Christian singer and songwriter Matthew West has said that the purpose of his new music video, “Modest is Hottest,” is to remind his daughters that their value does not depend on their outward appearance. However, many see the song as perpetuating damaging purity culture messages that shame women for men’s lust.
“My daughter’s [sic] might actually disown me after this one, “ West joked on Twitter. “It’s for all of the fathers out there whose daughters are joining TikTok and starting to date. The struggle is real.”
West described the song as a “light-hearted take on an age-old struggle” and added: “As a dad raising daughters, this song is my ridiculously silly way of reminding them that their appearance doesn’t define them. While the world might focus on the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart. Regardless, they are beautiful inside and out! (Even in turtlenecks).”
Matthew West’s ‘Modest Is Hottest’
Matthew West’s video, which features West, his wife, and his two daughters is clearly intended to be cheesy and over-the-top. But it is not a satire.
West opens the song telling his daughters that he has tried to raise them well. But now “the boys are coming round ’cause you’re beautiful,” so he wants to give them some advice about the clothes that they’re wearing. The lyrics say:
Modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad
If I catch you doing dances on TikTok
In a crop top, so help me God
You’ll be grounded till the world stops
I’m just kidding, no I’m not
The song seems to come from Matthew West’s genuine anxieties as a father over his daughters as they are growing up. He wants them to make good decisions about how they dress, so he decided to make a tongue-in-cheek song about his concerns. Many of the people who reacted to the video on Facebook took it that way.
“This is a sweet song and video,” said one. “It [is] hard for amazing fathers to see their little girls grow up. Keep pouring the values and God’s word into them.” Said another, “You deliver hilarious and creative lyrics with a heart behind them. Love watching your whole family having fun in this video. Great job again!”
However, other Facebook users were troubled by the song. One woman said, “Since we’re teaching girls about dressing modestly and I believe it’s important to teach them to ask themselves the question but isn’t it just as important to teach the boys as well….just a thought.”
“I am disgusted by this song and this ‘artist,’” said another, “and feel horrible for his daughters to have to grow up being told that what they wear defines them and that what they wear is responsible for the actions of the males around them. This is the type of man who claims a women [sic] was ‘asking’ to be raped because of what she was wearing.”
Another pointed out the song’s ties to purity culture: “Purity culture has messed up a bunch of us so maybe this is a little tone deaf.”
“Purity culture,” or the “purity movement,” refers to an evangelical movement that took place in the 90s and was exemplified by organizations like True Love Waits and books like Joshua Harris’s “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” The movement was a reaction against the sexual revolution and the lack of sexual parameters in the decades that followed. In many ways, what the purity movement set out to do was commendable. However, the messages purity culture promoted about sex, marriage, and singleness were misleading and even damaging to many people.
One critique of purity culture is that it overemphasized men’s struggle with lust and the importance of female modesty, downplaying or ignoring the fact that women also struggle with lust and that men can be immodest. It has been common for women in the church to hear that they should be cautious about how they dress so that they do not “cause their brother to stumble” (Romans 14). Numerous women who have grown up in the church have experienced being shamed for how their attire.
There are several false assumptions at play here, one of which is the idea that men have no power to overcome the temptation to lust after women. That contradicts multiple Scripture passages about the power the Holy Spirit gives all believers to overcome sin.
Another problem with this view that Phylicia Masonheimer points out in her podcast episode, “Modesty & the Real Weaker ‘Brother,’” is that it assumes the man is always the weaker brother and the woman is always stronger. In reality, says Masonheimer, there could be a situation where a woman is dressing immodestly because she is the “weaker brother.” The men around her who are mature believers then have the opportunity to show her grace and “accept the one whose faith is weak.”
Quite a few people believe Matthew West’s music video perpetuates these false ideas about men and women. One woman wrote on Twitter, “Want to know why people are so upset about that stupid Matthew West video? I grew up in that culture. Let me tell you about all the shame I still carry. Let me tell you about every time I’ve second guessed what I put on to go to the grocery store.”
“Stop telling women to dress modestly and instead tell men to keep their eyes and hands to themselves,” said another user who quoted Jesus’ warnings against lust in the Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon, Jesus focuses on the responsibility that those who are lusting have to take extreme measures to resist their sin.
“I have loved your music for a long time,” said another person who reiterated the same scriptural argument. “This song is wrong on so many levels. Jesus didn’t tell women how to dress. He told men to pluck out their eye if it caused them to sin. Very disappointed.”
Others pointed out that the phrase “modest is hottest” actually does not put the focus on women’s inner value, but still defines women’s worth entirely on physical appearance.
Another user observed that men will struggle with lust even when women dress modestly: “Dude, I hate to break this to you but guys will perv on your daughters even if they are in a potato sack. THEY aren’t responsible for how men treat them. Teach them self-respect.”
Christian author Sheila Gregoire tweeted, “The ‘age-old struggle’ is actually women feeling responsible for men’s sins. I know many think this is cute and fun, but obsessing over girls’ bodies without making reference to boys’ responsibility is part of the problem. Let’s raise girls (and boys) in a healthy way instead.”