The Personalist Project

1. I am in the Old City of Jersalem, enjoying the sights and admiring the traditional styles of clothing. I am loving the way old men and boys alike proclaim their identity—their belonging to God—by wearing a yamulke. I am charmed by the way different sects are easily recognizable by their distinctive dress. I notice how feminine and dignified the long, dark skirts and headscarves look on women. I'm thinking I prefer the Jewish mode of scarves knotted at the neck to the Muslim mode of completely covered necks. But mainly I'm thinking about how much more attractive both styles are than the faded jeans I am wearing. 

A young couple walks toward us. I gather by his tall hat and payot that they are Hasidim. As they pass by, the woman looks my outfit up and down, blatantly curling her lip in scorn.  

In a flash I understand at a new level what's wrong with dress codes and modesty rules.

No article of clothing, be it everso sloppy or skimpy and revealing, could be less becoming and more out of keeping with feminine grace and dignity than such a look of rude dismissal toward a fellow human being. Better for a woman to go naked than to allow herself to feel morally superior to other women because of the way she dresses.

Rules, however reasonable in themselves, yield externalism, self-righteousness and contempt for others. 

2. I am in Seville. It is the time of the April feria, when the local women dress in traditional dresses of the region.

Walking in among them, I can't help noticing that these long, tight-fitting, ruffle-bottomed dresses are unmistakably designed to highlight feminine sexuality.

And yet, the women who wear them seem enhanced, not diminished in personal dignity. Rather than objectifying them, it's as if their sexuality is unapologetically taken up into their subjectivity through this way of dressing.

These women don't look demure; they don't look mousy; they don't look timid. Nor do they look sleazy. They look bold and confident and free and feisty in their womanliness. They're not subordinating themselve to Spanish male machoism, they're challenging it. Olé!

In a flash I understand how culturally-conditioned and limited my ideas about femininity and modesty have been up to now. 

3. I am on a beach in Granada. The sun is shining brilliantly. Jules rents some lounge chairs under a tiki umbrella for us. At the next umbrella, a few feet over, is a family of four: parents about 40, a boy of 13 or so and a girl of maybe 10. Both mother and daughter are topless all day. Jules and the boys go snorkeling. I stay behind, reading and discretely watching this family. They enjoy being together. They chat happily; they help each other apply sunscreen. Brother and sister play contentedly together in sand and surf. Hours pass and I never once hear an unpleasant word or ugly tone pass between them.

It strikes me that this mother is succeeding where I have failed—where I think most in my circle have failed. She is teaching her children to to be comfortable and confident in their bodies and respectful with each other.

Now that I'm back home, here's what I'm thinking:

The residual puritanism in America is a more serious problem than I had thought. It's affected me more than I'd realized. I regret my mode of parenting in that regard.  I regret, too, the "modesty talks" I've given. They seem to me now like misplaced zeal.

We should refrain from absolutizing what is relative. We should minimize rules. We should concentrate much more on our own interior disposition and much, much less on what other people wear.

Comments (32)


#1, Jun 8, 2014 7:10pm

It is one thing to feel in your body like a fish in the water, and quite another  to naively exhibit it, ignoring the effect this has on others, especially on men... I concluded several years ago it doesn't do me well to go to the beach in Europe.

A reflection comes to mind which a Spanish friend wrote some time ago about modesty:

The person experiences shame because he doesn't want to be confused with what he isn't: I am not just my body, it seems he wants to say, my body is not an object, it is a personal body!, and he covers it so that nobody is tempted to reduce his personal being to what he sees (I'm more than what you see!), so nobody will mistake him for or treat him like just anyone. The animal has no privacy and feels no need to cover its body, to treasure what is intimate in the body. From this perspective, nudity standardizes, it clones, it depersonalizes and, when not responding to a legitimate aim (a medical examination, a sexual relationship in the context of true love...), it's shameless.

