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Modesty: Where’s the Line for Your Daughter?

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There was a time when shopping for my daughter was a joy. Do we go with the gingham dress with the white Peter Pan collar or the precious sun suit with the embroidered bunny on the bib? Those were the days, my friend. (Sigh)

Now that she’s a tween, shopping for her is more confounding than a Chinese riddle. For every single purchase, a mom must:

  1. Find something she likes.
  2. Stay within the budget.
  3. Counsel her through the body-image issues so many young girls seem to have. (Your thighs do NOT look “chunky” in that skirt!)
  4. Make sure she doesn’t look as if she could be 13 going on 22.

Modesty is a tricky issue for moms because the rules are vague, at best. What looks too provocative on one girl might look much less so on another. The do’s and don’ts vary significantly even among moms of similar faiths and backgrounds. But there are some general standards you can set and strategies you can default to when current fashion tries to make your little girl grow up too fast.

Trust your gut—and especially your husband’s.

Even when there’s no hard and fast rule that tells you the skirt or swimsuit your tween has on is a definite “No,” if seeing her in it makes you uncomfortable—it’s a no. If seeing her in it makes dad uncomfortable—it’s a no. Men see young women through the eyes they had as young men of a similar age. They know how your daughter will be perceived by her male peers in that particular outfit. Trust his judgment.

When other fashions are too sexy, default to sporty.

iMOM Director Susan Merrill remembers feeling uncomfortable with some of the styles her daughters wanted to wear in the teen and tween years. Some of the popular clothing with their friends (and sold heavily in the juniors department of their favorite stores) was just a little too mature. Their family compromise was to let the girls wear the athletic look (running shorts and cute tees) which was popular among their friends  rather than the more sultry styles. When it came to swimwear, they often defaulted to their swim team tank suits rather than more revealing bikinis. The girls still felt “in,” but they avoided overexposure.

Give it the “Where does the eye go?” test.

When your daughter is standing in front of you and the dressing room mirror in an outfit that you’re not comfortable with, train her to critique its appropriateness herself by asking, “When I walk into a room wearing this outfit, where will a person’s eyes go first?” In a dress that barely hits mid-thigh, they’ll be looking at her upper thighs—immediately. In a plunging neckline, they’ll be staring at her cleavage. In a party dress with all sorts of midriff cut-outs, they’ll be focused on her bare stomach or back. Trade it for a better option that still flatters, but draws the attention to her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes.

Remember grace.

One of the hardest parts of teaching your children to live to a higher standard is doing so without training them to be legalistic toward themselves and others. Don’t throw other moms or their daughters under the bus when you’re talking to your own child about the need for modesty. If she points out that certain friends or their moms wear the very things you forbid, find a gracious way to say that we’re all at different places on the journey of life and we each have to do the best we can with what God has shown us. For you, the wisdom of modesty for women is apparent and you feel a responsibility to honor that in your life and your daughters, without judging those who might not agree.

Check out these additional tips for raising a classy, confident daughter!

Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.


Do you think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they dress? Give me an example.

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