They Do Exist.

Your Body Is Never The Problem

Editor’s Note: Modesty and lust are heated topics within our community, and we are tackling them full-on. Over the next few months we will be working towards debunking the “modesty myth” of our traditional conservative backgrounds and looking at what the Bible actually says, what women are really “responsible” for, and what freedom looks like. Today’s post is by Hugo Schwyzer, Ph.D. He’s a professor, author, speaker, father and husband – and Jesus lover. He teaches college courses on women’s history, men and masculinity, body and beauty, and more. We love him for his commitment to remind us of the strength of both men and women. He blogs at and tweets at @hugoschwyzer. – Lauren

A few years ago, I read a blogpost in which an adult woman named Rachel recalled that when she was a teenager, she struggled to find a way to dress that would keep “creepy older men” from hitting on her while still attracting guys her own age. As a male youth leader for many years, I was often asked a similar question. Here’s the response I wrote, addressed to the 16 year-old Rachel – and all the young women like her.

Dear Rachel,

I wish that I could offer you specific fashion tips that would guarantee that creepy older guys wouldn’t hit on you. For that matter, I wish I could share with you how to dress in a manner that would assure that your peers wouldn’t frequently judge you, either to your face or behind your back. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to ensure those things — because the sad truth is that no matter how you dress, no matter what you wear, you will be perceived by some men as a target for their unwanted advances.

You may have heard people say things like “girls who wear short skirts are asking for ‘it’”. By “it” they may mean anything from rape to crude comments and penetrating stares. But as you may already have noticed, girls aren’t immune from harassment when they’re wearing simple or “modest” garb either. I’ve had plenty of students who’ve been accosted while wearing sweatpants or long dresses. I’ve had Muslim students who chose to wear head coverings, and they’ve been harassed both religiously and sexually. The bottom line is that there’s nothing you can wear that will guarantee respect from others. And the reason is that the root of this problem isn’t skin or clothing, it’s our cultural contempt for women and girls.

Have you noticed the way this works yet? If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and — especially — if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone.

The advice I’m going to give may sound clichéd, but it’s important nonetheless: you should dress in a style that makes you comfortable.

Comfort, of course, has many dimensions. There’s physical comfort to consider. A fashion choice that leaves you sweating and itchy on a hot day, or shivering on a cold one, is by definition uncomfortable. When the weather’s warm, wearing more revealing clothing is often as much a matter of comfort rather than style.

Of course, there’s a psychological aspect to comfort, too. The more revealing your clothing (regardless of your reasons for wearing it), the more of your body others can see. It’s important to be honest with yourself about how that makes you feel. Different people have different levels of comfort with having their bodies noticed. That’s a normal variation, and the key thing is to be aware where you are on the spectrum. If your peers or parents urge you to dress in a style that leaves you feeling vulnerable and uncomfortably exposed, you have a right to push back against them. The reverse is true, too.

It’s important too to note that however much skin you are revealing, you are never responsible for another person’s inappropriate behavior. Save for the blind, we are all visual people. We notice each other. There is no right not to be seen. But there is a right not to be stared at with a penetrating gaze of the sort that makes you feel deeply uncomfortable. While it may seem that you get those leers more often when you’re showing more skin, you’ve probably noticed that you get those creepy stares at other times as well. And the key thing you need to know is that men can control their eyes — they really can — and women can control their judgment. Your body is not so powerful that it can drive others to distraction. (And yes, if we’re honest, sometimes we wish that our bodies were that powerful, particularly if it meant drawing the attention of someone to whom we are attracted!) If some men choose to be distracted by you, that is their choice, a decision for which they (not you) are solely responsible. No matter what anyone tells you, you need to remember that.

It is not inconsistent to want to be seen and not be stared at. You know the difference, I suspect, between an “appreciative look” (which can feel very validating) and the “penetrating stare” that leaves you feeling like crawling into a hole. While people are not required to give you the former, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to avoid giving you the latter. It’s also not unreasonable to want guys your age to be interested in you, and want the creepy old ones to leave you alone. Remember, it’s not hypocrisy or naiveté on your part to dress in a way that you hope will get you that positive attention you want without also bringing the negative attention you fear and loathe.

Sometimes, of course, we need other people’s insight and advice. There are little fashion rules that it can be helpful to know (even if only for the sake of breaking them, like the old one about not mixing browns and blacks, or not wearing dark-colored bras under light-colored tops.) Friends and family members may have suggestions for what colors or styles are most flattering to you, and sometimes those suggestions may be helpful. I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t listen to those tips. But I want you to know there’s a world of difference between saying “you know, I think lime green isn’t really your color” and saying “you shouldn’t wear short skirts, because then men will think you’re easy.” The former bit of advice is rooted in an aesthetic truth (aesthetics is a fancy term for the study of what is beautiful or good), the latter in an anxiety that is based on a false assumption about male weakness.

It’s okay to ask, when headed to a new school or a workplace or a party, about the dress code. Few of us want to stand out as totally different from everyone else. Most of us can figure out that what you wear to a birthday party at the water park is different from what you would wear to a funeral service in a church. Dressing for the occasion is part of living in a community with others. But that standard should still have room for a lot of flexibility. A bikini is probably not appropriate at Thanksgiving dinner (unless you’re poolside), but when it comes, say, to school, don’t let anyone tell you that can’t dress up (or down) depending on how you feel.

Here’s a key point: As a father and a teacher and a youth leader and a feminist man who has been around a while (and worked with thousands of young people), I want you to know that while not all men are safe and trustworthy, men’s bad behavior is never, ever, ever, ever, ever “your” fault. Your miniskirt doesn’t cause guys (of any age) to do anything they don’t choose to do (no matter what they say to the contrary). It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men.

