Summer is here and the modesty articles are upon us. I’m all for modesty, but there are debates within the debate on how women should dress that complicates the matter.
Our Lady of Fatima is often invoked from one of her messages to the 3 shepherd children: “The sins which bring most souls to hell are the sins of the flesh. Certain fashions are going to be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much... the Church has no fashions; Our Lord is always the same..."
Is there a Modest Dress Code?
If you wish to visit the Vatican, shoulders and knees must be covered for both men and women. It’s the same at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament built by Mother Angelica in Hanceville, Alabama and is also sometimes the case at other Catholic shrines and events.
Do those dress codes mean women (and men) should always dress like that? Is it wrong to show your knees or shoulders?
Recently, a friend posted on Facebook about the challenge of finding modest shorts for her long-legged teen daughter. Someone suggested mom shorts and posted a creative humorous music video. (Warning: song will get stuck in your head.) The “mom shorts” topic ignited a debate on what kind of shorts are appropriate for women. Many posted pictures of themselves; some in mom shorts and others in short shorts.
I’m actually not going to weigh in on the dress issues. Instead, I want to address two troubling attitudes in the debate; one on each side.
The women who posted showing off their legs, admitted doing so. “I worked too hard for these legs to hide them,” one lady said with her photo. No doubt some women wear short shorts because they are in style and it's what is at the store, but for the ones proudly posting pictures, they admitted it wasn't about comfort but about wanting attention for their legs. So aside from modesty is the issue of vanity. “Look at my legs everyone because they are amazing!”
Such talk always reminds me of Ash Wednesday’s warning: “You are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Revealing part of the body to attract admiring glances is not a move towards holiness. No one is saying women should roll themselves up in burlap, (well, not in Catholic circles) but making an idol out of your body for attention is spiritually harmful for all concerned.
Two-piece or One?
Many years ago, I was hired for a short-term project at a newspaper. While working at a computer near a few female reporters, the subject of swimsuits came up: two-piece or one piece? One piece, I answered. One of the ladies expressed surprised. “Why wouldn’t you wear a two-piece,” she asked me. “I would if I could get away with it.”
I explained that I had recently finished 3 years as a houseparent at a group home for delinquent teenage boys. (I have degrees in social work and public administration.) We sometimes took the boys to lakes or a water park. Surrounded by adolescent boys with raging hormones, the last thing I wanted to do was hang out with them, literally speaking that is. I had no desire to attract lustful teenage glances. (Not that all one-piece swimsuits are modest.) It made me realize that dressing to get people to look at my body was not a goal I wanted.
The lady reporter thought a moment. “Oh, I see your point,” she said.
Contempt is Not a Virtue
An issue on the opposite end of the spectrum is women who wear their modesty on their sleeves while expressing contempt for others. I know it’s a fine line between practicing virtue and judging, so we must tread carefully.
Coincidentally, I also recently came across a Facebook post about a formal event that a woman’s family had attended where she felt all the young ladies (and some not so young) except her daughter had ignored the announcement requesting modesty. She was disgusted and posted a link to the event’s website. A debate ensued with many saying there were plenty of modest dresses and posting those examples. The original woman in turn posted numerous photos of women she thought dressed immodestly.
I was shocked that she would publicly attack people she knew in that way. Many of her friends would recognize the people she criticized—it was a local event after all. My guess is that she caused a lot of anger and resentment. Such things often go with the Christian life but did she convince people to dress more modestly that way or just anger them?
I personally think that putting people up for public criticism probably did more harm than good. Maybe some people disagree with me and think she was courageous. But regardless of what you are wearing this summer, don’t forget your Christian virtues of charity and humility. Wear them well. God bless the rest of your summer!