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Modesty on Spring Break

Last Updated: February 20, 2014

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by Rachel Lee Carter

Just for fun—and as a point of research for this article, I Googled (in quotes) “Modesty on Spring Break.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to be redirected to: No results found for “Modesty on Spring Break.” In other words, according to Google, it doesn’t exist.

Very soon, many college and high school students will be packing their carry-ons with little more than bikinis and sunscreen. After all, this is the world we live in. So for Christians, how does that jive with Romans 12:2a “Do not be conformed to this world”?

Is it possible for Christian spring-breakers to pack a dose of modesty into their suitcases? Absolutely. And unlike Google’s assessment, not only is it possible, it’s also easier than one might think.

Why am I so confident? As a Christian professional model working in the high-end world of fashion, I’ve been able to navigate and thrive in this “skin-is-in” industry—without sacrificing my standards. And I’m convinced my Christian sisters can do the same, both on and off the beach.

When I came to the Lord as a professional model in New York City many years ago, I had to learn that my choices reflected my heart. This included the clothes I wore and how my wardrobe spoke volumes of where I stood in my relationship to Christ.

First Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” This passage used to bring me comfort whenever I felt others were judging me. I would smile inwardly and quote the verse to myself in a self-righteous tone.

It wasn’t until much later that God revealed my true motives and everything that was in my heart. My pride, selfishness, and entitlement became more obvious to me the closer I walked with the Lord. This especially included my wardrobe choices. I struggled with it—I really did. We’re so often taught not to worry about what others think about us. And I didn’t. If I liked it, I wore it…get over it. Then, as I thought of this verse, and as God opened my eyes, something strange happened. I was terrified that God saw my heart. The verse no longer brought me comfort but shame. I knew what lurked deep down, and it wasn’t pretty. Even though others might not have known, God knew. This is when God pierced my heart specifically about modesty.

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,” with a regard for spiritual things (1 Timothy 2:9). The verse jumped off the page at me. I looked again to see if my name prefaced the statement. It did not. But it was just as personal.

It seemed hard at first. No, impossible. How could this fashionista decipher what is modest and what is not? What is acceptable in the 21st Century and what are just old-fashioned rules? How can one be fashionable yet modest? Enter the male opinion.

We’ve all heard how men and women think differently. But I was amazed they had such strong opinions on what women wore.

I interviewed a few bold young men (1):

“The world says ‘If you have it, flaunt it.’ We’re saying, ‘If you have it, protect it.’” –Seth, age 20, California

“Certain lures are used to attract certain types of fish. In the same way, how you dress and act will attract certain types of guys.” –Tyler, age 16, North Carolina

“When a girl dresses immodestly, not only is she a stumbling block—an opportunity that could lead someone into sin—but also she is presenting herself as insecure.”  –Chase, age 21, Alaska

“I can tell you from experience that the way a girl dresses can definitely help or hinder a guy’s spiritual walk. So if you dress immodestly, you are truly ‘dressed to kill.’” –Tommy, age 19, New York

These were only a few. But over and over again, every guy was saying the same thing. And they wish we’d just understand.

On Spring Break there will be plenty of guys gawking at the abundance of flesh peeking through string bikinis and mini skirts. But they are not the kinds of guys any girl I know would be interested in impressing.

Clothing speaks. It gives indications of our motivations, how we feel about ourselves, and the depth of our faith. The question we need to ask ourselves is “What kind of message are we sending?”

Modesty is important. We find its mandate in God’s Word, and negative implications abound without it. LZ Granderson wrote about girls and immodesty in a CNN article.

In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. There’s nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. A line needs to be drawn, but not by Abercrombie. Not by Britney Spears. And not by these little girls who don’t know better and desperately need their parents to be parents and not 40-year-old BFFs. (2)

Early sexualization and immodest dress can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression? You bet. I’ve seen the results, I’ve counseled the girls, and I’ve written the book.

My plea to parents: As a mom, I know there are some fights worth fighting, and others that aren’t. But this is a hill to die on. We must educate ourselves and our daughters about the consequences of immodesty, and provide some creative strategies on dressing modestly in fashion.

Here are some examples:

  • Finger-tip length shorts and skirts that fall just above the knee.
  • Maxi dresses instead of mini skirts.
  • Tankinis instead of bikinis.
  • Tank top layering to hide cleavage.
  • Cute cover-ups and sarongs for off the beach.

Remember not to over-pack. But don’t forget these essentials:

  • Three swimsuits with cover-ups to match
  • Sunscreen of 30SPF or higher
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • LBD (Little black dress—just make sure it’s not too “little”)
  • Black sandals and flip flops
  • Dark jeans
  • Layering tank tops

Maybe this time next year, when I Google “Modesty on Spring Break,” there will be resources, photos, and tips instead of a suggestion to change my search.

Enjoy the break, and show off your best side…your inside!

Resources and footnotes:

(1) Fashioned By Faith, Rachel Lee Carter (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

(2) LZ Granderson, weekly columnist for CNN.com and ESPN.com

. . . .

Rachel Lee Carter is a professional model of 20 years, including clientèle such as Cover Girl, Tommy Hilfiger, Perry Ellis, Teen Magazine, Jones New York, Wrangler, Chico’s, Elle, Fitness, Reebok, Microsoft, SAKS Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and many others. Rachel is an alumnus of Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, NY. There, she studied Bible Survey and Systematic Theology with an emphasis on missions and youth ministry. She graduated in 1996. After hearing God’s call on her life to re-enter the fashion industry as an international Christian model, she began using this platform to share the love of Jesus Christ within the her industry and as a professional conference speaker to mothers, daughters, tween, youth, and teen groups throughout the country. She is the author of Fashioned By Faith.