Wearing Thin

[This post was one that I was working on before Easter but had to put on hold because of a lack of time. I’m finishing and uploading it now, roughly a month later.]

I.

Elspeth posted a satirical video a few weeks back which advises women to “Put it on“, and in this case “it” happens to refer to clothing. Stingray “stole” the video to use with a post over at Girls Being Girls called “Tweezing Out Femininity.” A small sample:

We’ve all written about how, as women, we should strive to be pretty, wear modest makeup, but wear it well, have long hair, dress well and so forth.  But as we all know, femininity encompasses so much more than that and trying to write about all it entails in one or two posts is nigh impossible.

With this in mind, I thought it best to simply just pick one small aspect of femininity and write about it.  My hope is that it will inspire questions, comments, and further ideas for myself and the other writers here to spin off of and therefore continue the conversation of what it means to be a feminine woman.  It’s not a simple thing and it goes very deep.  However, the outer covering is a very good place to start in one’s journey to becoming more feminine.  It’s why I love the video above so much.

Women today seem to go to either end of the spectrum, even in the course one day, in their dress.  For the day it might be sweatpants and sneakers and for the night heavy makeup with a very skimpy dress or skirt.  There is little in between.  It is in this in between that we start to find what is feminine.

I think that my female readers would enjoy the rest of the post, and I would recommend it to them. In addition, those men who are fathers of daughters might also find some value there as well. And since I’m on the topic of female attire, I should also mention that TempestTcup has two new somewhat recent posts up concerning Corsets and Tight-lacing. You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

However, the primary subject of this post is modesty. I haven’t touched on it in a while, so I thought I would give a few thoughts on the matter. A major impetus is a post titled “Against the ‘Modest Swimsuit'” over at a blog called The Catholic Lady (whose tagline I very much like). A comment in that post stated this:

To really know what is modest when swimming, I think we’d probably have to ask truly virtuous men for guidance.

Now, I won’t be so arrogant as to claim to fit that description. But I do have a few thoughts I would like to mention when it comes to modesty, although extending beyond just swimsuits.

II.

When we talk about modesty, we need to understand that there are really two components to it. The most obvious one concerns lust and sexuality- this is the modesty that most of us think of when the subject is brought up. For swimsuits especially, this is what modesty entails. The other kind of modesty involves envy and jealousy; this is modesty in the sense of being humble and not showing off wealth and status. I explained this a while ago in my fifth Selected Sunday Scriptures posts:

As I thought on it, I realized that there are really two different forms of modesty, one in harmony with chastity and the other in harmony with humility. To be somewhat clearer, one form of modesty is about dressing and acting in such a way so as to not call unnecessary sexual attention upon oneself. The second form of modesty is about not dressing and acting in such a way so as to flaunt one’s influence, wealth and station in life.

The thing to keep in mind about modesty is that its purpose is to avoid inciting sin in others. Whether that sin is lust, or avarice, we are not to become stumbling blocks for our brothers and sisters. When we talk about modesty, it is important to remember that.

This particular observation is important because there are a number of people out there who “believe” in modesty, and preach it, but don’t get it quite right. One of the more common manifestations of this is when people say they don’t want to wear “too modest” of clothing, otherwise they would draw attention to themselves. This sentiment demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of modesty, and especially how it relates to the world. Modesty is not simply about not drawing attention to oneself, it is about not drawing particular types of attention to oneself. Specifically, sexual attention and jealous attention. Remember, we as Christians are supposed to be noticed. People are supposed to recognize us: by how we dress, by how we act, and by what we say.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 5:14-16)

If people notice a Christian, especially a Christian woman, because she is wearing modest clothing that is far afield from what other women are wearing, then guess what? That is a good thing! Yes, really, it is! As Christians we are called to not conform to the world; that will invariably result in us standing out. So the lesson of all of this is that when it comes to whether a particular outfit is modest, the question isn’t whether it draws attention to us or not. The question is whether it draws the wrong kind of attention towards us. With that out of the way, I will turn to what I suppose we can call “chaste modesty.”

III.

While there are certainly immodest outfits that men can wear, when the topic of modesty is concerned female attire is what is talked about 99% of the time. Towards that end I will be addressing only modesty when it comes to women. A post on male modesty might be worthwhile later, although I think it would be relatively simple.