Lastly, let me say that finding your own style is an adventure. It involves a lot of trial, and some not infrequent errors. I promise you, ten or twenty years from now you’ll look at photos of yourself at 16, roll your eyes, and say “What was I wearing? What made me think that looked good?” Despite what some folks tell you, these are not the best years of your life. Not even close. And in terms of your style and your beauty, you aren’t anywhere near your peak. I say that not to belittle you, but to reassure you that you don’t have to get it right yet. You have much more time than you think.

All the very best,


Comment Policy: For many of us “raised Christian,” this may rub you the wrong way. We recommend doing some additional reading before you get too flustered: Calling Bullshit On Religious Misogyny, How Modesty Made Me Fat (& her followup: A Response), How The Myth Of Male Weakness Turns Women Against Each Other and Modesty, Lust & Emotional Rape. If you wish to disagree, please do so constructively and respectfully.

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140 Responses

  1. leeleegirl4

    Thank you. This post is incredibly amazing. I absolutely love it.

    March 12, 2012 at 7:53 am

  2. This is a great post, team. I think we can all agree that "modesty" conversations in the church largely have resembled "shut slaming" more than "care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ." Do you think there is room for feminists and Christians to discuss this issue further?

    March 12, 2012 at 8:34 am

  3. uhm, WOW. i have no words.

    especially since this was written by a guy,

    ” It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men.”


    March 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

  4. Oh, how the Christian world needed this! Wonderful post!

    March 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

  5. Sarah

    Thank you! So much!

    March 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

  6. flygirljc

    I THINK THIS ARTICLE IS TOTALLY UPSIDE DOWN – TELL THIS TO THE GIRLS/WOMEN IN THE WINDOWS IN AMSTERDAM IN THE REDLIGHT DISTRICT: "Your body is not so powerful that it can drive others to distraction. (And yes, if we’re honest, sometimes we wish that our bodies were that powerful, particularly if it meant drawing the attention of someone to whom we are attracted!) If some men choose to be distracted by you, that is their choice, a decision for which they (not you) are solely responsible. No matter what anyone tells you, you need to remember that." IF A NAKED WOMAN'S BODY IS NOT THAT POWERFUL THEN WHY DOES A TRAFFICKER STICK HER IN A WINDOW NUDE TO MAKE MONEY – SOMEONE NEED TO WAKE UP & SMELL THE COFFEE ON THIS ONE FOR SURE…

    March 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

  7. Jamie

    I definitely do not agree. I think it is our job as christians to help one another not to sin. Many, many girls know that if they put on those short shorts today, no matter how comfortable they feel, that choice is probably going to make their christian brothers stumble. What about 1cor 8:13 or romans 14:13? They both say that if you know what you do will make another stumble, don't do it. Ladies should be walking around with their boobs and butt hanging out of their clothing because that it is not modesty, what we are called to, and it will make another guy look at you in a way that is not pleasing to God, which we should not do! Yes, we do not force their minds to go there, but if we know it will be a strong possibility if we put on that certain dress, then we should put others first and choose to wear something that won't have that result. In part, it is our job to help our christian brothers out and choose not to wear things that could make them falter.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm

  8. Sal

    And on the note of Muslims, when a woman from a very conservative Muslim family is raped, not only is there no doubt in her family’s mind that it was her fault, that she did something to provoke it – even if she’s wearing a burqa (covering the full body inculding the face), she has also caused shame and dishonor on her family and thus should pay the consequence to bring honor back to her family- which can mean being murdered by her own family.
    I’m so incredibly thankful that I wasn’t born/raised in that kind of society.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

  9. Jamie

    You know, you are right. If guys know that their body is going to make girls stumble, they should wear a teeshirt. And if your tank top doesn't show anything, then there wouldn't be a problem, would there?

    March 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

  10. Emelina

    I think a huge problem we have is that many people, especially Christians, have confused normal biological sexual attraction with lust/sin. God created you to desire another person for affection, intimacy, and attraction! Being attracted to someone is NOT lust. Lust is the dehumanizing of another person in your own heart. It is a ritual taking, obsessing, and using someone else for your own benefit rather than valuing that person as an equal image-bearer of God. Lust can certainly have a sexual component, but when we reduce it merely to sexual reactions, we miss out on God's bigger heart for all people: infinite value.

    When Jesus said "if you even look at a woman with lust…" he wasn't downplaying a physical sexual response, he was lifting up the value of women and men! Lust has nothing to do with modesty. Dressing modestly will NEVER remove lust from the heart of another person. Only Jesus can do that through the working of the Holy Spirit in each individual. You can't change anyone and you're only responsible for taking your own heart to Jesus for him to deal with. Talk to Jesus about your own lust, talk to a trusted mentor about how to distinguish practices of lust from good sexual attraction, and talk to other men and women about positive boundaries for living fully in Christ's freedom!

    Thank you so much, Hugo, for reminding me that I don't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Jesus did that. So I get to dress for fun, for comfort, for beauty, and for life!!

    March 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm

  11. Remember that when we're talking about food, we're talking about what people ate together at a communal meal. It's about not causing disruption at the dinner table. But Paul is not talking about worrying about what strangers on the street see you eating. When it comes to how you dress for a family dinner, you should take into account your family's expectations. When it comes to how you dress on a hot summer day in public space, you're not responsible in the same way for other's reactions.

    More specifically, this passage from Romans was written at a time of intense debate about whether the kosher laws still applied; Christians were deeply divided. It was a "salvation issue." It's not really as universal a passage as we imagine.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

  12. I am going to respectfully disagree with this.

    I was raised in the "Christian modesty" tradition, and I fervently disagree with that too. It disturbs me to see pictures of women from my parents' friends' families dressed in tent-like skirts and long sleeves.

