We need to revise how we talk about modesty. When I was a teenager and was told about modesty, it was couched in terms of my sexuality as well as the sexuality of the men I came into contact with. The takeaway message was this: Your body is good for 2 things – having babies and inspiring men to lust. Only one of those things is good and you must avoid the other at all costs. You are dirty because you are a woman.
The problem of course is that is not true. But the damage was done and in fact is being done. So often when we talk about modesty we talk about sexuality. Of course, it’s rarely quite so blatant as the message above, but it’s the same message: a woman should only be modest because her body inspires men to lust. Sure, they say “Oh, a woman has dignity, she should dress with dignity” but what isn’t explained is the definition of dignity being used. Dignity here is defined as “Asexual. Pleasing to look upon, like a flower. A utilitarian object.” A dignified woman would never highlight anything on her body except her face or perhaps her hair. She would never show leg, or a hint of leg. In fact, she may or may not have legs, boobs, a waistline or a butt at all. Only her husband would know for sure.
This is a shame. This approach only serves to objectify the woman as much as the pornography business does. A woman isn’t a flower – she is a human. It also reduces men to animals, unable to control their slightest thoughts, always at the mercy of women. This message of modesty only does damage.
I think there is a better way. There has to be a way to teach the value of modesty without objectifying the woman and the man. There has to be a way to teach the value of modesty without obsessively focusing on sexuality to a point where each person begins to feel dirty in his or her own skin. Here is how I think we can do that. I talk below in terms of women, but the same can be said for men. Modesty is a two way street.
We should teach modesty in terms of our purpose as people. When talking about modesty we should talk about the purpose of clothing, the purpose of woman and man, respect for our situation and for other people, and beauty. Modesty is also humility – a modest woman is a humble woman and in a way our clothes should reflect that. It is possible to acknowledge what we have, without flaunting. This of course flies in the face of the popular mantra “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
So there are some talking points about modesty. But how does it all come together practically?
Dressing with a purpose. There is a purpose to everything, even our clothes. We all know what the purpose of a business suit is as well as the purpose of a bathing suit. We all know that neither can be worn in place of the other. There is also a purpose to a scoop neck t-shirt, a string bikini, a pencil skirt, bermuda shorts…need I go on? When we go out shopping or get dressed in the morning, we should always ask ourselves “Why am I wearing this? Is there a better option?” For some clothes, the only purpose they have is to elicit an animal response from another person. Those would be the clothes that are cut in a “sexy” manner – clothes that just about everyone can identify as being sexy. So let’s look at the purpose of our clothes and get rid of (or alter) the ones that reduce us to “sexy body parts”. There is a time and a place for everything. Sexiness and sex are good – to be enjoyed by you and your spouse only.
Dressing for real respect. I’m sure our feminist foremothers are rolling in their graves right now. We fought for intellectual rights and won them, but we’ve allowed ourselves to be played into thinking those rights are useless. It’s easier to be sexy than smart. Well I say let’s be smart! Let’s dress smart! When I want respect I act like I deserve that respect and I dress like it too. I also dress respectfully in regards to those around me. It goes back to dressing with a purpose.
Dressing for pleasure. What’s the point in having a closet full of clothes if you don’t feel good in any of them? You can be as covered as you want, but if your clothes aren’t bringing you any pleasure then they are not good for you. God formed us and called us “good” – so clothe yourself in things that are good too. God didn’t create you so that you could then be hidden away. You are not dirty or an object. You are a beautiful person, with a beautiful body. Clothe yourself beautifully.
Dressing to bless. We should take others into consideration too. Wives tend to do this with their husbands self-consciously. If I know my husband likes a particular piece of clothing then I take care to wear it as often as I can. When I walk into a house of worship I do my absolute best to make sure that I am dressed appropriately according to those standards as well as my own. Doing things like that is a way to bless other people, by showing that you respect them.
Clearly, modesty does not have to be and should not be discussed with a hyper fixation on sexuality. Yes, there should be a healthy respect for a discussion of sexuality, however modesty goes so far beyond that.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Kayla-Peterson.png[/author_image] [author_info]Kayla Peterson is a Catholic, a wife, and a secretary. On June 25, 2011 she married the love of her life. Together, they are working on building their marriage for the Lord. Though she is Catholic and her husband is not, they enjoy worshiping Christ together, finding common ground, and trying not to shout about their differences. Their hope is that their children will know, love, and honor God with all their hearts, minds, and souls. Kayla blogs about interfaith marriage and other topics that strike her fancy at The Alluring World.[/author_info] [/author]