Food For Thought: Trending Amongst Young Girls… Running & Track Shorts

“In the ten plus years I’ve worked at the food kitchen the groups who come with girls the most inappropriately dressed are white girls with church groups.” That is what two men, independent of one another, told me at the food kitchen in Baltimore last week during our mission trip. I was informed that most food kitchens in the city wouldn’t have even allowed our girls to come in and serve dressed in the attire they were wearing. The attire in question was their shorts. This conversation was had after I was asked to go and discretely get two of our ladies away from a gentleman, though appearing harmless in his wheel-chair, was a registered sex offender. “They are here to serve and should not be displaying that much skin”.

Sure enough, the next day our group of students who were about to leave for the soup kitchen was an all girl group. Every single one of the girls had on a pair of the running shorts. I instructed them to go upstairs and put on a longer pair of shorts or pants due to the feedback I was given yesterday. I received a little push back when I suggested that if they didn’t have a longer pair of shorts they could borrow some from the guys. That is when I told them the rest of what the men who work at the shelter told me, “They need to realize that for many of the men who are coming in here off the street their response and what is going through their head would be no different than if we were to walk those girls through a prison wearing those shorts.” I got no further argument and they immediately went upstairs and changed into something a little more appropriate.

I’m not about to start cracking down on the girls for wearing the running shorts (unless I noticed they’ve rolled up the waistband to make them even shorter). This got me to thinking. Take what I’m going to say, and do with it what you will. Consider it food for thought.

  1. When these girls are home they aren’t in environments where they are going to be around a lot of men, and boys whose response to them is going to be similar to walking them through a men’s correctional facility or prison. However, when considering how rampant pornography has become amongst adult men and adolescent boys the chasm is probably not that wide.
  2. That being said, and as mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t think that women should be made to feel totally responsible for making sure that the men they come across maintain a pure thought life. We don’t want to send a message to young women that if a man makes unwanted sexual advances or worse that they somehow asked for it.
  3. I definitely think that there is a time and a place for short track or running shorts, but all the time? However, the track shorts are longer than many of the shorts that are featured in retail stores with about an inch of fabric beneath the crotch inseam.
  4. Though longer than shorts yoga pants worn with a shirt that doesn’t cover up the rear end is displaying… a lot. One men’s magazine had a little blurb a few months ago about how great it has been for men, but don’t tell the women cause it will “ruin it for the rest of us.”
  5. Shorts of a modest length and still flattering are available without having to special order them or go to great lengths to find them.

We could go back and forth all day about modesty. Having spent a good number of years in retail I am all for women looking good and feeling confident. The difficulty is do you ignore people’s perception of you, fair or not, in the name of looking cute and being “in style”? The best example I can give from my own life was the decision I made to cut my hair and no longer sport corn rows going into my last year of college; knowing that I was going to be interviewing for jobs, and wanted to look professional. I didn’t think it was fair (still don’t) that in many circles, in particular those I would be applying for jobs, where cornrows would likely be viewed as a negative. However, getting a good job out of college was more important to me than keeping my hair-style, nor was my identity wrapped up in it. Granted I wonder if I would have made the same decision if I had known that I was going to be balding in a few short years afterwards.

Should Girls Be Held Responsible For Boys Lusting?: And Other Thoughts on Modesty (2nd Edition)

Yesterday evening I got into a discussion with some of my female volunteers about modesty. Of course whenever there is a discussion about modesty as it pertains to teenagers its usually a conversation about the way girls dress and how boys respond to the female figure. This particular discussion came up because some of the girls had understood our policy against the girls wearing two pieces to trips and retreats as being primarily an issue of not wanting them to cause the boys to have lustful thoughts. For clarification sake I’ve maintained this particular part of our dress code in the youth ministry as being a modesty issue. It begins and ends with modesty. With that in mind here are some thoughts when it comes to the issue of modesty.

