Modesty and Shades of Gray
Vastly differing opinions come to mind as we contemplate modesty and the proper way to dress. While there are no shades of gray when in comes to morality, there is certainly some flexibility when seeking the moral course in modesty. Some room for diversity in how clothing appears remains. In seeking this middle ground, I think of something my mother said to us about discerning right from wrong in this type of choice.
“Ask yourself this question: Is this a matter of morals or taste?”
We all have tightly held opinions about a multitude of fashion topics. In progressing generations we see differences of expression such as trends in hairstyles, clothing, and even body art/tattoos (I am not a fan). Yet, when no firm moral ruling comes to a certain decision my mother’s question is a helpful tool.
While we all adhere to our own personal history, upbringing, and developing tastes there are standards to help guide us in our decisions. Long hair, short hair, permed hair, colored hair – all of these come and go by societal trends. There is, however, no moral attachment to our decisions between one or the other. The same can be said of the various accessories chosen by personal taste. While we might not like what someone chooses, this is a matter of taste, not morals.
On the other hand, fashion is much more tricky. Styles come and go – sometimes more outrageous than ever. However, the question here becomes about more than personal taste. In judging our clothing options we must consider the impact on others and even the perception our choices create. This is where a moral sense of modesty comes into play.
The cyber-wars over modesty continue as people of good faith attempt to find their own position and limits. This became apparent from the varied reactions of others in response to a sign, similar to the one the Vatican displays, posted on my Facebook wall.
The sign in question clearly illustrates the do’s and don’ts of clothing while you are visiting there. Yet, I quickly found out that the sentiment on this prickly topic is not as black and white as I had first presumed – even among ‘good’ Catholics. Some of the comments on my wall made that very clear.
Perception of Modesty
I have learned a lesson from this back and forth on Facebook; there are, indeed, shades of gray when it comes to modesty. While I can understand the hard-line that must be taken by a place like the Vatican – where allowing sleeveless dresses could and would easily morph into spaghetti straps – the lines can, and should, be softened when it comes to the day-to-day people attending a church near you.
I recently read a sincerely distressed blog post concerning this very topic. In it, the writer spoke of her frustration in battling for modesty. And yet, she found that she had grown in her expectations and softened her attitude when dealing with others. This line of thinking resonated with me. It got me to pondering the stages of life and the origins of individuals.
As we are told in the Gospel of Luke, “…unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required”. Yet we are all infants, spiritually, who are simply in differing developmental stages. Some of us have been exposed to our wonderful Church for a longer period of time and have been taught throughout their lives by parents who learned before them. Others come into the Church as searching adults who have not been as readily catechized. Even among those who are cradle Catholics, there will be nuances of development and conscience.
My Quest for Modesty
In contemplating this issue, several points come to mind. Perhaps you will find them helpful as well.
- Promoting modesty to increase the respect given to women in these overly sexualized times is a burden carried by all of us – men and women alike. Ideally it will begin with our infant girls. We should feel the love of neighbor enough to reflect moral values in the way women are respected for their unique gift of femininity. Theirs is truly a place of dignity and honor. A goal for chastity comes into play, as we consider how we can be a temptation to others with the way that we dress.
- Although we are called to fraternal correction, we must always do so in a way that is helpful and not hurtful. There might be a time when we unintentionally cause hurt, so we must continue to love others and to allow them the room they need to develop their own conscience.
- There are concrete areas when it comes to modesty. It is a given that showing too much flesh is an occasion of sin for others. When we speak of extremes – cleavage, miniskirts, and strapless clothing – we are safe in knowing that these cross the hard and fast lines of decorum. However, this does not give us a right to judge the soul of another.
- There are gray areas as well. Whether or not to exclusively wear dresses, veils, or even dressy clothes is a cultural issue. That we would like to encourage others to wear their best – whatever their best may be – is an area that should ultimately come down to personal responsibility (or perhaps a pastor’s comment). After all, during the course of the Church calendar, we will all be hearing of wearing the appropriate ‘wedding garment’.
Call to Modesty
In conclusion, it is evident that we are called to be the best child of God that we can be. We should all strive for perfection every single day. After all, Jesus calls us all to be saints. However, we must distinguish between the black and white, and the gray areas. We must maintain our Christian charity, while maintaining our desire to help one another in this journey. And we must recognize that, as children of God, we are all unquestionably loved by Him. Our love in return must guide not just our dress, but also our interaction with our family – our brothers and sisters in Christ.