Modesty Goes Swimming

July 2nd, 2012 | | No Comments
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The fourth in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).


Because the weather is unseasonably warm—swelteringly hot, at least where I am—it seems worthwhile to discuss swimwear in this short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Here especially the wheels frequently come off the modesty train, and one meets with the most stubborn resistance to the plain teaching of God’s Word among many women of all ages.


Before we turn to swimwear specifically, we would be wise to review the two guiding principles for modest dress. A woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God (1) will guarantee she reveals nothing inappropriate and (2) will not draw attention to what is underneath her clothes by the way she dresses.


One suspects that these two principles would reveal most swimwear as immodest, which is probably true. Bikinis and nearly all two-piece swimsuits in particular, but even many one-piece suits guarantee a woman will reveal much that is inappropriate. Hardly a curve is hidden with form-fitting one-piece suits, and two-piece suits and bikinis unashamedly flaunt areas of the body that should be reserved for a husband’s eyes only. This ensures that much attention is drawn attention to a woman’s body as well. One cannot easily imagine that many men focus on a woman’s heart when she stands before him in a small, tight, brightly colored bikini. So why do so many Christian women still feel free to wear them?


One of my main frustrations when discussing the issue of modesty is the implicit belief that no clothing is immodest—that immodesty is cultural, and our culture (whatever culture it might be) accepts all clothing and so we can too. With this comes an implicit denial of the truth of God’s Word, of course. For God commands women to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9-10). If God asks women to dress modestly, it implies that there is such thing as immodest dress (else no command would be necessary). Among modern dress, what could possibly be less modest than a two-piece or bikini (or even many one-piece suits)? Does anything reveal as much of a woman’s body?[1] Why then are we so uncommitted, so unwilling to take a clear stand for Christ against the tide of sin and the world?


If women are committed to honoring God by the way they dress, they will have to be radically anti-culture (even blasé church culture) when dressing for the beach or pool. Nothing should change in our desire to obey God absolutely because the weather is hot or people around us are particularly anti-God in their clothing. Of course, one might well ask if Christian women tend to dress more modestly than other women at the beach (or anywhere, really). In my experience, the answer is no. This right here should give us pause and cause us to renew our commitment to honoring God. Anytime a Christian’s life is indistinguishable from his or her unregenerate neighbor’s, immediate reflection, and probably repentance, is necessary.


Where might this reflection and repentance lead us at the beach? When choosing a swimsuit, I would recommend the following principles[2]:

  1. Your cleavage should not be visible at any point. Your swimsuit must be cut high (with no plunging necklines).
  2. Care must be taken that the outer layer of your suit is not too tight around the chest.
  3. No midriff should be visible, even when raising your arms.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, your bikini area should be covered (as this is the most attractive part of a woman to most men): women must wear a skirt or shorts with the suit, even while in the pool.

I would say the easiest way to ensure modesty at the beach or pool is to wear a t-shirt or modest tank top (taking care that it won’t be see-through when wet) and reasonably long shorts over your suit, given how difficult it can be to find a truly modest swimsuit in this present darkness.[3]


God has called us to holiness because he longs for us to experience the fullness of life he has to offer (cf. John 10:10). Modesty involves neither cost nor sacrifice, only faith that God’s standards for our lives will always bring us greater joy and satisfaction than we could ever know through disobedience. Especially for those women who struggle with body-image, with a sense of your worth and beauty in Christ Jesus, modesty is a strident declaration that you will not listen to the enemy’s lies any longer. You are Christ’s, you are loved, you are beautiful. Let your dress proclaim this good news to a watching, desperate world.

[1] I will grant there might be a few articles of clothing less modest than these, but they simply prove the point.

[2] See yesterday’s footnote for a response to the charge of legalism.

[3] There are, thankfully, some exceptions. This website has many modest swimsuits available (assuming you purchase the accompanying skirt).

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