‘Modest is Hottest’: Fans, Critics Weigh Message of Matthew West’s New Song

By Sarah Einselen
Matthew West, his daughters and his wife pose in a music video for his tongue-in-cheek new single "Modest is Hottest."
Matthew West, his daughters and his wife pose in a music video for his tongue-in-cheek new single "Modest is Hottest." (Source: YouTube screengrab)

Christian singer-songwriter Matthew West’s newest song, “Modest is Hottest,” has drawn a host of hot takes concerning modesty and purity culture.

The single elicited both laughs and criticism upon its release on YouTube over the weekend. Some also heard it when it was played last Monday during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual Pastors Conference leading up to the two-day SBC annual meeting.

At the time, many took it as a joke, though some saw parallels between the song’s presence in the SBC playlist and the denomination’s high-profile sex abuse crisis. Writer Jonathan Merritt, whose father, James Merritt, is a former SBC president, wrote: “When gender narratives speak of female bodies chiefly as temptations for men, it’s easy to understand the denom’s sex abuse crisis.”

West uses over-the-top lyrics to urge his teenage daughters to look “a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian.” And in the video, the girls roll their eyes as they pose in turtlenecks — clothing their father considers appropriate. “What the boys really love,” he insists, “is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks.”

Many commented favorably on the video on YouTube and elsewhere, some adding they’d been trying to teach their own children to dress conservatively.

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Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), chairman of the state’s House Republican Caucus and a worship leader in his home church, tagged one of his five children in a tweet about the song, urging her to “recognize the wisdom here.”

But critics pointed out the song, while tongue-in-cheek, perpetuates the notion that girls are responsible when men look lustfully at them.

“The ‘age-old struggle’ is actually women feeling responsible for men’s sins,” author Sheila Wray Gregoire wrote on Twitter, echoing a line from the song. “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,” she suggested.

Gregoire is author of “The Great Sex Rescue” rethinking how Christians talk about sex. She has noted that focusing on teaching girls to dress modestly effectively teaches boys that they can’t control their own lustful desires and aren’t capable of treating a girl as a whole person without help.

“You’re telling him: “Your walk with Jesus, and your ability to be a decent human being, is at the mercy of what girls choose to wear,’” she wrote. “This message doesn’t just hurt girls; it seriously hurts boys.”

Todd Benkert, a Baptist pastor in Indiana, also pushed back against the song’s message. He had called for a strong response to the SBC’s sex abuse crisis during the convention’s annual meeting.

“I don’t think it’s funny given the harm purity culture has done to women and girls,” he told a fellow Baptist pastor on Twitter when discussing the song.

Christian webzine editor, O. Alan Noble, pointed out the illogic of the titular catchphrase. If “modest is hottest,” he said, “then being modest is more likely to ‘cause someone to stumble.’”

Similarly, seminary student Megan Koontz, wrote, “hey ‘modest is hottest’ people: what if . . . we didn’t automatically assume that being ‘hot’ was the primary objective for why women wear what they wear… like… at all?”

The phrase has been around for decades. In her 2008 book Pure, singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James promoted the concept, though she added, “Modesty means way more than just not dressing provocatively. The word modesty has to do with walking in humility, being meek and unassuming. Someone who is modest . . . is not bold or in-your-face, is not vain or conceited.”

However, some took exception to the concept.

Author Sharon Hodde Miller wrote ten years ago that purity culture’s modesty rhetoric teaches that “women are to cover their bodies as a mark of spiritual integrity. . . . Too much skin is seen as a distraction that garners inappropriate attention, causes our brothers to stumble, and overshadows our character.”

The larger perception of women primarily as a temptation, she noted, goes back as far as second- and third-century Christian thinkers Tertullian and Origen.

And in the 17th century, Puritan pastor Richard Baxter instructed women not to become a “snare” with what they wore, author and speaker Katelyn Beaty wrote earlier this year.

But that approach, she pointed out, runs contrary to what Jesus taught with the metaphor that he whose eye causes him to stumble must pluck it out. “That teaching leaves no doubt where the responsibility lies for managing lust: with the person struggling with lust,” Beaty wrote.

“Now more than ever, Christian communities must reexamine attitudes and actions that blame women for men’s sexual problems. They must help men take responsibility for their own temptations,” she concluded.



