenting, and he had to ask his wife to trust him in this effort. At first, the son was excited! He ate all kinds of junk food and left a mess everywhere. He kept asking if he could do this or that, and his dad kept stoically answering the same way, “Just do what you want.” Finally, after staying up way past his bedtime, the boy got into bed. His dad prayed over him and began to walk out of the room. As he was walking out, the boy called out to his dad. The dad turned and responded, “What is it, son?” His son admitted, “I don’t like it when you say you don’t care.” They talked it out, both wept, and agreed to go back to setting and following rules. The unconventional wisdom of the father helped his young son learn a valuable lesson–boundaries and rules help us feel loved. We need them. We actually crave them whether we realize it or not. This is especially true when rules come from trustworthy people who love and care for us.
Rules alone are not enough to faithfully shepherd hearts. The why behind the rules are equally important. In her book, Sex, Jesus, and Conversations the Church Forgot, Mo Isom puts it this way, “People pumped full of rules but robbed of guidance toward the greater why will always be dehydrated of love.” This is why we didn’t just slap a list of rules on our fridge and call it a day. Our dress covenant is surrounded by many conversations of love and intent. It is guided by the truth of God’s Word and our trust that His ways really do lead to life.
My hope is that as you read this, you will be compelled, as I was, to make some changes. I loved the Lord during my teenage years, and I was genuinely seeking Him. At the same time, I was struggling with a clear understanding of purity. These changes can be expensive, both financially and relationally. Our dress covenant meant we had to spend some precious savings to provide our pre-teen daughter with a variety of appropriate (and stylish) clothing options. My husband led the way in this. He said, “If the doctor told us one of our children needed an expensive medication or treatment, money wouldn't matter. We know our family needs this. The spiritual and emotional health of our children is just as important as their physical health. It can’t be about the money.”
The cost is not just financial. It can be relational as well. Derek and I have proceeded very prayerfully as we navigate these issues with our kids. We are asking God to use this season to draw them closer to Him rather than allowing it to push them away. We are also praying that our relationships with our children will be strengthened as we work through this together. I realize even writing an article like this could cause some relational rifts in my own life. I'm not trying to hurt anyone or push anyone away or make anyone self conscious about what they might be wearing next time they see me.
I have prayed about how to share this burden publicly, and I hope it is received as intended, a message of truth in love. My intent is not to spotlight or shame anyone, but to offer hope. We don’t have to live this way! We can take a stand and protect our sons and daughters and ourselves from, at very least, unhealthy distraction, or worse, sin and perversion. I hope it will open a door for us to have vulnerable conversations with our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as with our own children. Hopefully those conversations will end with a resolve to glorify Christ with our bodies and protect one another from sin or attacks of the enemy.
We are not the first generation in the church to have sin problems and blind spots. In speaking to the church at Corinth, Paul says,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1st Corinthians 6:9-11
This is who we were, but it is not who we are. We are not the same as those outside of the Kingdom of God. We are not who we were before we were washed and sanctified. Let us not cheapen the image of God. Let us dare to walk in our redemption rather than short shorts. Let us look more sanctified and justified because God has paid a great price to make us that way.