    However, it is simply not true to say that how we dress has no effect on others, and a woman dressing in a particular way does not signal her sexual availability.

    I do street outreach to sex workers. They dress in a manner which is obviously intended to convey their profession.

    I see girls out clubbing on weekend nights, who frankly are dressed just as revealingly as those sex workers, or more so.

    Yes, men are responsible for their actions. No, sexual assault or harassment is NEVER ok or permissible. But it's disingenuous to say or suggest that how women dress has no effect, or that there is no such thing as acceptable guidelines for modesty. These may vary from culture to culture, but they are generally understood.

    I used to attend a church where a (very attractive) teenage girl would dress in a frankly inappropriate manner obviously designed to draw attention to her body. It was distracting and disturbing, and I can only imagine doubly so to the men who saw her in the front row every week. Was I, and the others who thought the same, overreacting? Or is it true that there is such a thing as revealing too much of your body to be socially appropriate?

    March 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

  13. Macy L

    Wow that was very well put. I totally agree.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm

  14. I also respectfully disagree. No, it's absolutely never a woman's fault for unwanted sexual advances, but we should dress ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord. When we dress ourselves immodestly, we are sending a message that we love what the world wants more than what the Lord wants.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

  15. Elizabeth

    I read this article out loud to my husband– a meat eating, football loving, full- blooded man, who has been taught by his parents to look away from commercials on TV, scenes in movies, and the Victoria’s store front. In fact, This was one of the first things that attracted him to me. We dated for 3 years and have been married for almost 2… And I have never once felt that he had eyes for any other woman but me. Upon hearing this article, he disagreed totally and loudly. I know he has worked hard to discipline his mind and eyes from looking twice at a scantly clad, revealing woman, but there he says there is a bodily reaction for man when his eyes see woman dressed provocatively…even if it is an unintentional look. So, to quote a God-fearing man, ” this is a lie from the pit of Hell.” I’m pretty sure ladies, we know what is modest– it’s just not looked upon as “sexy”, and therefore we avoid it.

    “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:31

    March 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm

  16. anonymous

    I loved this article. When I was a child, I was sexually abused, and shortly after, was forced to dress ultra-modestly. I grew to hate wearing skirts and dresses, and to feel self-conscious about my body at all times because such an emphasis was placed on the idea of "modesty"–not making my brothers in Christ stumble because of what I wore. I felt as if modesty was my punishment for being abused by a man, and that it was my fault if someone had an inappropriate thought about me. As if I, as a child, desired sexual attention, and had to be subdued with baggy, unflattering clothing. While I do believe in dressing modestly now, I also think there needs to be a balance. Men must take responsibility for their actions, and women should not be intentionally dressing to lead men astray. Now that I live independently and can make my own choices about what I wear and how I behave, I choose to dress in a way that is flattering to my figure and face but also in a way that is not overtly revealing.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

  17. JYN

    When I was a 19-year-old college student working as a waitress, a line cook made a lewd comment to me my first week on the job. (This was obviously not related to how I was dressed because we were all wearing the same modest uniform.) I told him loudly (without using bad language) how disgusting and insulting I found his comments. I said this in front of the entire kitchen and waitstaff. From that point on, every man at work treated me with grace and respect. I also had many opportunities to share the Gospel.

    Attracting creepy attention will happen spontaneously and unavoidably at times. But I hope all women realize that they can carry and conduct themselves in a way that demands the appropriate respect. That is what I would have advised "Rachel."

    March 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm

  18. Jordana

    men's bad behavior is NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER EVERRRRRR a woman's fault. yes and amen. i love it. love it. love it

    March 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm

  19. meganleiann

    Don't you think it is ALWAYS more about the heart? A woman's motive for dressing the way she does are more important than the actual clothes on her body. A girl can only be responsible for her own heart.

    That being said, I sing on worship team at church and yeah, I dress with care.
    I'll wear a bikini in my backyard and at the beach where a hundred other girls will be too, but I won't wear one at the church picnic at the lake.
    I'll wear a lower cut shirt out on a date with my husband, but save the lingerie (or anything that looks like lingerie) for home.

    Girls we really just need to think about the message we're sending. If we're dressing like some singer that most people associate with sex, we really need to be aware of that. If we look good in skinny jeans, feel comfortable in them and like the style, why not?

    I don't think the Bible actually has to actually say "Don't dress immodestly because it's rough on your Christian brothers," for it to be wise to dress modestly. We certainly can't biblically draw lines and say your shorts have to be 6 inches from the crotch or a guy is going to be stumble and it will be your fault. We need wisdom and discernment- and to look at our planks before pointing out specks.

    To the author: a bikini at school probably isn't appropriate either. ;)

    March 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm

  20. Michael_MT

    As I was reading through this I was nodding in agreement through most of it, until I got to this statement:

    "It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men."
    I nearly swore out loud at the computer screen right there – and I haven't used profanity in more than a decade.

    Let's think of this another way: Should a man walk around a sketchy part of town wearing a tux and a Rolex while openly searching through his wallet?
    The correct response to that question is no. It's not because it would be a sin to do those things; it's because it would be foolish. It would not be his fault if he was attacked, but there were steps which he could have taken to minimize his risk. It is absolutely the man's job to dress (and act) in such a way as to keep himself as safe as possible.

    There will always be a risk of assault this side of heaven, but we must not be so foolish as to think that we have no role in our own safety. A very big part in keeping ourselves safe is how we dress.