There are two components of “chaste modesty”, which I call skin and shape. The first refers to just how much bare skin an outfit shows, and where it shows it. It also includes any transparency effects in the clothing. The second refers to how much of the woman’s body shape or form is highlighted and emphasized by the outfit. An outfit might be perfectly acceptable in one area but fail utterly in another. An example would be a skin-tight black leather outfit that shows very little skin, but hugs to the body. Men can be tempted by a woman’s body shape just as they can be tempted by bare skin. Both are problematic.

Whether for swimming or another purpose, the amount of skin shown by an outfit cannot go too far without being immodest. Some areas it is easy to draw a bright line, while others can be a bit hazy. The following is my personal thoughts on it, based on my own nature and inclinations as a man, as well as what I understand about other men.

Overall I feel fairly confident in saying that most of the torso down to just above the knees should be covered up. Personally, I don’t think that bare shoulders are a problem, for me at least they don’t incite lust, and I don’t think they do for most men in general. But dipping too much below the collar bone does get to immodest territory, although the exact location where it becomes immodest depends on the body shape of the woman wearing it. Coverage would then extend down through the midriff, as skin showing there directs a man’s gaze to that location, which is between two area’s on a woman’s body quite apt to incite lust. The upper legs and thighs would need to be covered as well, because they also have a strong sexual correlation to them.

The problem with swimsuits is that their nature lends them towards showing a lot of “shape”, even if they don’t show a whole lot of skin. They tender to be tight fitting, as that makes for better hydrodynamics. So even if they cover up all of the torso, they still tend to hug the skin and show off any curves that a woman might have. Thus they are still in many cases immodest, even when they don’t show a whole lot of skin. The key to making a swimsuit more modest, in my opinion, is not simply to cover up skin but to break up the woman’s body shape. This means an outfit that uses some kind of ruffling or loose fabric that would cover up her curves, at least when she isn’t swimming (as when swimming shape is less of an issue).

That same line of thinking applies to other clothing as well- whether dresses or skirts or blouses. If something is tighter on the skin, then something to break up the pattern is required. A second layer or something similar can achieve that effect. Looser clothing will probably need to cover a bit more, though, in order to not show off as much skin when bending over or being in a position other than standing up.

The funny thing (to me at least) is that what I’m describing fits clothing that existed decades before. Old-fashioned swimsuits and dresses alike both tended to show less skin and less of a woman’s curves at the same time. The thing is, they did/can still look very good on a woman; they just don’t look as sexy on her, that’s all. But that is the entire purpose of most of the modern attire- to emphasize a woman’s sexual appeal in order to draw male sexual interest and attention towards her.

At this point I should note that I understand the practical advantages of a two piece swimsuit to women when it comes to using the restroom. But there is no reason you couldn’t have a two-piece that is also modest along the lines I’ve described above. It simply would need to have some overlap, that is all.

IV.

Those are my quick thoughts on modesty in female attire. If anyone has any other suggestions or thoughts to add, please feel free.

 

Update: Deep Strength has added his thoughts to the subject in this post here. I recommend reading it, as he goes beyond the external aspects of modesty, which is all that I have covered, to address the internal ones as well.

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64 Comments

Filed under Attraction, Christianity, Femininity, Temptation, Women

64 responses to “Wearing Thin

  1. femininebutnotfeminist

    @ mdavid,

    What Chad said.

    @ Chad,

    Very, VERY well said! I was just about to respond to mdavid but you more than covered it. Thanks!

  2. mdavid

    Sorry Chad, but I think I’m on the side of prudence, the Church, and the saints here, both in my morals and my diction.

    I’m not angry nor interested in arguing. If you wish to discuss something I’ve written you disagree with (other than the words “scoff” and “prude”) please quote it specifically, and articulate. Otherwise, I’m merely ignoring your “Please, do tell…” diatribe as a straw man best ignored for reasons of charity.

  3. @ FBNF and any other men or women accused of prudish dress, behavior, or attitudes

    If already gone over some of the etymology of the word prude.

    Also consider that the man who coined the word was a playwright. Moliere. You may have heard of him.

