Note: My thoughts on the subject of modesty are constantly in flux. This, and all my other posts about modesty, are subject to change.
In Christian circles, there is a lot of talk about modesty.
For the longest time, I’ve seen discussions about modesty boil down to something like “Women, don’t wear a bikini: wear a one-piece instead.”
I’ve learned, from reading the writing of Saint Pope John Paul II, that modesty isn’t about the clothes that a person is, or isn’t, wearing.*
My point being: Modesty isn’t about wearing a piece of clothing or not wearing it.
We are to see and treat people like the children of God that they are — with love, respect, and empathy — no matter what they are, or aren’t, wearing. And that is how we are to treat ourselves, too. That, to me, is modesty.
It is the fact that we are imperfect — that we are prone to lustful thoughts and actions — that makes the body a source of conflict, tension, and shame. I feel like Christians have been (unintentionally) taught to fear the body, though.
When it comes to the clothes we wear or don’t wear, context and intent are important.
The naked human body, by itself, isn’t evil. In Genesis, God called the naked body “very good.”**
Original sin — the imperfectness we’re all born with — doesn’t make the body any less good. Original sin, I think, just means that we have try extra hard to see people as human beings, not as body parts.
If we as a society are going to put an end to the objectification of people because of their bodies — whether that objectification happens because of Puritan-esque dress codes that treat women and men unequally, pornography which reduces a person to their body parts, or any other thing that says to a person “The most important aspect of you is your body” — people need to be taught that the body isn’t something to be feared, abused, or exploited, but understood, respected, and valued.
Also: Why does it seem like so much talk about modesty is focused on women? I have never seen an article, post, or anything written about modesty that told guys to watch the way they dress.
Women: Wear, or don’t wear, whatever you want. I, and I alone, are responsible for my imagination and my actions.
Men: When we look at a woman, no matter what she is or isn’t wearing, let’s see her as a human being. Let’s not blame our imagination or our actions on others.
What others wear is their choice. Unless, of course, they’re dressing for a job, wedding, or other special occasion – then they don’t necessarily have the freedom to wear whatever they want.
Also: As a Catholic, for the longest time I didn’t know what to think about two subjects: Nudism, and women going topless in public. But now, thanks to Saint Pope John Paul II’s words that modesty isn’t about clothes but how we treat people, I do. Nudists, as long as you’re not being naked in order to arouse others, keep doing what you’re doing. Women, as long as you’re not going topless in order to arouse others, go topless.
Here’s why I was interested in the subjects of nudism and women going topless: A while back I did research on “fringe groups”: Groups of people, it seemed, the rest of humanity paid little attention to. As a Catholic — a person who sees it as his mission to spread the light of Jesus and his church wherever possible — I couldn’t stand the fact that groups of people were being, as I saw it, ignored. To be clear: I never became a nudist, nor do I have any intent to. The reason that, among fringe groups, nudists stood out to me was they seemed to me to be a walking contradiction: A group of people that were, like Adam and Eve before the fall, naked without shame. In high school, my Catholic education regarding modesty boiled down to, as far as I can remember, this: Modesty = Clothes.*** And here were a group of people who didn’t wear any clothes, and yet seemed more modest than some people covered from head to foot. My mind was blown. Regarding women going topless: Whether or not women should be allowed to go topless in public is a controversial subject. There are men and women on both sides of the issue, and with good reasons for their point of view. But, like a question I asked myself — “Is nudism fundamentally wrong?” — I asked “Is women going topless fundamentally wrong?” and the answer I came to, after finding Saint Pope John Paul II’s writing on modesty, was “No.”****
*”Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness. Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment.”
I encourage you to follow the link in this footnote to read John Paul II’s words on modesty in their entirety — there is so much here, I can’t fit all my thoughts on it into one post. Here is the link: Saint Pope John Paul II’s writing on modesty
***I’m not knocking my Catholic education on modesty: I am thankful for it every day. It’s just that, when I left home to go to college, I realized that the subject of modesty was, for lack of a better word, bigger than my Catholic education about modesty had prepared me for. In my search for answers to questions I had about modesty, I had, and continue to use, my Catholic faith as my guiding light.
****If you’re interested, click Here to read my thoughts on women being topless in public.