Modesty and Memories

Each of us has memories of our past that we can remember like they were yesterday. They are moments in time that we recall with clarity. These memories stick out above the rest because they encapsulate strong feelings or pivotal moments. From my own store of memories is one in which the feeling was strong, but only after I grew up did I realize that my interpretation of it was completely displaced. Before I explain my memory, allow me to set the stage.

Teen Summer

It was summertime in Dearborn, MI during the 70’s. A big part of it was going with friends to Camp Dearborn, a park established for Dearborn residents only. It was a 40-minute drive to Milford where a Dearborn driver’s license was required to enter the park with a beach and lake for swimming, another small paddleboat lake, a canteen, and a picnic and camping area. With our cars, FM radios and bikinis, we jumped into our oh-so-grown-up world promoted to us during our wanna-be teen years through Beach Boy music and the Gidget TV series. We had arrived. Oh yeah, we were cool and lovin’ it!

Those were the years of tanning oils and baking under the hot sun in a quest for the best tan. Bikinis were small (we feared those dreaded tan lines) and sunscreen had not been invented yet, not that we would have used it. Skin cancer was not on our teen radar screen. Neither was modesty. Part of the whole experience was the bikinis, halter-tops, short-shorts and hip huggers. We girls would not have been caught dead in a one-piece swimsuit. I’d seen a rack of Speedo one-piece suits at the department store, but those were for girls on swim teams, not for the beach.

That brings us to the department store where my memory takes place. If we weren’t at the beach, a next favorite activity was shopping. (Boy, am I sounding shallow, or what?) Being summer and being cool, we girls all wore our halter-tops and hip-hugging shorts. After looking at jewelry with my two friends, we rounded the corner and instantly stopped dead in our tracks. There was a fully dressed nun from our high school. Egad! We suddenly felt naked. This was a Dominican nun in full habit; veil and all. Since the three of us girls all attended St. Alphonsus high school with this nun, she would recognize us all and disapprove. Luckily, the nun was looking down at something in the case (must have been the watches because it couldn’t have been the hoop earrings.)

The three of us quickly, silently and simultaneously tiptoed off in the opposite direction. Without a word passing among us, we all instinctively reacted in union, wanting to get away from the nun as soon as possible. Without that nun before us, we were bold and brassy. But enter the nun and everything changed. We became self-conscious girls who feared disapproval from a symbol of Catholic virtue and modesty.

At the time, I interpreted this whole scene as a reflection on the nun. Teens are experts at putting an adolescent spin on things. Rather than question ourselves, we laughed it off as the nun’s problem. Nuns were prudes. Of course she would disapprove because she would never understand what it meant to be cool. In reality, she completely understood. She understood what it meant to be holy and live every moment in the presence of God. She understood that Our Blessed Mother was our role model of virtue. That nun surely understood the sacredness of our bodies that house the eternal soul. And we girls were not dressed for the part.

Moral Compass Askew

compass.jpgThe reader may be wondering: Where were the parents? We all had them and they were sending us to a Catholic school. And it’s not like we changed our clothes (or lack thereof) after we left the house. In truth, there were a few mothers who resisted our un-dress to different degrees. I knew of one girl who was not allowed to dress this way. Marianne was the only girl at school who did not roll up her uniform skirt above her knees, ready to pull it down at a moment’s notice when our principal Sr. Agnes Charles happened to walk by. (I guess the other teachers were blind or mute so they let us girls get away with it.) Marianne was the lone nerd. That’s what we thought. I’m not aware of anyone who was outright mean, but I sure did not want to be like her. Too bad for me. I remember a lunch lady in 8th grade telling a group of us that the boys would respect Marianne. I paid this comment no heed. Respect her? I thought. They aren’t even going to look at her.

Oh, but for my ignorance the light should have gone on with that thought. Is that was it was all about, getting boys to look at us rather than get to know us? Years later, listening to Jason Everett speak on modesty before a high school group, he told the girls that if they advertised their bodies as a way of getting boys, that would be what attracted them. Later, when the girls complained that their boyfriends only seemed interested in their bodies it would be ironic, since that’s how they got the boys to begin with. If a girl is showing off her body, no one is going to notice her pretty eyes and nice personality.

Years later, when I became a group home mother for delinquent teenage boys, I saw the world through the eyes of teenage boys. In my position, I understood clearly that flaunting our bodies was not something that would increase respect. Attention, yes, but not the right kind.

