I was young, I went through a phase of being very scrupulous. (Is it just me, or was
anyone else ever young
and scrupulous?) I remember knowing that
God wants us to dress modestly. I didn’t
understand why, or the differences in
male and female nature that made modesty important. But I knew it was a rule, and it had
something do to with men being attracted to women. But I couldn’t figure out where the line was. Was it bad
for men to be attracted by the sight of a woman? Was I supposed to make myself completely
physically unattractive to them?
Fortunately, that seemed unreasonable even to me, and my inborn teenaged
girl’s desire to feather my hair and experiment with fashion and make-up
overwhelmed my early scrupulosity.
But they were
good questions. Does dressing modestly
mean completely obliterating every trance of femininity in our appearance? How completely are we supposed to be hiding
our bodies, anyway? Should the burlap
bag, or the shapeless plaid jumper, be the next big fashion trend?
late Pope John Paul II is still my “go to” guy when it comes to issues of
sexual morality. His book Love and Responsibility is amazing on
many, many levels. The discussion on
modesty is one of my favorite parts. He
says that modesty is about inspiring a reaction to the “person” and not just to
the “parts.” It is about presenting that
person as a good in and of herself, and not just the body as a possible object
says that “Shame is the tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person,
to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value
of the person as such.” But modesty isn’t just about what we’re
concealing. It’s about what we’re
revealing. In deflecting attention away
from the “sexual values,” we are hopefully turning that attention toward the
deeper attributes of the person. As JPII
says “The spontaneous need to conceal mere sexual values bound up with the
person is the natural way to the discovery of the value of the person as such.”
says, however, that we conceal those sexual values “only to a certain extent,
so that in combination with the value of the person, they can still be a point
of origin for love.” In other words, God
created men to be created to be attracted to the female form, and vice
versa. And when we fall in love with
each other, the male and female shape of our bodies is not completely
irrelevant to the process. If you don’t
believe me, think about all of the deeper traits and characteristics you’re
looking for in a spouse. Now what if,
while walking through an enchanted forest, you found all of those attributes in
a talking cardboard box? What level of
“attraction” would you experience?
goes on to say, in what I find one of the most illuminating passages of the book,
that the “accentuation of sexual values by dress is inevitable, and is not
necessarily incompatible with sexual modesty.
What is truly immodest in dress is that which frankly contributes to the
deliberate displacement of the true value of the person by sexual values, that
which is bound to elicit a reaction to the person as to a ‘possible means of
obtaining sexual enjoyment’ and not ‘a possible object of love by reason of his
or her personal value.’”
refreshing is this? The virtue of
modesty in dress doesn’t require us to completely hide the fact that we’re
women. That wouldn’t be possible, nor
would we want to if we could. We’re
women. We have women’s parts. We don’t have to pretend that we don’t. We just need to avoid dressing in such a way
that those parts are the first – or only – thing people notice when they look
other words, we don’t need to wear the shapeless plaid jumpers.
thought it was interesting that, in last month’s comments, several men who
clearly understood the virtue of modesty also pointed out that women don’t need
to dress “dumpily” to be modest. This is
something that a lot of women don’t understand.
I admire any woman who makes it a priority to dress modestly. She’s trying to please God, and that earns
points in my book any day of the week. I
do think there are some women who take it too far. There could be a lot of reasons for
that. I suppose in some there may be an
inordinate fear of sexuality, or of any level of attractiveness to the opposite
sex. Some, as I said, may be very
healthy and well intentioned, but taking their understanding of modesty to an
extreme conclusion. If a little cover-up
is good, then a lot of cover-up must be better.
as my friend Johnette Benkovic says, putting on make-up in the morning is an
act of charity. The point is that the
rest of the world has to look at us.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting that to be a pleasant experience.
more important, we carry the image and likeness of God in our bodies. That’s a very, very good thing. We want the way we dress to reflect
that. When we take a healthy (as opposed
to excessive or immodest) pride in our appearance, we are demonstrating to the
world that we respect ourselves, and the Lord who created us.
month’s comments, and the comments of many good guys I’ve heard from over the
years, show that good, God-following men don’t want women to dress like
nuns. They want nuns to dress like nuns,
of course. But not the women they date,
or the women they work with or spend time with.
Men appreciate women who take pride in their appearance. Not excessive pride, of course. Nobody likes to wait for hours while a vain
woman primps and paints and sprays. No
man likes to hear “does this make me look fat?”
And a woman who will never ride a bike – or a convertible – because it
might “mess up her hair” is not a lot of fun to be around.
a woman who dresses appropriately – and attractively – is doing a favor to the
men around her. And that’s a good thing.
are still a lot of unanswered questions about modesty. What exactly constitutes modest attire? How can we who are not so visually oriented
tell how those who are visually
oriented will react? Is there one single standard for modesty everywhere at all
times, or is modesty to a certain extent culturally conditioned? What is men’s responsibility in all of this?
like modesty gets three columns.