    When a woman dresses in a revealing manner she is almost certainly NOT inviting an attack, but she may also not be acting wisely to avoid one. Please consider the possibility that one can be both innocent and foolish.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm

  21. Sarah

    This article is STILL skirting some IMPORTANT issues in the modesty debate, and re-stating some things I think have already been established: Most people will acknowledge that NO, women are not responsible for controlling the lusts of men. And vice versa. That has already been SETTLED. It's NOT YOUR/OUR FAULT. With respect, Lauren and Hugo, the issue is MUCH BIGGER than just that.

    Also, before I interject, something that should be established is this: There IS middle ground between homeschool and sexy, between "grandma" and cleavage. There does not have to be an either/or dichotomy between the two.

    That said, I have a few things I'd like to contribute:

    1. Lauren pointed this out earlier: In the Bible, modesty is not addressed. The only way it's addressed is in context to riches, not exposure. It was not a cultural issue – this is why hermeneutics is so important. Why wasn't it a cultural issue? Because the only women that dressed that way in that culture were literally prostitutes. It was a way of indicating PROFESSION. For that reason, they didn't have the problem of women dressing immodestly.

    2. When others in this argument point out that perhaps women should dress modestly for the sake of men, they AREN'T talking about the kind of men that take advantage of women. They are NOT talking about the men that cannot control their lust. No, they are talking about men who DAILY FIGHT A BATTLE AGAINST their lust. I happen to be a woman who also fights a daily battle against my own lust and sin nature, and I am therefore compassionate toward others who have to do the same. Not all of us struggle against the same things, and there are certain Christians out there who struggle with sins of a sexual nature MORE than others.

    3. Comfort is relative and a matter of opinion, so I would argue that dressing for comfort takes a backseat to dressing as the LORD would have you dress – for both men and women. To dress for comfort and comfort ONLY is primarily selfish. But the next difficult question then becomes: How would the Lord have us as Christians dress? I would hope not to be argued with if I said, "The Lord would certainly have us dress with respect in mind. First, respect for Him, then respect for ourselves, respect for our future or current spouses, respect for our Christian brothers and sisters, and respect for non-believers!" Here are then the conclusions I would draw:
    a) To dress with respect for the Lord and for ourselves will involve dressing for the protection and honor of our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). While out in public, we are bound to run into men that have not allowed the Holy Spirit to change their hearts and therefore are completely controlled by their lust. It is true that some men will be this way and look at us this way no matter how we are dressed. However, while in the presence of possible sexual predators, I cannot deny that the odds of drawing their attentions are far less if my cleavage is not showing.
    b) Would dressing out of respect for our future or current spouses involve showing off parts of us that only they have the privilege to touch? If we dress for the goal of gaining attention from other men or women, does that show respect for our future or current spouses? Doesn't dressing immodestly cheapen their privileges?
    c) Dressing with respect for brothers and sisters in Christ is not at the top of the priority list. It is not THE reason we should be motivated to dress modestly. However, we cannot deny that it should be considered! As I said before and in agreement with Elizabeth, while we are not responsible for others' sex drives, we can still act out of compassion for them. We can still do our best to be an encouragement to our brothers and sisters, for we do fight a common battle against sin. Just because others' plunging necklines do not affect you, does not mean that YOURS does not affect somebody else.

    There have been SO MANY PEOPLE hurt by the ultra-modesty doctrine of the church. There have also been many women hurt as a result of dressing immodestly as well.

    Extremes, so many times, do result in pain.

    Don't you think it's time for a balance?

    March 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm

  22. Sarah

    I would like to ask a few honest questions, not rhetorical, I actually hope to gain some answers and opinions.

    1. A lot of people in this debate have taken up arms for or against modesty. However, my question is, WHY dress to show cleavage? What motivations are behind that? Basically, what's the point?

    2. Do we really gain our self-esteem from the way we dress? Yes, we acknowledge that body image, especially among women, does influence self-esteem in our culture. But isn't the goal to deviate AWAY from the idea that women gain their worth from how their bodies are made? If our self-worth REALLY came from our identity in Christ, wouldn't we have reasons to stay away from the extremes of baggy shirts vs. cleavage?

    3. I think Hugo had a really good point when he said that no matter how women dress, they will be ridiculed. The answer that he seems to find is to dress how YOU think you should dress. But dressing out of comfort is catering to our own desires, isn't it? Ultimately, isn't dressing to show more skin or to "look good" for the benefit of others? What about what God desires for us? Isn't EVERYTHING we do for HIS approval, not for the approval of others? (This works both ways, whether you lobby for dressing for optimal cleavage, or for optimal coverage. Either way, you've acquiesced to the desires of humans and haven't sought the Lord's approval first, am I wrong?)

    4. What about dressing for practicality? Aside from religious convictions, sometimes I prefer to dress modestly just for the sake of practicality: I don't have to worry about my boobs falling out of my shirt if I move too suddenly, and I don't have to worry about my underwear showing if a sudden gust of wind comes up. And on the beach, I wear a one-piece so that I can catch a football or frisbee without having to worry about what will be on display if I move too suddenly. Most women will admit that in order to show SOME skin but not ALL, some caution must be shown. Some activities will automatically be out. Dressing to show more skin requires us to move and sit in a certain way. Why put up with that just for the sake of looking good? If we don't care what others think, and care only for the Lord's opinion, why would we do this?

    March 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

  23. bornsirius

    I dress more modestly in many situations to be careful of my own self control. If I am with a guy, especially one I'm attracted to, I will be modest NOT because I don't want to make him stumble. I will be modest because it will help ME not to stumble if I am. I find that it's a lot easier to be modest in a way that is comfortable if I'm watching out for my own heart and how my clothing makes me feel. And in the end I believe it turns out to be more considerate, too.

    March 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

  24. Hannah

    First, I appreciate using the scripture verbatim. Going back to the source is ALWAYS the best thing to do.

