Modesty. It’s a term that sounds outdated in our modern world, but it’s another great value that is underrated because its misunderstood. Most assume it means dressing like a granny and it only applies to women. Another misconception is that if you’re practising modesty, it’s because you lack confidence and have a negative attitude towards the body. If we believed this then modesty would, of course, be unattractive, but what the world tells us is very different to what God says about modesty. So, what is modesty?
Modesty is actively pursuing the virtue of purity, from how we dress, how we speak and carry ourselves, to how we treat others around us. Practising purity, trying to obtain purity of heart, is striving to become Christ-like, to have a heart like Jesus and to love others as He loves us. Purity allows us to come to see Christ in everyone we meet. That’s truly beautiful, its also how we desire to be viewed ourselves because we were made in the image and likeness of God.
We all desire beauty, and we love what is beautiful, and it is through our bodies that we can reveal the beauty of God and who we are to others because we were made in Gods image and likeness, we have this inherent dignity. Some of this might be new to you, because again this isn’t what we hear from the world, the world tells us to follow trends and everyone should look the same in order to fit in and be accepted, but the Lord created us each individually and uniquely, this is where our true beauty lies, in the person He created us to be, the heart of who we are. He has written in our hearts this call to love and to be loved, ‘to love is to will the good of another over oneself.’ When we dress immodestly we sell ourselves short and we will inevitably attract those who love our bodies but not us as persons. This call to love is more than just for love of our bodies, but the love of our hearts, to truly seek out the heart of a person. That Christ-like love.
Modesty is not just for women, but also for men. Though it’s not something we often hear. Both men and women desire authentic love. In a previous blog, we discussed how men are stimulated visually, more so than women, while women are more stimulated emotionally than men. All elements of modesty are essential though for both man and woman because it reveals to us the whole person and who they are along with pointing us toward Heaven.
Have you ever heard the term, ‘Beauty is power’? Beauty is a very powerful thing, the first thing we always notice about someone is their physical beauty, we are physical creatures and we are attracted to a person physically. This is all very good, everything that is beautiful should lead us to God and to love. Beauty exists for the sake of love, the two go hand in hand. But what happens when we abuse beauty? What happens when we use our physical beauty, our appearance, for the sake of personal validation of our worth. God’s vision of beauty and the world’s vision are very different, and we are constantly being fed with the world’s version of ‘imitation beauty’, which then leads to, ‘imitation love’. The world feeds us this idea of unachievable, fake physical beauty, that expects us to continually chase, in order to be desired or loved, but it ultimately tells us, ‘You’re not good enough’, it leaves us insecure and unable to recognize our own beauty. This continual chasing leads us to become preoccupied with our physical appearance. Often people dress immodestly because they want to feel confident. But true confidence is something that comes from within. In the long run, people end up placing their value and their identity in their bodies and physical attractiveness and not who they really are. They can form a pattern of thinking that the only thing they have to offer is their bodies, and again they are selling themselves short. When we dress immodestly we are putting up a shield behind which we try to mask our vulnerability or insecurity that we feel inside.
Often when a person is attracted by our physical beauty, we can take that to mean love, because it gives us that feeling of being desired, but it is just an attraction. Attraction is important, but we cannot mistake it for love, an attraction is just an invitation to get to know someone better, to seek the heart.
The world’s view of beauty can lead us to insecurity in who we are and a lack of confidence, modesty and God’s vision of beauty says the opposite. By dressing modestly, we reveal that dignity given to us, to those around us. While modesty of dress means covering certain parts of the body, there is a beauty to be found in it, because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and in practising modesty we reveal the beauty of God within us. In dressing modestly, not only do we reveal God, but we also invite others to love Him through us. It is important to recognize that modesty doesn’t say, ‘the body is bad’, it actually says that it is very good because God created us and saw that it was very good! And it is still possible to appear physically attractive while dressing modestly. Modesty, instead says, ‘I don’t lack confidence in my body, my body is so good that I don’t feel the need to prove it to you.’
Modesty is actively pursuing purity, the goal is to reveal our authentic masculinity and femininity, meaning the virtues and qualities that reveal who we are in Gods image. Practising modesty and striving for purity can help us develop a spirit of humility, another virtue the Lord sees as beautiful, ‘For I am meek and humble of heart.’ (Matthew 11:29). Modesty helps us achieve this in our manners and how we treat others. How we speak to others should always be pleasing to God, in all of our conversations. We can do this simply from refraining from bad/vulgar language and instead, praising God in our conversations. ‘My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day’. In practice, this simply means speaking in truth, humility and kindness and building up those we meet instead of taking part in gossip or tearing each other down. We can pray for them and thank God for that person’s beauty even in the moments we may find it especially hard for us to see the beauty and dignity within them. It affects how we treat others because it challenges us to always remember that Christ is within every person we encounter, and we should treat them as such. We should be loving towards them as we wish to be loved ourselves.
‘Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate centre of the person.’
Modesty is an important part of practising chastity because it challenges us in that self-sacrificial love, agape love. It helps us live chastity and choose it in our everyday lives, it is another key to making chastity our way of life because it is reflected in our everyday choices, in this way we reveal our true selves and our hearts. But most importantly, we can see in others and reveal to others Christs love.