Musings about Modesty

[Be warned; this post is written from an implicitly Catholic viewpoint, and how it looks at sexuality will probably seem really weird to anyone who’s not Catholic – and perhaps to most people who are, as well. It’s really just me rambling about clothing and modesty and sexuality for seven hundred words.]

I remember a few months (years?) ago, we had a debate on the Wesnoth forums about standards of modesty. Some of the Europeans, talking about how nudity was more acceptable there, were trying to make the argument that nudity was not necessarily sexual, and it was just us American puritans who made it so – if we just required less clothes in the first place, lack of clothing wouldn’t be considered as intentionally provocative.

Well, coming back from Europe after three and a half months, I think I can say… nope, that’s completely wrong. Nudity really is always sexual – at least how it appears in Europe. I saw advertisements for pornographic movie theaters, “adult” websites, etc, all involving female nudity – advertisements you would never see in the US, they would be illegal – but certainly never saw nudity somehow used in a non-sexual way. Perhaps it is, sometimes, but it seems obvious that the primary effect of making nudity more socially acceptable is to make raw sexuality more socially acceptable and pervasive…

Anyway, the point is, it seems obvious that nudity and sexuality can’t really be separated from each other. But… what, with respect to clothing, is not always sexual? I mean, can we really separate clothing or the lack thereof from sexuality? I’m reminded of the part in Perelandra where the devil is teaching the Green Lady to wear clothing. He is teaching her modesty in order to teach her licentiousness…

Perhaps it’s not clear what my point is. Well, my point is a question – what does it mean for someone (well, a female, primarily) to “dress modestly”? The idea is that dressing immodestly is dressing in a sexually provocative manner. But women can dress without revealing much skin and still be provocative (obviously), and they can dress while revealing a lot of skin and not be very provocative (harder to find examples of, but just think of what the difference between “cute” and “hot” is – it’s not necessarily how much clothing is worn) – it seems to be the intent, not the actual manner of dress, that matters…

But this seems to contradict what I said at the beginning. If it’s the intent, not the amount of clothing, that determines modesty, why did I not see any non-sexual nudity in Europe? Why was all of it so highly sexualized?

Obviously there is some sort of correlation, even if it’s not exact, between how revealing clothing is and how modest it is. It’d be hard to be modest wearing a bikini; it’d be hard to be immodest wearing a burqa. But we don’t want to force women to wear burqas, and anything less than that will be sexual in one way or another; all clothing is, really. There must be some sort of middle ground, but I don’t know how one would find it.

And there’s also two factors here I’m conflating, I think – how modest the clothing is, and how chaste the woman is. Someone could wear a bikini but not be being intentionally immodest. I actually know some girls who would do, and have done, that…

I don’t have any grand theory of sexuality and modesty to lay out. My point, I guess, is that this is more complicated than most people realize. It’s not as simple as, “cover yourself up already!” – otherwise Catholics would require their women to wear burqas, which we don’t. But there have to be some standards or something – what I saw in Europe, which was basically the breaking down of standards of decency, was definitely not Christian in nature.

Perhaps the line is drawn where the clothing stops being intended to bring out the beauty of the wearer, and becomes about emphasizing the sexuality of the wearer… though, those two seem almost impossible to separate. So I’m not sure it’s actually possible to formulate a rule for how a girl ought to dress modestly.


One Response to Musings about Modesty

  1. e7th04sh says:

    Let my answer be a question: why my fellow europeans always try to make black of white and vice versa?

    I am not christian, perhaps already stated it in former comments… yet I find overhwleming nudity and sexuality highly annoying.

    A thought: woman can look really beatiful in long “modest” dress, but the kind of feeling that such view arouses in man is not valued by woman in Europe, in general. Woman’s code of conduct does not affect her dress code – if a woman wants to charm a man, she will always use her sexuality as a main weapon.

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