    He was a man whom eschewed his parents and lineage (very well off) in order to join theatre. He bankrupted multiple theatre companies, had multiple lovers (claims of both sexes too, but the women are more well known), loved scandals, was condemned by the church, and only received a Christian burial because he was in favor with the King; which got him a disgraced midnight burial in secret.

    The man went by moliere so as not to bring shame to his father.

    So, next time someone tries to shame you with the word prude…

    Ask them why they’re taking cues from a man buggering adulterer who lived a life of shame and immorality.

    And let me know how many heads explode.

  4. Yes david,
    because youve been so specific yourself.

    your comments as of now could be boiled down to, “Get over it and be ok with nakedness.”

    “Nakedness from a Christian POV doesn’t personally bug me, so I really don’t mind the swimsuit issue. Just please don’t ask me “but what is sexual display?”..we all know it when we see it, and men need to be mentally ready for women doing it.”

    Tell me what saint or where in the catechism it says public indecency, let alone nakedness, is ok.

    Beyond that, you’re laughing at others weaknesses. At weaknesses the church speaks strongly against, with saints claiming there is not a soul in hell that does not have the stains of lust upon it. Many others claim lust is the sin through which most begin their fall.

    To laugh that off…

    Also, spare me your false charity. Charity is in correcting false teachings, aiding brothers and sisters in Christ towards greater holiness. It is not cowardly disengaging lines of argument you yourself started when you find your position indefensible.

  5. @Donal “I may have it missed you stating it explicitly, but I gather that you are a Christian woman. If so, you are more rational minded than most (which is a compliment, by the way). But you need to understand that for men, sexual matters pretty much override any semblance of reason.”

    As a matter of fact, I am a man; see my earlier comment on a different post: https://donalgraeme.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/brief-thoughts-on-courtship-and-dating/comment-page-1/#comment-2001

    I am not sure why my experience with lust seems to diverge from yours. In my experience, if I look directly at a woman with the intent to experience lust, I experience lustful feelings. The latter response is involuntary; the former action that leads to it is voluntary and therefore I am fully responsible for it.

    It therefore also possible to be in the same room with women in swimsuits, and ignore them, focusing on what one’s actually come here to do. Any self-dishonesty as to one’s purpose in being in such a place, of course, will ruin this ability immediately and completely. (I happen to think dishonesty is a more fundamental sin than lust.)

    @Chad “Saying ‘we’ve lost and should live with it’ with the lines of reasoning you’ve displayed could be used for going clubbing – after all, one knows what to expect at a club and the lack of clothing is for mobility and dancing.”

    This would indeed be an example of what I was talking about in terms of self-dishonesty. Everyone knows that the primary purpose of going clubbing, is to hook up with girls, with the dancing (and perhaps also booze, as well as the deharmonizingly loud music and flashing lights) as the convenient pretext and way of overwhelming any inclination towards self-control. If swim training groups are a similar hotbed of incipent fornication, I have somehow been preserved innocent of this fact. If and when the Olympic-pole-dancing people exercise their influence on the level of the local training sessions I attend, to destroy the mutual understanding of chaste intent that prevails there, swim training will indeed become impossible to attend without violating the rules of modesty.

    I would indeed expect this kind of reasoning conflating clubbing and swimming from someone who wanted to dishonestly excuse the former activity, by pretending that it has a similar purpose to the latter activity. (“This LSD is used to boost my creativity! honest!”) I am not sure why you are engaging in this kind of conflation, since presumably you have no similar ulterior motive. That a social norm can be employed by invalid reasoning to justify sinful behaviour, is not a problem with the social norm, but with the invalid reasoning. When a social norm justifies sinful behaviour by _valid_ reasoning, then we have a problem.

  6. @ Arakawa

    Sorry for the mix-up. You haven’t commented in a while, so I forgot about your earlier self-description.

    I am not sure why my experience with lust seems to diverge from yours. In my experience, if I look directly at a woman with the intent to experience lust, I experience lustful feelings. The latter response is involuntary; the former action that leads to it is voluntary and therefore I am fully responsible for it.

