I posted a few days ago about femininity and an experience that God used to affirm for me the goodness in being made a woman. There was much discussion following that post about beauty, modesty and our responsibility for being good stewards of our feminine beauty, and it has really had me thinking the past few days about what modesty means, and why it is important for me.
I will say here that I do not pretend to be an expert on this subject, but rather a student musing her way through. I will also disclose that I have been praying about sexuality and my own misconceptions and frustrations with myself for a very long time now, and that through experiences like the ones I've had in the last two family vacations we attended, and also through the discussion that flowed from my previous post on this subject, God is teaching me - though I don't pretend to know everything He is saying all the time, or think I understand Him completely. I'm working my way through and trying to be open to His grace on a topic that is very vulnerable to me.
Much of the discussion in response to my last post was centered on clothing choices and what constitutes modest attire for Christian women. People rightly pointed out that our choice of clothing isn't just about us, and I agree. For me, there is also a consideration for why I wear what I wear, and the context under which I wear them. And what others think and how they feel I think needs to be a big part of that decision. While I shared that I did in fact wear a bikini at a Catholic Vacation (a decision quite controversial to many people) it was in the context of an environment where that was appropriate - 30 degree weather at a swimming pool in sunny Montreal, where most of the women were wearing the same thing. I did not stick out, wearing my two-piece didn't contrast me with anyone or call undue attention to myself. I am not saying this to convince anyone who does not agree that they should be okay with bikinis, but simply to set up that there was a context under which I discerned this to be an acceptable choice of clothing.
This does not mean that I think bikinis in every context are okay. Of course I would never just go shopping or run around town in a two-piece. But even to take it one step further, I think modesty calls me to be sensitive to the culture and the opinions of those around me. For example, if our homeschool group planned a beach day I would not show up in two-piece suits for myself and my daughters. For starters, I know none of the rest of the families would be dressed that way, so I would stand out. And I also want to be aware of what other people are teaching their children, and would never want to impose my own view on them, or put them in a position they would be uncomfortable in. But most especially I think I need to consider what are my reasons for dressing in a certain way, especially if it is not the way most people would be dressed. That day in Montreal I felt a real grace in being comfortable with myself and my femininity. I knew the Lord was doing a healing work in me through this, and knew the people I was with would not be scandalized in any way. On the other hand in a context of people who don’t feel the same, setting myself apart would call attention to me, which is not what I want. In the same way that when I breastfeed my baby in the comfort of my own home around my own children without a nursing cover but cover up when I’m around other people, I think it is basic courtesy to consider the people around you, and not push boundaries or call attention to yourself. Similarly if I showed up somewhere overdressed, or extravagantly outfitted to call attention to myself. Vanity is not modest, so for me I know that I always want to be asking these questions - why am I dressing the way I’m dressing? Is it simply a desire to be beautiful, or a vanity that seeks to impose myself above others?
In the same way too, I think dressing with more coverage can become an opportunity for immodesty if we do it in a way that seeks to compare ourselves to others, and set ourselves above someone. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with choosing outfits that cover more of your body, or to be concerned with not showing too much skin. But when this causes us to look down on others, who for whatever reason may not be dressed similarly, it can be an opportunity for vanity. I have absolutely been in a position where I thought I was so clever in finding a modest outfit, unlike those girls who are letting everything hang out. It made me feel superior, which was not modest at all. I wanted all of my friends to see that I was dressed more appropriately, and that this made my outfit choice better. I have also noticed this at Mass, when people get so riled up over someone not covering their shoulders, or wearing something that is not deemed appropriate for Mass. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it is important to dress for Mass in a way that is befitting the beauty that it is, but not everyone knows this. We don’t convert people by judging their outfits, or becoming upset at them. This to me shows more about ourselves if we find ourselves thinking this way.
There is so much to unpack in this regard, and I know that it is something the Lord will always be working on in me. But in general I really do believe that if I start within myself and allow the Lord to guide me, goodness will follow. I will make mistakes, sure. I’m human like anyone else. But I think for me the topic of modesty is much more than just clothing and coverage. It is a bigger idea that encompasses the entire person - what is good for me, and what is good for those around me. And if I make my decisions with love and respect for the other, I can trust God to continue to teach and form me into the woman He wants me to be.