Men have a more instinctive and fierce sensuality, and are more vulnerable to see the female body as a mere object of pleasure. Women, on the other hand, experience a more affective, less bodily sensuality. They perceive more the personal than the sexual values. Interestingly, while not finding in themselves a sensuality as strong as men do, they feel a lesser need to hide their body, object of possible pleasure, because it is harder for them to conceive the contemplation of a body detached from the person, the spirit. Paradoxically, women, being originally more chaste, find it harder to experience modesty, as is evidenced by advertising. The education of modesty is essentially teaching young men to integrate sensuality into affection, and to explain young women that men will hardly see affection in the expression of sensuality.

The surrender of physical intimacy without that of personal intimacy is a false smile, a hoax, because it expresses with the body (here you have everything I am) that which it denies with the spirit (I don't want to surrender myself to you, only my bodily part, not my person, my past, my present and my future). The body lies when offering a loving union, a physical-bodily availability contradicted by the heart and the head. Sexual activity encompasses our whole being and has deep implications that will leave a permanent mark. When it delivers the innermost —its procreative capacity with all the accompanying dimensions (tenderness, care, kissing, fondling, etc..)— it only knows one language, that of a plenary and definitive surrender. To ignore it is to mistreat it.

Javier Vidal-Quadras Trias de Bes

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jun 8, 2014 7:39pm

I see and grant all that. It would be good for women to be more aware of and sensitive toward the challenges men face in trying to be chaste.

But it doesn't really touch the problem I'm getting at, viz., the problem of puritanism and externalism. There is also the problem of paternalism and sexist control—a tendency for men to blame women for their lustful thoughts.  This gets taken to an extreme in radical Islam, where women are held responsible for all male lust, including lust that leads to rape. Their solution is to demand that women be kept completely out of view.

I have found a residue of this attitude among Christians that I now think a worse problem than the problem of immodest dress. And it's a problem that's generally exacerbated, not helped by "modesty talks" that focus on trying to get women to change what they wear rather than men to change the way they think.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#3, Jun 8, 2014 7:59pm

Sapperdepitjes, I'm afraid I must disagree with your friend's analysis. Women are not more prone to revealing clothing because we are unaware of the male tendency to reduce women to sexual objects. They are more prone to wear revealing, sexy clothing because they know men value sexiness, and that women who are not attractive are often more or less invisible. (If you haven't yet, please watch Dustin Hoffman's marvelous little reflection on the experience of making Tootsie). It is a reaction to how men see women, not a reflection of how women view others.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jun 8, 2014 8:25pm

There are other reasons too.  Sometimes women dress revealingly because it's a lot more comfortable than covering up, especially when it's hot outside.

I know women (and men) who are convinced that it's better for boys to grow up seeing their sisters, mothers and friends dressing in the style of the day than in a counter-cultural enclave that leaves them totally unprepared for what they'll find the minute they step out into the world.

I know women who are convinced that seeing more flesh of real women is actually good antidote to the pornography epidemic. 

I know lots of girls who were made to feel self-conscious and ashamed by other people's reaction to the clothes they were wearing, even though those clothes were the normal fashion of the day and in no way deliberately revealing.

I know of women whose decision to dress in the fashion of the day is a courageous act of self-assertion against illegitimate male domination (an overbearing father perhaps.)

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 8, 2014 8:39pm

Maybe this is an analogy.

At one place in our travels we went to a daily mass celebrated by a Legionaire priest. While he was standing at the altar about to begin the liturgy of the Eucharist, a baby started crying. Before enough time had passed for a woman to unclip her nursing bra, the priest stops the mass and says from the altar, "Please take your child outside, so we can have quiet." He said it in a tone of authority and command. Then he repeated it. He expected to be obeyed. Pronto.

If I were the mother in question, I would feel myself in a moral dilemma. Do I leave, in order not to create more disruption at the mass, or do I stand my ground on the principle that the priest has no right to order me around like that? 

A talk on the value of being considerate toward others, no matter how eloquent, wouldn't serve to resolve my dilemma. I am fully aware of the value of being considerate toward others.

My question is what is the moral call of the moment. Do I fall in line or stand up against a rude act of clericalism? 