    It therefore also possible to be in the same room with women in swimsuits, and ignore them, focusing on what one’s actually come here to do. Any self-dishonesty as to one’s purpose in being in such a place, of course, will ruin this ability immediately and completely. (I happen to think dishonesty is a more fundamental sin than lust.)

    Don’t disagree about the first paragraph. But I think you overstate the ease of the second. At least for me, and for most men I would suspect. Which is why I try to avoid such situations- I don’t usually swim when too many others are around. Especially attractive young women.

    Dishonesty in that context would actually be inspired by lust to begin with- you would be lying about your reasons to be there. But the lie is to cover up lust, which is the first sinful act/thought.

  7. @ arakawa

    As I said, I’m not currently convinced either way, though I do lean towards more modesty as a rule.

    I simply distrust any logic that relies upon any sort of, ‘that is just the way society is these days’ to back why it is acceptable for Christians to do certain things that have drifted in social acceptance over the years.

    Modest appearal is one of those things, and as pointed out the realities of the activities themselves sometimes dictate what one is able to wear. As such, I simply ask whether those are activities we should engage in at all, or do so in mixed company.

    Being a traditional Catholic I put a great deal of stock in the ways souls have been proven to achieve sainthood as well as expand the Church in growth. The Church herself places a great deal of emphasis on being able to demonstrate objective truths via scripture, traditon, and logic. As such, so do I.

    If I want to be a part of rekindling holiness within the laity, I first need to know what is acceptable and what is not. From there it moves to cautiously warning when entering the very few grey areas there are; with clear reasons why such grey areas might want to be avoided completely if one is pursuing sainthood.

  8. mdavid

    chad, your comments as of now could be boiled down to, “Get over it and be ok with nakedness.”

    No, my comments cannot be boiled down to that. I don’t believe the statement you claim I said, and I never said anything like it either. You are libeling me.

    Please stop the straw man and address what I’ve written, or stop commenting on my comments. Christian charity requires this.

  9. femininebutnotfeminist

    @ mdavid,

    Actually, I got the exact same impression that Chad got from what you’ve been saying. If that’s not the impression that you meant to give then you might want to go back and rephrase things a bit more carefully…

  10. mdavid

    FBNF: no, you should read what I wrote more carefully before commenting on it. I cannot be held responsible for you or others misreading what I’ve written. It’s articulate.

    I’m not interested in arguing. I do enjoy honest discussion. If we disagree, that’s OK. Let’s just keep it honest, and charitable.

  11. @mdavid

    I copied and pasted what you said from your comment. Since your memory is poor enough that you claim not to have said it, here it is again

    “Nakedness from a Christian POV doesn’t personally bug me, so I really don’t mind the swimsuit issue. Just please don’t ask me “but what is sexual display?”..we all know it when we see it, and men need to be mentally ready for women doing it.”

    I’m not making strawmen, I’m taking what you said literally because you said it literally and you did so multiple times. You then laughed at others weaknesses multiple times. Then you had the gall to claim that the church and saints support you, and now you’re hiding behind false claims of strawmen while trying to claim Christian charity requires us to avoid talking about what you said.

    You should reread what the church believes charity to be. Christian charity is the love of a souls eternal life more than any other outcome in this life or the next. Christian charity REQUIRES we follow saint Pauls instructions to give fraternal correction.

    So yes, I am acting in Christian charity.

    Deal with it and stop appealing that we ‘be nice’ to accommodate incorrect teaching on sin; or come to the table with something substantial to show us how we’re wrong

  12. mdavid

    Chad,

    1) I said, Nakedness as a Christian doesn’t bother me…as long as it’s not sexual display.

    2) You said, your comments as of now could be boiled down to, “Get over it and be ok with nakedness.” I reply: There is nothing wrong with naked human beings. My word, St. Peter himself fished naked. People bathe naked. Babies run around naked. I repeat: nakedness as a Christian doesn’t bother me. It’s sexual display that is is the issue. That’s what I said, and that’s what the Church says.

    3) You said, Tell me what saint or where in the catechism it says public indecency, let alone nakedness, is ok.

    Did I say anywhere that I support “public indecency”? I said the opposite. I even said that I think cheerleaders are indecent, for example. I’m at least among the most prude 2% of this nation, and you accuse me of supporting indecency? Do you believe you are interested in charitable, honest discussion? Truly trying to understand my position? Any reasonable person would say no here.

