Christian Girls and Yoga Pants

SoLow-Jersey-Foxy-Flare-detailYesterday, a couple of my acquaintances discussed this article, about Christian modesty and yoga pants, on Facebook. The article puts forth the same message I’ve seen or heard from countless Christian authors over the years. The argument goes something like this:

  • Women should be modest because that is a huge part of their self-worth and identity.

  • Guys are constantly “undressing women with their eyes”

  • Yoga pants (tank tops, jeans with holes, bikinis, etc, etc, etc) inspire lust

  • If women dress in a way that may be construed as “sexy,” they are inspiring men to sin by thinking sexual thoughts, and are “attention whores.”

  • Sexual thoughts and ‘purity’ are some of the most important spiritual concerns.

First, let me say I have nothing against modesty. I’m all for men and women looking classy instead of trashy. What bothers me about this argument (and its many variations) is that it’s a symptom of “1st World Christianity.” Our faith often reflects our culture, and it is never more apparent than in articles like the one above.

Not everything is about us.

1st World Christianity neurotically focuses on the individual. The question,  “Am I spiritually okay?” becomes a repetitive and tyrannical mantra. On virtually every Sunday, in virtually every church, one will hear this same question rephrased and repeated. While there’s nothing wrong with being deeply reflective, taken to the extreme, this obsession with ourselves (and eventually the “spiritual health” of our neighbors)  makes us  fundamentally narcissistic. If I am so focused on myself —  anxious and fearful about my own spiritual health — then of course I will get upset when others become a “stumbling block” and shake my delicate equilibrium.

We need to get out of our own heads, for a spirituality built entirely in our own minds, and centered around ourselves,  is a weak spirituality indeed.

That’s what I find so upsetting about arguments like the article above. The focus is on us and how people perceive us. We are essentially concerned with our image. This attention is not God-focused, it is self-focused. Arguments about yoga pants and Christian modesty encourages us to be just as infatuated with our own self-image as any other member of society. Our standards may be different, but our obsession is the same.

Not everything is about sex.

I swear that one can hear more about sex in many churches in America than on the raunchiest MTV reality shows. Like the rest of our culture, we’re consumed with it. Purity, lust, “courtship”, “taking thoughts captive”: there is an entire vocabulary (and industry) around the idea that our sexual purity is somehow on the very top of God’s priorities.

I’m sorry, but when I read the Bible, I don’t see Jesus criticizing others for wearing headscarves that are too sexy. I don’t remember him accusing people of having sandals that showed too much skin. Instead,  I remember him asking for water from a woman at a well who had been labelled a “whore” by her town. I remember him hanging out with Mary Magdalene and saving the adulteress from getting stoned to death. I remember expensive perfume being poured on his feet as an act of love.

At the end of the day, our obsession with our sexuality (and our sexual thoughts) is not biblical. We live in a culture obsessed with sex, and we’ve simply moved that obsession to the pews.

Maybe we should worry more about the person making the yoga pants.

factory

There is a woman in Bangladesh who made those yoga pants. She lives on 2 dollars a day. She cannot feed her family and lives in the slums.  While she struggles in poverty, American Christians worry about whether their voluminous closets are too lust-inspiring.

I’m not necessarily trying to appeal to our sense of guilt, but I happen to believe that the real sin of yoga pants has nothing to do with the girls that wear them. The real sin is the economic, social, and political systems that allow us 1st World Christians to live in affluence because of the exploitation of others. While I don’t remember Jesus worried about the sexiness of head scarves, I do remember him concerned with the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised. I remember him flipping the tables of money lenders at the temple, blessing the poor, and encouraging economic justice through a tax-collector named Zacchaeus. In fact, Jesus talks far more about economic issues than sexual ones.

1st World Christians have a lot to worry about spiritually, but yoga pants are not one of those things. In a culture where Mammon is the undisputed god, and both our advertisements and our churches fixate on self-image, being Christ in the world means stepping out of that system entirely. It means getting out of our own heads. It means confronting social, economic, and political Goliaths that are far bigger than ourselves. It means living and speaking in such a way that shouts a giant “F— you” to the destructive and despairing forces of our society and our church. That is hard, dirty work; it will probably ruin your clothes anyway.

Wear what you want.