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jun 9, 2014 9:10am

The answer to the question "what is the call of the moment?" can only be answered by the subject in question.

What is important for the rest of us to realize to ourselves is that if she chooses to stay, she may be doing it out of selfish indifference to the convenience of those around her, or she may be doing it out of moral courage. She may feel, inwardly, that by refusing to comply with the priest's illegitimate command, she is standing up for herself, for women, and for her child. She is, through "non-violent resistance," opposing a destructive clericalism.

If that's her case and her call, imagine how much harder we make her moral task if we "pile on", by accusing her of selfish indifference to others, or of rebellion.

The same, I claim, is often true of what we perceive as other people's immodesty. We see a girl braless in spaghetti straps and we think she's immodest, when, in truth, she may be being courageous. And if she is, we are unjust and out of bounds to accuse her of immodesty.

We should abandon our focus on other people's outside and attend to our own inside.

Kevin Schemenauer

#7, Jun 9, 2014 10:59am

I have enjoyed this discussion. In particular, I appreciate the challenge to focus on what is happening internally related to clothing choices both for the one wearing the clothes and for the one reacting to the clothes. What we do with our body is an extension of what is happening internally. Further, the clothes we wear serve as an extension of what we are doing with our body. The movement goes from interior to what we do with our body to the clothes we wear.

I would be interested to hear more about how to bring together the following two statements (and/or how these statements misrepresent the direction of the discussion):

Women should wear the styles of the day as long as they have proper intentions?

Women should be more aware of and sensitive toward the challenges men face in trying to be chaste?

Related to this, and with these new founded insights in mind, what are things you would consider or how would you address someone who asks for your opinion about a revealing article of clothing?

Also, when certain clothes accent the beauty of another how can one affirm the person's beauty over the beauty of the clothes?

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Jun 9, 2014 11:43am

Thanks for the good feedback, Kevin.

This is something I would not say and wish no one would say: "Women should wear the styles of the day as long as they have good intentions."

I would much rather say something like, "Even if we personally find the style of the day objectively immodest, we should be very reluctant to accuse women and girls who wear them of immodesty. There are good and valid reasons for wearing the style of the day that have nothing to do with immodesty. And there are problems involved in deliberately choosing counter-cultural styles that we deem more modest, including a needlessly heighted atmosphere of sexual awareness and shame. These problems are increased when we are making the choice for others, like our children, or students at our school. There are also a serious moral dangers involved in focusing on another person's dress, including externalism, legalism, judgmentalism and personal-responsibiity-evasion."

I'd also like to say that I think parents run a risk when they "freak out" or become controlling over the immodesty of their daughters' clothing, especially if that clothing is absolutely normal among their peers. Those parents are burdening their daughters' self-awareness with guilt and shame.

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Jun 9, 2014 11:56am

This is true: "Women should be more aware of and sensitive toward the challenges men face in trying to be chaste" in the sense that we should all strive to become more aware and considerate toward each other's needs and weaknesses.

That means women being aware of "the incendiary nature of male sexuality", as a friend put it. It also means men being aware that they are out of bounds when they hold women responsible for their lust. What defiles a man comes not from outside, but inside.

If I am a woman, I should attend to dressing in a way that accords with my feminine nature and dignity, that shows self-respect, that doesn't isolate and draw attention to my "sexual values," etc. It's never okay for me to deliberately incite lust in men.

If I am a man, I should remind myself that women are never to be used as objects for my pleasure, and that I am responsible for my responses, even when they well up in me spontaneously. It's never okay for me to blame women for my lust. 

All of us should attend more to ourselves than others and more to the inside than the outside.

Kevin Schemenauer

#10, Jun 9, 2014 12:27pm

Thank you for the follow up, Katie. This is a rich discussion. In particular, I appreciate the clear way you express:

1) Men should not blame women for their lust; and

2) One should be very reluctant to accuse women and girls of immodesty.

Since these options are off the table, what are some positive responses one could offer to women concerning their clothes, modest or immodest?