    4) You said, Beyond that, you’re laughing at others weaknesses. No, I was laughing at the idea there IS anybody but a few odd people who have such weaknesses and we should accommodate them. That, for example, my not wearing a shirt, or a woman wearing clothing that shows her body shape, is creating lusts in regular people. People sexually aroused to sin by these things needs to watch themselves, not worry about getting women into shapeless clothing, or men to stop playing basketball with shirts and skins. I doubt there is a Catholic bishop in the land who disagrees with me here.

    5) You said, spare me your false charity. I have no “false charity” in this discussion. I only wish general peace with my fellow man. I only engage you now to defend myself against your libel. I haven’t accused you of anything, nor commented on any of your posts. Yet you are attacking me without charity or provocation here. I’m always up for good discussion and trying to understand other people’s views. I’m not interesting in fighting just to fight.

    6) You say I’m, cowardly disengaging lines of argument you yourself started when you find your position indefensible. Look at your comment in an objective Christian light. You assume for me a motive you cannot know, and that happens to not be true. Then call me a coward. Are you really interested in honest debate, including trying to understand the other person’s views even if you disagree with them? I ask this in all seriousness.

  13. MDavid

    1. I copied and pasted the text from your comment. I’m not going to discuss it any more, I’m not even sure why you bother trying to make a point of it when anyone concerned can go back and see it.

    2. In light of that comment, the next comment you posted said the following:

    “Not a chance I give going shirtless up. Playing sports, working in the heat, running, or whatever. I guess all the young ladies will just have to take smelling salts to calm themselves down…sorry but I’m LOL!”

    So yes, you are in effect telling people to just get over it. You are literally saying your own personal, physical comfort is more of a priority to you than people’s souls.

    “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
    Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!”
    – The words of Christ, Matthew 18:5-7

    “We recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knee. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper. Let parents keep their daughters away from public gymnastic games and contests; but, if their daughters are compelled to attend such exhibitions, let them see to it that they are fully and modestly dressed. Let them never permit their daughters to don immodest garb.”
    – The Sacred Congregation of the Council (by the mandate of Pope Pius XI), January 12, 1930 A.D.

    “‘You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not, indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment. . . When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me, whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal potion?
    You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul.
    And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity, nor provoked by injury, but out of foolish vanity and pride.”
    – St. John Chrysostom, Father and Doctor of the Church

    So, in light of those teachings of the Saints, of the councils, and of Popes….

    Is your own physical comfort so great that you wish you had a millstone around your neck and sunk to the bottom of the sea?

    Being in the world and yet not of the world means that we are called to difficulties and to stand out. To sacrifice out of the virtue of Charity for love of God and love of souls. You trot out examples that are NOT what the church says and claim they are. There is a difference with how men can dress and comport themselves with their families, with co-workers (depending on the demands of the physical work), and with other men. Those differences are in how we behave as well as how we dress.

    And you laughed at others weaknesses, never thinking that others might have issues with that despite 2000 years of teachings of the Church and people RIGHT HERE telling you they have issues with it.

    From what I can tell, I understand your position. It is a position that goes against teachings of the Church, as I’ve demonstrated. As such, yes, I will strongly and loudly disagree with it, lest any poor soul reading fall into the mistake that you are speaking correctly when you are not. Nor have you shown any evidence that I’m wrong.

    As such, yes, I will continue to comment. I am not attacking you sir, I am attacking your false teachings. I do so out of Charity. I do so out of Love. I do so because we are called by Saint Paul to issue fraternal correction to our brothers in Christ.

    And, as long as your words are cowardly, avoid the very things you said (even lying about what you said), while also avoiding the very way you can address my challenge to them (support via scripture, Church teachings, and the Saints), I will continue to call them cowardly. You’re starting to actually turn towards the issues of which you spoke and address the points I’ve made; yet you continue to weakly protest that I need be nice enough to ignore your mistakes and any errors they may lead others to.

    I will not.

  14. Pingback: Neither to the Right, Nor to the Left | From the Depths To the Wilderness

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