Friday, April 11, 2014

Modesty

So I walk into the local YMCA and my 4 year old daughter and I are waiting for my husband and son to come in from parking the car. Then one of the guys who works the desk says to me something about not having "that guy" with me and starts trying to flirt with me. We had been going to the Y every night as a family for months at this point. We all have the same last name and this man scanned our cards every time.

You mean the guy who I have chosen to marry and have three babies in four years with? Yeah he's on his way in. I was really offended.

I remember my mother being thrilled when men other than my father would hit on her. She was flattered by receiving attention for the way she looked. I remember as a child being confused at how that was ok, why she liked it and also why she needed a man other than my father to affirm her beauty or sexuality. It made me think less of my father, her and myself. Obviously in that worldview a woman's worth is in her beauty and sex appeal. It doesn't matter if you are beautiful, everyone most especially those who receive abnormal amounts of attention for being beautiful wants to be seen as a person and loved. I don't want my daughter to see that kind of behavior from me or from men towards me. I want her to know her value is in her soul, not the external surface, that she is to be treasured and cherished. For my son, I want him to be able to look past a woman's beauty, see her soul and be able to love her soul. Additionally, I hope he is never the man who is hitting on a pregnant, married woman in front of her small child. Because really what kind of man does that?

When I was younger because I was taught that being attractive was the best and most desirable way to get attention I always tried to show my assets. Never thinking about what I was saying to those around me or how my dress would be interpreted. And I certainly never thought about saving seeing my body for my husband.

Now I'm not sure how I would feel born into different circumstances. I have always been attractive and received more unwanted attention than wanted. Most of the men who approach a woman are pretty gross and have to feign an interest in your personality because in reality they have no interest, you are an object. Being sexually attractive is not selective, it does not attract only really wonderful men. It attracts men who are brazen. On the other hand, my husband tells me literally several times a day how beautiful I am. What I love about his appreciation is that I am his love, he knows every horrible dark corner of me and still thinks I am beautiful, loves and cherishes me. Other men who look at me only know the outside they do not know my value or my worth. I am and can only be an object to them because they do not know me.

There is no excuse for hitting on a 6 or 7 month pregnant woman while she is standing with her very small daughter waiting for her husband and even smaller son. But let me just say that night at the YMCA my hair was down and I was wearing maternity jeans, a long sleeved maternity shirt and a maternity sweater. Not exactly what I thought was inviting or provocative. This incident did spark my interest in modest dress. The definition of which after my reading I would put at protecting what is sacred about my body and I only want my husband to enjoy, while also allowing the world to see my beauty by dressing elegantly.

After the incident at the YMCA  in my jeans, long sleeved shirts and sweater, which were my mommy uniform for pregnancy, I continued to be approached and stared at by men. Maybe its a mid-west thing? Or maybe it was God trying to show me a better path for  myself and my family. It usually takes a lot for me to get it. Around this time I began reading a book called "Men, Women and the Mystery of Love" by Edward Sri. It is a wonderful book about John Paul II's writing "Love and Responsibility" and has a section on modesty. After reading this I decided I wanted to know more about the Catholic church's teachings on modesty.

I found through this reading my reason for dressing myself and my family modestly. "Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. ... It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity." (CCC, 2521)  "Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled." (CCC, 2522) That is what I want and I am now dressing accordingly. I don't want any man other than my husband to be able to see my intimate center. I want to see men and women as the people they are not as objects who are using me as an object for their pleasure. I want my love for my husband to be our mystery. And I want my children to have the opportunity to experience these values themselves.

At this point I read a much recommended book on Catholic modesty called "Dressing with Dignity" by Colleen Hammond. I was quite frankly shocked by what I read.  Best described as incredulous, I could not believe that a woman in pants would make men think of sex or would be sexual in anyway. As I was reading this book I would ask my husband questions like "When you see me in pants do you think of sex?". His response was "Of course, how could I not?." And so I continued to read through the book asking my husband his opinion, which I trust because he is always blunt with me. By the end I was shocked. The book outlines a guide of dress that is much more modest than most people would think necessary. "A dress"... (and in this it must be a dress or skirt not pants)... "cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper." (The Cardinal Vicar of Pius XI)

I really didn't believe the covered arms. I asked my husband what he thought of those guidelines he said "Well it seems silly to have to cover  the whole arm. You'd be really hot in the summer." So then I asked "But does it make you think of sex when you see me in cap sleeves?" He said "Yes." I was floored!! Then I said "Well hair couldn't possibly be sexy could it?"  You know what the answer was? "Of course hair is sexy." These conversations with him flipped my worldview on its end. It was also an enlightening experience for my husband who had never thought me quite that naive.

And so immediately we switched to following, as well as possible, the modesty guidelines outlined in the statement by the Cardinal Vicar of Pius XI. Additionally, I started wearing my hair in a french twist rather than down. I noticed anytime I wore anything that was outside of the modesty guidelines one or two men would feel free to ogle me in front of my children and husband. This was not an accidental glance of wow that is a huge belly. It was repeated long stares up and down my body with hardly a glance at my face.

The next weekend we were at Whole Foods. A man with his female partner stared every chance he got and kept leering at me. I was wearing a long-sleeved, turtleneck, knit dress that came just above the knee with leggings and tennis shoes. Time for that dress to go to goodwill. Now do I think most men had a hard time resisting the urge to turn me into an object? No. But I don't want anyone to be able to objectify me or someday my daughter. I want people to see me as a person and to save the gift of my sensuality for my husband alone.

What I did notice right after reading all of this information is that when men were dressed in clothing that was cut similar to women's clothing I couldn't help but look at them. I looked away because I felt bad looking at a man other than my husband but still I looked and noticed their sexual attractiveness. These men were clearly dressed this way intentionally to show off their bulging muscles. I think as women we don't notice how immodest our dress is because we are not faced with the same view of men.

The way women were dressed shocked me. I'm sure they would never have thought they were immodest, nor would I have prior to my reading and discussion with my husband. As women walked in their jeans you could see the outline of everything. I mean everything in their jeans, TSA screening detail. And these were not "immodestly" dressed women. These were moms doing their grocery shopping in the middle of winter with their kids. But the tight fit of women's jeans and the way they are cut ride up to make it much more revealing while moving than ever intended or apparent in the mirror. If that was how men dressed I would be staring, I would be horrified that I could see their bodies to that degree.  And yet I was so acclimated to our cultural display of women's bodies that I never even gave what I was wearing a thought. Why do we as women allow our own sexual exploitation? We are so much more than bodies, mere objects available for whoever wants to consume.

What I have found is, by dressing according to the formerly mentioned modesty guidelines, I have been able to protect what is sacred in our marriage for our own pleasure and enjoyment. My husband has found he loves that I have chosen to protect what is ours for him to see only, while still looking beautiful and as he says very elegant. I still get looks from other men but they are looking at my face rather than everything but my face and there is a level of distance and respect that I wanted and expected but was not getting in my old wardrobe.

What surprised me the most is that I have found myself looking at other people differently since I began dressing according to this definition of modesty. At first I feared was that I would look at people and judge their attire looking down my nose at it. But instead dressing modesty has led me to a greater respect for individuals dignity, privacy and spirit, especially when they are not dressed modestly. Because others cannot peruse my body for their enjoyment I have stopped inadvertently doing it to others. Dressing myself modestly really has, for me, guided "how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity." (CCC, 2521)

No comments:

Post a Comment