Leggings Show More Than Just Your Legs
Could someone please explain to me why we make such a big deal about short shorts and skirts on girls, but then no one seems to have a problem with all the women, particularly adult women, walking around in the very trendy tight pants? I’m not talking about skinny jeans, even though that is a modesty issue when it comes to boys (we’ll get to that in a second). I’m talking about the leggings with nothing over the top, or tshirt at best. Short shorts and skirts often do a better job of covering up and concealing the exact form of a woman’s posterior than leggings do. If you don’t think it’s an issue see if you can name one popular song in the past thirty years obsessing over a woman’s breasts, the part we make the biggest deal about, before I can name four that obsess about the female glute; Thong Song, Baby Got Back, Bootylicious, and My Humps (two of those songs and the two most recent featured female performers)

She Was Asking For It?
I’ve heard it communicated other places as being also a concern of the girls not causing the boys to stumble. Some of my female volunteers were ready to take issue with this if it was part of our concern or at least what was communicated to the young girls as the reason. I for one think there is some validity to their concern which was expressed as such, “Many girls walk away with the message that if a guy makes unwanted sexual advances or even rapes a girl it is her fault. By the way she was dressed she was asking for it.” The truth of the matter is there are plenty of women who dress appropriately and modestly who are subjected to unwanted sexual advances and sexual assualt. It’s as if to say this happened to you because you’re just that kind of person, and is that the message we really want to send to young girls?

I Am The Master of My Domain
We need to make sure boys learn and are equipped to take responsibility of their thought life. They are not helpless victims of spaghetti strapped, low v-necked cleveage bearing, leggings wearing women. Boys are going to have to learn how to train their minds to dwell on the good, the beauty, and the redemptive of God’s good world in spite of all the messages and images that seek to exploit their developing sexual virility. The tension is that the female form is naturally beautiful. A line is crossed when a female form is viewed and coveted solely for sexual pleasure and a way for a guy to justify his manhood. Training young men not to lust needs to go way beyond telling them not to lust, and think of something else. We need to teach them the proper way to think of bodies, as a temple unto the Lord designed for making God’s presence known in creation, uniquely designed to work the ground and care for all the creatures of the earth.

What Comes To Mind First
Adolescent girls need to be encouraged to take responsibility of dressing modestly in a way that doesn’t teach them to be ashamed of their body nor think of their body as solely being a catalyst to sinful lust and covetedness in others. Modesty needs to be conveyed to young women as a way of ensuring that when people think of them their body isn’t the first thing they think of. That has been the motivation behind the few instances of me asking girls in my Student Ministry to not use the pictures of themself in a bikini as their profile picture on social media sites. The reality is that young women are going to have to rely more heavily on their own creativity than what’s offered on the rack to dress fashionably modest.
In the same vain the boys need to be encouraged to practice modesty as low-rise skinny jeans have subjected many of us to the male version of cleavage (Yuck!). I hate to say it but meggings aren’t far behind. That’s male leggings for the fashion illiterate. Tank tops have made a huge comeback in young men’s fashion, and that are cut to make special emphasis on their upper body and shoulders which most girls find appealing. Boys should be held to similar standards of modesty as they too are guilty of drawing attention to their bodies in a way that their body is the first thing you think of when you think of them.

Girls Lust Too!
Many years ago while shopping with a friend I made some comment that basically amounted to boys lust but girls don’t have that problem. The friend who was with me quickly turned to me and told me, “You are so wrong. We girls lust too. Maybe not in the same way but what do you think it is we’re looking at in our girlie teen magazines? I see a guy with nice broad muscular shoulders and I imagine myself being held in his arms. Not sex just held but I’m still lusting.”
In the last couple of years we’ve seen women of all ages flock to Channing Tatum movies, including and especially the movie Magic Mike. The Team Jacob and Team Edward debate wasn’t purely a matchup of the abstract qualities of fictional characters. I’m sure there are women who watch CSI: Los Angeles and find themselves transfixed by LL Cool J’s lips the way veteran female hip-hop/rap fans have for nearly three decades.
Personally I have watched from my perch of Middle School Youth Pastor observe for ten years now the  behavior and development of adolescents. One of the consistent themes I’ve observed is that it is ALWAYS the girls who start noticing the boys first. They are the first ones to awaken, for lack of a better phrase, and leave the phase of cuddies behind. Which makes total sense when you consider that they reach puberty sooner. So let’s be careful to not make lust a one sided issue and remember that girls lust too. Differently sure but that doesn’t mean that their imagination isn’t sparked by what they see. So boys and girls need to be taught to be mindful of how they present themselves, but not to the point of being made totally responsible for the response of the opposite sex. All kids need to be taught and trained to be masters of their mind and that they are not and don’t have to be helpless victims to the thoughts and emotions which are sparked by what they see.