    Second, in my opinion, the article was neither correct nor incorrect. There were points that I agreed with and points that rubbed me the wrong way, one of which was a lack of scripture. Scripture is foundational as a Christian believer and should be used directly or referenced in any argument since, as believers, we are seeking God's plan and not our own.

    In response to the article in question, I heartily agree that "no matter how you dress, no matter what you wear" you WILL get unwanted comments, from guys AND girls. Let's face it…"ALL have sinned and fall short", even girls, and the hurtful actions of others are not necessarily one's own fault. I also agree that "you should dress in a style that makes you comfortable" –both physically and psychologically, as mentioned. "It's important to be HONEST" about how your state of dress makes you feel. This is imperative. If a girl or a guy feels uncomfortable in any way concerning their state of dress, then break away from that style and find one that better fits your comfort level, even at the risk of losing some friends. Friends come and go, but self esteem can last a lifetime. Dr. Schwyzer says, "It is NOT inconsistent to want to be seen and not be stared at" and I agree. God created ALL things, and He loves when you and others are appreciative of His handiwork. He loves when we feel handsome or beautiful because He made us that way! Taking an "Esther" day (or five), and by this I mean a day to pamper yourself and look your absolute best, is a completely acceptable thing. Wanting to turn heads is ok. However, what Dr. Schwyzer failed to mention is the heart behind it.

    Romans 14: 12 "So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." Step one: Get your heart right with God. What are your intentions for dressing the way you do? Do you want to flash a little leg -a la Angelina Jolie – to make yourself feel better, or to get something from the other sex? To be clear: extra attention should add a little pizazz to your day, not be the center of it. Self esteem should be rooted in God's view, not the worlds view, so it's good to ask yourself which is more important. One last thing to note is that while it is ok to want to look one's best, it is easy to let pride taint the heart behind one's appearance, so tread softly.

    Verse 15 is the real kicker "If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat (or wear), you are no longer acting in love." If the heart behind your clothing decision is right, and you are keeping your pride in check, your personal dress code is not a problem, because (again) we are each accountable for our own decisions. BUT…if you KNOW that something you wear is a stumbling block for someone else, it is your brotherly (or sisterly) responsibility to dress in a way that does not tempt the other person. That does not mean you dress in a full body suit for the rest of your life. Instead, simply be aware of who is around you. The same way Dr. Hugo said to consider the dress code, do so when helping a brother/sister out. Note: THIS ABSOLUTELY GOES BOTH WAYS. Girls, believe it or not, also struggle with lust, partially because we too have testosterone running through our systems and partially because "ALL have sinned and ALL fall short". So guys, too, need to keep in mind, if running/swimming/being shirtless causes his girl-type-friend to stumble, remember to keep the shirt on when you are around her.

    In conclusion, I agree with Dr. Hugo's statement "you don't have to get it right". I am so very, very, very thankful for forgiveness and grace. I definitely to not deserve the perfect peace I am promised by the blood of Jesus Christ. But to Rachel, I say: Despite what some folks tell you in terms of your style and your beauty…go rock it girl! Who is Dr. Hugo to tell you what your "peak" is? Go put on what makes you comfortable, what makes you YOU!!! Sure, you might have acne, or are still getting rid of baby fat. Maybe you're short or maybe you're tall. You might have impossibly straight hair or incredibly curly locks. I guarantee you, in five years, in ten years, in fifty years…you'll still be Rachel, the beautiful, special, talented young lady who was created and is loved by God. In John 14:27, Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." So go in peace, and embrace the incredible girl God has gifted to the world.

    March 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm

  25. Pingback: We Don’t Need Women to Civilize Men, and Other Complementarian Myths | Hugo Schwyzer

  26. This post, to me, reasons with common sense. In being kind to others–of the same or opposite sex–I think it is important to make sure we are being respectful by not flaunting our sexuality but confidently revealing our beauty.

    March 13, 2012 at 3:10 am

  27. Nicola

    I love this post. Full stop.

    March 13, 2012 at 5:28 am

  28. JYN

    Unfortunately, I think the author's attempt to exonerate women of all responsibility leaves them bereft of power.

    A few truths that should be relatively self-evident:
    1. Respectful men will treat women respectfully, regardless of how they dress
    2. Disrespectful men will treat women in whatever way they think they can get away with, regardless of how they dress
    3. Women who respect themselves will dress in a way that reflects self-respect, and this will look different from sub-culture to sub-culture
    4. Women CAN send the message with their body language, posture, etc. that it is NOT okay to disrespect them. This will minimize (although not totally eliminate) the disrespectful treatment they receive.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:12 am

  29. followingjesussucks

    I like all that you had to say about "ownership." In other words, a man's lust problems should not be owned by a woman. And I absolutely agree that being called "easy" or whatever because of how you're dressed is wrong. But you didn't write anything about the way of love. You didn't speak anything about not wanting to be a stumbling block. You didn't say anything about wanting to honor God.

    And it seems a bit idiotic say that a woman's body is not powerful. A woman's body is one of the most powerful things ever created. If it wasn't, the term "sex sells" wouldn't be true.

    So ladies, your body IS that powerful. The questions is, do you submit that power to God, or do you use it to your advantage? Submitting to God doesn't mean wearing a potato sack, but it does mean that we're motivated by love in all we do. This article reeked of selfishness. It's all about "me" and how I feel. That's not the way of love. You don't combat other people's sin and foolishness (their lust and their judgment) with selfishness. So we all have to ask, in all that we do, if what we're doing is pleasing to God. Being God-obsessed rather than self-obssessed in how we live is the key.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:32 am

  30. The author is suggesting that we only ever take responsibility for ourselves, and this is true. We cannot be held responsible for the actions of others. But if we – both men and women – do not also work for the benefit of those around us, our faith is dead and we have no right calling ourselves Christians.