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49 thoughts on “‘Modest is Hottest’: Fans, Critics Weigh Message of Matthew West’s New Song”

  1. Cynthia Wright

    I agree with Audrey Assad: ** “Modest is hottest” still centers men and their preferences in how women should look—still sets being found hot by men as the ultimate goal for women … **

    1. Richard Stadter

      I haven’t heard the song but I’m gathering that instructing and advising women to dress modestly and to behave purely leads to a poor self image, a culture that has no requirements upon men to behave uprightly, and a major evangelical denomination to not care about or deal with victims and abusers. Is that right? Is that what you are saying? Is that what Peter, the Father of daughters, meant in 1 Peter 3?

      1. Cynthia Wright

        Do you have a citation for Peter’s being the father of daughters? Maybe you’re thinking of Philip, with his “four daughters who prophesied”?

        That aside, the concept of “hot,” what used to be called “sexy,” is not an intrinsic quality, such as being courteous, generous, diligent, punctual, etc. It is an imposed quality, another person’s reaction. In a sense, to say a girl or woman is “hot” makes her not an independent being with her own qualities – good or bad – but only the cause of an effect – feelings of sexual desire – on the part of a male viewer.

      2. Michele Hixon

        Does hiding your twenty dollar bill inside your wallet, inside your purse lead to poor self image? Aren’t the parts of our bodies more valuable than our cash?

    2. Noel Lokaychuk

      Yup, why is “hot” even what we’re judging by? Totally skewed priorities. Unless we are speaking physiologically in which case- sure, black turtlenecks in summer could lead to heat stroke.

    3. God: No one is talking about me and how much I love them all!
      Christians: *Spends every waking moment being distracted by issues that don’t spread the love of God-the gospel *
      Devil: It’s working wonderfully!
      World: *Looking at Christians*-they’re no different than us! Why bother?

  2. Robert Simpson

    So, the opening scene in the video prominently shows his daughters’ legs in short shorts, as they are reclined on the sofa. If he is being serious in the message, hasn’t Matthew violated the standard he promotes? Or is he just pulling OUR legs with the whole thing?

    1. In my judgment, there is a difference between the privacy of our home and family and public display.

        1. It is to show the contrast of the “before” and “after.” Perhaps he could have done it a different way. But one really has to use his/her imagine on that screen capture which really doesn’t show much in my judgment.

      1. “there is a difference between the privacy of our home and family and public display.”

        That is exactly the point…Matthew West has put his daughters on public display.
        If it was “the privacy of our home”, nobody here would have seen it.

  3. Tony Nazarowski

    If Ned Flanders ( Simpsons ) was in charge, this is what I expect :)

    There is a big issue to unpack here. As I see it, women (in Christian circles) are directed to act and dress the way MEN think they should. It’s reasonable to see how a girl could grow up to be ashamed of her body, because the way it arouses boys and men. When that same girl gets married, she has to change the way she dresses and acts to make her husband happy. That doesn’t seem right. In this model, women seem to be treated like property.

    If young boys are unable to control their impulses, perhaps they should not own a cell phone or have access to the internet until they are married.

  4. James Lutzweiler

    Poor Solomon with his biblical song about breasts and navels could never be a Southern Baptist and probably not any kind of Christian today with the church’s penchant for prudery. Bah! Humbug! I like Solomon’s song more than Matthew’s. Some people just can’t swallow parts of the Bible. They preach inerrancy but practice inapplicability.

    For an interesting take on Solomon’s navel lyric, see Danny Akin’s plunge into erotic exegesis in his online commentary. I believe it is chapter 7 verse 2. That is certainly close.

    James Lutzweiler
    Archivist (1999-2013), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

    1. That refers to married purity. I don’t think that is referring to her walking around in public that way. Big difference!

  5. Darren Gruett

    I might be an outlier here, but I guess I do not understand how teaching women to dress modestly somehow implies that men cannot control their impulses or are somehow no longer responsible for them. In fact, men are commanded in Scripture not to lust and women are also commanded to dress modestly. Both parties have some responsibility in this matter.

    Furthermore, as a middle-aged man, husband, and father to a little girl, and as someone who has struggled with lust more than a little, I never had a pastor, youth group leader, or anyone else tell me that my lust was someone else’s fault. And I have never once thought that a woman’s attire, no matter how risque or inappropriate, was somehow an excuse to lust after her, even though clearly there are plenty of women that dress that way to get attention.

    Men are as much responsible for how they look at women as women are for how they dress, and none of us should ever do anything that might cause another believer to stumble.

    1. Gordon Hackman

      Agreed. It’s a both/and not an either/or. I’d add that intent seems to have a lot to do with it, from both directions.

