What’s Up with the Fig Leaves? [Book Review]

Modesty is a hot topic! No one wants to be told what they can and cannot wear. As a ministry that tackles these tough topics, believe me, we know.

But the seductive, tight-fitting clothes aren’t the true problem. It’s the heart behind them, the heart that says to God… “I don’t care what you have to say about my body.” 

But God does care. He wants what is best for us in all areas of life…. even our wardrobe. And modesty is about so much more than the outfits hanging in our closet.

In the book “What’s Up with the Fig Leaves?”, Heather Thieneman uncovers the purposes and practices of modesty. I read the book this summer, and it answered so many questions that I, frankly, didn’t know how to address. Rather than asking what to wear and where to draw the “hemlines”, she challenges us to consider why we wear the clothes that we do. 

An objective standard

Let’s step back in time to the middle of the 20th century. In 1947 the designer of the bikini couldn’t find a single model, even in France, to model his scandalous new design. Not even one. He had to hire a stripper. Kinda hard to believe when only twenty years later his scantly clad creation would populate public beaches and Christians who refused to wear it would be considered “prudish”. What happened? 

Culture changed. And so did its standards.

Thankfully, the Word of God never changes. It gives us objective truths to follow so the amount of clothes we wear are not merely subject to the culture in which we live. Who is to say toplessness will not become the fashionable new norm twenty years from now? Are Christians just supposed to follow that trend too?

Unlike the social mores of fashion, the principles of modesty are not a manmade concept. Modesty was God’s idea. His standards transcend time and place to give us a deeper truth: the clothes we wear are a daily reminder of our need for Christ.

Our need for Christ

Clothing has been a theme of the gospel since God made the first coverings for Adam and Eve. An innocent animal was slaughtered. Its blood was shed as a symbolic foreshadowing of our deepest need – our need for Christ.

“Our shame at being publicly naked is a picture of the shame we should feel at being spiritually naked before God and of our need to be clothed in the righteousness of Another. Every morning that we get dressed for the day should be a reminder to us of our need for Christ.” (Thieneman, 26)

Since the beginning of time, we’ve made ill attempts to rectify our own sin. Adam and Eve thought they could cover their shame with a few flimsy fig leaves. But our attempt to make it right, our “self-righteousness”, is like a “filthy rag” (Isaiah 74:6). We can never cover our sin on our own. Only God can. Those first coats of animal skin were a symbol of His grace, robes of righteousness that we so desperately need to cover our transgressions.

Those robes? They are not a cloak of shame. They are a coat of honor. Like Joseph’s coat of many colors, it symbolizes His favor. God clothes us, lifts us out of our shame, and trades our dirty rags for a beautiful garment of His love. We are beloved, and He desires good things for us.

“For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10

A good and beautiful bELONGING

Believer it or not, modesty helps us enjoy the goodness of God’s creation.

“Modesty is not just a security guard against sexual perversion, it is also a bodyguard for sexual pleasure… Modesty enhances our experience of sexuality.” (Thieneman, 155)

This isn’t just the author’s hopeful ideal either. This is an observable fact. Many secular sociologist and psychologist agree. Popular sexologist Havelock Ellis claimed that feminine modesty creates passion. And psychologist J. C. Flugel called it a cycle between modesty and desire. Modesty fights the desire and in so doing, rekindles it. It keeps the passion alive by preserving it.

It’s just one of the reasons, Thieneman asserts, why nudist colonies have become desensitized to their own nakedness. She compares it to a diet of junk food and sweets. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. You eat too much and begin to enjoy it less. When a person becomes oversaturated with sexuality, they become bored with it all.  So they begin to need more and more until there is nothing left to enjoy.

Modesty, on the other hand, recognizes what is good and protects passion for the right places. Far from sexist and domineering, modesty is beneficial for the one who discovers the beauty of its design. 

“Modesty is not the repression of something repugnant, but the guarding, the treasuring of something beautiful.” (Thieneman, 47) 

We do not dress modestly because we are shy. We do not dress modestly because we think we are ugly. We dress modestly because we recognize that our beauty is worth treasuring. Like Song of Solomon 4:12 says, “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a sprint shut up, a fountain sealed.” The modest woman is content without external validation. She doesn’t need people to fawn over her body. She is truly confident in who she is in Christ and anticipates the day her beauty will be treasured by one man – her husband. 

Ultimately, the woman of God knows she is loved by her heavenly bridegroom – Christ himself (2 Corinthians 11:2). And she lives out of that love. There is no greater love, there is no greater affirmation, than that.


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