I was unstoppable on Wednesday morning. Despite the vampiric sleep schedule my job has inspired this summer, I was up early enough to bake pains au chocolat for an office World Cup party the next day. Then, I put on an adorable outfit that I hadn’t worn to the office yet, and headed off to daily Mass before work. I was hyped until Communion. As I passed through the pew to the aisle, I tried to shake off the wave of self-consciousness that suddenly came over me, as if something about me was impure or improper, and not worthy to be seen by our Lord. Embarrassed, I looked down, and I saw the suspects: my cherry red, faux-suede pumps.
I had put them on that morning thinking they added a much-needed pop of color to my black-and-white dress. But now, I was convinced, the people around me must think I was going to hit the bars after Mass! Why, oh why, I asked myself, didn’t I stick with sensible flats? Why couldn’t I be more MODEST?
Hitherto, I’ve avoided talking about modesty on this blog because I was never sure how to go about it. It’s a topic that is under frequent discussion in women’s ministry, and it can very easily be mishandled, or in extreme cases, dissolve into blaming and criticizing our sisters in Christ. Then there are conflicting ideas about what constitutes modest dress: Should I not wear makeup or jewelry? Can I still wear shorts in the summer? Throw in the recent discussions in the media about sexual assault on college campuses and sexist dress codes in middle and high schools, and the word “modesty” becomes almost as despicable as the word “patriarchy.”
Let me be clear: A short skirt or a low-cut top is NOT an invitation. NOBODY, no woman, ever “deserves” assault. Period.
Moving on. Recently I’ve discovered how much I hate the popular phrase “modest is hottest.” I don’t choose to dress modestly because I think it’ll attract more guys, nor because I’m ashamed of my body. I choose to dress modestly because it makes me feel comfortable and beautiful — not “hot,” beautiful. And guess what? Modesty is NOT just a “women’s issue.” That’s right, men should strive to be modest as well, in their dress as well as in their thoughts and actions. I also don’t think that dressing modestly makes me better than anyone else; trying to “out-modest” other women completely misses the point!
What point is that? Well, I should get back to my story at Mass. I went through Communion as usual, acutely aware of the clomp-clomp my heels made on the tile floor. I was mortified. After Mass was over, I walked to the statue of our Blessed Mother. My Confirmation name is Marie, and in every church I visit, I look for a statue of Mary.
I hadn’t even finished my usual Hail Mary before I heard a voice in my heart say, “You’re thinking too much about your heels. I would rather you focus on being a bride of Christ in your heart.”
I was stunned. I looked up into the statue’s face.
“My daughter,” the voice continued. “Don’t you know that you are beautiful? That you are a bride of Christ?”
“But Mama Mary,” I protested. “How can I be a bride of Christ if I don’t dress like one?”
“Even if you were wearing the skimpiest and shabbiest outfit in the world, you would STILL be a bride of Christ, a daughter of the King of Kings. Therefore, stand tall, hold your head up, and act like one.”
True modesty is not covering up to give the illusion of holiness; it is allowing our inner life, our spiritual life, to manifest itself on the outside.
Coincidentally, the Gospel that day was the passage from Matthew, Ch. 6 where Jesus talks about hypocrisy: “When you dress, do not be like the hypocrites who break out a tape measure and compare the width of their neighbors’ spaghetti straps to their own, or the length of their neighbor’s skirt to their own. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.”
OK, that’s not actually what it says. But the same ideas expressed in that chapter can be very easily applied to modesty. If we don’t act, think and feel modestly in our “inner room,” how are we supposed to show true modesty to the rest of the world?
I’m not saying that modesty should not be talked about, but that it shouldn’t be just a dress code; it should be a code of honor.
We are the daughters and sons of a King. We have the dignity of royalty. So let’s hold our heads high and act like it.
And I’m totally wearing my red heels next year on Pentecost Sunday.
How do you practice modesty aside from your physical appearance? Share in the comments below!