By Madeleine Austin
Your body is not an object of sin and temptation. Your body is good, and your figure is lovely. Pope Saint John Paul II speaks of woman as the “crown of creation” and tells us that we are the most beautiful aspect of the created world. Far from being an object of sin, your body is an opportunity for love, grace, and greater conversion. You have the power to turn a man’s head, but you have a deeper responsibility to turn his heart toward the source of your beauty. Your beauty is not your own; rather, it is a reflection of that of the One Who formed you.
I am not here to provide a definitive explanation of the virtue of modesty or to dictate your wardrobe; even the Church does not require a strict guideline for modest dress. This article is simply to encourage women to examine their hearts on the matter of modesty.
Your typical chastity speaker presents women’s modesty as a safeguard for men’s purity, and many great saints agree, so we know that this is an important point. If we truly love our brothers in Christ, we should do everything we can to help lead them toward Heaven and away from sin. It is painful to think that something I wear might pull a friend away from Christ, especially when I consider my duty to draw him to sainthood. However, this view of modesty is often warped into something unpleasant.
Modesty cannot blame women for men’s impurity. The purpose of the virtue of modesty is not telling women that they need to cover up around men because their bodies are objects of temptation and sin. This twisted view of modesty sells men incredibly short, depicting them as slobbering animals with no control over their minds and hearts, and that is not true. It is critically important that we be charitable towards men in how we dress, but that isn’t the whole story behind the virtue of modesty. Empathy is imperative, but there is something much deeper and more profound at the heart of the modesty debate.
We dress modestly because we veil the sacred.
The God of the Universe veiled Himself in human flesh to save us, and He veils Himself in bread and wine every day so that we can receive Him. Our Creator is profoundly good and holy. We won’t have the capacity for perfect communion with Him until Heaven, so for now He is behind a veil. Consider His glory and creative power reflected in your own body — the breasts that will nurse your babies and the hips that will rock them to sleep — and know that your body is incredibly sacred. The Father has allowed us to participate in creation in an intimate way, and it is insanely beautiful. However, that beauty isn’t intended for just anyone to see – not in its fullness. The only person on this planet who could ever come close to being worthy of seeing you in the fullness of your beauty is the man who stands in front of friends and family to pledge his life and love to you until death do you part. You know this truth, so please dress like it.
You have the freedom to choose whether or not to reveal the dignity and sanctity of your body in your dress. What you wear can never change your inherent worth, but it can tell people about it. The truth is that there are men who will objectify your body with no provocation. It’s disgusting and unfair, but it’s true. It’s never okay for a man to look at you lustfully, regardless of the way you dress. However, you can deter the negative attention and remind the world of your worth by dressing with dignity. You can choose to play slave to cultural conditions of worth that demand you put your body on display, or you can refuse to play by the rules of the world and insist that your mind, heart, and love are of much greater value than your sex appeal.
You are a gift. Your body is a gift. Your beauty is a gift. I urge you to be mindful of how and when you share that gift in its fullest sense.