Girls, this one’s for you.
Immodesty. The word so many Catholic girls cringe at.
I’ve grown up in an authentically Catholic home, where we were encouraged to grow and strive for virtue. Modesty is one of the virtues I was encouraged to cultivate. Basic principles I learned as a child – don’t show too much skin, no short skirts (short being above the knee), no painted on pants, don’t show you’re midriff, no bikini’s, etc etc, basic principles to achieve dignity and modesty in your dress. As a teen, I further learned some history of fashion. I was horrified at the idea that a prostitute was commissioned to model the first bikini because no other would dare do it. Also to learn that the flapper dress was initially designed to make the female figure more boy-like – the loose & low bodice intended to hide the curves of the bust & waist. I read an enlightening book on modesty and dress, entitled “Dressing with Dignity” by Colleen Hammond. Read it yourself to find out more details. I’ve always loved clothing. My mother will no doubt vouch for my exuberant tastes and wardrobe choices even as a toddler – changing my skirts and dresses three times a day merely so I could wear more then one awesome outfit. From a very young age my father would compliment my floral patterned dress, or comment on the drastically 90’s sweater I had paired with frilly socks and a scrunchy. If Dad liked my outfit, it was surely a success – ergo, my flair for dress took it’s flight from a very young age.
Modesty is a virtue we, as Catholics, are encouraged to cultivate. Not only in dress, but in attitude. Charity is also a virtue – the highest of virtues, in fact. Modesty and charity. You can be charitable to your neighbour by being modest, but you can also be uncharitable to your neighbour by putting modesty as the highest virtue. Yes, modesty is a virtue which women should strive for. It is one that should be encouraged, cultivated, should be second nature to us. Eventually it should be such a habit that we don’t need to think about it anymore. However, like two sides to a coin, there are two sides to modesty. There is external modesty (which is typically the stressed side of modesty) and internal modesty. External modesty would include dress and body language, while internal modesty would include the state of his/her soul. They do go hand-in-hand, but they are different and each require their own attention to ultimately form the full virtue of true modesty. The internal state of one’s soul comes first, and it will be reflected by the exterior of one’s body. External modesty means nothing without the internal. Without the interior beauty of a soul, the exterior quickly fades. One could be forced by her parents to dress like a frump (under the guise of “modesty”) but without the interior soul’s modesty and virtue, her actions and behaviour will counter that “exterior modesty” so drastically that it wouldn’t matter how much of her is covered because her mind, attitude and body language say the opposite. Just as a beautiful soul will cause an average face to be beautiful, if the interior is striving for virtue, it will manifest itself exteriorly. As one grows in virtue, one adapts and changes the exterior to fit what is happening on the interior. It is true that the outside will affect the inside. An ordered & cleanly home will encourage an ordered & cleanly soul, but it will not make one. The desire for order, cleanliness & virtue has to come from within the soul before it manifests itself on the outside, keeping an ordered & cleanly home on a consistent basis.
Modesty as defined by the ‘Catholic Dictionary’: the virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station in life.
Modesty as defined by the ‘Oxford Dictionary’: 1. The quality or state of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities; 2. The quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level; 3. Behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency
Where the concept that modesty means “hide” or “cover” came from I will never know or understand. Neither of these definitions use either of those words, or synonyms of those words. “Moderate” comes from the latin word “moderari: to restrain, or control”. So where does this cult-ish idea of completely covering and hiding away what you’ve rightfully been given by God Himself come from? Where are it’s roots? Surely not from dogmatic teachings – never have I heard or read anything that demands these strict and objectifying rules.
That’s right, I just said “objectifying”. Because in my opinion this trad modesty cult is no better then the m*slims and their b*rka’s. I recently heard, while conversing about this subject, the phrase: “I didn’t steal it, God Himself gave it to me.” How brilliantly this stated exactly how I felt! Treating what you’ve been given by God Himself as if it is something to be shamed, is disrespecting and objectifying God’s creation. The tabernacle is not covered with ugly dirty rugs to hide it away from the public eye. Rather, it is adorned and locked safely to give glory and preserve what is contained inside of it. So the female body shouldn’t be hidden under unflattering clothing to hide away from the male eye. Rather, it should be adorned and protected to preserve the beauty within.
Yes, as women, it is our responsibility to preserve and protect the men from falling into sin because of our own negligence in properly adorning our bodies. If the tabernacle isn’t properly veiled and locked, curiosity could stir from a passer-by and Our Lord could be at risk, as the passer-by will be of committing a sacrilege. So too if the female body isn’t properly veiled and protected, curiosity could stir from a passer-by and result in sin for both the passer-by and the keeper.
In the true spirit of modesty, we should adorn our bodies in such a way that will be pleasing to Our Lord, as our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost. But to hide, cover, and pretend our bodies are not what they were created for, is to treat God’s creation & gift to us falsely. We should beautify our bodies through dignifying dress, attract the eye to admiration without fully revealing and exposing what is protected underneath.
More on this subject to come.