Once upon a time, modesty was a code of conduct that was simply assumed and put into action. Society today, however, seems to have waged an unspoken war on modesty. A common definition for modesty is “freedom from conceit or vanity” and “propriety in dress, speech, and conduct”. Dress, speech, and conduct – three core elements of a person’s decorum, with each holding incredible importance. While of similar value, though, there’s one that catches our attention before the other two, and it’s the one that attracts us visually – dress. As the definition states, modesty is supposedly rooted in freedom. Seems odd, right? Having to cover up and hide beautiful parts of our bodies is “freeing”? Some modern feminists might call this restricting, oppressive, violating…anything but freeing.
As a rebuttal to the oppressive notion of modesty, women have resorted to saving on fabric while revealing more of themselves than ever before. Yet there are still women, of all backgrounds and beliefs, who believe in a modest lifestyle. Despite it being out of fashion (and out of stores), why do these women spend more time and effort on searching for ways to cover up? Is it that we’re ashamed of our bodies? Is it that we enjoy looking frumpy with no shape? Is it that we’re afraid of showing off the way God created us? …NO! Edith Head has a great quote saying, “A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.” We, as authentic women, certainly do NOT want to hide our beauty. We don’t even want to diminish it – we desire to be seen as beautiful, as that’s how the Lord made us! What we do not want, however, is to show off our bodies for our own glory or self-gratification, and even further, to lead ourselves and/or others into sin. And that is what immodesty often does, even if it is not the intent.
St. John Crystendom says, “You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not, indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment. … When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent?” The crazy thing about immodesty is that it may not produce any directly sinful actions. It may not have any visible, harmful effects. But when a women dresses to reveal something more than what is proper, she is giving off the okay for men to look, to imagine, and then, if the moment allows, to act. It is so easy for us to blame men entirely for this, and to not even give a thought as to how we contribute to this issue. So often we hear women saying, “It’s his problem if he’s impure. It’s his own fault if he can’t keep his mind off sex. He only ever wants one thing.” Maybe, just maybe, those impure thoughts are not simply his own, but a working combination of both a man’s natural desire and a woman’s lack of respect for that desire. It is indeed wrong for a man to treat a woman as a physical object, but it is just as wrong for a woman to entice a man with her body and then accuse him for taking notice.
We all desire to be loved, but a great temptation we face, as women, is to think that the only way to find that love is by exploiting our bodies for the world to see and admire. We need to stop blaming men for desiring what we make visible, and take charge of our own dignity. It is only then that we will gain the respect that we know we deserve. And once that mutual respect exists between man and woman, true love that goes beyond the physical can begin to take place.
It’s hard living a modest lifestyle when the media bombards us with images that contradict this, but the fruits of living this way far outweigh the temporal pleasures of not. What the Church teaches on modesty is so intertwined with teachings on chastity, and the Church’s teachings on chastity (aside from being the truth) are a direct way of exercising freedom in this world. By dressing, speaking, and acting in a modest fashion, it helps us keep our dignity as beloved daughters of God.