My problem with “modesty”

I was introduced to the idea of modesty being a virtue that I should embrace as a young girl. For a long time there was pressure from certain circles of friends who said women could only be modest was by wearing boy’s baggy shirts and skirts that reach the ankles in order to hide their bodies.

I was a member of those groups where dressing frumpy was defined as modesty, and all those other people are being impure. I soon discovered that these girls were going about enacting the virtue of modesty in the wrong way.

While it seemed as if these women were trying to be holy and modest, they did not fully grasp the true understanding of the virtue of modesty.

An important thing to remember is that our bodies are not a hindrance to Heaven as some people hold to be true. Our bodies were made beautiful and perfect by God, marred by sin but made new again through baptism and Christ becoming flesh.

Modesty can sometimes promulgate that same mindset of: “our bodies are evil” (also known as the heresy of Gnosticism). As Catholics, we know this to be false. Yes, our bodies are temporal things and we sin through our bodies at times, but our bodies are not evil. We do not have to walk around in a brown, boxy paper bag to prove our holiness and modesty. We must be careful about what we wear so as not to lead others to sin, but our bodies are not sinful in and of themselves.

We do not have to dress in baggy, frumpy clothes in order to be modest. God created us different from men and deemed us to be beautiful that way. And yes, he did give us extra curves and such, but that doesn’t make our bodies evil. While you shouldn’t flaunt your body to get attention, you should not hide who you are.

Denying the way God made you by being ashamed of your body is just as sad as the women who think they have to hang out of their clothes and show more skin to get attention. Yes, it is hard to be a woman. It is not easy to be modest. There is a fine line we have to walk between being immodest and dressing like our grandpas (no offence Grandpa).

By completely neglecting our appearance and dressing like we are ashamed of our bodies, we are bringing a bad reputation to our faith.

Christ said that when we are fasting we are not to look as if we are fasting. We should not be dressing in a way that gives us that much attention: whether that is dressing super-“modest” or showing every inch of skin legally possible. We should not call attention to ourselves and our “holiness” by dressing like we are from the 1800’s.

Nothing on earth can quite equate to a woman’s beauty. The first woman, Eve, was the final and most beautiful creation of God in the book of Genesis.

With the entrance of sin into the world, some of the world has lost its inherent beauty and the other beauty can be twisted and misused for evil. Our bodies can be used as a way to grow closer to God, or to fall farther away from him. They should not be seen as an evil that we must hide from God and something of which to be ashamed. Christ became flesh to redeem the world. Our bodies can be used to direct others to the Father as well…we just have to present and carry ourselves as followers of Christ.

To the world, we should not be seen as those crazy Christians who don’t know the difference between men and women’s clothing or that stylish “vintage” really doesn’t refer Victorian or puritanical style dresses.

You must dress and live for Christ in a way that radiates beauty.

_________________________

BioImageLauren Ramseyer is a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville working towards a major in Mass Communications with a concentration in journalism and a minor in Theology. She will be working as assistant editor of The Troubadour and as a writer for the Public Relations Department at Franciscan in the fall. She loves her Catholic faith, her family and chocolate. Lauren currently runs two blogs, one of which hosts her small business; if you feel so inclined, you can check them out here: randomramblingsofme.wordpress.com & aiming4the2percent.wordpress.com

32 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful way to look a modesty! Great job!

    By Julie | 3 years ago Reply
  2. Virtue lies in the middle!

    Modest certainly does NOT mean frumpy! We can (and SHOULD!) dress beautifully, in fashion, as well as dignified: http://www.pinterest.com/colleenmhammond/modest-fashionista/

    My favorite quote is from from Pope Pius XII: “The trend of fashions is not in itself evil. It flows spontaneously from the social nature of man, in accordance with an impulse which inclines him to keep in harmony with his fellow men, and with the way of acting of those amongst whom he lives. God does not ask you to live outside your times, so careless of the exigencies of fashion as to render yourselves ridiculous, by dressing in a way opposed to the common tastes and practices of your contemporaries. In following fashion, virtue lies in the middle course. What God asks of you is to remember always that fashion is not, and cannot be, the ultimate rule of conduct for you, that beyond fashion and its demands, there are higher and more pressing laws, principles superior to fashion, and unchangeable, which under no circumstances can be sacrificed to the whim of pleasure or fancy, and before which must bow the fleeting omnipotence of the idol of fashion.”

