Is modesty cultural?

I am still technically teaching my children at home this year, although my oldest takes all of his classes from the community college and my younger two attend a part-time private school.

My daughter came home from school the other day and asked if what she was wearing was inappropriate. Apparently “a girl gave her a look,” so she wanted to double check if it was merited.

She really should be past this stage as a sophomore, but sometimes homeschoolers are a little behind. And that is fine. Homeschoolers, private schools, gangs — they all have their own culture.

For example: when we first moved to Idaho, I didn’t know what LDS meant. Most people who grow up outside of Utah and Idaho aren’t familiar with the term, and are barely familiar with the word Mormon. I read several books to get information about Mormons when I first arrived and one talked about their culture.

I’ve lived in Idaho ten years now, and I hadn’t realized how submersed I was in this “culture” until we visited California for a family reunion this past summer. Everywhere I looked — naked shoulders!

Naked shoulders don’t bother me, but I hadn’t seen so many in a decade. It never dawned on me that I wasn’t seeing them, until I did.

Our pastor mentioned modesty once, he basically told the old ladies to lighten up on the next generation. But he often talks about meeting people where they are — without the clichéd term.

To me, it seems that the things you find modest, are largely due to what you are used to seeing.

In high school, I had a friend who was a Brazilian exchange student. I’ll never forget when she walked out to the hot tub and all the girls gasped. She responded in a thick accent, “What? I brought my most modest swim suit for America.”

On the other end of the world, women are covered head-to-toe in black drapes. If you ever get a chance, read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is a fabulous book because she was a “True Believer.” Anytime I read a book about someone leaving a cult, religion…culture, I don’t want to read about someone who always knew it was wrong — but someone who believed with all their heart, first.

She embraced the Muslim faith and ideas when she was in college and approaching life with that unique early-adult passion and strength. However, and one point her group started to decide that women in burkas should wear soft-soled shoes because even though they were completely covered , if a man were to hear her feet he would begin to think of the shapely legs attached. And then — he would not be responsible for where his thoughts went next.

Growing up in California, I never gave tank tops a second thought. I imagine if I had grown up in Brazil I wouldn’t give much else any additional thought either.

There are two ways to look at this. One is that we have freedom from human rules: Colossians 2:16. I mean, the last thing I’d want is for my daughter to try to fit into the slot a group of teens designed.

And second: being aware of the culture when you need to be, just as Paul was. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

Do you believe modesty is only cultural, or is there a standard?