Many serious Catholic women of today were once silly, poorly dressed teenagers who now teach their girls a better way. Still, the fact is that some mothers let their daughters dress immodestly — even at Catholic schools. In some cases, the mothers do not thoroughly understand what is at stake when buying their daughter a clothing item that shows more than it covers.

Without realizing it, many adults even promote immodesty: “I used to dress that way too,” or “She has such a cute little figure, she might as well enjoy it while it lasts.” We often don’t think past the surface of fashion.

Some may think it’s a stretch, but I believe that once we as a society accepted contraception it brought forth an acceptance of immodestly also. The Pill issued in the sexual revolution and women began dressing in sexually provocative ways at the same time. Coincidence? I think not. Keep in mind that Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1968; the encyclical rejected the use of contraception as anti-life and anti-women. He also argued that “the man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” In line with that era of rebellion, many parents disregarded this teaching, thus looking to themselves and the world rather than the Church for leadership.

This may seem like a change of subject but it’s not. Many Catholic parents were rebelling in their own way during these years, so the moral compass that once led the way was askew. It is no stretch to say contraception ushered in the sexual revolution, which corrupted the gift of sexuality intended for couples united in matrimony. Once sexual relations became merely recreational, it’s no surprise that the women were more apt to dress in sexually provocative fashions.

All Things Girl

My own girls, ages 12 and 15, are very aware that our bodies are sacred and should not be overexposed and thus far they choose to dress accordingly. However, I realize that it’s important that they receive a very strong counter-culture message. Enter, “All Things Girl”, a new 4-book series that raises the social and fashion bar to heavenly heights.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the publisher of Bezalel books, Cheryl Dickow, at a retreat where we both spoke. We became fast friends and exchanged books with one another. Since I had daughters, Cheryl thought I’d be interested in the “All Things Girl” book series. I looked over the books and was more than interested; I was blown away. When I read Modern and Modest (before my girls could sneak it from me), I recalled my memory of the nun-induced self-consciousness. “If I had read something like this, it would have changed my perception,” I thought.

Authors Teresa Tomeo, Molly Miller and Monica Cops are elegant, poised women who understand a girl’s heart to fit in and look nice. This comes through loud and clear but they shape it into a divine calling for girls — being of a higher class because their souls give them the image and likeness of God. Girls learn what it means to have dignity and dress like a princess — heavenly royalty to the King, Jesus Christ. Fashion and fabrics are covered in a way that recalls my high school home economics class (who remembers those?) but with an up-to-date flair.

But, by lifting up the dignity of girls, it becomes an attractive virtue in which to aspire. Instead of coming across as prudish, the lessons on saints and the Catholic perspective on inner beauty ignite a desire to attain both holiness and beauty. I think so often we feel like it’s an either/or deal, that the two cannot coincide.

The core message is that by protecting our modesty, inner beauty shines through rather than becoming cheapened with overexposure. “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden” (CCC# 2521).

As parents, we need this message to help our girls discern between worldly pressures that lead fashion astray and what truly accentuates their God-given qualities. After reading the “All Things Girl” series, I realized that we can present modesty in a glorious light, making it desirable for our daughters to protect their dignity and cherish their femininity. Pope John Paul used the term “the feminine genius” to describe the gift women have to give of themselves with love. He elevated women for their contribution throughout history to families, society and culture. JPII understood that women who follow God are very powerful, indeed. Many girls have been misled into thinking that their power lies in their ability to attract male attention with their bodies. If they can see that this is not real power but merely allowing themselves to be viewed as objects of lust, then they will be less likely to fall prey to immodest fashions. Such a perspective will be a gift not only to our daughters, but to our sons as well.

Woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church… [She] is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in his concrete form. Even this singular feature, which prepares her for motherhood, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually, is inherent in the plan of God who entrusted the human being to woman in an altogether special way — Pope John Paul II, Angelus Reflection, July 23, 1995.

To purchase the “All Things Girl” series visit the Bezalel Books page at the CE Online Store or

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • asquared

    hello, you should see how the mothers dress when they come to pick up their kids at our Catholic school, they need a dress code. The kids learn it from the parents.

  • The key is for the parents to walk the walk and talk the talk…even when it seems no-one is listening, they are. Even if you mess up as parents, and you will, keep trying to show a good example in the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you live your life and eventually, with the help of the Holy Spirit, your children will see that you are on the right path and decide to follow you instead of the world. Patti speaks the truth because she is listening and following the examples of what Christ has told us to follow.