Marie Meaney

#11, Jun 9, 2014 12:46pm

The conversation has moved on, since I wrote this up this morning. But I thought it might still be of interest (especially what Weil has to say).

I’m with you in your critique of American puritanism, Katie, which one finds both in its religious as well as its secular form. Having been raised outside of the US, I never found that aspect of American culture appealing.

Having said that, I think there is a danger to go from a reaction against libertinism to a reaction against puritanism. In each case, one is only getting at part of the truth. Simone Weil was very insightful in this area, and saw “the right” and “the left”, for example, as being in reaction to each other, and therefore more similar than they would like to think. The truth is not in a reaction to various sides, but is above this.

Marie Meaney

#12, Jun 9, 2014 12:47pm

Similarly with regard to good and evil.  The real, absolute good is above evil and not its contrary. “[Relative] good as the opposite of evil,” writes Weil, “is in a sense equivalent to it… That which is the direct opposite of evil never belongs to the order of the higher good”. The kind of relative good, which replaces evil is itself evil, but in the guise of the good. Thus theft and the bourgeois respect of property, or adultery and being a “respectable woman” are on the same level, according to Weil. Though the bourgeois and the respectable woman feel far superior to the thief and the adulterer, they are hardly above. Their righteousness is of the pharisaical kind, and not a true adherence to virtue.  Analogously one could say that the puritanically modest is not really better than the immodest.

Hence I agree with you that modesty talks that speak about the details of fashion are not helpful. Often they make one think of rules rather than of the heart of the matter; they can lead to puritanism and self-righteousness.

Marie Meaney

#13, Jun 9, 2014 12:49pm

Furthermore, much about fashion and modesty is relative; while showing one’s ankle in Victorian times was considered indecent, this would hardly make anybody in the West blush today. However, there are some things, which, I’d say, are not relative.

Having taught at a fairly liberal university myself, I found it interesting that my male colleagues, who were anything but puritans in their morals and ideas, complained about the scanty clothing of their female students in the summer. “They don’t know what they are doing to us”, they would say. They would try to avoid looking in their direction. Hence, I don’t think that women showing their breasts on the beach is a good idea in our culture. Yes, being puritanical can make one uncomfortable with one’s body, self-righteous, rigid etc., apart from not being a virtue in the first place whilst pretending to be so. But not having a sense of modesty, being oblivious to the fact that showing too much skin will put one at greater risk of being objectified or intentionally flaunting one’s sexuality is not good either (not that you are saying so).  

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#14, Jun 9, 2014 1:34pm

Well, I already wrote an entire post on how we reduce modesty unnecessarily, and rob it of much of it's virtue, when we frame it entirely as a matter of clothing choices and sexual temptation. As such, I understand Katie's reluctance above to make any sort of absolute statement about what women should or should not wear. I do think a new emphases on the interior disposition would be of greater benefit, both in explaining modesty to the unchurched or new in faith, and in guarding ourselves against pharaisiasm. 

That said, it is certainly possible for a woman to dress in a manner which, in the context of her culture and setting, is explicitly sexual and which 'speaks' a language which is not in keeping with her dignity and worth as a person.

So there is a question there as to whether and when it might ever be fitting to address that. I would propose that

1) to address such a thing you should either first be in a relationship of some intimacy or depth with the individual, or be in a position of legitimate authority over the individual. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#15, Jun 9, 2014 1:39pm

2) any attempt to address her dress and decorum should be given in the form of a sincere and heartfelt inquiry into her subjective perception of her dress/self, and an affirmation of her value and worth, combined with a self-reflective and sensitive discussion of your own perceptions of the cultural standards. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#16, Jun 9, 2014 1:49pm

Or, in other words--if my niece, who is a young teen and fairly innocent, were to show up in a miniskirt and fishnets, I'd assume her intention was not to sexualize herself, but to "be pretty." I wouldn't want to leave her ignorant of the message that kind of outfit still sends in our culture, so I would want to talk to her about it. I would want to start by complimenting her on whatever I could (the colors, the fit, her accessories...), recognizing her intention of expressing her personality. I'd ask her about the skirt and fishnets--was she comfortable in them? What does she like about them? I'd likely find things to affirm in that discussion, too--maybe she likes that the fishnets are cool in the summer, but still visible and interesting looking. Maybe the skirt is one she hasn't worn since last year, and it's shorter than she likes now, but she hasn't got another that goes with the outfit. 

