Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guest Post: Individual Modesty

TBM Topic 11: Catholic Modesty

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Guest post by B.

Please note that this is in particular regard to clothing. On the subject of Catholic modesty, it is written in the Catechism that:
2521. Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It 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.
I couldn't agree more. As a 20-something male exploding with youth, sex crosses my mind a bajillion times a day. When I see a young women dressed immodestly, it is much, much harder to recognize the "intimate center of the person," and rather focus on what I see in front of me: a piece of meat. I think if people want to be considered for who they really are, and not just their body, modesty is essential.

The problem, however, is identifying what exactly is modesty. The Catechism says that it means "refusing to unveil what should remain hidden." That's all good and wonderful, but it also very vague. What, exactly, should remain hidden? Staggeringly different opinions on this matter are observed through the world and history. Throughout all of our time on this planet, we've nailed it down to somewhere between this and this.

So where exactly does Catholic modesty lie? At what point does one begin taking excessive measures to preserve modesty? Can a Catholic show her shoulders? Can a Catholic man take off his shirt on the tennis court when it's 90 degrees? How about a woman? How about a woman if she's wearing a sports bra? Can a Catholic wear a bikini? These questions are impossible to answer, because it doesn't seem like there is an objective standard for quantitative modesty at all.

If an explicit objective standard besides 'be modest' doesn't exist, what is a Catholic to do? A simple test is to ask yourself why you're wearing what you're wearing. Are you wearing a particular item to inspire lust in someone else, or are you wearing it because it's hot outside, or because you need more flexibility? Since no one can definitively say what body parts are okay to display, and how much, then it would seem that everything is fair game in the proper context.

That certainly isn't a license to wear whatever you want wherever you want, but it gives a person freedom to wear what items that best handle particular situations. There doesn't seem much reason to wear a skin-tight leotard on the streets except to show off your body, but on the gymnasium floor every ounce of flexibility is needed. The former is immodest, the latter isn't.

I think it's important to note as well that while a person should be modest to avoid stirring temptation in others, it's also very fair to expect maturity from your fellow man. If this wasn't the case, everyone would be obligated to wear burqas in order to minimize lustful impulses. If you see a person with clothes you deem immodest, think about why they're wearing what they're wearing. If I do that and I still think that they could wear items more conservative while still being comfortable and not impeding their actions, I feel I have room to criticize.

It's interesting to imagine if we grew up in an environment where what scandalizes us today were commonplace, those things might not be as likely to inspire the same kind of lustful thinking as they do now. I think Victorians were prudish; they would likely think me highly immodest, at the least.

Modesty is important to protect personhood. Clothing and actions should be conservative to the point of compromising practical comfort/need. This means modest dress can cover a wide range of dress depending on a person's situation. In the situations where less clothing is required, it should be expected of your fellow man to repress his lust the best he can and deal, and eventually society will get used to it. Be aware that if you're concerned whether or not your crossing the line from modest to immodest, erring on the side of more than less is the best way to preserve your personhood in the eyes of others.

Throw some shorts over those bikini bottoms.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for mentioning men and modesty in this post!

    "I think Victorians were prudish; they would likely think me highly immodest, at the least." True!