A woman’s perspective on the role of modesty in women’s fashion
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If there’s anything UD loves talking about more than being barefoot around campus, it’s purity. Recent conversations that I have overheard or participated in have brought to light some weak spots in our discussion of how to practice chastity. A big weak spot comes from a false idea of modesty and what that looks like for women specifically.
Buzzwords like “toxic purity culture” describe this line of thinking: “If a woman wears something sexy and she gets catcalled or assaulted, maybe she should have covered up more.” This line of thinking is extremely dangerous and uncovers a serious issue about the average conversation about chastity and, specifically, modesty – the conversation almost always revolves around shaming women.
That is not to say that we’re not responsible at all for respecting ourselves, but every body type is different. Comfort and style hold a deeper spot in modesty than most people realize. We are all called to chastity and modesty, but how we live out those virtues can look different from person to person.
I am four-foot-eight and have never weighed more than 80 pounds – clothing that respects my body and gives me dignity is not going to do that in the same way for my taller friends who have drastically different measurements than me.
Similarly, clothing that respects their bodies is not going to do the same for me. Why? Since every person is unique and a piece of clothing is not objectively evil, everyone is entitled to free choice about what they wear.
Immodesty occurs when that free choice is used for evil instead of good, and this can take various forms. A woman wearing a bikini can be immodest, but so can a floor-length dress if that person only wears it for some prideful reason. Becoming “more modest” doesn’t simply lie in throwing clothing items away, but reflecting on how we wear those clothing items.
The emphasis on individual conscience is so important when talking about modesty. It doesn’t mean someone can say, “I don’t think this is immodest, therefore it’s not immodest.” Rather, it allows the person to choose to wear, or not to wear, a certain clothing item in pursuit of modesty.
Obviously, there are universal ideas on professionalism and dress codes, but most people’s day-to-day life is not concerned with the parameters of their outfits. We get dressed because we have to and because our clothes reflect how we see ourselves and want to be perceived.
If it were only about parameters, modesty would be arbitrary. Thinking about modesty in terms of parameters stems from a distorted view of modesty that centers around what someone finds “attractive.” Women get catcalled, harassed and assaulted while wearing hoodies and sweatpants, so clearly the problem isn’t the clothes. It’s someone’s perverted idea of the human body.
When I look around campus, I see beautiful women of God in jean skirts, linen shorts, tank tops, blazers and flowy blouses. Each one of them reflects their unique personhood through their choice of clothing.
When God found Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden, Scripture says that He “made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21). Before sending them out of the Garden of Eden, the Lord clothes them with garments He fashioned Himself.
God does care about what you wear, and what you wear helps reclaim dignity lost in The Fall. It expresses the Image of God inside you that is worthy of love, respect and adornment.
What we need to stop doing is continuing the legalistic narrative that modesty is about following rules to a T. We need to leave behind the days of lining girls up against walls and measuring skirts before sending them home (a real story from my Catholic school experience).
We need to leave behind the idea that the amount of visible skin is what causes people to sin rather than their own choices. Women’s voices are just as important as men’s in the chastity conversation because we each offer a unique understanding of the world and our place in it.