In a conversation like that, it wouldn't necessarily be very hard or very judgmental to suggest solutions to the length of the skirt, or talk about how some people find fishnets pretty suggestive. 

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Jun 9, 2014 4:32pm

Thanks all for the responses. Each one makes me want to write a whole new post in response. There's a lot here, and a lot more to be said.

Marie, all your points are well-taken. And yet, and yet, I find myself resisting.

I agree that it's possible to react against puritanism. But I don't think that that's what's at play here. My new sense of things doesn't (I claim) come from a reaction against anything, but rather a seeing things from a new perspective and recognizing values (and disvalues) I had previously overlooked. 

The recognition of those values exposed a problem with the approach to modesty typical in conservative Catholic circles, which is, in my opinion, too focused externals and leads to worse problems than immodesty, including the "shaming" of innocent girls.

I'd go so far as to say much of the modesty talk that goes around in religious circles is a form of "dwarfing the other".

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Jun 9, 2014 4:47pm

I personally wouldn't bare my breasts at the beach, even in Spain, where doing so is legal and normal. But it was plain to me that this woman I was with wasn't in any way being provocative or indecent. She was being normal, according to the customs of the country she was raised in. 

And I'm not at all sure that in a world where adolescent boys are constantly bombarded with pornographic and air-brushed images of women this isn't a good and helpful form of protection—a kind of innoculation against hyper-sexualization. Her son will have been accustomed from youth to sight of women's breasts in a non-sexual, respectful context.

I remember my teenage daughters telling me a few years ago that they felt embarrassingly conspicuous on the beach in Spain, because they (and I) were the only girls on the beach wearing one-piece suits. (I had prohibited bikinis.)

Making your daughters feel conspicuous and awkwardly unstylish is not a good way to inspire modesty and instill body confidence in them, I now think. It's a way to make them feel dowdy and self-conscious and too-controlled.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#19, Jun 9, 2014 5:49pm

I have come to think of public breastfeeding as being an anti-porn-culture act. That's an interesting thought about puritanism in clothing and the enticement/illusions of porn reinforcing one another...

Katie van Schaijik

#20, Jun 9, 2014 6:07pm

I agree with you about breastfeeding, Kate. 

But I think a lot of young men—at least initially—are grossed out by breastfeeding. So, sometimes it can backfire.

What was appealing about this woman at the beach is that she was an attractive woman with a lovely figure. She was also a mother, surrounded by her husband and children. So, non-sexual, but still feminine and beautiful.

Leaky, milk-engorged breasts (let's be honest) aren't always beautiful, except to the husband and father. :)

Rhett Segall

#21, Jun 9, 2014 8:00pm

Katie et al

I wonder if any of the bare breasted women were old and physically unattractive?

Is there an intrinsic body language expressing sexuality that transcends cultural norms?  I think there is. The responsible person recognizes this and knows the connection between this language and eros and philos He/ careful never to let eros dominate philos.

Making this distinction is a critically important educational task for adults vis a vis their responsibility to the adolescent's surging hormones. With out modesty talks in the context of sexual education I don't see how the young people can deal with the situation.

The youngsters need, and I'm convinced want, guidelines here.

There is male modesty,too, in sexuality. It is connected with what they urge women to do or not to do, their (mens) tone of voice and body movements .

Somewhere I heard the distinction  between the nude-which is an artistic meditation- and being naked, which is related to one's total opennes to another. Being naked should have an exclusivity and appropriate privacy about it.

So a final question: were the women on the beach nude or naked?

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Jun 9, 2014 9:34pm

Von Hildebrand is very good on the distinction between nude and naked. Perhaps that's where you found it, Rhett.

I agree with you that there is an intrinsic body language transcending cultural norms. The sex organs (for example) are meant to be intimate, not public.