    By Colleen Hammond | 3 years ago Reply
    • Colleen, you hit the nail on the head beautifully! Females should feel an obligation to dress masculine(which in itself goes against Dt. 22:5 and 1 Tim 2:9-10) or frumpy to look modest.

      By Dwayne | 3 years ago Reply
      • Thank you, Dwayne! 🙂

        By Colleen Hammond | 3 years ago Reply
  3. Lauren, I agree with the overall message of this post, but this line in particular does not sit well with me: “We must be careful about what we wear so as not to lead others to sin”.

    We shouldn’t be talking about women’s clothing and telling them to avoid wearing a dress, skirt, or tank top because it may provoke someone to violate them. By saying this, we are placing the blame and responsibility for the gross act not on the perpetrator, but on the victim.

    What we should be talking about is the fact that so many men (and women) think they’re entitled to do or say something to a woman because of what she’s wearing. What I choose to wear does not justify someone’s actions against me; I am not “asking for it” nor did I “have it coming” to me. The sad reality is that these are things many victims of rape and sexual assault are told after being asked what they were wearing.

    By Camelia | 3 years ago Reply
    • Camelia, I can understand why you would come to that conclusion, but I believe that she meant it in a different way. The bible says that even looking lustfully upon a woman is a sin and by wearing revealing clothing, we make it harder for men to keep their thoughts pure.

      And I agree with you that woman should not be blamed for the actions of men because of what they choose to wear. It is no fault of theirs and the excuse is used by men who do not want to take responsibility for their actions.

      By Kailyn | 3 years ago Reply
    • Camelia–I agree that no one ever ‘has it coming to them’ as victims of sexual assault regardless of what they were wearing. However, I believe Lauren’s point is that if we truly love our brothers on this planet we do not want to dress in ways that make them think about us as sexual objects first. Men are visually stimulated–ask your brother or good male friends. Its like putting a big chocolate cake in front of your friend who is on a diet. would you do that to someone you wanted to see succeed? As women we should want to help our brothers on the path to heaven—seeing the women around them as people and getting to know them—not just getting to know their bodies. Our culture has distorted our understanding of sexuality and the idea of self-control is nearly out the window..women can dress stylishly without sacrificing their dignity as daughters of God, first.

      By Sandy | 3 years ago Reply
    • Camelia,
      I don’t think that is what Lauren meant. That is something my Mom always told us growing up….Not to dress in a way that could cause a man to sin. By that she meant in his thoughts. That we should not dress in a way that could cause a man to have impure thoughts about us. She always taught us that our bodies are the Temple of God and we are to respect our bodies and dress modestly. Yes there are some men who will have impure thoughts and do and say things they shouldn’t, no matter how we dress. That is wrong and it is on them. But if we dress in such a way that we are flaunting our bodies in front of them, then we are responsible for leading them to have such impure thoughts about us. That being said, I completely agree with you that a woman is never asking for it, no matter what she was wearing, And I too do not like hearing people say that. A sexual crime against someone is the fault of the perpetrator and no one else. God bless.

      By Charlene | 3 years ago Reply
    • No where did she say that dressing a certain way invites someone to assault someone else. Either verbally or physically. You can sin in your heart without uttering a word or making a move. It is our duty, to not dress, act, or talk in any way as to lead others to sin. Whether that sin is gossip, or lust…

      By Anna P | 3 years ago Reply
    • Camelia,

      I see where you’re coming from, and I agree that the ‘it was her fault for wearing that’ argument for rape or sexual harassment is just plain evil and wrong. No woman forsakes her right to be seen as a human being when she wears a bikini.

      However, I think what the author meant by ‘lead others to sin’ was mainly in the realm of thought. Men do tend to be more visually aroused than women do, and even if the man is godly, he’s still likely to be tempted if he sees an obviously immodestly dressed woman walking around. Putting issues of rape or sexual assault aside (let’s assume we’re dealing with good men here) it’s still an act of Christian Charity to reduce likelihood of temptation for them.
      So, even though I don’t renounce my human dignity by wearing a bikini, I can help protect the souls of my brothers by choosing something a little more modest instead.