Ladies, wear what you want. Or wear nothing at all. I’ll be out in my garden, taking care of a small piece of earth God has given me to tend. I’ll be teaching my kids how to live simply and how to find fulfillment in good work.  I’ll be performing small acts of rebellion and resistance to our destructive culture. I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I’m too busy to notice what you’re wearing.

 

3 Comments

  • Ky Bux

    January 23, 2014 at 7:13 am Reply

    Good article! I think you make some great points, and I agree that the church is far too caught up in this issue of “being modest” and labeling women as stumbling blocks. Also, the self-centeredness of “American Christianity” (“my faith over yours”) is a huge problem, and I’m glad to see someone address it. The real problem here is that men cannot practice self-control; and really that there is a significant lack of self-control in this country (Food consumption, porn addiction, alcohol and tobacco abuse, etc.). The issue here is definitely self control.

    Does this mean that women (and men for that matter) should wear/not wear whatever they choose? I don’t believe so. Our society has certain norms that are accepted. For instance, it would be breaking the norm for me to walk to my classes fully naked, and certainly this would draw more than a little attention to me, wouldn’t it? So, as members of a society, we have some say in what becomes the norm. We contribute to this norm by how we dress every day, no matter what we wear–we either push for a more modest style of dress, or we advocate a less modest style.

    So, while I think that modesty in general receives far too much attention in churches, I also think there is something to say for the image Christians project to society. If the goal for a Christian is to show people Christ, then the way they talk, act, and yes, even the way they dress, projects some image to people. If you claim to represent Christ, then people hold you to a higher standard. For some people, dressing immodestly can turn them off and, while it’s really their own self-centeredness that turns them off, Christians are called to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

    Bottom line: Yoga Pants aren’t that big a deal. But, the Bible calls the followers of Christ to a higher standard and to look different in the world (Romans 12:2). Is it a sin to wear yoga pants? I don’t have a definite answer. But the better option is to live at peace with everyone, and because so many people are tripped up by the issue of yoga pants, it is therefore the better choice for a Christian not to wear such clothes.

    • Erik

      January 23, 2014 at 9:08 am Reply

      I think you have an excellent point. I would only add that as Christians, if we’re living the way we ought to, the idea of “image” becomes superfluous. If we live from within our connection to God — if we acknowledge that we don’t have a spiritual life, but that life is spiritual — our image will take care of itself. We needn’t worry about it.

    • Vicky

      March 31, 2014 at 12:19 pm Reply

      Ky,
      while I think you bring up good points about self control, at what point is does it become that type of issue? What if a man lacks self control when he sees a woman in a long dress that is seemingly modest? What if a woman lusts after a man when she sees them running in cut offs and short shorts
      ( you know the type I mean)? These images are perhaps humorous, but it presents what I see as a big issue with your theory. Placing blame on the clothes and on the wearers does no good. Everyone lacks control in something. As you said, some lack control with food and alcohol. Does it mean food or alcohol is inherently evil? No. If that is the case, then it would be silly to prevent all people from eating (since that is a necessity). It would also be silly to ask the male jogger to refrain from wearing his running clothes simply because certain women struggle with lusting after his muscular thighs. So the bigger issue here, I think bigger than self control, is judgement and blame. It is not our job to be so concerned with issues as yoga pants, especially in the context of actually exercising in them. Our job as Christians should be showing love and embracing everyone who has become part of Gods family. We have better things to be concerned about and I think a lot of Christiansen and women alike would altogether more happy and fulfilled if we concerned ourselves with more of Jesus love, which we have been COMMANDED to show, rather than God’s judgement, which has NEVER been anyone’s job but God’s.
      I think the author is trying to point out that as Christians we have become obsessed with issues that God could care less about. Yes, modesty is a good thing and I will not ever agree that it is not. However, if you are connecting with Jesus and loving like him daily, things like that become unimportant. There’s no benefit in continuing to address such an issue. I’m more concerned about the fact that millions of children are killed by their mothers every year and it’s perfectly legal. That’s something worth fighting about. That’s where Jesus’ heart is. Fighting for love and life, not for judgement because that’s his job, not ours. Which is relieving if you think about it.. We are free to love and forgive and be forgiven! PRAISE JESUS!

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