“Either we must speak as we dress, or dress as we speak. Why do we profess one thing and display another? The tongue talks of chastity, but the whole body reveals impurity” (St. Jerome).
As a Catholic young adult woman, I would like to share my take on modesty, not to cast judgment on other women or to spark a religious debate, but to speak to my sisters in Christ about our feminine beauty — that which enhances our human dignity as designed by our creator.
We are called as Catholic women to cultivate modesty, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it is by this gift that God bestows upon us the grace to grow in the virtue of humility.
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Modesty is the way in which our manner of dress, speech and actions points to the creator. There are different standards of modesty around the world that depend on each particular culture, and while cultural standards change over time, the heart of modesty does not. As daughters of the king, we are called to dress and behave in such a way that allows for his glory to shine through us, so that we can be a witness of Christ in the world. We do not want to bring lustful attention to ourselves, not just because we should desire respect for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, but because we wish to uphold the people around us by pointing them to God.
As St. John Vianney once said: “A pure soul is like a fine pearl. As long as it is hidden in the shell, at the bottom of the sea, no one thinks of admiring it. But if you bring it into the sunshine, this pearl will shine and attract all eyes. Thus the pure soul, which is hidden from the eyes of the world, will one day shine before the angels in the sunshine of eternity.”
However, behind every woman there is a story. When another woman does not demonstrate modesty according to our definition in light of our God-given dignity, we must not look down upon our sister, for we cannot judge her situation or the modesty within her heart.
I once taught a female student who wore very tight clothes. Her fashion style was mocked by her peers for dressing inappropriately, but due to confidentiality, they could not know the reason she dressed in such a way: She came from a poverty-stricken family and could only acquire clothes that were available at the Salvation Army, which often did not come in her size. We must be careful of this kind of judgment, which is not an act of love but rather one of spiritual pride. Our own modesty in dress means nothing if we have an immodest heart that is quick to look down upon our fellow sisters in Christ.
In our current culture, it is often difficult to find an outfit that displays our feminine beauty and brings reverence to the Lord. A shopping experience to find modest clothing can quickly lead to frustration as hours of exploring can leave us empty handed. Yet, it is not impossible if you have the right perspective and know where to look. I have found online shopping to be more successful, leading me to simple yet fashionable clothing that is not too expensive. The way I choose to dress does not turn myself or my clothing into an “idol,” which can shift the focus away from the things of heaven. Instead, our eyes should always gaze toward Jesus. We can dress in such a way that makes the statement, “I am a beloved daughter of Christ.”