I'm not against modesty talks per se. I'm against modesty talks that focus on controlling what women and girls wear. I'm also against the long-standing tendency of male domination over women.

There are "nude beaches" in Spain. The people on them generally look more ridiculous than attractive. Alice von Hildebrand tells of the shock of her first encounter with one of these. She hadn't known how (aesthetically) distorted the human body can get. She saw all kinds of revolting sights—men with distended beer bellies, women with breasts hanging down to their knees, baring all to the mockery of the world—and thought to herself, "My goodness, don't they have any vanity?!"

On the "normal beaches", you generally find only youngish, attractive women (and girls) topless. Most are topless only while they are lying down and sunbathing.  It's normal to see women well into their 80s—women with big bellies and very wrinkled skin—wearing bikinis. 

Daniel Romeyn Davis

#23, Jun 12, 2014 5:47pm

Katie, thank you for writing this article. 

Briefly I would like to add that the whole idea that women must dress ultra-modestly in order to avoid leading men into temptation is hogwash. I can elaborate if necessary.

Secondly, although it is good to emphasize that boys/men should be exposed to the nude female form within non-sexual settings, such as topless sunbathing on the beach (or if in Germany: in a public park); I do not beleve that the philosophical undercurrents to that approach are correct: insofar as the general assumption is that the naked body (male or female) is purely a sexual thing.

The body itself is not sexual - even sexual organs outside of the context of sexual intercourse are not overtly sexual. The sexual function is not the primary function of the human body, nude or not. We should encourage a reorientation of our approach to the person to recognize the beauty of the human body in the nude form without sexualizing it. This has become more difficult for generations of men due to the porn epidemic. Being comfortable with the human body (especially in the nude) is important to overall human development.

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Jun 13, 2014 12:06am

Well, hold on. 

While I agree that the even the sexual organs needn't be viewed sexually, and that there are contexts in which there's nothing wrong with exposing them (in a doctor's office, or an artist's studio, for instance), I wouldn't agree that it's generally a good idea to expose them publicly. I think, on the whole, the reasons for covering them up are greater than the reasons for not covering up. (JP II referred to "partial concealment" of the "sexual values"—so that they're neither flaunted nor completely hidden.) And there are real moral dangers involved in "getting comfortable" with the nudity of others not-our-spouse. This is all the more true in a society in which it's not normal for them to be exposed.

Even with my third anecdote, I don't mean to be advocating for immodesty, but to point out the shortcomings in the approach to modesty that I had had before, which I think is typical in Catholic circles, viz. one that focuses too much on the external, that is too frequently linked to a puritanical fear of the body and of sexuality, and that puts too much responsibillity for men's lust on women and girls.

Rhett Segall

#25, Jun 13, 2014 6:36am

I wonder if the following clip from Jason Evert speaks to the concerns of this discussion? My 16-17 year old high school theology class thinks it's right on target. (It's only 6 minutes)

Katie van Schaijik

#26, Jun 13, 2014 8:22am

Thanks for that, Rhett. On the whole, I like it. I think what he says is largely true. I like that he focusses on helping young men and women understand each other's way of thinking better, rather than on rules for women's dressing.

I agree with him that women and girls do well to become more aware and considerate of "the incendiary nature" of male sexuality and the burden they put on men trying to be chaste when they expose their flesh. 

Similarly, though, I think it very important for men and boys to become more aware that girls who dress that way are dressing that way (most typically) because it's fashionable to dress that way, not because they are trying to incite lust. And they should be taught that women and girls are not responsible for their lust. 

I also like the focus on the link modesty and self-respect.

And there's another crucial aspect to this discussion that I maybe haven't highlighted enough: In some cases and places "immodesty" is a conscious reaction to bad habits of male control over women, specifically in what we can call "the Christian counter culture."

Katie van Schaijik

#27, Jun 13, 2014 10:22am

What I mean there is well illustrated by an anecdote Elizabether Esther (author of Girl at the End of the World) relates

I was sitting on the couch wearing a long, loose, modest dress. It was the end of a long day of church meetings and we were gathered at my parents’ home for a fellowship. I was exhausted. I yawned and leaned back a little on the cushions, resting my back.

