It finally seems like the harsh winter is coming to a close. It sure has been a rough one, hasn’t it? All those frigid temperatures and mountains of snow… Anyways, now we can look forward to warmer weather and the promise of summer peaking over the horizon. Another thing we can look forward to is the emergence of the summer wardrobes. Yep, all those tank tops, short shorts, guys walking around shirtless with their “shorts” down to their ankles exposing their boxer briefs. The last thing that we can look forward to relating to all this is the yearly freakout about modesty that we see in the Christian blogosphere and all the great advice we receive on how we can all be “modest.” Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
I must admit that I get a little sick of it. It always seems like the burden of modesty is mostly placed squarely on the shoulders of women. We always hear the endless mantra on which shorts are too short, which tank top reveals too much, and basically how to avoid undesirable attention from the menfolk. Let’s take a step back for a minute, shall we? Is modesty really relegated to how many inches above the knee your shorts can be, or how much shoulder you can show before it becomes sinful, or whether or not that shirt is going to lead your poor brothers in Christ into sin? We’ll get to that in just a sec.
And what about the guys? Why is it that it’s always women who have to be conscious of what they wear and how much they reveal? Some guys dress like complete slobs, especially in the summer. They walk around with those shorts that are so long they might as well be pants, hanging off their rear ends as their underwear hangs out. Many go shirtless, trying to show off those two abs that might still be there, or how muscular they aren’t. Is it not true that women are just as capable of lusting after men as men are of women? Shouldn’t men have to dress respectfully as well?
There are all kinds of opinions of modesty out there and so many different rules that are created in an attempt to stay modest. What does the Church say? The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2521, 2522, and 2523 say that modesty is ultimately to protect the individual person. It protects the mystery of the person and their love, refusing to unveil what should be hidden, and guides how one looks at others and behaves towards them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. Modesty is a mindset that we all have as a protection for our own thoughts towards others, as well as how we present ourselves to others. Our choice in clothing is a mere result of the modest mindset.
Modesty is necessary due to the famous fall of Adam and Eve in that garden of theirs. They were just walking around naked and didn’t even care. Nudity of the body was seen in its proper place, as something beautiful and natural and also pronounced good by the Father. They ate from that darn tree and so therefore, the perception of the body became subject to the temptations of lust, and as a result, the body had to be covered. The shame they felt from their nakedness was in part a byproduct of the tendency toward the lust they experienced. I guess you can say that modesty is a gift from God, because it is a protection device that He gave us against our own sinful nature. Nudity in itself is not bad or sinful. God made us that way. It is our fallen perception of the nude body that now leads us to sin and the necessity of modesty.
So where does that leave us with summer fashions and how we dress? Some folks go all out, and it seems that some women would be inclined to walk around in burlap sack cloths. Is that really what it’s all about? Due to the sick and twisted nature of things, there are men out there who can fetishize anything, from fingers, to eyelashes, to feet, to you name it. In reaction to that, should women cover themselves from head to toe and not let any part of their body be seen at all? I personally do not believe that the ultimate responsibility of modesty lies solely in how we dress, or on women.
If you recall, modesty is a mindset in which we protect that which should be hidden and also the way we view others in their own personal dignity and humanity. What that means is that if a man happens upon a woman who is wearing the most immodest clothes possible, or if she is completely naked, his first responsibility is not to lust. His own modesty informs him that regardless of how a woman presents herself, he is to regard her as a person with an inherent, God-given dignity that should not be violated. As Jesus said, adultery can be committed merely by lusting after someone in our own hearts. This goes for both men and women, so it is our responsibility not to lust after someone, even if they are revealing all that should be hidden.
With that in mind, ladies, I want to tell you that it is ok to be beautiful and to express that beauty that God gave you. It is ok to wear clothing that reveals your femininity in a way that expresses who you are and how God made you. He made you and called YOU very good. You must get rid of the mindset that it is your responsibility not to lead your brothers in Christ into sin. It is their responsibility not to lead themselves into sin. The fact is that a man who is twisted in his own head is not going to be able to view you in your proper place regardless of what you wear or how you express yourself. Just protect your own dignity to the extent it should be and then let the burden of sin be on those on whom it actually belongs. It is not your fault. Modesty is not about what you wear and much skin you show. Keep in mind that two women could wear the exact same outfit and one would be modest, while the other openly immodest.
And all you guys out there should be aware too that even if a woman dresses provocatively, it doesn’t give you license to lust after her, try to seduce her, or that she “wants it.” She might think so, but keep in mind that we live in a fallen world where our desires have been warped and twisted into something that is at times unrecognizable from the original intent. We dudes can and should dress well too, even in the summer heat. I’m not advocating we walk around in shirts and ties. I usually wear sandals all summer long and am not a fan of actually having to put on “real” shoes. What I’m saying is that it’s not just a woman’s responsibility to be modest. It is our responsibility not to lust and to protect ourselves through a positive modesty also. I know we’re more visually oriented than woman, and we are captivated by beauty. It is ok to be captivated and to revere the beauty of God’s creations, including women! We have to know ourselves well enough to draw the line between that reverence and where lust creeps in.
So there it is, folks. I’m not trying to present myself as some kind of expert or anything. I just try to get down to the bottom of it. It bothers me when I see women place the burden of men’s sin on themselves, and it bothers me when I see men who think they don’t have much to do in terms of modesty. Modesty is not about the length of a skirt or how thin the straps on a tank top should be. Modesty is a mindset and a protection mechanism that God gave us to protect ourselves and each other from our fallen nature. Let us then be respectful of each other and remember that true modesty starts from within our hearts.