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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Modesty Is an Opportunity to Love

by Jennifer Fulwiler

(...)  Growing up in secular culture, I don't think I ever heard the topic of modesty discussed, at least not like it is in religious circles. Parents of high school classmates might have told their daughters that they had to wear mini-skirts -- no micro-minis allowed in this house! -- but there was a sense of purposelessness to it, like, "I don't know why it's a bad idea for my daughter to go out of the house looking like that...I just have this vague feeling that it is."

 Years later, in the process of converting to Catholicism, I encountered serious discussion about this strange new concept called "modesty." Plenty of women in the secular world dressed with dignity and restraint, of course, but this was the first time I'd seen modesty held up as a virtue with specific characteristics, something clear and definable and worth aiming for. These religious folks even had an interest in discussing this issue! A lot! My first few forays into this strange new world involved reading some threads online in which folks talked about modesty proponents who create strict guidelines for how women should dress, then judge them accordingly. Though I never encountered any of these people myself, everyone seemed to know a friend's cousin's brother-in-law who believed that women who wore anything but ankle-length skirts were on a one-way bus to hell.

 Despite all the vitriolic debates that surrounded this issue, it seemed to me that, as its core, there was something worth considering here. Nobody in secular culture even wanted to discuss the downsides of women using the Kardashian family as sartorial role models, and so I was relieved to see that the concept was at least on someone's radar. But something still felt wrong. Christianity was said to be the religion of love, but all these harsh judgments based on arbitrary regulations didn't seem loving at all. If these kinds of modesty standards really existed, they struck me as fear-based and legalistic.

 Then I began hanging out with actual real-life Catholics, and the whole modesty thing clicked. The problem with both the secular and the religious extremist views was that they were too narrowly, inwardly focused: Secular culture said that each woman should be able to wear what whatever she wants, without regard to how it might impact others; the modesty extremists said that women were made worthy or unworthy depending on the details of how they clothed themselves. In both worldviews, all the energy around the discussion is pointed like a laser beam back at the woman. (...)

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