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Before I was born my parents started following the teaching of Bill Gothard and IBLP, and when I was 5, they joined ATI (Advanced Training Institute), the homeschool program that Gothard developed for the families of his Basic and Advanced Seminars.
Gothard emphasized “principles” which simply meant there were many different rules that dictated specific activities in my life. My parents controlled what music we listened to, movies we watched (none), things we ate and drank (no alcohol or anything Biblically ‘unclean’) and the clothing our family wore (specifically the women).
I didn’t choose this life. I was born into it (like your own children are born into the life you chose for them). For me, this life was completely normal, and the world around me was different and labeled “bad.”
Until I was about 5, my childhood pictures show me wearing “normal” clothes, meaning that I resembled any other average American child. After that, I wore a lot of dresses and skirts, even for situations where they may have been less than appropriate for the occasion. I remember wearing skirts over my pants to play in the snow (I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area), to hike mountains, and to play games at AWANA. In my teenage years, my mom started telling me what I could and couldn’t wear based on my body. Skirts had to be below my knees, shirts must have high necklines so as not to show that I had breasts. Nothing could be worn that “hugged” my body or showed the shape of my body. My mom would tell me to change if things were too tight or low. Accessories like earrings and nail polish were restricted or banned. The list of things I could not wear was a long one.
My parents were essentially taught by Gothard that we were to be under their control (cleverly disguised as the word “authority”) and this extended to my clothing choices. My mom was telling me what to wear into my 20’s.
It’s hard for me to describe step by step the damage and pain that the word ‘modesty’ caused because it is so subtle. It also goes deep because it’s sexual and at the center of the shame in my story is my sexuality.
I was told that if a man looked at my body and lusted that it was because I had worn clothing that was “defrauding.” This may sound crazy but I took this very seriously. I didn’t want to cause my “brothers” to stumble. The (false) guilt was ingrained and strong; I remember calling men and apologizing for what I wore around them.
I felt responsible for 1/2 the population of earth to not look at me and think “sexy.” I’m one of those women who can’t hide the fact that I’m a female, but I tried.
Modesty and sexuality are so connected. The little girl in me craved to be told she was pretty. But pretty drew attention…. breasts drew attention… tight clothes drew attention. Pretty was bad. It was far better to be plain-faced and “humble” than to brush my hair, put on make-up, and clothes that fit me well.
Gradually, over the years, I faced and put a name to my shame. I’ve let go of the responsibility of men’s sexual thoughts. Now I’m secure that my body (and all its femaleness) is not what causes lust.
Men are responsible before God for their thoughts and actions. Girls never should be told to dress according to what a man will think of her or her choice of clothes. The clothing a woman wears should not define who she is.
My rules for clothing now are “is it appropriate for the occasion and is it comfortable?” I plan to teach my future daughter that her body is created by God. She is beautiful and lovely, and should treat her body with care and love.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
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