Modesty Matters

Summer is just such a wonderful time of year. The weather is warm and inviting, the birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming. Unfortunately with this lovely warm weather comes a barrage of skin both attractive and unattractive. In direct correlation to the temperature rise, the amount of clothing worn by many women and girls deceases, at an often alarming rate.

A few weeks ago at church I found myself sitting behind a beautiful young lady who was dressed in pajama pants and a spaghetti -strapped top that did not meet the top of her pants. She spent the entire Mass slouched in the pew picking her fingernails. Her long, fake fingernails. In spite of how annoying this was, I wasn’t really upset with the girl.

It was her mother I had the issue with.

I tend to be more formal when dressing myself and my family for Mass. My girls wear skirts and dresses and my boys wear khakis and collared shirts. No sneakers, jeans or t-shirts allowed. These rules won’t work for every family but I have made them work for mine. There are some rules that do work for every family though. In general if you wear it to the beach — don’t wear it to church, if you wear it to bed — don’t wear it to church and if you wear it to the gym — don’t wear it to church.

Here on Long Island, and I’m sure everywhere else in America, the first warm breeze blows and out come the belly buttons, upper thighs and undergarments as outer garments. I am frustrated beyond telling at the selection of clothing for girls in sizes as young as six that have less to do with enhancing their femininity and more to do with exposing flesh. This is annoying in the mall; it is outrageous in church.

We, as a society, are doing a terrible job at protecting our daughters’ virtue.

Yes, I said it. Virtue. Not a word you hear much when it comes to young women but one that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Here is another one: Innocence. Protect their innocence. Our girls and, to a lesser extent, boys, are being subjected to a marketing strategy referred to as the “tweening of America”. The term “tween” refers to the ages from nine to twelve and Madison Avenue feels they have found a gold mine in this demographic. They seem to be right, as parents line up on Saturday morning at salons to pay $45 to have their ten-year-old daughters’ hair highlighted and their twelve-year-olds’ legs waxed. Eight is the new fifteen according to the New York Times. This is sheer insanity.

To dress a six-year-old as if she were seventeen deprives her of her childhood. To allow a seventeen-year-old to dress as if her body was little more than a vehicle to display the latest trend is to deprive her of her personhood. Little girls should be dressed like little girls. They should wear clothes that celebrate their little-girlhood and announce to the world that they are beautiful as children of God, not as living racks for designer labels. To allow a twelve-year-old to dress in a manner that can only be considered provocative is to put her very soul in jeopardy. She becomes an object to be desired and possibly she becomes an occasion of sin for the boys around her. There are some genies that cannot be put back into the bottle and allowing a very young girl to display herself in a revealing way is not something a parent can allow until the age of seventeen and then suddenly develop a no tolerance policy for that kind of wardrobe and the behavior that will accompany it.

little girl outsideNow before you all start emailing me, I am not suggesting that all the girls go Amish in their clothing choices. It is possible to be stylish, pretty and covered up. I know it is; I’ve seen it happen. Right here in my own home and in the homes of my friends. Pretty girls dressed in pretty clothes appropriate to their ages and covering everything that needs to be covered. Teaching your children modesty in their clothing and in their demeanor awakens them to the fact that they are spiritual beings, designed by God for good and holy reasons. It ingrains in them a respect for the human person and gives them a dignity which they will fight mightily to retain. It will give them armor to fight the war against chastity that society will draft them into at a ridiculously young age. A strong sense of modesty will teach your children that their bodies are sacred spaces not to be abused or treated ill. They will surround themselves with like-minded peers and you will find as they get older that their inclination will be to shun what is not modest and embrace what is.

The Vatican has the same concern for your children as God does. The value placed upon preserving their innocence cannot be underestimated. In the document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality we find this admonition:

“Parents should politely but firmly exclude any attempts to violate children’s innocence because such attempts compromise the spiritual, moral, and emotional development of growing persons who have a right to their innocence” (TMHS N. 83, emphasis mine).

