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Prom dress modesty raises deeper issues
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In all the controversy over appropriate prom attire, are we missing the chance to teach kids about true modesty? - photo by Erin Stewart
Another prom dress modesty tussle was in the news recently as a Catholic high school in Pennsylvania is requiring students to get preapproval on their prom dresses by sending front and back photos to an administrator before buying dance tickets. The dress code bans gowns that are extremely short, have an extremely low-cut front or back, have any excessively high-cut slits, have overly revealing midriffs or be inappropriately revealing giving the illusion of nudity.

No doubt school leaders are trying to avoid the type of situation that occurred at Stansbury High School in Utah, where school administrators came under fire for sending students away from the school dance because their clothes did not meet dress code standards.

Parents came out in droves on both sides of the issue. Many said the guidelines were arbitrary and were applied unfairly, while others said students should be held accountable to the schools policy.

Every time one of these stories hits the media, I cant help but feel there is a piece missing in all of these discussions. Everyone is so focused on rules and the what of modesty that there seems to be little thought about the why.

Perhaps instead of mandating modesty only when prom time rolls around, school leaders could have an ongoing discussion with students about modesty. And then, just maybe, students could be trusted to make their own decisions about the image they want to project.

I know thats idealistic, but enforcing arbitrary rules and shaming students in front of their peers is never going to teach teenagers about true modesty. In the end, clothing is an outward expression of an inward sense of self. What may look and feel modest to one person may feel immodest to another, and the only person who can judge that is the person putting on the clothes.

Far more important than how thick straps should be or what constitutes booty shorts is that girls learn in their early years that self-worth is not based on the amount of cleavage or skin they can show. Self-worth comes from loving and respecting who you are.

This kind of self-image starts early with the way Dad treats women and the way Mom treats herself. Does Mom constantly obsess over her looks? Do Dads eyes drift to women who show more skin? Is self-esteem based on appearance rather than personality?

For my own daughters, I hope I instill this sense of modesty that is based on a healthy dose of respect and gratitude for the bodies they have been given. Will I go to war with them over a tank top? I hope not.

But I also hope that my mothering has been enough that when we get to those kinds of decisions, the conversation isnt a list of rules of can and cant wear. Instead, I hope the conversation is about what makes them feel like they are showing respect for themselves and gratitude toward their Maker for their amazing bodies that can do so much more than attract attention.