    James 2:15-17: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

    1 Corinthians 8:9-13: "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall."

    Your faith and freedom may allow you to wear whatever you like without fear of falling into sin. But clearly we need to consider how what we do can impact those around us, or risk being in sin. Does this consideration apply only to brothers and sisters in Christ? Does it apply to all men and women? I suppose that's for each of us to decide. Remember, however, that love is the key to the whole Christian life. And love always protects. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

    March 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm

  31. Emily

    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

    God knows the motivations of your heart and your reason for wearing what you choose to where. Of course you are not responsible for someone else's sin. You are responsible for your own. Your body is meant as a temple for the the Most High, so honor Him with it, whatever that means for you. It is between you and Him; end of story.

    March 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

  32. Louis

    This article is so upsetting, I can't even collect my thoughts to respond. This is a horrible lie meant to comfort young, immature Christian women who already dress immodestly and want to hear that it is okay to do so. As some others have said, it is foolish to dress immodestly because you can be putting yourself in danger. Saying it is never a woman's fault is another comforting lie. Both the man and the woman can be at fault. Also, there is zero room for a bikini in the Christian woman's wardrobe. I am done reading Good Women Project and will seize to support it, as truth and modesty are things I value.

    March 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm

  33. Olivia

    I appreciate the author's thoughts and the thought-provoking discussion going on in all the comments! I am a 21yo at a Southern Baptist college and I was homeschooled before that, and just like someone else has already said, I feel like this topic unnecessarily polarizes people into two camps: the modesty camp and the slut camp. I would say that I, and probably 90% of young adults I know (BOTH believers and unbelievers) fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. At the same time, I wholeheartedly feel like our clothes *do* send a message, loud and clear, to everyone we encounter. Don't we want our everyday lives to be active expressions of the gospel though the power of God? I don't want my clothing choices to distract others from the "message" of my life that I send to every person with whom I interact and speak and walk past thoughout my day. As much as I wish it weren't so, I feel like running in spandex short-shorts is even more distracting than if I were to wear a denim jumper with a mock turtle and white tennis shoes! There is no question in my mind that my clothes send a loud message to others, and what I wear in some ways DOES incite reactions from guys and leaves me feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable. When I used to run in the neighborhood in my tiny spandex shorts, when I would come back down the street on my way home, I felt like suddenly every man in the neighborhood was suddenly checking the mail or washing the car or walking the dog. One guy straight up asked me if I wanted to go to his house… I NEVER get this reaction when I run in less-attention-grabbing gym stuff. Just my two cents!

    March 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm

  34. Moses

    I would also respectfully disagree with this article. Both men and women have a responsibility to dress in a way that does not cause others to stumble, especially their brothers and sisters in Christ. It is akin to the argument of the freedom to drink carefree in the presence of a known recovering alcoholic. I will not do such a thing even if it 'limits my freedom'. In the same way, if I know there are those around me that are struggling with lust, why should I dress in a manner that will cause them to stumble? It's selfish.

    A very good and practical advice that I have heard for a rule-of-thumb for dress. If it highlights your face, it's a good way to go.

    Lastly, as a guy, please remember that us Christian men are battling it out daily in this sex-saturated world. Our desire, and the Lord's will, is to love you as our sisters in Christ with a pure love from a pure mind and heart. Trust me, it's not easy these days!

    And besides, you are much much much more beautiful, when you dress with discretion!

    "As a ring of gold in a swine's snout So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion." Proverbs 11:22

    March 14, 2012 at 1:17 am

  35. Pingback: Modesty: The Blame Game « Half Man Half Woman

  36. "Your body is not so powerful that it can drive others to distraction. " False

    Did you know that the porn industry pulls in more money annually then the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB combined! Contrasting some earlier comments, Pornography didn't become famous due to sex. One of the most popular magazines is called Playboy – you've probably heard of it. Playboy is centered around the woman's body and that alone. Therefore, Hugh Hefner has made an incredible fortune for himself by selling, not sex, but simply the naked female body. This is not an opinion, this is statistics and tangible proof.

    Furthermore, We are made in God's image. How powerful is God's image to you? When I look at a woman, I'm not just looking at a piece of flesh; I'm looking at a beautiful creation made by God in His own image, and you do need to be careful who you open that up to. Frankly, because God's image is a very powerful attribute that we far too often take lightly as humans.

    "You may have heard people say things like “girls who wear short skirts are asking for ‘it’”. By “it” they may mean anything from rape to crude comments and penetrating stares. But as you may already have noticed, girls aren’t immune from harassment when they’re wearing simple or “modest” garb either." True, but put into a false context which offers a false freedom.

    Last thought, if I am driving 55 mph on a road with a 55mph limit then I am driving within the context and law that I have been given. In other words, if I spin out for some reason or something goes terribly wrong then it becomes just a freak incident that has to be turned over to chance and the fault put entirely on something or someone else. However, if I am driving at 90mph in a 55mph zone and something terrible happens I think we can all agree that I was "asking for it" in a very real sense. Be careful that you're not dressing at 90 when the limit God and/or leaders around you have said it would be best to stay at 55.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm

  37. Pingback: Body as a False Construct | Henry M Imler

  38. Sierra

    I agree mostly with this post. It's wonderful! But I have one thing.. (dont we always? haha)

    Sure, women should be able to dress the way they feel comfortable, whatever that is. And no, women are NOT at fault for the choices of men. They're big boys. They can take responsibility for their own actions, thank you very much. But I feel that women should take into consideration how HARD it is for men to see skin and not react naturally. We should be aware of how we affect the men around us and be aware that what we're wearing might make it more difficult for them.

