Sunday, March 30, 2014

Modesty - Let Me Tell You How to Dress

So - Modesty...a rather hot topic, no?

Well...let me sum up how you should dress in only seven words.   

Dress to be attractive, but not provocative. 

Unfortunately I did not come up with that myself ...I read it in Beyond the Birds and the Bees, Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.  Good should read it.

Someone...not sure who, could have been Marilyn Monroe, or Edith Head or some totally different person (the Internets disagree) once said A Dress Should Be Tight Enough to Show You're A Woman, but Loose Enough to Prove You're A Lady.   

Kinda along those same lines, right?

Anyway, then the question comes up....where does the line fall, when it comes to provocative dress. 

I propose that the answer to that question depends on two factors

1). The intent of the person wearing the clothing.
2). The intent of the person designing/manufacturing/sewing the clothing.

Some clothing is designed with the intent to be provocative. Like this,

Or a super low cut shirt with a deep, deep, deep v-neck that goes down to the belly button.

Or a pair of yoga pants with the words "hot stuff" printed on the butt. 

And, some clothing is worn with the intent to be provocative.   But, since this is a family friendly blog, I'm not going to show you a picture of that. I think you know what I'm talking about. 

But, everything else, there is a lot of gray area.  And, really, I think it's depends on the intent of the wearer and their body type.  Things like tank tops, leggings, sleeveless shirt, short skirts....look totally different on different people.  For example. a person who is smaller chested is better able to "pull off" a tank top than someone who is more well-endowed (such as me).

And someone (like me) who is well-endowed and always carrying around a toddler that has a tendency to pull on the front of your shirt may have a tendency to show a bit more than wanted thanks to the tugging toddler, and that is okay, because nothings says not provocative like a baby pulling on you.  I try to wear clothes that cover more, but I'm not going to sweat it, if it happens.   I once read a blog post/comments where the writer and reader were afraid to wear knee-length "swingy" skirts because the chance gust of wind could come along and blow things up.  Who cares, says I.   Not that we shouldn't try to keep ourselves covered, but I'm not going to go around worrying about chance gusts of wind.  

Furthermore, context also matters.  

Something like this is totally appropriate for the beach and totally inappropriate for church.

Now, let's look at what the Catholic Church teaches us about modesty. 

“2522 Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.

2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.”

I love how the catechism talks about the purpose of modesty....that it protects the dignity of the person.

I also love how it talks about modesty being discreet.  Because modesty is more than just about how much skin is showing.   I think one could also be immodest if they are totally covered but dress in such wild, unusual way that their goal is to draw undue attention to themselves.  There is of course, nothing wrong with expressing your personal taste or individuality, but there is something wrong with always dressing with the purpose of everyone look at me. 

Notice, however, that it says that the forms of modesty vary from culture to culture.  I really started to question my preconceived notions about modesty when we moved to Florida.  Because, in many ways, Florida is a different culture than New England.   What is appropriate in a climate where it is 95 degrees and 10000% humidity for most of the year is going to be different from what is appropriate in a climate where it rarely gets above 85.  It just is. An article of clothing which would be considered provacative in New England, would not necessarily be considered so in Florida.

I think this is also important to keep in mind when you have people who think all women should go back to dressing the way they did in the 1800's and cover up any possible clue they are a woman by wearing long, high-necked, shapeless clothes.  We don't live in the 1800's..and what was considered provocative back then is considered totally normal now.

Modesty is an important value to have and teach our children...but I do see one problem with the so-called "modesty culture" which I think is totally different from the church's teaching on modesty.

Let's take this video, put out by some fairly talented boys from the Mormon church.

However, I take issue with the line Girl, I Need Your Modesty. 

In Christopher West's book, The Theology of the Body for Beginners  he talks about "negative purity" and "positive purity."  Negative purity prevents the sin of lust by not looking, by so-called custody of the eyes.   And, that is good, and that why we need to protect our dignity by dressing modesty.   But, he says we should go beyond that, that being able to look without lust is the higher virtue and what we should be striving for,

The problem with a lot of "modesty culture" as I see it, is that it teaches boys that they are helpless and turn into lust-driven fools at the sight of too much skin, so those temptress girls need to be covered up.  But, the thing is, people generally act the way you expect them to.  Tell a child they are stupid or bad and they will act stupid and bad.  Tell a boy that he is a slave to his hormones and he will become a slave to his hormones.   We can do better than that.  We HAVE to do better than that.  In our sex-crazed, pornographic culture, the "don't look" doesn't cut it anymore, unless you never leave your house and never get on the Internet.   We need to teach our girls to dress modestly to protect their dignity and value, and we need to teach our boys to see the dignity and value of the girls no matter what they are wearing. 

Another issue I have with this above video (not to pick on the Mormons or anything) is the line

Virtue is so beautiful.  

Yes, virtue is beautiful, but again, it seems to imply that a girl's value and dignity is dependent on the way she dresses and if she meets this guys standard of "modesty".  As though girls who don't meet this guys standards are not beautiful, and don't have dignity.  Even worse, as though as long as a girl meets his standards of modesty, she is virtuous, even if she is also lazy, unkind and dishonest. Virtue is not dependent on what you wear, but rather how you act and treat others. 

