‘Is showing off your body a sin?’

is showing off your body a sin

When I first saw that question – “Is showing off your body a sin?” – I did a double-take. My immediate response was, “In what circumstances would you ask such a question?”

Take, for example, the Garden of Eden – the Creation story account for the Christian faith. The Bible clearly tells us that the first humans, Adam and Eve, were naked (uh…yes, definitely showing off their bodies right there!) and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25).

If we were to go just by this one verse and not study the context, we could definitely make a great case for claiming that the Bible says, “Showing off our bodies is not a sin.”

Except that sin hadn’t entered the world yet…

What is ‘sin’ exactly?

I’m a great fan of defining words and describing what I mean by them – especially in a post-Christian culture where people may have only a vague idea of Christianity and Christian-sounding words, such as sin.

The Hebrew word for sinning means “missing the mark” (see this website for a more detailed explanation). Christians believe that Adam and Eve sinned, or missed the mark, when they ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden after God told them not to eat from that tree (Genesis 2:16-17).

challenges to Christian sex education

From that point onward, Christians believe, all of humanity entered under a curse – once that forbidden fruit was eaten, humanity was subjected to death (Genesis 2:17). We still see the consequences of that original sin to this day.

In Adam and Eve’s case, their sin was deliberate – they knew the instruction and chose to disobey. But the Bible is also clear that some sins, or missed marks, are accidental and just part of the sin-warped world that we now live in. (The trespass and guilt offerings mentioned in Leviticus are good examples.)

Here’s the important point I want to make. Some sins are intentional, and others are not. We can sin and not even know it. For example, I may step onto private property (thinking that it’s just a public roadway to somewhere and I’ve gotten lost) and “trespass” on another person’s property, but I may not have known that the property belonged to someone.

For that reason, I probably should not be punished to the same extent as a robber or murderer who intentionally steps onto private property to steal from, or kill, the property’s owner. But I have still trespassed, nevertheless.

So who owns your body?

At this point, now you may be doing the double-take. Seems obvious, right? It’s your body, so you own it.

Except … what if it isn’t?

If Christians are coming from the viewpoint that a Creator God created the universe, including the first humans, then it’s understandable to conclude that Christians also believe that all of us (ultimately) belong to the Creator. He is the Creator; we are the created.

He created our bodies, but He made us stewards of them. Ultimately, our bodies belong to Him as well.

That is precisely what we find in the Bible, spelled out to Christians by the apostle Paul:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV

‘My Body, His Temple’

How does this play out practically? It means when we show off our bodies, we’re not just showing off things that belong to us … we’re showing off things that belong to God. In other words, we are stewards of the bodies that He has “loaned” to us, temporarily, for the time that we’re on planet Earth.

Bible on sex education

Recently I stumbled across a Facebook group thread where one mom was expressing outrage that some man asked her to change out the two-piece swimsuit that her little girl was wearing because “it showed a lot of skin.” (The man was apparently someone in authority where the little girl was taking swim lessons, or something like that.) Meanwhile, little boys were allowed to wear only a pair of swim shorts, no questions asked.

In both cases, she said, a large amount of skin was being exposed. Why should her girl be treated any differently from the boy? Wasn’t this unfair and unjust?

At some level, I agree that it is inequitable to treat the two cases differently. Yes, if we were to take a measuring stick and calculate the “amount of skin” surface area that these little kiddos were exposing, we’d find a huge discrepancy in what was allowed for the boy and what was allowed for the girl.

But being a mom myself, my concern is that the little girl in this case is being brought up to believe that she’s somehow being victimized, or unfairly treated, by not being allowed to show a lot of skin. (I believe it’s never too early to start your child’s sex education, by the way.)

Throughout many cultures in the world and for most historical ages – for better or worse – the more skin you showed as a woman, the cheaper you saw yourself.

Queens didn’t go around sporting bikinis at coronation ceremonies (if they were even allowed to be queens), or wearing only the skimpiest of outfits. Revealing outfits, low-cut tops, and clothing rags tended to appear only among prostitutes or peasants.

If I see my body as God’s handiwork that is on loan to me, then it’s only right that I should take protective measures to keep my body safe, secure, and valued. And yes – in a sin-warped world that no longer has just two humans living together in perfect wedded bliss, those protective measures include clothing.

Sexual body signals

Furthermore, a different standard exists between boys and girls in attire. I don’t hear as many stories of people being sexually “turned on” by a boy in shorts as I do of people being sexually “turned on” by a girl in a bikini.

As girls, we can see the inequity of having to cover more of our bodies (and more often) than guys have to cover theirs. But did you also know:

  • “The majority of individuals identified as trafficked for both labor and commercial sex are women and girls (U.S. Department of State, 2006)”?
  • “Trafficked women and girls encounter high rates of physical and sexual violence, including homicide and torture, psychological abuse, horrific work and living conditions, and extreme deprivation while in transit”?
  • “Physical symptoms among trafficking victims include neurological issues, gastrointestinal disturbances, respiratory distress, chronic pain, sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV), uro-genital problems, dental problems, fractures and traumatic brain injuries”?

More info: https://www.apa.org/advocacy/interpersonal-violence/trafficking-women-girls

Please hear me: In no way am I advocating a “blame the victim” mentality that excuses criminals by saying “she was asking for it” or “her clothes (or lack of them) turned me on.” Such arguments make me feel physically sick. But I am making the point that women and girls are disproportionately more at risk for sex trafficking.