      By GiannaT | 3 years ago Reply
  4. I am glad to hear of other women who were raised the same as myself. My childhood got to the point of obsessing over modesty. Looking back, we were weird. Very weird. And wrong. We thought we were right and holy, tht everyone else woke up and sinned everyday against the virtue of purity. I have grown immensely in my spiritual journey after I discarded “modesty” rules. I can dress attractively without showing it all.
    Thank you for writing this!
    Xoxo

    By Colleen | 3 years ago Reply
    • Oh man! You do sound like many of those girls I used to know. I got lucky because my parents never made me or my siblings dress in that way and taught us what real modesty is. I’m glad you have taken the time to discover it on your own! Thank you for reading! 🙂

      By Lauren R. | 3 years ago Reply
  5. Ok, but we should not forget that there are some “rules” for modesty. There is a path that great saints, like Padre Pio da Pietrelcina, pointed us. It is perfectly possible to look beautiful and young renouncing to clothing like trousers, shorts, mini-skirts and blouses that do not cover the shoulders.

    By Samara | 3 years ago Reply
    • There’s pictures of St. Gianna Molla out and about wearing pants. I think that guidelines can be useful, but I don’t think we should rely too much on them.

      By GiannaT | 3 years ago Reply
  6. The only problem I have with this is it still connects modesty to dress. Modesty isn’t a skirt length. Modesty is a virtue. It is an attitude of the heart.
    Did you know that men can be immodest too?

    Immodesty is when we choose an attitude that shows off ourselves, our possessions, our abilities, our influence, our power, etc.

    Excerpt from St Thomas Aquinas on modesty (which there is more of, and interestingly he comments later a lot more about humility)

    “Accordingly Andronicus [*De Affectibus] reckons three virtues in connection with outward attire; namely “humility,” which excludes the seeking of glory, wherefore he says that humility is “the habit of avoiding excessive expenditure and parade”; “contentment” [*Cf. Q[143], OBJ[4]], which excludes the seeking of sensuous pleasure, wherefore he says that “contentedness is the habit that makes a man satisfied with what is suitable, and enables him to determine what is becoming in his manner of life”

    The phrase “which excludes the seeking of glory, wherefore he says that humility is “the habit of avoiding excessive expenditure and parade” is important, I think in the discussion of modesty. Are we-man or woman – seeking to glorify ourselves or God?

    It does become a tricky thing with women, esp those unmarried, because we want to dress and look our best in the hopes-holy and legitimate hopes- of catching some handsome, Godly man’s eye. St Thomas also talks about women dressing with adornment to keep their husbands, ahem, happy.

    When it comes to modesty, I think the best think to talk about is what it means to have it as an attitude of the heart and are we embracing the other virtues. If we are embracing the others, modestly will come along side them. Nothing annoys me more than when someone accuses me (curvy girl) of being immodest. I did not know that they could see into my heart. If modesty is a virtue, it resides in the attitude of our hearts.

    By Jen | 3 years ago Reply
  7. Couldn’t agree more. God created us to be BEAUTIFUL. Yes… I said “beautiful”. I’ve never understood the whole mentality where frumpy is godly. On the contrary, I’ve viewed it as smacking God in the face and saying that what He made isn’t good enough. Why can’t it be a happy balance of respecting and loving ourselves AND others. Why does it have to be either/or? Why is it assumed in catholic christian circles that if you take care of your appearance and let people see that… God forbid, you’re a WOMAN with curves … you’re being immodest?? what does that even MEAN? Sure, you don’t to fly to the other extreme and exploit yourself, but there is such a thing as a healthy respect for the beauty God gave you and being a good steward of it.

    Something I’ve found to be really prevalent among orthodox catholics is a true sympathy and movements towards Jansenism without any realization that it’s alive and present. For those not familiar with the term, it’s a HERESY, that focuses on the errancy of the human condition and views the body as evil. For all intensive purposes, it pretty much states that grace is not sufficient for our weaknesses and that we should take whatever external measures possible in order to cover over our inability to strengthen and fortify our wills the way the Catholic Church understands we are capable of doing with the sacraments and our reason.

    Hyper-focusing on “modesty” can predispose us towards that kind of thing. Wouldn’t it be better if we focused more on being good stewards of our gifts and talents (both externally, as well as internally); growing exponentially in faith, hope and love and leaving the rest for the confessional?

