“Image is everything” we are told by communication experts, and this maxim is largely true. The image you project is what others think is the real you. As Catholics, we need to be aware of our image in a number of ways, including physical modesty.
There is modesty that counters pride and modesty that is defined by Wikipedia as “a mode of dress and deportment which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others.”
Yet our culture prioritizes sexiness. Just look at the women’s gowns at the annual Oscars (which this year, in my opinion, were designed for vulgar and obscene exhibitionism). Sexiness is the stock-in-trade of movie stars; sexiness is what they sell.
Revealing Clothes at Work
Where else is it appropriate to dress to encourage sexual attraction? Not at the office if a woman wants to be taken seriously. She should want a professional image, not “will trade favors for promotion.”
My husband has reported incidents at his workplace where women wearing low-cut blouses or other revealing outfits were sent home to change. Their appearance was distracting from their purpose and the business environment.
I’ve known female college and high school teachers who came to class wearing revealing clothes. Among young males who think of little else but sex, such clothing completely confuses the teacher to student relationship.
One has to ask these women, “Were you trying to teach your subject, or something else?” Sadly, they are often totally unaware that their attire is a problem. All they know is that they look cool, and they don’t question following fashion.
Revealing Clothes in Church
In our churches, for a number of years now, brides have been wearing strapless wedding gowns. I don’t think this practice should ever have been allowed.
Oh, I can hear the pastors saying, “But what could we do? They want to wear what is fashionable. If we forbid revealing gowns, they’ll just go to another church and bad-mouth Catholics as old fuddy-duds forevermore.”
To brides (and grooms who say nothing), I proffer: “Your church wedding is a solemn occasion involving a sacred vow. Shouldn’t your clothing reflect reverence and commitment? Why would you want to sell sex at the altar?”
Doesn’t it distract attention from the awesome sacrament of matrimony if the bride’s boobs are on display? A wedding is not a prom, although bareness is questionable then as well. Why is it that getting dressed up for women means stripping down?
The same applies to attendance at Mass. I have seen some of the most shocking clothes at church. My guess is that people are just grabbing what’s comfortable or cool (or sexy) thinking selfishly but not about what matters.
The Bible and Modesty
A recent article by Liz Abrams reviews Bible passages related to modesty. There are two main passages in the New Testament: 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:8-10. https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/values/modesty-what-does-bible-teach/
The gist of each is that Christians, both women and men, should be adorned in “respectable apparel” and “good works.” The apostles warned against excess jewelry, costly attire, or elaborate hairstyles that distract from our Christian witness.
Adams wrote: “Both Paul and Peter exhort women to dress so that what is really valuable—their godly character and good works—is what people notice.” Further, a Christian’s clothes should not detract or distract from our gospel message, our witness.
Adams noted as I did above: “Even in the secular world, companies impose dress codes to make sure their employees reflect the message of the company. Dressing modestly, both in the amount of the body covered and in tasteful moderation of ornamentation, is considered professional and considerate of fellow employees and customers.”
Many articles discussing modesty and women’s clothing focus on the effect on men. However, Adams said, “[M]en inclined to lust do not stop lusting simply because women cover up more.” Nor does the Bible make women responsible for men’s lust.
I make a similar point in a previous blog about Catholic women wearing veils in church as a sign of modesty. Women should not be burdened because of male misconceptions. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2022/01/catholic-women-wearing-a-veil-a-misguided-practice/
For women, the problem is not what men think, but what we think about ourselves and what we want our image to be. If women don’t want to be treated as sex objects, they should not dress like sex objects.
If women think that looking sexy is a route to success or popularity, that is tragic. As Catholics, we should know that the goal is saving our souls and achieving favor in the eyes of God. We do that by making our image the image and likeness of God.