Summer: One of my favorite times of the year! Think of the food, the people, the sunshine, the clothes! Summer is definitely a unique and beautiful season full of fun.
Unfortunately, in addition to all the beauty, summer can also bring immodesty. You might say, “Oh boy! Here we go with another lecture on modesty.” Well, yes. But I’d like to take a different approach to the often-misunderstood concept of modesty and discuss it through a Catholic lens. I hope that you will begin to see modesty and purity in a whole new way.
“What is modesty?” “Why should I be modest or even care?” “How do I live a modest life?” These are all questions that I hear often. Modesty is a virtue that protects the sacredness of the body. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and our bodies are the dwelling places of God. Pause for a moment and let that sink in. We are made in God’s image and likeness, so what we do with our bodies should reflect the One who made us. Contrary to popular belief, modesty is not simply about the length of a dress or the clothes we wear, but also how we talk, act, and think. Modesty is a way of life that is meant to awaken in us a respect for the whole human person—both spiritual and physical. I came across this beautiful quote other day: “Modesty is important because it is the fort that protects the castle, but it is also the frame that enhances the picture.” We must be pure in our dress, speech, and actions because we want to focus on the entire person, not just on a person’s outward appearance. In addition, what we watch, listen to, and talk about affects the way we approach people. We become what we hang around.
Let’s talk specifically about modesty in dress for a moment. I frequently hear girls say that they feel that girls aren’t responsible for guys’ purity. Often it goes something like this: “Why can’t I wear whatever I want? Guys should just control their eyes and imagination!” Yes, they should. But let’s set this straight. Everyone is responsible for everyone’s purity. It is a sin in itself to be immodest, but it’s a greater sin to cause someone else to sin or to lead that person into temptation.
Normally, the first thing we see when we look at a person is the part of the body with the most skin showing. Most of the time that is the face. When we focus on someone’s face, we see him as a person. Yet, when someone wears a skimpy outfit, it calls attention to other body parts. It detracts from the whole person and places emphasis on the superficial.
A couple years ago, male students at Princeton University took part in a psychological study that examined how the male brain reacts to seeing people with different amounts of clothes on. The test subjects were placed in a brain scanner and for a fraction of a second were shown photographs of women in bikinis as well as men and women dressed modestly. When the young men viewed the scantily clad women, the part of their brain associated with tool use lit up. Researchers also discovered that when some of the men viewed the scantily clad females, the men’s medial prefrontal cortex was deactivated. This is the region of the brain associated with analyzing a person’s thoughts, intentions, and feelings.
Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, remarked, “It is as if they are reacting to these women as if they are not fully human.”
According to the Chastity Project: “Another study performed on undergraduate students at Princeton found that when men are shown images of women in bikinis, they associate the women with first-person verbs, such as I ‘push,’ ‘handle,’ and ‘grab.’ When shown images of modestly dressed women, the men associated the images with the third-person forms of the verbs, such as she ‘pushes,’ ‘handles,’ and ‘grabs.’ In other words, the fully-clothed women were seen as being in control of their own actions, whereas the immodest ones were to be acted upon.”
You might still be saying, “Too bad! I should be able to dress however I want and still be respected by guys.” True. You should be respected no matter what you wear. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We have a fallen nature and it’s hard to keep a pure mind, especially for guys. Ladies, we have a unique and great responsibility to set the bar high for our brothers. As Jason Evert of the Chastity Project said, “When a culture of ladies arises, a culture of gentlemen will follow.” As Christians, we are not only called not to sin, but we must avoid the near occasion of sin as well.
So how do you do that? You know what modesty is and why it’s important, but how do you go about living modestly? Here are some simple and concrete ways to ensure that you’re living a modest lifestyle:
- Surround yourself with good, pure friends. Spend your time with people who don’t use inappropriate language and who avoid impure conversations or topics.
- Stop watching, reading, and listening to entertainment that has impure or inappropriate conversation topics or language. I grew up in a family that never used foul language. As I grew older I started watching unsuitable movies and videos and hung out with friends who used impure language. I started to find myself thinking those words, and then I began saying them in moments of frustration. I shocked myself. This wasn’t what I was taught! We must remember that what we surround ourselves with becomes part of us. So, surround yourself with people who lead you away from sin, not toward it.
- Steer clear of pornography. It’s a spiraling sinkhole that sucks you in and corrupts your ability to love and see your neighbor as an individual with a body and a soul. Not only that, but it objectifies people and teaches that it’s okay to use them for your own purposes.
- Pray. Pray every day to Mother Mary and ask her to help you stay pure. I suggest praying three Hail Marys for purity in words, thoughts, and deeds.
- Talk to your friends about working together to keep each other accountable. It can be hard to change a habit on your own, but if you surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you, they can help! All you have to do is ask.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Living a life of purity is hard in our society, but if we strive each day to live this way, with the grace of God, we will!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8