    That being said, it's completely a personal choice and women should be able to dress in whatever they want; just please be aware of the effect you may have on others. That's all :]

    March 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm

  39. Sierra

    I thought this was a wonderful, affirming post that finally takes the blame off women for the ways that they're disrespected. Thank you also for linking my two modesty posts (I am the author of "How Modesty Made Me Fat," not the same as the Sierra who posted before.) I'm so glad people are beginning to talk about the ways the modesty doctrine hurts women.

    To those who are saying that men and women both have the responsibility to "be considerate" of other people by dressing modestly, let me point out that there is nothing symmetrical (applying equally to men and women) about the modesty doctrine when evangelical culture simultaneously tells women that men are "visual" (disproven over and over again!) and that they are more easily tempted than women. The result is a doctrine that applies 95% of the time to women and barely at all to men. It's just disingenuous to say that it applies equally to all Christians.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:15 pm

  40. Trish

    This is so cool! Thanks!

    March 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm

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  43. Kate

    Wow, this is so great and refreshing to hear from a conservative point of view. Your church is lucky to have you!

    March 19, 2012 at 2:40 am

  44. brambonius

    all I can say is that I'm so glad that I'm not an American girl who has to live in this whole 'modesty' cramp… As a European these standards of modesty sound quite alien to me. Sorry to say it, but you have a quite irrational and exotic culture. Just like ours would be to you, and like every culture is looked at from another one probably…

    "Your body is not so powerful that it can drive others to distraction." Could probably be more nuanced, but it's basically true. There might be distraction, but the question is what you do with it: Look one second to see that there is a female beauty that might be distracting and then look away, or look at the eyes, or keep on staring and entertaining 'wrong' feelings.

    And even then, there is a difference between being 'distracted' and seeing a beautiful girl, and having real impure thoughts. It's not because I see a sexy woman that I want to do something with her in my head. That step is not necessary at all… Looking and finding attractive does not equal lusting and wanting to have sex with her…

    A man that follows Jesus should learn how to view each woman as he would look at a sister, mother or daughter, depending on her age. Look at them as persons, created in Gods image, no matter how they are dressed. People that are worth loving in a friendly way, and bringing them down to the level of a sex object to use in your mind is pure blasphemy. I thought that that was basic wisdom…

    (And the whole 'men are visual' stuff, that might be average more so with men than with women, but my wife is more visual than me…)

    March 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm

  45. Melissa

    There are a lot of good ideas in this article, but I must say, I don't agree with all of them. First : your body may not be responsible for unwanted behaviour, but I still think a woman must be careful of how she behaves and how she dresses (especially in certain areas and countries). In an ideal world, all men would respect women. But unfortunately, a lot of them don't think about that. I won't go around in a miniskirt in the redllight district here in Brussels, just for my own safety. So yes, I really like his ideas and about giving confidence to women, but I must advise women to be careful of what they wear, because a wrong message can be perceived by men (even if they are the ones who are wrong!) and you won't have time to explain him your ideology.

    March 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm

  46. It's always the man's fault if he sins by looking lustfully as a woman but surely it's a good thing to help them out.

    March 25, 2012 at 9:02 am

  47. helixrose

    I have to disagree that men are not "driven to distraction" by the female body. That a man fights it or chooses not to think about it as the author says is evidence enough that it is real. I'd like more people to acknowledge that lust is a very difficult fight for women as well as men. Since I'm not a man or a telepath I'll never know HOW difficult it really is compared to men, but it is real for women too. It IS refreshing to hear that a woman is not SOLELY responsible for a man's Christian walk- that wouldn't be fair to say at all. And it is a mentality that I think we buy into more than we think, especially if we are women with self-esteem issues. I speak from experience. I've been told I have a Marilyn Monroe figure and I've been avoided by men and treated with suspicion by youth leaders no matter how I dress- and I vowed to never date as a teenager because I was trying to hold to a purer standard! If a woman who works that hard to have a holy reputation can be treated, however unintentionally, as a stumbling block because of her naturally curvaceous figure then I can't honestly say who's at fault for that. But it's nice to hear that I wasn't a wicked girl because of something I couldn't help.
    In conclusion I think the above post of 1 Corinthians 8:9-13: "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall." is the very best advice. Lust is real- for both sexes. I can't help what men think if they perceive my body as sexy. But I choose to take on the responsibility not to ENCOURAGE lust. A woman's body is beautiful and powerful even in the most modestly flattering clothes. There's no trouble attracting healthy attention even when you're covered up. LOL I mean really, men are not such fools, and obviously they are not so sexually blind, that they don't realize the beauty even of what you're concealing. So I wouldn't be so concerned with not being able to attract men my own age even if they only see my collarbone or my knees.

    May 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  48. Interesting article and very interesting comments! I do stand somewhere in the middle. No it's never a females fault and no it doesn't always matter what you are wearing to be the center of rape, harassment, or unwanted attention. I can attest to that after someone tried to force me into their vehicle after propositioning me for sexual favors. and there was NOTHING sexy about me that day in fact I was wearing jeans, and a sweatshirt, gym shoes, and not a stitch of makeup reading a book at the bus stop.

    However, I do think it is important to dress with some "modesty" and I say modesty loosely and that really changes from person to person and how they carry themselves. (Definitely not suggesting baggy turtlenecks,) While rape and bad behavior are not permissible by any means the fact is there are a lot of creeps in the world, and no it doesn't always matter what you wear. BUT I do think if you want to avoid cat-calls and unwanted attention or gaze maybe one should skip being excessively revealing in their clothes.