Form & Function: Helping Kids Understand How to Dress Properly

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Last night at a parent’s seminar I hosted on culture one of the parents asked a question about how to help teenagers make wise and appropriate decisions about clothing. Although I feel I my answer at the time was adequate, on the way home I thought of a better answer. While this may not be an answer a teenager could fully grasp I do believe that it is a good filter for parents to affirm using their parental authority to simply say, “you’re not going out of the house dressed like that”, until they are mature enough to make wardrobe choices without parental guidance. Moreover, I think it’s more constructive than simply saying to your son, “because you look like a clown or a thug,” or to your daughter, “you look like a tramp.”

Form & Function

            The form and function of our body should work in harmony with the form and function of our clothing. The form of bodies comes in all different shapes and sizes. The form of an article of clothing should compliment the form of the body. This principle is why I eventually stopped wearing baggy saggy jeans. It became annoying to be routinely adjusting my jeans, and keep from tearing up the hem of my pant legs under my shoes. It is also the same reason why I haven’t jumped aboard the current trend of wearing slim or skinny jeans. I’m not a big fella by any means but I’ve got a strong and built set of upper leg muscles. Not to mention that… well… let’s just say that skinny and slim jeans do not favor those of us that have a little junk in the trunk. Skinny jeans were made for skinny people and there are way too many people I’ve seen, who are by no means skinny wearing low-rise skinny jeans. That would be the form and function of bodies and clothes in chaos with one another.

I bring up low-rise skinny jeans because we should be advising our young boys about it with the same zeal as we do young ladies in regards to their bust line. Some cleavage is okay, and some cleavage is always wrong! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the humor in that play on words).

Occasion

This one is not that difficult on the surface. Clothing should also work in harmony with the occasion that we are dressing for. I wore a kilt for the majority of my wedding day which people are always enamored by. The reality is that I married a Scottish woman, in Scotland, and that of the 30 plus men and boys in attendance you would have been oddly out off place if you weren’t in a kilt. In full regalia a kilt is very formal and appropriate for fancy events and special occasions.

When I take my eighth graders on their eighth grade trip to the amusement park Cedar Point, I always advise them to wear shorts with pockets. I don’t particularly understand young teen boys obsession with wearing basketball and soccer shorts everywhere, but stuffing their money in their sock (and then accusing someone of stealing it when their money goes missing) or expecting me to carry their wallet around when they’re four years away from adult independence is just not going to fly on my watch.

Meaning

Last night one of the examples I gave of culture in the Bible, more specifically of culture gone bad is, “The Tower of Babel” story. One of the reasons why it was culture gone bad is because the people who were building it were doing so to define themselves, “let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11.4). As image bearers of the living God and blessed to have dominion and authority over the earth, we should never allow for a piece of the earth, whether it be a tower or a piece of clothing, to have dominion and authority over us. We define the clothing not the other way around.

Conclusion

At the end of the day I go back to what I said last night. Ultimately parents need to be unafraid to exercise their responsibility of stewardship over their children and say no when they see that their children, while under their roof, can’t exercise good judgment on what to wear. You can expect them as in many things to test the boundaries, but don’t be discouraged, be consistent. Be willing to have a conversation from time to time on these matters, as long as the purpose of the conversation is one of understanding, not negotiation. And if they don’t understand then just tell them, “Because I said so.”