Several church members sat in other seats, talking. Suddenly, a middle-aged man sitting across the room stood up and stalked out of the room, clearly agitated. I saw him leave but had no idea what had just happened.

A moment later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me to sit upright. I straightened up, confused.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You’re leaning against the couch cushions in a suggestive manner. Brother So-and-So thinks you’re intentionally trying to seduce him and he refuses to come back into the room until you’re sitting completely upright.”

“What?! I’m not trying to seduce anyone, I’m just sitting here trying to rest!”

I received no answer. I was simply expected to comply.

Katie van Schaijik

#28, Jun 13, 2014 10:54am

Girls and women who have had experiences like this—who feel them illegitimately accused and controlled by men—are right to protest. They are right to assert themselves against that kind of attitude and behavior.  And if that's their reason for defying the "modesty talk" of the Christian counter culture, and deliberately dressing in the normal fashions of the day, then I think we do harm by stressing the importance of modesty in dress. 

Instead, I'm now thinking, we should attend to the dignity of the person, respect for others, the goodness and meaningfulness of the body, personal responsibility, etc.


#29, Jun 15, 2014 8:32pm

Hi Katie
Thank you so much for this article. I am a curvy normal woman who dresses in ways that I feel are pretty and feminine and in keeping with God's view of me-and yet I have been pulled aside and shamed by other women. 

I have been in ministry for many years and I am very concious of how I dress- and I hate how concious I am mainly because I find myself behaving in a manner that fits others' opinions. 

At the same time, I know what thoughts have gone through my mind when I look at other women in ministry. I find myself battling a question that sounds like this-are people more likely to listen to my message if I dress more dowdy and tone it down OR do I do them a service by dressing feminine with my hair done, make up and looking as great as I can? I tend towards the second mostly because I too, have long hated the modesty talks at youth conferences and youth ministry events. It would seem we do better to advertise the world the gorgeous creature that God made me to be.


#30, Jun 15, 2014 8:35pm

FWIW, as a youth minister for 15 years, I always spoke to both the young ladies and the young men about their mutual responsibilities towards each other. I think my efforts were worthwhile, but even then I can see how I was shaming the girls. However, I definiately challenged the young men - even inner city kids-to look at the young women as sisters to be protected and cherished, not lusted after. And they would do it. 

Bryan Kelso

#31, Jun 22, 2014 10:54pm

To the pure all things are pure.  "the lamp of the body is the eye..." God help us if we seek to compel women dumb down their feminine genius for the sake of the unconverted and claim they are taking the moral high road.  Jen you are on the mark of true personalism here.  A beautiful woman is an inspiration to men and women alike.  There was a day in the distant past I was inspired otherwise, but the foolishness of youth and inmaturity should not set the standard.  Yes there is value in being sensiteve to the weak, but ones dignity and beauty is and should be proclaimed especially when they know where it comes from and where it can take people: "Let your light so shine that others may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven."  Everybody knows how a beautiful sunset proclaims the glory of God.  Only the unconverted or blind are impervious to such a revelation in a beautiful woman: the hight of Gods creation.   I would challenge any well meaning woman who pulls you aside in the future... How have you been shamed or hurt by the lust of men?

Katie van Schaijik

#32, Jun 23, 2014 8:30am

I'm not sure I quite follow your point, Bryan. It's of course true that to the pure all things are pure. But one reason for practicing modesty is that very few people are pure.

No one is tempted to lust by the sight of a sunset. But persons (especially women) do need to protect themselves from abuse.

You and I agree, though, that women should not be compelled to dress according to our ideas of modesty.  That's key. In Islamic countries, the virtue and vice police compel women with threats and punishments. In our culture, we are more discrete. But there's still a lot of shame being administered.

That's what I mean to be opposing in this post. The shaming of women and the habit of focussing on the outside of others rather than the inside of ourselves.

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