      I think a lot of social media hoopla around stuff like this is driven by what could be called “the post-evangelical industrial complex,” which is the cottage industry that runs on continually complaining about the sins and foibles of conservative evangelicals.

      And for what it’s worth, I think the song title is pretty corny, another reminder of why I don’t follow a lot of mainstream Christian music anymore.

      1. Darren Gruett

        Gordon, if I remember from another post you used to listen to Steve Taylor, right? That is the kind of music I miss.

  6. As a former teenage boy and now father of a daughter, I totally get it. As with most things, there’s a healthy way to take this, and an unhealthy way.

  7. Sharon L Dziubski

    Opening lyrics:

    “𝘿𝙚𝙖𝙧 𝙙𝙖𝙪𝙜𝙝𝙩𝙚𝙧, 𝙞𝙩’𝙨 𝙢𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙛𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧
    𝙄 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙠 𝙞𝙩’𝙨 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙬𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙙 𝙖 𝙩𝙖𝙡𝙠
    𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙮𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙 ‘𝙘𝙖𝙪𝙨𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪’𝙧𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙛𝙪𝙡
    𝘼𝙣𝙙 𝙞𝙩’𝙨 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙢𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧’𝙨 𝙛𝙖𝙪𝙡𝙩”

    What kind of husband/father objectifies his wife and daughter in this way? Boys come around because of her appearance and not because she is….intelligent, wise, humorous, follows Christ, etc.

      1. Most teenage boys are reductive and not neccesarily looking for a Proverbs 31 woman. As a father, that’s what we’re hoping to protect our daughters from.

    1. That’s designed to be a humorous statement, in case you missed it. He is saying that they got their good looks from their mother. It is also a playful statement that he still finds his wife beautiful. So do you think that only boys who see a daughter who is “beautiful of form and figure” (to use a biblical phrase – look it up) are only coming around because daughters are followers of Christ, humorous, intelligent, etc.? As a Dad who raised two daughters, I know better! And one of my responsibilities was to be a protector of our daughters. One of our daughters was the one who pointed me to this song and joked how as they were heading out the door in a beautiful dress heading toward a formal occasion I would playfully put a towel over their shoulders. There was nothing immodest about it. They both appreciated that I cared enough to humorously indicate that I was seeking to be their protector.

    2. Darren Gruett

      Sharon, I see your point, but saying that a woman is beautiful encompasses not only her physical form but also her mind and spirit, all those things you mentioned. I do not think it is an objectification to tell a woman that she is beautiful.

      1. Cynthia Wright

        Have you asked a woman what she thinks about it? (Have you asked a woman who is permitted to be honest?)

        Maybe she would say she would rather hear that she’s trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent.

        1. Marin Heiskell

          I would agree with Darren AND Cynthia. I consider it an honor to be called beautiful. It’s better than being called pretty. Pretty is solely external. To be beautiful encompasses character and spirit – which includes many of the traits Cynthia listed (loyal, helpful, courteous, etc.). Beauty shines from within.

          1. Cynthia Wright

            Marin Heiskell, that’s a good example of how different people can understand the same things differently. Some people like to be told they’re beautiful, and others like to be told they’re reliable. Life would be boring if everyone were the same.

        2. My wife is permitted to be honest. She appreciates that I take the time to express that I still find her attractive … after all these years. Too many times I didn’t verbalize it. She is all of those other adjectives, but it isn’t an either/or.

        3. Darren Gruett

          Cynthia, my wife loves when I tell her that she is beautiful, and she does not take it as an objectification. I think she wishes I would say it more. I also try to tell her all the other things I love about her as well, although I know I do not do it enough. Also, for whatever it is worth, in my own experience I have not yet met a woman who did not like being told that she is beautiful. Having said that, I also agree that women are much more than just their physical appearance, and I doubt any woman, even the sleekest supermodels, would want to be valued only for their appearance.

      1. I don’t believe this is satire at all since God is for purity rather than for impurity. Psa 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” 1 Tim. 4:12 “let no one despise your youth, but … be an example … in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Cor 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality….” See also 1 Thess 4:3-5, 4:3-8; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5; Phil. 4:8; and many other passages. Given God’s perspective on purity, I don’t see how it is silly.

