Not too long ago the headlines read “Victoria’s Secret to Target Tweens.” There has been a wave of response to this story. The majority of folks have voiced protest over the controversial direction Victoria’s Secret is taking by targeting a younger demographic. We have seen this tactic used in countless campaigns including tobacco and movies. Reel in the younger audience and they are yours for life. It is effective. It works. I do not have a bone to pick with the marketing plan. It is simple and it makes money.
Maybe I am a bit naive but I really do not envision the marketing team sitting around the table discussing ways they can sexualize little girls or how they can have a part to play in the human trafficking horrors we see these days. I believe they are just in it for the profit. And that’s okay. That is what business is – a money making venture.
But, I digress…
Our fears and faintings
While I am in complete agreement with the need to train up our children and set good examples for them to follow, I continually have to stop myself and ask these basic questions; How does the gospel inform this situation, and how does the gospel empower us to live in light of what Jesus has done for us?
Our fears are real – they are based on what we have seen in our homes, schools, and communities. We make the connection between negative cultural influences and the demise of our children. We worry and wring our hands telling ourselves if we could just boycott that company, things would be better. Or, if we could just get our kids to dress a certain way or go to a certain school everything will turn out fine. The problem comes in when we attribute everything bad to what is happening “out there.” We conclude that the solution to our trouble is to stay “in here.” It is safe in here. It is a controlled environment. Everyone is accounted for and unharmed.
In his profound film The Village, director M. Night Shyamalan brilliantly captures this truth. Fear has driven this community inside, believing that all of their problems are on the outside. Like The Village, we can easily come to the same conclusion. We are afraid of “out there.” We are alarmed. We feel out of control. The only way to calm our fears and gain a foothold is to do something. Anything. We mount offensives and attacks, and all the while, we are aiming at the wrong problem.
While there is absolutely no question that we live in a sexualized culture, I am not entirely convinced it is any worse than in years gone by. We have a tendency to romanticize history. If we continue to point to all the problems out there (all the while ignoring the problems in our own hearts) we will completely miss the point. Our children will grow up to believe the lie that the world is bad and they are good. The truth is, the world is fallen and they are too.
Arguments, exhortations and solutions
Some of the arguments and exhortations go like this: The exploitation of women is rampant and this is another nail in that coffin by targeting young women. This is a slippery slope to the sexualization of our young kids. Keep fighting and being offended and stand up to Victoria’s Secret.
These arguments are attractive because they give us something to do and a target to aim for, but they are of no help in targeting our children’s hearts. One popularly offered solution is to read Romans 12:1-2 with your child and discuss the clothing they need to sacrifice; to tell your daughter that she is valuable and her worth isn’t based on her appearance, and work with her to make a “modesty checklist” to tape inside her closet door.
Reading scripture with your child is a good thing. Validating his or her worth is vital. Helping them to make wise choices is right. However, there is no power in a checklist.
Affirmations of value and modesty checklists cannot protect our children. While they may say with their mouths that they believe what we are telling them, their hearts are attached to the opinions of their friends. These arguments and exhortations miss the point because the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.
If we, as Christians, believe the Bible, then we believe what it says about God and about us. God is holy, perfect and just. We are not. No one is righteous and the heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it? That is why Christ died – to live the perfect life we could not and to save us from our sins. These truths inform our lives and we can now make decisions based on what God says, not the world. Now I can begin to understand why I believe the problem is “out there.” My heart is deceitful. The problem is my own selfish and prideful heart that deceives me at every opportunity. I am not downplaying problems in our world – we suffer at the hands of this fallen world and the devil is on the prowl. However, if we believe there is a monster behind every rock waiting to ambush us we will completely miss the point of the Bible – God came down to rescue sinners – that is, us.
A liberating truth
To the question at hand “Will longer skirts protect our daughters?” the obvious answer is no – of course this is a rhetorical question. However, we operate like this in a thousand subtle ways. There is an awful lot of conversation taking place about modesty, especially as summer approaches. I have been guilty of it as well as I recall telling my teen son he had to leave his t-shirt on at the beach.
Only Jesus and the freedom he died to bring us can set us free from trying to save our children. Our endless self-salvation projects are exhausting, aren’t they? Our countless conversations with our children about their clothing, their music, their friends, their purity – they are all ways we as parents count on to save them! Meanwhile, we have left out the only answer to their deepest desire and their strongest need – to be known in the midst of their sin and to be loved by the Savior of the world. When (not if) they fall, their longer skirts will not protect them. And, their “right” choices in clothing or music won’t save them either. The question is not “What should they be wearing this summer?” The question is, “Do they know the Savior who comes to them in the midst of all their clothing decisions?”
When our children begin to realize this world is not perfect and neither are they, when things begin to fall apart (and they will) in their safe and protected world, they do not need another lecture on purity and modesty. They need to know the Rescuer who sees them and loves them in the midst of their self-righteous goodness and their licentious badness. They need to know the love of Christ for them, the One who lived perfectly for them because they never would and never could do it on their own. Their only hope for a rescue is my only hope and yours too – Jesus, the rescue for sinners.
Lori Harding is the Director of Care Ministries and Women’s Support at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, as well as a small group leader and Bible study teacher. Email Lori firstname.lastname@example.org.