Is that fair? Is that equitable? No. But unfortunately, it is the sad reality of the world we live in. And knowing that makes me even more determined to protect children (especially girls!) by making sure their clothes are not sending the signal that “I’m sexually available.”

Consequence does not equal culpability

Hopefully two analogies will help here.

The first analogy is going to be my house. Whenever I’m leaving my house, I lock my front door.

Why? It’s not because I think that the vast majority of law-abiding, morally upright citizens are going to come rob me.

No, I lock my front door because I don’t want the (hopefully) tiny minority of criminals out there to think that my house is an easy target.

body as a locked door

In a perfect world, I think we would all agree, there would be no need for locked front doors. We would all live together in perfect harmony and unison, with mutual respect for one another.

Unfortunately, that world has not arrived yet, and in the meantime, I’ll continue locking my front door.

Now, let’s say that I lock my front door every night and I still get robbed. It happens. We can try our best to reduce the risk, but sometimes our best fails and we still have to deal with the challenges that life throws at us.

However, let’s take a different scenario. Let’s say I willfully choose not to lock my front door because “I don’t want to believe the worst of people.” Now if I get robbed, it’s certainly not my “fault” in the sense that I didn’t do the actual robbing. In that sense, I’m not culpable.

But in another sense, my inaction or failure to lock the front door could have led to the consequence that of all the houses in the neighborhood that the robbers chose, they chose mine because it was less protected than the others. In that sense, a consequence of my action was that I got robbed.

Now compared to my life, my house is a lot less valuable. You can come burn my house and all my belongings to the ground, and though it will hurt, it will be a lot less problematic to me than if you take my life. How much more, then, should I be willing to protect my body than my house?

The second analogy is going to be about food (because I’m a foodie). Say I’ve gone on a diet, and for the next two weeks I’ve committed not to eat cheesecake. Augh … perish the thought!

Anyway, during those agonizing two weeks, the last place I will want to see or hear about is The Cheesecake Factory (or any other place that sells cheesecakes).

Is this the fault of cheesecakes? No, absolutely not. They are perfectly delicious, exquisite wonders that bring me happiness just to think about them.

In the same way, whenever a woman dresses seductively, the odds are high that most men will be visually stimulated by that imagery. (This Emory University study explains in more detail.)

Now (just like my cheesecake scenario) automatically seeing a cheesecake during my 14-day diet doesn’t mean it’s the fault of the cheesecake. I certainly have a responsibility to keep my commitment and not eat any cheesecake during that time.

But it’s certainly not going to help my dietary commitment to keep thinking and dreaming of cheesecake, and poring over cheesecake pictures on the Internet, and putting myself into compromising situations where all of my friends are eating at a “cheesecake sampling celebration” and inviting me to join them.

In other words, my choice to fixate on cheesecakes (when I can’t and shouldn’t eat them) carry consequences that aren’t helping me keep my commitment.

Now let’s go one step further. I’m already in a vulnerable spot by choosing to skip cheesecake for a fortnight. What would you think of friends who knew I was trying to skip cheesecake and yet still invited me to cheesecake sampling parties, sent me boxes of cheesecakes as gifts, talked to me all day long about cheesecakes, etc.?

As women, we can honor our Christian brothers by choosing clothes that won’t cause extra visual stimulation for them (and also objectify ourselves in the process).

I don’t think of this as something to be angry about, or demand equality in. I also don’t think of this as demeaning to women. In fact, I feel empowered to know that others who advocate for modesty are recognizing my body for what it truly is – God’s priceless gift for me to steward and protect.

Now, does this mean that other people should dictate to me what “modesty” means? Or tell me what types of clothes are modest and which aren’t? No – I don’t approve of laws where women are required to wear certain clothes or head coverings, regardless of their own personal beliefs.

Like many things in life, my “rights” and “responsibilities” overlap in ways that can be extremely challenging to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. For example, I need to balance the “right” to wear anything I like against the “responsibility” to steward my body as a temple for the living God. Ultimately, I answer to God and not to other humans for the stewardship of my body.

Perhaps Paul explains it best:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

1 Corinthians 6:12-13, NIV

Conclusion

It’s not always a sin to show off one’s body. In marriage you can look forward to glorious times when showing off your body to your spouse is not only appropriate, but also the most righteous of acts!

After all, your body is their body, and their body is your body, right?! (See more about the “one flesh” Christian concept here.)

At the same time, showing off your body to people who aren’t your spouse can be sinful under certain circumstances. Consider again the scenario of someone intentionally dressing to seduce others (which, by the way, is mentioned in the Bible: Proverbs 7:10).

I sometimes think of these questions like these (“Is showing off your body a sin?”) as gotcha questions that the Pharisees and others tried to trap Jesus with.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

They knew that saying yes to such a question wouldn’t be popular with the people, but saying no could get Jesus in trouble with the Roman authorities.

Jesus, however, didn’t fall for their trap. Instead, He responded: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:20-26, NIV).

I wonder what Jesus’ response would have been if someone had asked Him, “Is showing off your body a sin?”

Perhaps He may have responded with something like,

“At what point did you start considering it your body and not God’s gift for you to steward?”

By Shanxi

Providing the foundation for healthy, lively & even fun (gasp!) discussions of human sexuality from a Biblical perspective. Sex education made simple. Started by homeschool families, for homeschool families.

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