Yes, we have to respect human nature being what it is.  But, we aren't animals.  We aren't a slave to our hormones and passions.  We have to be prudent and decent and discreet and wise, but we can't just say "oh, I can't help myself so every girl around needs to cover up."  Modesty is a two way street..and it's not just up to the girls. that we've covered the "not provocative part"...what about the "be attractive part."  No, I don't think this means we have to wear a ballgown and a tiara every day.  But, I do think it means we should at least make an effort to dress in clothes that are well-kept, clean, flattering and fit well.   Hopefully I meet that, at least some of the time.  You can judge for yourself today.

Since we're talking about clothes and it's Sunday and all that good stuff.  I'm linking up with Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday.   Here is my hopefully, modest picture.

Ignore the bad hair and the crazy kids. 

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  1. I agree, Amelia. Great post! :)

  2. Great post, very sensible advice. I love the quotes at the beginning.

    1. That are probably my favorite quotes pertaining to dress!

  3. Great thoughts. When I taught AP US History and the kids asked how long the essay should be, I would say (jokingly), "Like a good skirt, long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting."

  4. I kind of love whatever John is doing to Elsa! Is his sleeve tied at the end and he's throwing a punch? Hilarious!

    And great points - I teach middle school (primarily girls) and always have to have a talk with the girls at this time of year about what's appropriate and what's not, and how *even if* guys shouldn't be looking at them, there's absolutely no reason why anyone's shorts should be that short!!! It's uncomfortable, honestly...

    1. LOL. I don't think his sleeve is tied. I think she just has his hand in his sleeve and is holding it or something. And, thankfully, he didn't actually punch her!

  5. I love your and Ann-Marie's quotes. This whole thing is brilliant.

  6. I'm glad you mention that the same piece of clothing on different body types could be very different, modesty-speaking. I think a lot of the "modesty proponents" overlook this fact, and try to set strict clothing rules for everyone. I've thought a lot about how I would deal with this if I ever had multiple daughters. I guess it's like you say, though, teaching them the general principle about avoiding provocation. I think understanding modesty is really a "sense" you need to develop over time, like your conscious.

    1. My oldest two daughters have VERY different body they are pretty much polar opposite when it comes to body types. So, yes...the different body types things defintiely comes up.

  7. Agree with all of this. I try to be reasonably modest but also try to stay modern and want to feel cute! Basically I don't mind showing my knees, shoulders (appropriately) and wearing a little lipstick. I like that you talked about intent and also that clothes look different on different people. I am very chesty so sometimes even tops that are not revealing or would be modest on another person look questionable on me. Even something as simple as adding a scarf or jacket helps the situation. Although I will say that the first 6 months I breastfed my daughter became very challenging. It was hard to keep myself appropately covered at all times, but my intentions were good! Anyways well written post. Thanks!

    1. Breastfeeding definitely complicates thing. And, I really need to get into wearing scarfs more, because they really can make things so much easier.

  8. I'm midway through The Theology of the Body for Beginners and it is blowing my little a good way. I've definitely felt encouraged to reevaluate the way I think about modesty and the reasons why God gave me that body that He did.

    I will say though - if you'll indulge me in a small rant - that the whole "different items of clothing look more or less modest on different body types" issue has been one of the ongoing struggles of my life. It was especially rough when I was in middle/high school. I think that some of the people pointing out the "immodest" nature of my dress were being less-than-charitable in their delivery. I didn't want to look immodest, but I needed some help.

    1. Ugh...sorry you had some less than charitable comments. Modesty is such a tricky subject...and it's a really fine line to discuss. Charity in all things is definitely key,

  9. I'm a little late to the comment board here, but I wanted to chime in with my thoughts on such an important subject! I think about modest a lot, as a mother of young children in a very sex-driven culture. I've come to the conclusion that modesty is very much about thinking of and respecting others. Modesty, where clothing is concerned, means considering what the effect of our dress is going to have on others. Will it make others uncomfortable? Will people need to avert their eyes? I want to look beautiful, for sure, but I never want to make another man or woman uncomfortable because my clothes are too tight or too short. I think we're also definitely showing our respect to God when we honor our bodies.

    Love this topic! And I loved the thoughts you shared. And that video was hilarious! I hadn't seen that before. You know, I totally agree that we need to teach men to respect women no matter what they're wearing, and that men are responsible for their own actions. But young girls need to know that men don't necessarily WANT them to dress provocatively! Girls can be so naive, and they may think they're just being cute and stylish and not realize how difficult they are making it for a young man not to be distracted in his thoughts. Girls need to hear that modesty is beautiful, because that is not what our culture is telling them!

  10. I just made my way over here via a link on CatholicAllYear, and I'm so glad I did. It was encouraging to hear this issue handled in such a common sense and charitable way. I'm a mother of four young girls, and I'm striving to teach them this balance--and to respect the boys in their life both by dressing non-provacatively (well, they're young now, but when they get to that point) and by giving the guys a little credit. It angers me when young men are portrayed as wild animals who can't help themselves.
    Anyway, thank you so much! Great post.

  11. I found your blog through Fine Linen and Purple. I really liked what you had to say. I agree with all of it...modesty isn't always a black and white issue and I love that you take the intention of the wearer into account. So many people who talk about this topic leave that out entirely!


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