  • CherylDickow


    You have shared something that is beautifully happening with this series of books. Teresa is receiving the most touching and heartwarming emails in regards to this series. Women are sharing that they laugh and cry and rejoice when they read these books with their daughters or nieces or granddaughters because the message of the books has no age-boundaries.

    Grown women who have been caught up the in secular messages that Patti speaks of are finally able to “heal.” And may I add that this is the word they are using! No matter what the age, it is never too late to embrace what it means to be a daughter of the King! And to be able to give such a message to our young daughters is a gift, indeed.

    Advent blessings to you and yours.

  • Warren Jewell

    Hey! – I just got reminded that I ordered the four-book set for my grandaughter, Rachel – some few weeks ago – and I have not received them.

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – HELP!

    Of the topic here – girls have rarely ever wanted me to notice them, no matter dress-code in progress. (“WHY HIM?!” of my late wife? Ask her when you hit heaven; I never had the nerve.) Too plainly geeky, I guess, but I got more ‘No’s’ to asking for a date than even kind ‘Maybe later’s’. Just as true, asking girls to dance at ‘mixers’ – do they still have those social travesties? Most of my dates were blind dates set up by friends’ dates.

    Yes be blessed of Advent that Chrsitmas is the more blessed for you.

  • CherylDickow


    Where did you order them from? And what titles? I will check on this for you. If one of the titles was “Modern and Modest” it just came out and many places are just now filling those orders. email me at

  • Catholic Mom of 9

    Nice article. Thanks, Patti!

  • marylisa

    What ages are these books targeting?

  • CherylDickow

    “Friends, Boys, and Getting Along” are for ages 8 and up to around 13 or 14.
    “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…What is Beauty, After All?” has body changes and inner beauty so it would be appropriate for girls aged 9 or 10 through early teens.
    “Girls Rock!” is all about feminine genius (JPII’s teaching) and is great from 10 or 11 through high school.
    “Modern and Modest” would work well for 10 through high school.
    “Mind Your Manners” (expected out by Christmas) is also 10 through high school.
    “Journal for Prayers, Thoughts, and Other Important Things” can be any age.

  • Warren Jewell


    This old doofus never ordered these books. This has been corrected at and through paypal. I ordered the four books already being distributed plus the journal.

    A worthy investment in a much beloved granddaughter, Rachel – one of those who if I do not see every ‘day’ in heaven someday will cause me tears only God could wipe away.

    I intend to inform my daughter, Helena, to read them, too, that they become a help toward lesson-planning for the values and virtues and serenity of both their lives.

    BTW, my daughter has experienced those contractions that are the beginning of delivery and the end of her pregnancy with a daughter to be named Natalia, fitting of the Advent-Christmas season. Since Natalia will be half-Polish descent, I want her baptized ‘Natalia Immaculata’ in honor of Saint Max Kolbe’s great devotion. AND, she just may be born on December 8 – the very feast of Mary Immaculate. Of course, she may also arrive as a Saint Nicholas gift . . .

    My daughter, for all she has suffered from this pregnancy has determined to add at least one more to her family – my so very beloved grandbabies and little family. Keep them in your prayers – ‘twould be nice if God would and could just shout one vocation into the pack.

  • kirbys

    Mr Jewell:

    God bless your daughter and her soon to be born Natalia, and she is very blessed to have her dad praying for her!!!!

  • Warren Jewell

    I left over at “What do Teens Really Want? — Romantic Desire, Courtship, and Marriage in Twilight and Four Christmases” from December 5th and by Dr. Marc T. Newman. It should be here, too:::

    The fine Madame Dickow said she would look out for my order of the All Things Girl books – as good as her word, I ordered yesterday and they arrived today.

    Permit me to attest that my granddaughter Rachel is a Twilight series lover, and I have asked her to let me read the books. If I am ‘hooked’, it is because I am hooked on Rachel, and may bring up my readings that give me enough pause to caution her.

    She does not know that I am giving her these traditional-alternative view and course books about herself from Godly woman’s perspective. She doesn’t know that I will read them before she does, to guide my own questions to her later.

    I note that all these books, from the doubtful Twilight series to All Things Girl, would give any truly interested male a grand glimpse into the inner works of girls becoming women. And, why not get a step up into one’s developing manhood by knowing the ladies better? Mothers, maybe you ought to get the ATG series for you to read and pass on to and discuss with your sons, as well.

    This 62-y-o ‘tweenager’ – ‘tween empty-nest and going-Home – will read the two series with interest.