Your children are created in the image and likeness of God and when they behave immodestly and dress immodestly they outrage their very Creator. When they are in church they are in the very presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Does He deserve less than what you would put them in to visit their grandparents or attend a birthday party?

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  • Grace Harman

    It’s difficult to find clothes that are not see-through, skin-tight, low cut in the front, open-backed, or have skirts with slits nearly to panty level. Combine this with sex-ed in grade school or even in kindrgarden, and almost pornographic shows on T.V. within family viewing hours, and it is no wonder we have epidemics of S.T.D.’s and ‘teen pregnancies and abortions. Parents need to be very careful what they buy for their little girls and what styles they choose for themselves.
    Virtue and innocence need to be taught and shown as example. T.V. needs to be monitored closely. Our “culture” is destructive to innocence of our children and the understanding of purity and fidelity in marriage as taught by our Faith.

  • kkbohuslav

    There is a book titled, “Dressing With Dignity” by Colleen Hammond that all Catholics, especially women should read. Colleen Hammond not only challenges today’s fashions but also provides the information needed to protect your loved ones from the onslaught of tasteless clothing. In her book, she explains the difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract. There is also a guideline for choosing tasteful attire. This book is published by Tan Books.

  • In this, used clothes are often your friends. You spend far more time to find quality, good looks, and good fit, but what is the real price of wearing the sleaze at Benetton?

  • gavsav

    Well said, thank you! I totally agree! There is a modesty wave out there, so don’t lose hope! Wonderful books on the subject are “A Return to Modesy” and “Girls Gone Mild”, both by Wendy Shalit. Also, Pure Fashion shows are becoming more widespread ( Local girls are trained and model stylishly modest clothing from local stores. I’m a mother of a 15 yr-old girl who I’ve told about modesty, chastity, etc., for years, but she still insists that no self-respecting teen would wear anything other than a bikini. I can’t stand them! They are just inviting boys and men to be unchaste by doing so and being unchaste themselves. The sexualization of girls is everywhere and it’s disgusting because it’s all about exploitation for someone’s bottom line. I just got a catalog from Justice for Girls store, which is owned by the same company as Limited Too. The clothing is ok, but the 10-12 yr-old girls in the catlog are made up to look like young adults. One must be diligent and creative in fighting the relentless battle immodesty, but it that needs to be fought for the sake of our children. Moms need to wise up too and set a good example instead of trying to look “hot”!

  • CherylDickow

    An excellent series coming out this summer by Teresa Tomeo, Molly Miller, Monica Cops, and Christina King is called “It’s a Girl’s World.” The entire series has six books: A Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Woman, The Friend Thing, Mind Your Manners, A Guide to Real Beauty, It’s All About Fashion, and I Can Do Anything! Simple truths from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body are used to develop virtues amidst real concerns about fashion, beauty, and friends. The series is intended to help each Catholic girl discover the unique privilege and call upon her life in God’s kingdom. She learns that she is a princess and how saying “yes” to God’s plan for her life can change the face of the world forever! The books have fun quizzes, tips, and stories…Keep on the lookout as I know Teresa will be speaking of the series on her radio show and writing about it in her columns and newsletters. It’s great stuff for our young Catholic girls!

  • quell

    There are two Wonderful books written for teenagers (and pre-teens) —
    “Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty” and
    “Lies Young Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free”,
    by Dannah Gresh.

    They are fun for teens to read and not “preachy”, but explain in an uplifting way how its Powerful to be Modest and its God’s plan for a woman/girl to be happy if she’s modest in public.

    And for the confusing messages that teenage-Boys receive from media and from immodest girls, Danna and her husband have co-authored “Who Moved the Goalpost?: 7 Winning Strategies in the Sexual Integrity Gameplan”.

    I think all their books are important for Moms to read to understand why they themselves should dress modestly in public, and to have their daughters dress modestly.

    For teen-girls: dress pretty, not sexy!