        1. I think it’s possible Christian men simply don’t have a grid for how to treat women with respect while simultaneously acknowledging God has created men and women in such a way that they find each other attractive. I don’t think there’s any tension between those two things: I find my wife attractive and treat her with respect. I have also found it to be the case that there are other women living in this world who are attractive, too. What a shocker! My wife has found to same to be true about other men as well. Again, shocker! But we both try to the best of our abilities to treat these people with respect in the context of our relationships with them – even people we don’t know, like celebrities. I think it really is exactly like Paul said to Timothy about treating younger women like sisters. I find no tension between acknowledging beauty and attractiveness in God’s image bearers and living with a fear of God should I not treat them respectfully.

          Purity culture takes that dynamic and throws a burlap sack over the image-bearers – of course, just the women – subjugating the weak for the supposed benefit of the powerful. If that worked, Saudi Arabia would be the world’s best country for women.

          1. Saudi Arabia is not “purity culture”. It is male domination and misogynistic. Big difference! Since God has gone on record for purity – for both male and female, I’m good with that. Not for the warped purity that apparently some apparently have been exposed to. I’m glad that God has designed men and women to be attractive. I’m not understanding how living purely before God can be understood to treat someone disrespectfully.

  8. The song makes me sick. It says that “being hot” is still the goal. It is their mothers “fault” they are beautiful. I couldn’t listen to anymore. That father is twisted.

    1. Rhonda Merrick

      Dear Vicki Blue,
      I’m sure I speak for many to say that the church owes you a debt of gratitude for your courage and love of truth in speaking out against the abuse and lies that you and others have suffered. So I hope I can offer you a story that may give you a different perspective on this songwriter, and this song. I think he was trying to make something light-hearted, with a catchy tune and rhymes, not an essay full of theological terminology.

      Here goes. My late grandfather would joke that his daughters got their good looks from him — (pause) — their mother still had hers. My father copied this joke about me. And occasionally now, my husband copies it about our four daughters, whom he loves and protects and provides for. Despite the imperfections of these three men, I get a glimpse of God working in and through them when this old chestnut gets dusted off.

      The hard work of teaching them their true worth and identity in Christ, is not found in minor battles over clothing choices, yes. We ourselves have to learn to hear God’s voice and take our cues from Him. That process and our prayers are what really matter in our parenting, imho.

      If none of this helps you, please don’t give it another thought. I am glad you shared your response to the song.

  9. Some observations as a Christian Dad:

    #1. I/we sought to raise our daughters to be followers of Jesus and live out their calling as Christian women who would potentially become wives and mothers.

    1Ti 2:9-10 “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not (“merely”) [is a good understanding] with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, (10) but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”

    #2. We also understood that we live in a fallen world and what “shouldn’t be” too often “is.” I worked with middle school and high school boys in public school. I was involved in coaching them and have been in the locker rooms. And pretty much the observation was that if a girl dressed immodestly, she was “advertising” by the way she dressed and they had uncomplimentary names used for them. One can try to help the boys develop a better, more appropriate understanding and relationship with girls, but it is difficult.

    #3. The evidence is in that if a father is not actively involved in his daughter’s life as protector, she is much more likely to find herself pregnant as a teen. Many young girls who don’t have fathers invested in their lives are looking for attention and the way to get attention is to dress in such a way that gets attention from guys.

    So, what Matthew West is attempting to do is through satire and an over-the-top song and humor, to drive home a point that is counter-cultural. I’m sure he really doesn’t make them wear turtle-neck sweaters. As a Dad of daughters, I get it and appreciate it. As I mentioned before, one my daughters pointed it out to me with a laugh of identity and an appreciation of what I/we attempted to do as we raised them to live out their faith.

    1. Good observations. I think most dads of daughters will get the self-depreciating humor in this video as well.

  10. Dr. Peter J Oehler

    A lot of interesting comments here, and I would have to agree most closely with Mr. Gruett. Many reference “Lust” but none attempt to define what it is and, especially what Jesus might have been saying when He said Men should not lust after Women. Shall we assume that Women do not lust after Men? Was He talking about something other than the Natural desire, Created in both genders from the beginning, to discover a desirable mate for the purpose of procreation? Although the Bible, as well as many other offerings, talk about the Heart, emotions are a function of the brain often influenced by hormones. God said to “go forth and populate” and He instilled certain biological responses to certain stimuli that would drive the probability that that command would be fulfilled. It would seem rational that adornment would be a variable in that equation but I believe that in the wide spectrum of choices it actually plays a rather minuscule role. For instance I would argue that the middle Eastern women dresses in their “pup tents” create just as much interest and wonder (possibly even more) as the vast majority of western women (and men) dressed as they normally do every day (with some exceptions, and more and more as our culture devolves).
    it appears to me that what most people here are referring to as Lust is actually normal God given desire or interest, whereas what Jesus is talking about is un-Holy abominations such as rape, bondage, adultery, child sex, and many other iterations some of which are now “acceptable” in our culture.

