FYI (if you’re a teenage girl) has popped up in my newsfeed several times over the past couple days. I read it because, well, I’m a teenage girl. And although I don’t particularly like being told what to do, I thought the article might provide some interesting insight into something relevant to me.
So I read it. Before I had even finished the article, I stormed into the kitchen, laptop in hand, and began frustratedly reading the entire article out loud to my mom. The nature of the article horrified me and still does, now that I’ve taken the time to cool down and read it again. I want to respond to the article itself since so much of my community seems to be worshiping its message. But many of the themes presented in it have been showing up so frequently in other articles and discussions as modesty seems to have become a very hot topic, particularly in Christian homeschooled community. And I think we’ve gotten a lot of things wrong.
Mrs. Hall, the author of the article and owner of the blog, begins her post by saying,
I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as we sometimes do, our family sat around the dining-room table and looked through your social media photos.
We have teenage sons, and so naturally there are quite a few pictures of you lovely ladies to wade through. Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your pajamas this summer! Your bedrooms are so cute! Our eight-year-old daughter brought this to our attention, because with three older brothers who have rooms that smell like stinky cheese, she notices girly details like that.”
I immediately found this strange, and I hope we can all appreciate why. Their family actually sits around the table together and goes through girls’ pictures with at least the partial intention of determining whether or not the friends look “too sexy” (as we see later). I appreciate family involvement in friendships and everything, but making a family event out of looking at your sons’ female friends’ pictures seems to be a bit askew as far as priorities go. (I’m also wondering if they look at their sons’ male friends’ pictures…)
The next thing we see is a picture of her boys on the beach, shirtless. Showing off their muscles. They kind of look like male Abercrombie models…you know, half-naked men posing in certain ways to heighten the sexual appeal of the product. My double-standard alert clicked on (and never turned off, because she never once mentions the fact that guys need to be modest, too…).
“I think the boys notice other things. For one, it appears that you are not wearing a bra.
I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout. What’s up? None of these positions is one I naturally assume before sleep, this I know.”
Well apparently us girls are not supposed to be adopting the stereotypical flirtatious female look (although I honestly wasn’t aware that a lack of bra had anything to do with that…and I don’t know how they determined that without looking very closely at the girl). And you know, that’s true. Girls have spent way too much time, money, and dignity in our attempts to replicate the seemingly perfect women we see receiving all the affection and attention. Our selfies are pretty stupid and self-centered. We want our friends–boys and girls alike–to see pictures of us and think we’re attractive because society likes attractive people in attractive clothing and attractive poses. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to look good; true beauty may be on the inside, but God gave us an outside for a reason. There is, however, an over-focus on sexual appearances because that’s what we’re taught. In my community, that’s what we’re taught half of the time. The other half of the time, we’re being taught that we need to cover up our bodies because if we’re not, we’re being immodest and sinful. It’s really confusing. But more on that later.
“So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize. If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole Hall family.
Please understand this, also: we genuinely like keeping up with you. We enjoy seeing life through your unique and colorful lens – which is what makes your latest self-portrait so extremely unfortunate.”
Well that’s just not true, because if my unique and colorful lens happens to involve less clothing than your family deems appropriate, you don’t want to look through that lens.
“Those posts don’t reflect who you are! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?
And now – big bummer – we have to block your posts. Because, the reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons, just as we know your parents care about you.
I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”
No…I don’t want your boys to only think of me in this sexual way. 50% of that is my responsibility. The other 50%? Your boys’ responsibility. Never in the entire article does she really put any responsibility on men. But if your son sees a picture of me wearing, say, a bikini and 1. Lingers on it 2. Lets the image sink so far into his brain that he can’t “un-see” it 3. Now only thinks of me in a sexual way, he has a heart problem that needs to be addressed. As a girl, I try. I wear shorts with a reasonable length and an appropriate neckline and I don’t walk around with my stomach exposed. Yet I’ve still been approached by people telling me that I’m dressed immodestly and thus creating a “stumbling block” for my “fellow brothers in Christ.” I’ll wear my mid-thigh length shorts and three-finger width tank top (which is totally appropriate for 100 degree Julys in southern California), and I’ll expect your sons to continue to think of me by my character traits, whatever those are.
