If your middle school education was anything like mine, you never learned modesty. I mean, you probably learned that some things are unacceptable to wear in public, but it probably stopped there. I, for example, was once forced to cover my low-cut top with a beige T-shirt reading “Rockwood South–where brains soar!!” It was covered with flying cerebellums to drive the point home. I still haven’t recovered emotionally.
Unfortunately, this is a huge underselling of modesty. Modesty is the freedom to be creative, comfortable, and accentuate the beauty God gave you, because you believe that you do have a beauty He gave you. If you’re just grasping at the rules, then you’re missing a really creative, fun, and sometimes humbling way to grow as a Christian.
Here are a bunch of lessons I’ve learned about modesty. This list is by no means definitive. I hope it helps!
Lie #1: It’s all about wearing enough clothes.
- This might have been true for the Puritans, but for Catholics, modesty is all about celebrating what’s good, not hiding what’s bad. You are inherently beautiful. Every part of you is beautiful. Some parts are so beautiful that they should remain veiled, but not necessarily mummified under several layers of turtlenecks and ponchos.
- You just want to draw people’s attention to you as a whole, radiant, and harmonious creature. I like doing this by drawing attention back up to my eyes, ie. the “windows of the soul.” This look can be achieved by being the kind of ultra-virtuous, Marian woman who glows with holiness and probably smells like roses. Or you can ditch the deep V-necks and wear big sparkly earring that make people look at your face. Either way works…but only one comes with earrings.
Lie #2: This is about holiness and should not be fun. AT ALL.
We’ve already established that modesty is a perfect excuse for jewelry binging, so this one is obviously false. Some other fun things:
- When you wear more clothes, you get more combos. Creativity ensues. Enjoy.
- Finding a flattering piece of clothing in a mainstream store is one of the highest states of satisfaction one can achieve.
- Cardigans and scarves are super easy to share with friends of all body shapes and sizes. Happy bonding!
Lie #3: But someone said this was modest!
- They probably said that because it was modest on them. This isn’t relativism; this is learning to accept that you are a unique little snowflake with your own proportions and curves. Embrace this. It’s kind of awesome when you think about it.
- You’ve all heard of the fingertip test, right? It’s the one where your skirt/shorts are supposed to at least go to the ends of your fingertips when your arms are straight at your side. This works well for lots of girls.
- I, however, have a freakishly long torso and short-ish arms. I would be picked up for solicitation if I followed the fingertips rule. I also cannot live a happy life with meaningful interactions if I am constantly worried about a slight breeze causing me to have a Marilyn moment. Ergo, I have made my own modesty rules. Just find guidelines that flatter your body, ok?
Lie #4: I absolutely cannot ever mess this up.
- We all dress immodestly sometimes. You will make a judgment call at home and regret it in public. This mistake will not negate The Passion. Just learn your lesson, confess it, and move on.
- Still not convinced, self? Sigh….
- I have met many good and well-intentioned Catholics who in some way forced this “don’t mess up or ELSE” notion on me, usually by making rude comments about girls who weren’t modest. These Catholics all seemed like they had it all together, and I wanted to follow their advice for a completely black and white morality, mostly because I wanted modesty to be that simple. With time, however, following that advice made me unhappy. I would realize that that shirt with a great neckline was actually outlining the back of my bra all day, or that I really should have sewn the buttons of that dress closed (I don’t want to talk about it), and then I would feel awful. It felt like it was over. I had failed at modesty.
- The thing was, I just made an honest mistake. I was, and still am, learning. That needs to be okay. And when I think back on it, I realize those people were often smug but rarely happy. I do not want to be like that, and neither do you. You want long-haul virtue, because it actually sticks, keeps you humble, and frankly makes you much more pleasant to be around. So embrace the mistakes. They make you relatable.
Lie #5: But this is supposed to be black and white!
- Hahahahahaha NO.
- Virtue is a medium between two extremes. It’s also a habit. We have to be patient with ourselves while the extremes become less extreme and the habit forms. The fact that it’s hard just confirms what we already know: We are sinners. Good thing we have a God who loves us too much to leave us like this. We just have to be humble enough to let Him lead us to virtue, instead of thinking we should be able to instantly make ourselves sin-free. Read Searching for and Maintaining Peace if you want more on that.
- Also, please realize that it’s kind of dumb to be afraid. You are currently halfway through reading a blog on modesty. I highly doubt you are secretly/accidentally a skank, even if you’ve only just started to phase out your clothes. Let that sink in, please. You are trying. This is a very, very good thing.
- It’s not like your guardian angel is standing next you with a tally sheet, waiting see how often you can screw up so he can send a report off to St. Peter. God wants you to be holy. You might recall that He sacrificed a lot for it. So now He’s going to help you. He’s proud of you for even caring, even prouder that you’re honestly trying, and would you just stop thinking He’s angry and let Him love you?
We just got deep. Welcome to the second half of this post.
Lie #6: Every man I encounter will go to hell immediately if I wear something immodest.
- Maybe, but I don’t get to take full credit.
- We need to be charitable, and we absolutely are our brother’s keepers. It’s not very nice to bedazzle “angel” on the seat of a pair of leggings and then do yoga in front of a men’s household. In fact, that would be downright mean and quite sinful (not to mention maladjusted).
- So I’m not arguing that charity isn’t a factor in modesty. I am, however, arguing that it’s not the only one, and I hate it when we demean our brothers in Christ in this debate.
- Despite what Cosmo says, guys are not animals. They are actual humans capable of developing self-control. Any guy who tells you differently is probably not someone you should spend lots of time around.
Lie #7: The most important thing is how it affects guys.
- I’m going to go with a hard NO on this one. Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a great piece on this, and you should just go read the original. But if you’re super busy, here’s the Sparknotes:
- Women dressing immodestly has a HUGE effect on relationships between women. We become competitive. There’s a basic level of trust and kinship in the cardigan crowd, but we lose it when we start going for “hottest girl in the room.” We devolve from sisterhood to “girl world.” It’s only a matter of time before it gets out of hand and Mr. Duvall has to turn on the sprinklers so Tina Fey can give us a lecture.
Real talk: This movie is basically a documentary.
The thing is, you’re a person. You’re meant to be experienced as a full person. When you reduce yourself to an object, it affects how everyone experiences you. And again, I don’t think any of you reading this want to objectify yourselves. But it is a helpful way to keep this whole modesty thing in the right perspective: Modesty isn’t about avoiding being a bad girl. It’s about letting everyone you’re in relationship with experience the full you.