    By Monique | 3 years ago Reply
  8. I don’t think women should objectify themselves. They shouldn’t wear tight dresses or revealing outfits to attract attention to their body. (Also, why do women wear high heels. Answer me, women: WHY DO YOU WEAR HIGH HEELS?) But intention is key here. If a woman is wearing short shorts because it’s stinkin’ hot outside, then she should be able to wear them without fearing sexual objectification! If a girl is struggling financially and wearing clothes that are a bit too tight on her because she can’t afford new ones, then she shouldn’t be judged for it. If a girl wears a low-slung top that allows people to see her bra strap because she just couldn’t care otherwise (because it’s not like girls wearing bras is that scandalous a thing), then she shouldn’t be declared “immodest.” AND if a girl wants to wear frumpy clothes and look like grandpa, NO BIG DEAL. I don’t think we should judge people because of their clothing. One’s exterior can be deceiving. Do I think one’s sexuality is a sacred thing that should only be shared between husband and wife? Yes. But showing thighs, shoulders, midriffs, etc. aren’t necessarily sexual and we shouldn’t be ashamed of the human body. If your intention is just some relief from the heat or to wear a comfy dress you bought… then what’s the big deal? As long as you don’t act with lust, I think this is fine.

    By Jo | 3 years ago Reply
    • You are responsible for your own behavor and relationship with God, no one can judge you or anyone but others also have their freedom to their views even if you don’t agree with them, in the end you only have to answer to your God. is good that the choice of some girls or women dress with no intention to act with lust but it can’t be sure that young boys or men can avoid acting with lust when they are around them, they are only human not saints!

      By annie wong | 3 years ago Reply
      • Then it is their sin not the woman’s. We shouldn’t have to dress a certain way because men can’t control themselves. Yes I agree with being classy but I often wear leggings or dresses with no sleeves for various reasons. In fact it’s ridiculous when I go to an all girls school and I can’t wear leggings because it is unfair to the male teachers (words of the administration not mine). Great article though, Lauren!

        By Sarah | 3 years ago Reply
        • Saying that we all (women and men) should dress so as not to lead others to sin in no way suggests that you would “have it coming to you” if someone treats you badly in reaction to how you’re dressed.

          It’s not about taking responsibility for someone else’s sin; it’s an act of charity. We are all sinful and we are all one body in Christ. In the same way we would not offer someone a beer if we know they struggle with alcohol, we should not overly expose our bodies so as not to unjustly tempt someone who may struggle with lust.

          Leading someone to sin is not the same as being responsible for it or deserving of it. It merely recognizes that what we do affects others and that we should act with charity because of this.

          There are certainly other reasons to dress modestly as Lauren describes, but if we diminish this reason, we deceive ourselves.

          By Scott Spinola | 3 years ago Reply
    • With lots of agreement to lots of what you said, I have to say that NO girls are wearing short shorts because of the heat. I didn’t when I did it in 1992, my mother didn’t do it when she wore them in 1982, and my grandmother didn’t do it for that reason when she wore them in 1975 (Yes, I just saw a picture of her in them that year!). If that was why any woman wore short shorts, men would be wearing them, too. The reality is that short shorts are always tight, and tight shorts are always hot. Long, baggy shorts like guys wear are cool b/c they provide air flow.

      Most of the stupid reasons that women like me give for wearing/doing stupid things are revealed for their stupidity when you ask, “But why don’t men do/have to do that?”

      By Leigh | 3 years ago Reply
  9. Your post is right on target. It’s really hard to figure these things out as a parent; sometimes we err on the side of frumpy. I think the heresy you meant was Manicheanism. Gnosticism is “secret knowledge.” Manicheans believed the body was evil.

    By Annie | 3 years ago Reply
    • Gnosticism also believed that the body was evil.

      By Juan Trejos | 3 years ago Reply
  10. We dress according to how we respect ourselves. If we perceive ourselves as dignified and ladies, we will dress accordingly. If we want people to focus on our ideas and intellect, we will ensure that we are not drawing their attention to some of our body parts. Stylish but modest clothing DOES exist at http://www.michaela-noel.com

    By marisa | 3 years ago Reply
  11. You are a good writer. Keep writing what you believe in.

    By Bob the Reporter | 3 years ago Reply
  12. Beautifully written!!!You are well on the right path for your chosen profession.God Bless You with continued success!!!!!

    By Karen Hashey | 3 years ago Reply
  13. I loved reading your blogs.
    Especially because you are a woman who talks about modesty as if you know how men look at them!!!!