  • Bruce Roeder

    I also find it (mildly) annoying that Mrs. Barrett presumes the reader will object to public decency and a call to dress modestly. “Now before you all start emailing me…”
    Why assume people will find the position objectionable and begin to qualify it?

    I am also pondering the term “right to innocence” used in the Vatican documents quoted in the article. I like the term. It reminds me of the term “right to privacy” which has become widely recognized as a constitutional right even though it is not found in the US Constitution.

    I would really like to see some litigation generated by folks against the deep pocketed marketers who routinely violate our children’s “right to innocence.”

  • tfrederick

    Excellent message! As a high school youth coordinator and a high school teacher, I am saddened (and mildly scandalized) by what high school and junior high girls are (or are NOT) wearing these days. When temperatures rise, the attire that some young girls choose are simply an occasion of sin (lust for boys and jealousy or calumny for other girls). I know that many of these young girls have no idea what effect their dress has on others. I want to believe that they are not dressing to entice. I agree with Mary Ellen is correct in directing her ire at the clothing designers and the mothers. I dare say that fathers are just as responsible, perhaps even more so. A father can see first hand how certain outfits will effect men, mothers don’t always see things in the same light. On top of that, the father has a special responsibility to protect the innocence of his daughters. Where are dads and moms when these girls are leaving for school or to go out with friends? I can only assume that too many parents are busy with double careers or pursuing their own interests to be directly involved with the lives of their children. This is tragic, and say. 90% of the time, you show me an immodestly clad young girl and I can find an absentee father or a clueless mother.

    Just the other day I was driving down the road and saw a young couple (high school age) walking hand in hand down the street. My knee jerk reaction was to think “Tsk tsk…They are too young…” I thought of all the young couples I see every day at school making inappropriate public displays of affection. Then I took a second look and noticed that the young man was dressed in khakis and a polo short and the young lady wore a knee-length polka dot sun dress. I marveled at the innocent beauty of the couple and rejoiced that they were not the typical young couple of today. It was truly a “Walton’s moment.” 🙂 I thanked God for them and moved on.

    Let us all pray for renewal in the American family and for a return to virtue in our country. That is really the heart of the matter.

  • irish_2171

    Please! If you would’ve went to the temple a few thousand years ago dressed like you just woke up, the would have stoned you. Society continues to compromise it’s morals to a point that they start to think that what they are doing is actually tollerable. Christ is present at every Mass, although you may not be able to identify His life-like presence, He’s still there. So, how could anyone come traipsing into Mass with less than their best? That is an insult to Christ. I’m not going to be the one to judge, as that is not my job. But I will identify that I’m sure glad I won’t have to be the one to answer for my shortcomings of dis-respectful dress on that “special day”. A friend sent me an email this morning that read: “Give discernment to me, your servant; then I will understand your decrees.” Psalm 119:125. It was the most thought provoking statement I’ve seen in a while. I think we could all use a little discernment instead of worrying about our self-serving motives.

  • skf

    I really appreciated this article. As an eighteen-year-old Christian, I find it harder and harder everyday to dress in a way that pleases the Lord. Thankfully, my mother has devised ways in which to ensure that my younger sister and I dress both modestly, appropriately, and “modern” while pleasing both God’s standards and our desire for fashion. For example, anytime we buy new clothing, my sister and I show both my mother AND my father before taking off the tags. We have found that it is very important for my father to approve of our clothing. Many times, he points out immodest aspects that the females of the family overlook. Also, we layer many otherwise immodest outfits with camisoles and t-shirts.

    Finally, my parents have taught us that the focus of our apparel should be God. Not ourselves, not our friends, and not boys. Young girls need to dress every day to please the Lord, not man. In such a commercial society, it is important to memorize scripture and learn what the bible has to say about Godly women. One of my favorite scriptures on this subject comes from Proverbs 31. Look it up and enjoy.

  • Leslie

    Hi Mary, i totally agree about modesty!
    I just have a question about what you mean about outrage?
    thank you (:
    With much respect! God Bless!