My initial reaction to Matthew West’s latest single “Modest is Hottest” was amusement. Although I love his music, I didn’t quite understand why the lyrics needed to carry a legalistic grip to convey the message on modesty. Besides, the word “hot” is burdened with sexual undertones and only serves to objectify women, in a different way. Having served young people for more than a decade now, I can safely say that this pietistic approach to modesty will only escalate shame, seeing our bodies as sources of temptation that must be hidden, rather than what they truly are.
Clearly, there is a chasm. Clearly, we are struggling to convey truth in a post-modern, godless culture. How do we celebrate the female body without objectifying women? In the midst of this moral wasteland, how do we practice modesty?
The Language Of Clothing
I have always loved fashion and have fond childhood memories playing dress up with my sister and admiring my mother’s chic fashion tastes. My journey to modest fashion, however, took on new meaning only after my conversion.
I fell away from Faith and chose atheism in high school, when I needed it the most. The turbulence at home, combined with an anemic faith, propelled me to choose “pretty” and “cool” without a moral compass. I slid down the slippery slope of immodesty and promiscuity, and my identity crisis showed up in my clothing. With constant battles that left me feeling undesirable and unlovable, I was dressing for attention and drowning out my pain with addictions.
Today, as Christ continues to heal my self-worth, I am able to see gaps that result from a fragmented view of God. My broken lens altered the way I saw my body. Just like other material objects, fashion became an undue attachment to fill a cavernous void within. I was chasing imitation beauty and settling just to “fit in.”
Pope Pius XII says:
Society reveals what it is by the clothes it wears.
There is a language of clothing that communicates messages and reveals secret aspirations that can either build or destroy our future.
Over the years I have learned to ask:
- What message does this outfit carry?
- Why do I want to be validated by the world’s standards?
- Why don’t I want to be free from vanity, and the all-too-common “look at me!” attitude?
Worth, Not Wardrobe
For a long time, I saw modesty as a pseudonym for unattractiveness. Following my conversion, I encountered self-appointed modesty police furtively checking what everyone was wearing. Many were women. I remember emptying my entire wardrobe and settling for “traditional” attires lest I looked too “unspiritual.”
Though Modesty is often presented as adherence to a legalistic set of rules, it is so much more. The Catechism affirms:
Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. // CCC 2521
Modesty adorns our bodies in a way that reflects who we really are: living tabernacles and temples of the Holy Spirit. We are the crown of creation. And, we are beloved daughters of the Creator of authentic beauty.
All the emphasis on do’s and don’ts can miss a fundamental mark. Modesty is less about an item of clothing than it is about virtue. Our worth does not come from wardrobes, but from God. Our inherent identity in Christ is what gives us dignity and direction and it begins first with our interior self, the inner sanctum of our hearts.
Do I see myself as God’s beloved, beautiful and worthy of love?
Under pressure how many of us compare ourselves with others and lose touch with who we are? Rather than celebrating our uniqueness, how many of us covet only to lose joy? When we lose our identity, our lifestyle choices are the first to be derailed.
Clothing is not meant to be only about us. We could be dressed with the right credentials, covered by the latest fashion and yet be enslaved. If anything, modest clothing should serve as a reminder that we are sacred, that we made for more and that we exist for influence and impact.Modesty adorns our bodies in a way that reflects who we really are: living tabernacles and temples of the Holy Spirit. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
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Modesty Inspires True Masculinity
Being a long-standing ministry leader, it is no secret that I have had to deal with issues concerning inappropriate clothing. Even today, so many women see dress and devotion as contradictory.
As Catholic women, we need to challenge the status quo that portrays a scantily clad, inordinately thin woman as confident. And we need to challenge men to see themselves as reflections of imago dei. The journey to a safer, more whole society requires the morality of both men and women.
I have encountered men in ministry who have been won over to faith by the modesty and lifestyles of their girl friends. These women carried an aura of grace that directly pointed to the light within, driving out their darkness and helping their male peers admire and love the female body for its sacredness. They testified of a beauty that was radiating when women carried themselves with a sense of interior peace, confident in who they were and who didn’t need to play up to modern media to demonstrate their worth.
A Two-Way-Street of Demand
Pope Saint John Paul II rightly declared:
Genuine Love is demanding, but its beauty lies precisely in the demands it makes.
Far contrary to the culture that asserts that a man’s lust is his problem, it is modesty that saves, sustains, and sanctifies. It is modesty that fosters dignity in the other person. It is modesty that wills the good of the other. It is modesty that inspires true masculinity and it is modesty that produces mature love.
A man knows he can take a woman seriously when she isn’t occupied with her body or clamoring for his attention with external adornments. Such humility is powerful. It is freeing.
How can we expect anyone to respect us and even love us heroically if we do not offer ourselves the grace and dignity we deserve?
Modern Day Influencers
But just like faith, style that elevates true femininity is a journey. Fashion will change over time and so will our bodies. We need a vision beyond the here and now. We are made for so much more than attire and adornment.
Women have an irreplaceable influence on their cultures and modesty can serve as a soulful endeavor towards sainthood. Why not pick a patron Saint for our next shopping spree? Our Saint sisters want to accompany our journey of beauty. Saint Rose of Lima is a patron of beauty and Saint Margaret of Scotland understood the importance of fashion.
A New Witness of Modesty
Sisters, we need to rise above the toxicity of this culture that objectifies women. We need to counter the legalistic and lax attitude that measures modesty by the hemline rather than the heart. We need freedom from competition and comparison. We need modern day influencers, who can redefine fashion from a biblical worldview. We need to celebrate our uniqueness and live out our creativity. And we need the diversity of styles in the sisterhood.We need to rise above this culture that objectifies women. We need to counter the legalistic and lax attitude that measures modesty by the hemline rather than the heart. We need to redefine fashion from a biblical worldview. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Modesty is always going to be challenging in our hyper-sexed world and giving up a lifestyle that brings a sense of belonging will always be painful, but think about incomparable gains. Think about freedom. Think about interior peace.
Unlike the catch and costliness of well-marketed fashion, the robes given by Christ are free. How invigorating it is to come to Him without costly costume or pretense. How liberating it is to exchange everything we have collected from this world to cover our self-importance and security for garments of salvation and righteousness.
How awe-inspiring that underneath the array of exquisite clothing is a beautiful woman, capable of changing the world.
The Heart of Modesty #BISblog // Click To Tweet