  11. I think West’s mistake–and that of most of fundagelical Christianity–is to assume that 1 Tim. 2:9-10 refers to coverage and drape in clothing, when in reality it refers to the opulence of clothing, and then to propose what is really a cultural–evangelical subcultural–solution to the problem of not conforming..not to 1 Tim.2:9-10, but rather, again, to evangelical subculture. He also makes the classic mistake of assuming that the immodest woman is “leading someone astray”, whereas that’s not the case.

    Now don’t get me wrong; I appreciate a bit of coverage, but to get there, what you’ve really got to do is to take a serious look at the Old Testament, which describes (incidentally, really) their attitudes towards nakedness and exposure. There was some degree of “uncovering nakedness”, per Leviticus 18, that was assumed to be almost equivalent to having sex. Public exposure of some parts of one’s body was a disgrace–see the story of David’s messengers being humiliated. Tanning was not intentionally done, though people did work outside.

    And then we ask ourselves whether we think the same way, to a degree, and how we apply that. My take is yes–there are some cues people give to suggest they are available in some situations, but not others. A swimsuit is appropriate on the beach, but not so much in the office or at church.

    If we take a look at what is appropriate in various situations, vs. distracting or inappropriate, then we might get a bit further than we’re getting currently.

    1. No. 1 Tim. 2:9-10 is talking about clothing. It is a strait forward understanding of the text.

      In the Old Testament, other than pre-Fall, the uncovering of someone was to humiliate and degrade the uncovered individual. That is the reason God spoke in metaphorical terms regarding the Jewish nation that followed other gods. He was going to “uncover their nakedness” – that is, humiliate them and that often came about through captivity to another nation.

      Again, walk into a public school middle or high school guys’ locker room and listen to the conversation about the females who dress provocatively (immodestly). They speak degradingly of the female who is immodest because they believe she has degraded herself and they have some inappropriate names they use.

      So, why does a prostitute wear “immodest” or “provocative” clothing. It is to “lead someone astray.” Pretty simple.

      Of course there is a distinction between what one wears to the office or church or to the beach. However, there is still swim wear that is inappropriate – both for men and women. For men, the old time short speedo. For women, the string bikini which barely covers anything.

      1. Don, no argument that it’s about clothing. However, the examples given are about how expensive, “showy”, and the like the attire is, not what is seen around and through it.

        Regarding the example of locker room talk, true, and the trick is, again, connecting it to what Scripture actually says. I simply argue that the place to argue “perceived availability” is places like Leviticus 18’s word picture of “uncover nakedness” as a euphemism for “have sex.”

  12. Sreedevi Rajagopalan

    As a Christian woman, I believe it’s important for me to dress modestly. Didn’t Jesus talk about people who could be stumbling blocks? Jesus said in Luke 17:1 “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but wow to the one through whom they come.” Doesn’t it mean  that the one who stumble and the one who makes other stumble would be held accountable? If we walk in the light of the word of God, we will surely know in our conscience if we are a stumbling block or not. While women can’t be held responsible for a man’s lustful actions, they are surely accountable if they are the sources of lustful temptations.

  13. Krista Manahan

    The man has two daughters (no sons) and is speaking to them. Why are we offended he’s not speaking to people’s sons or to specific church denominations? What has come of the world today where a singer/songwriter must be told what they ought to sing and write about? Where’s the creative freedom? I think he’d get flack either way- if he were to direct his song to boys people would be offended he wasn’t minding his own business.

    For the dads commenting here- you keep on protecting your girls!! They will love you for it.

    1. Frankly, I don’t see any protection of his daughters in Mr. West’s display of them for clicks.

      There are many secular entertainers who are far more protective of their children, who refuse to use their children on their own social media accounts.

  14. Fred Monninots

    Well good luck with that. Expecting a teen girl to not dress provocatively is equivalent to turning back the tides. They will and dads will just have to deal with it. To repress it with moralistic scriptural lessons will only turn them against these teachings when they can do so. You just have to ride it out like almost everything when it comes to having a teen daughter. They’ll survive and so will you. And heck you’ll even laugh about it someday.

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