“And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.”
Wow. This is a Christian family. A family of sinners, regenerated and redeemed and given a million second chances by Christ, refusing to give a girl a second chance if she one time violated their subjective standards of modesty and appropriateness. What kind of message does that teach their sons? One of love and respect? Or one of judgement and legalism?
“I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way it is under this roof for a while. We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”
They’re never going to learn to exercise self-control in the real world if you block the real world out of their social media. You can’t block a scantily clad girl when you’re walking down the street.
“Every day I pray for the women my boys will love. I hope they will be drawn to real beauties, the kind of women who will leave them better people in the end. I also pray that my sons will be worthy of this kind of woman, that they will be patient – and act honorably – while they wait for her.”
I know she doesn’t explicitly state this, but the rhetoric in the post seems to suggest that a woman who one time posted a “sexy selfie” of herself is unfit to marry a Hall son. Even if that’s not what she meant, that’s the painful message of judgement her words send.
“Girls, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made an on-line mistake (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your accounts and take down anything that makes it easy for your male friends to imagine you naked in your bedroom.”
And what objective standard of modesty should I use to determine that? Because I am sick and tired of being fearful that whatever I’m wearing is going to “cause a brother to stumble” and bring the wrath of a mom I love and respect down on me.
“Will you trust me? There are boys out there waiting and hoping for women of character. Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure, and their thoughts praiseworthy.”
Good. Thank God for those men. Unfortunately, forcefully deleting a girl from your pure sons’ minds because she made one mistake isn’t turning them into Godlier young men. It’s making him more judgmental, less forgiving, and more convinced that a scantily clad girl has turned herself into an object to be deleted.
Now, all that said, if a girl continually posts inappropriate pictures of herself and becomes a stumbling block to your sons, encourage them to take action. Perhaps defriending someone is the right choice in certain situations. But posting an article that calls out nameless girls, judges them, shames them, blames them, and tells them they’ve lost their chance? That’s hurtful.
As I noted, girls like me are pulled in two different directions every single day:
1. You’re a prude. Loosen up, show some skin, show off your body, and draw attention.
2. You’re inappropriately sexual. Cover up some more, hide your body, cover your bra straps (as if it’s some secret that I wear one), and make sure you don’t draw any attention to your outer appearance.
The first side completely destroys my self-esteem and tells me that I am a sexual object that should act like one, because that’s the only reason men will give me a second glance. The second side completely destroys my self-esteem and tells me that I should be ashamed of my body and showing it off because no man of character and purity would want that.
Christian homeschooled community: We are putting girls into a dilemma that they cannot solve and intensifying it with judgement and single chances. There’s nothing we can do about the message the world sends. But there is something we can do about the message we send.
So instead of preaching to me on the internet, telling me that I can’t wear a bikini or make a sultry face in my pictures…get to know me. Love me. Understand me. Develop a relationship with me. And then gently come to me with your honest, non-judgmental concerns, while also understanding that your subjective standards of modesty may not be in line with mine. That’s how you reach a teenage girl–or anyone else. With a message of love and redemption.
For us emotional, estrogen-filled, hormonal teenage girls, it’s hard enough for us to understand life. Please don’t defriend some really fantastic girl because she once made a mistake. She will walk away hurt and confused, not better because of it. Please don’t gossip about me and my clothing/makeup choices behind my back. Please don’t decide amongst yourselves that my parents haven’t done a good enough job of raising me because our family’s modesty standards happen to be different from yours. Please don’t teach your sons to not associate with me. Please stop telling me I’m not good enough because I make some appearance-related mistakes.
I, along with so many of my peers, am trying really hard every day to be pure of mind and heart, too. It’s a process, and it’s a long and difficult one. I can’t do it if I feel like you’re scrutinizing me through a tiny microscope.