    Our physical appearance has a lot to do with how we express ourselves and how we are perceived by strangers, whether we like it or not. So what do we do with that? Do we cover ourselves completely hiding from possible danger and those who harm others for their own benefit? I certainly don't want to live that way. But should we ignore all social norms, and dress as revealing as we want because its our right? I don't think that's the answer there either.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:53 am

  49. Nicole

    "It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men."

    As a believer, I find this a bit hard to swallow. It isn't COMPLETELY a woman's job to keep herself safe from a man, but in terms of modesty, I think we can play a big part by helping a man, any man, I think. 1 Corinthians 8:9 tells us, "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." I'm not stating that all men are weak, but if dressing in a way that will cause all eyes to turn on your may be the "stumbling block."

    Paul uses the example of meet, in the rest of 1 Corinthians 8, as a stumbling block for his brothers. "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (verse 13). If wearing too little clothing will cause my brother to stumble or a sister in Christ to question me or my modesty, I will certainly examine myself and my motives behind it. I've already stumbled across this problem myself.

    I once wore a relative (for me) low V-cut dress to a wedding with my boyfriend. It wasn't until after the wedding in which he told me that he thought the dress was a little too low cut for me. In my sin, I thought it was perfectly fine, but truthfully, it was causing him to stumble. I don't want that at all. Now I pay double attention to what I wear and how I wish to appear.

    I know this isn't the case for everyone because not everyone is a believer in Christ, nor, if they are a believer, may have strong feelings towards this subject… Overall, I think that we women can really help men out in be careful with what we wear. I'm definitely not saying where a sack cloth or go around looking like a hobo with no makeup, but … Just be careful.

    And I'm pretty sure I will be flacked for this, so I'll prepare myself now, lol.

    June 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

  50. How is a man to know that his "advance" is unwanted until he makes that "advance"? How would women really feel if men stopped making "advances" altogether?

    August 9, 2012 at 6:57 am

  51. I have learn several good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much effort you set to create any such magnificent informative web site.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:27 pm

  52. Vanessa Muzondi

    All I can say is a true non judgmental person would never care about the clothes on your back but more about what’s inside. I might not believe in Christianity but I love the idea of loving everyone but if we don’t have the ability to look past what others wear then how are supposed to grow closer to each other as humans and create love on earth. Why are so focused on how we portray our selves through clothing rather then portraying through words and actions. Just because you dress modestly doesn’t mean you have a good heart. I think people just want to make it easier to judge others by using our clothing to instead of actually evaluating their personality. I know a lot of people who dress modestly but their minds are not so modest and it also works vice versa. All in all I think we should be trying to help each other to create good people rather then using superficial things such as what clothes you wear and actually start caring about how others think instead of how they dress. I myself have learned to look at the heart rather then the outside and I have found it much easier to be less judgmental and more accepting of others. Unfortunately in today’s modern religion we’re not supposed to be looking at the heart more so on materialistic objects. I guess you would be surprised to also know that am not in any way religious, but I still have morals and standards that I follow on a day to day basis. Yes I’m not perfect, but in the end nobody is.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm

  53. Amy

    I definitely agree that it is the men who have an issue and not the way a woman dresses. Yes, a woman should be dressed appropriately for the occasion (ie. not wearing club type clothing to work, etc). For all those who say dress in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, does that mean the women in tribes in remote places are not pleasing God by being practically naked? Or every woman in a pool or beach is not pleasing the Lord because she in in a bikini? Men are wired different, but they have to learn self-control. They can be tempted seeing a woman who is fully covered in modest clothing. It's where they allow their thoughts to go that gets them in trouble. Just as any woman can easily allow her thought to turn her heart toward a married man and choose to have an affair. We open the doors for our own misbehavior. There are plenty of scriptures about keeping our thoughts in check because they will inevitably lead to action.

    November 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm

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  56. It's a losing battle to try to please people and try to avoid criticism. The author put it perfectly here:

    "If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and — especially — if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."

    I really agree with most of this article, but here's my one point of disagreement: While a given perverted guy is 100% responsible for his thoughts, actions, lack of respect towards women, etc…, there also needs to be accountability for what we wear or don't wear. An extreme example: a woman walks around nude and then condemns anyone who looks at her private parts. It's absurd to do such a thing. We live in a society, we respect certain norms that help society run smoothly, and I'd argue that being sexually provocative in public places is an irresponsible expression of sexuality.

    June 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

  57. Lauren S.

    LOVE THIS SO SOOOO much. Thank you for sharing this and using your voice! It's so important for women to know that what men think IS NOT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY!! LOVE THIS!!!

    June 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm

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  61. James

    Overall, I loved this article, but I was troubled by one aspect of it. Women are not 100% exempt from any kind of lustful thoughts from a male. "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak." 1 Cor. 8:9. If a girl walks in front of me wearing a blouse with the buttons open under her bust with her bra hanging out, it will take an immense amount of self control to look away. If I look, is it my fault for sinning? Yes, of course it is. If this girl was a christian, could she have taken more care to make sure she wasn't dressing in a way so as to invite unwanted attention? Well, yeah.
    I think the bottom line is the motives of your heart. Are you dressing to be seen as beautiful? Great. Are you dressing to draw sexual attention? Given that sex is something reserved for marriage, this shouldn't fly. I think lines in the sand for what girls should and shouldn't wear are stupid, but it's equally stupid to tell them that they are completely burden free from protecting their brothers in Christ in any way.

    June 20, 2013 at 9:14 am

  62. Liz

    Unfortunately, knowing now that he was sleeping with his students, this puts everything he says to young women in a different light.

    September 6, 2013 at 11:33 am

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  65. I am extremely intrigued in this subject. Even though I have read numerous articles, I believe yours is the best.

    November 2, 2023 at 9:46 pm

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