    Hearty congrats for that!!

    I just wanna share this with you and all my dear beloved beautiful sisters around the globe.

    My thought is a question.

    You look at all cultures around the globe from history till present day. Modesty and chastity is always pointed towards women! even though it is equally applicable to men!! And the word sex is pictured with a woman’s body!!!

    And I believe, no human being will reject this fact that women have more to cover than men. (pelvic and chest area )

    My question is :

    Look at all the Hollywood stars or any celebrities, look at their parties! Look at all our wedding parties. Look at the formal dresses used in our offices!! Look to our WEDDING DRESS for the most holy ceremony in a human being’s life !!!!

    WHY MEN COMES IN A COAT AND SUITE WHICH EXPOSE ONLY THEIR FINGERS AND FACE WHILE WOMEN COMES EXPOSING THEIR SACRED BREAST AND WAISTS AND LEGS??????????!!!!!!

    And dear sisters, please don’t say that “”why men want women to dress up modestly according to their views. If you men are tempeted because of my dressing then “CLOSE YOUR EYES “. ” you can’t say that when you follow Christ and His words!!

    Dear Lauren, if my question is found to have some relevance, please make a blog regarding the same next time.
    Thank you…
    God bless you and your loved ones +++

    By Matt Pratt | 3 years ago Reply
  14. Well done, very beautiful post and so much truth!

    By Mary | 3 years ago Reply
  15. Beautifully written! Some of these comments are very ridiculous, the idea that a women “cant afford to dress modestly”, is absurd, i used to use the same argument when i was a teenager because i didnt like the sign posted in my dads catholic church in texas telling people to dress appropriately for mass. At thas point in my life Its a total cop out. I recently went to the salvation army and got some very nice modern modest clothes, i got like 5 skirts for ten bucks. Also when the author talks about not leading men into sin by what we wear shes not referring to sicko rapists, i wish women would stop using that card for an argument against modesty

    By jessica | 3 years ago Reply
  16. What a wonderful way to look at modesty! This makes a lot of sense! Thank you 🙂

    By Hannah Pavalko | 3 years ago Reply
  17. Nice blog. It does hit the point quite well. I would like to add a few points of my own.

    I have an issue with how people use the word “modest” or “modesty.” I am reminded of the phrase from “The Princess Bride” where Inigo Montoya says: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Webster’s Dictionary’s first definition of modesty is “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.” The 1828 edition states thus: an act or series of acts, consists in humble, unobtrusive deportment, as opposed to extreme boldness, forwardness, arrogance, presumption, audacity or impudence. In short I understand it to mean; “not drawing undue attention to yourself.” Yes there are references in follow on definitions that link it to sexual actions and demeanor. In the 1828 edition they state: “In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners.”

    Most commonly people seem to use the term modesty when talking about clothing, or rather the amount of clothing women should wear. The common expression that a young lady wearing anything less than a full body suit is immodest and thus sinful is somewhat aberrant to me. Many think a two-piece swimsuit in and of itself is immodest and instead advocate for the ‘modest’ one piece (ignoring the fact that 100 years ago a woman wearing this ‘modest’ swimsuit would have been scandalized and jailed for it).

    While it is common to use the word modesty when talking about sexual behavior I believe it detracts from the real meaning which the Bible refers to in Philip. 4:5, 1 Tim. 2:9, 1 Pet. 3:3. In these versus it talks about wearing costly jewelry, clothing and other such ‘ornaments,’ which serve to draw ‘undue attention’ to the wearer. In my observations and experience people are loosing themselves in the real definition of modesty in deference to the notion that it means covering your body instead of not drawing undue attention to yourself. Now this can be either by gaudy and lavish adornments or by behavior (yes including sexualized behavior).

    As I understand the notion of modesty, it is an outer expression of an inner concept. Thus a person can be dressed from neck to ankle to wrist and still be highly immodest, whether sexually or otherwise, and an individual who may be showing much more skin can be highly modest. Modesty has little to do with the outer appearances but the inner appearances which as we know from 1 Samuel 16:7 “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

    I believe that the term “chaste” (and it’s variants) is much better used in depicting the notion of maintaining yourself free of promiscuous activities and behaviors (including dress).

    By David | 3 years ago Reply

Leave a Reply