By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
Modesty is one of those hot button issues that few are eager or, in many cases, even willing to discuss let alone act upon. One mother of a teen-age girl told me that while she did not like the way her daughter dressed, she had to pick her battles and that modesty in dress was not one of those battles. Here was a loving, caring mother who unfortunately did not realize the importance of teaching her daughter about modesty. With little direction from her mother, this young girl continues to dress in provocative ways that cause many people embarrassment.
Immodest dress by its very nature is intended to be sexually attractive—that’s why it is commonly referred to as being “sexy” or “hot.” That is not to say that all tweens, teens, young adults, and older adults are purposely trying to draw attention to their bodies. But intended or not, that is exactly what is happening.
All one has to do is look at the so called “elite” to see what is supposedly “in style” or fashionable. Exhibitionism seems to rule today. If you doubt that—and if you are an adult—I encourage you to look at the popular teen magazines, CD covers, and movies, as well as the fare offered on television, especially MTV, VH1, and BET.
As Natalie Campbell—a teen from Kokomo, Indiana—writes in the Summer 2004 issue of Resounding Voice:
If you turn on MTV, I guarantee that within five minutes you’ll see a girl prancing around showing more skin than she is wearing clothes, or a muscled-up boy with his shirt off dancing suggestively. These are images we see on almost any channel or in any magazine nowadays. What goes through your mind when you see this?
God? Mass? What a beautiful thing it is to receive Communion? Nice try. Let’s not lie to ourselves. Seeing that immodestly dressed girl or boy makes us think about things that aren’t so holy. I’m not saying we think unholy thoughts every time, but I think we can all agree that our minds have wandered.
But what led us to these impure, sinful thoughts in the first place? It was the immodestly dressed boy or girl!
Isn’t that a thought? That the way someone dresses could affect the way another person
thinks? Well, it’s true.
Whether we admit it or not, Natalie is correct.
Bikini Wars at the Olympics
Most people are aware of the exhibitionism in entertainment venues, but with the exception of the swimsuit edition in Sports Illustrated and the scantily clad NFL cheerleaders, most parents probably think that sports events are not problematic in terms of modesty. Janet Jackson’s “over-exposure” at the last Super Bowl shattered that idea and the 2004 Summer Olympics are continuing the assault on modesty.
The caption under a picture in the August 18, 2004 edition of The Chicago Tribune announced, “Bikini-clad dancers entertain the crowd while the bikini-clad Czech Republic’s beach volleyball team warms up for its match.” It was reported that the cheerleaders “gyrate” to “blaring techno-pop.” One of the female volleyball players said that it was “kind of disrespectful to the female players…I’m sure the male spectators love it, but I find it a little bit offensive.” No explanation was given for why she found it offensive. Maybe she is bothered by the fact that the “cheerleader” bikinis are even more revealing than hers and hence they get more “attention.”
Not to be outdone by bikini-wearing beach volleyball players, 2004 Olympians Amy Acuff, Amanda Beard, Haley Cope and Logan Tom have “graced” the covers of pornographic magazines in various states of “undress.”
Four years ago when swimmer Jennifer Thompson’s barely covered body was exposed in print, the director of the Women’s Sports Foundation (Donna Lopiano) commented, “Any exposure in a sports magazine [I would say anywhere in public] that minimizes athletic achievement and skill and emphasizes the female athlete as a sex object is insulting and degrading.”
What’s So Bad About Immodest Dress?
Whether or not one wants to admit it, immodesty often leads to unchaste behavior. It reduces the dignity and beauty of the human body to that of “object” status and it results in a lack of respect for our God given bodies and sense of self worth. Immodesty can lead others into sins against chastity and purity. It violates the ninth commandment that says, “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
It’s His Problem, Not Hers
Radical feminism insists that if a man has immoral thoughts because of the way a woman is dressed, it is his problem, not hers. Contrary to what these militants claim, males and females are different. Men are by nature more inclined to sensual reactions from visual stimuli and women who dress in provocative ways bear some of the responsibility if their immodesty leads a member of the opposite sex to immoral thoughts.
As Father Regis Scanlon, O.F.M., writes in the November 1988 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review:
Because traditional Catholic teaching on modesty in the area of sexuality requires the woman to keep more of her body concealed than it does for the man, some Catholics believe that it is unfair to the woman. While it is true that traditional Catholic teaching on modesty in the area of sexuality is more demanding of the woman, it is not unfair. Just as the woman is the weaker gender in the area of physical power, so the man is the weaker gender in the area of sexuality (in the sense that the male is more prone to immediate sexual arousal). And just as it is wrong for a man to use his physical strength to lord it over a woman, so it is wrong for a woman to use the feminine characteristics of her physical body to dominate a man.What the Church Teaches
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2522-2524) tells us that, “[Modesty] means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love…Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet….Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies…..Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.”
Parental Advice from a Mother of 13
Mary Ann Kuharski, the mother of 13 (six of whom are adopted), has this to say in an article found at catholic.net:
“… as Christian parents we can have an impact on our own children. And in the end, we will have to answer to Our Heavenly Father for what we approved or allowed.
We want to tell our kids early and often that they are special. They are special because they are made in God’s own image and likeness, and their souls, minds, and bodies are to be treated as sacred because they are children of God. That means we treat others and ourselves with reverence and
We need to be determined and diligent if we want our children to know right from wrong and to understand the seriousness of temptation and flirtation with sin. Yes, I’ve been called ‘old fashioned’ and my judgment has not always been appreciated.
Believe me, I was no hit with one of my college-age daughters the summer I discovered a skimpy bikini
hidden in a downstairs bathroom and threw it in the trash. Or the time I discovered that even ‘guy’ periodicals like my son’s Hot Rod magazine had a ‘swimsuit’ edition. Luckily, I grabbed a nearby razor and cut out all the ‘distractions’ before he came home from college. ‘This way you can concentrate
on the centerfold Model T, rather than another more seductive model,’ I told him.
I’ve been known to take posters off walls (they are my walls), toss out offensive videos and music cassettes, tear up objectionable comics (yep, it’s there too!), cancel magazine subscriptions, and veto outfits I felt to be alluring or offensive.
We’re their parents— not their pals —and if we don’t guard and guide them, who will? Parents must be diligent because it’s not just our children’s lives but their very souls that are at stake.”
Excellent advice from an experienced mother!