I'm joining the Bright Maidens today, talking about the topic of "Catholic Modesty." I encourage you to read everyone else's post today on this topic by checking out the facebook page!
I grew up in a very Catholic and modesty-minded household, so much so, that most rules were strictly understood without having to ask. Modesty in speech was a big deal....not only have I never heard a curse word from my parents or siblings, phrases like "shut up" or "I'm gonna kill you!" were not ever allowed. My parents carefully moderated the movies and tv programs we watched, taking care to avoid anything with profane speech or sexual themes for my childhood and into my teenage years, for good reason. When shopping for new clothes, my Mom was never lenient when we wanted to push boundaries with our clothing choices.
One of my first memories involving modesty as a conflict in my life is vivid in my mind. I was probably around 14-15 years old, and it was time once again for the dreaded swimsuit season. I already knew the routine. I would pick out some crappy "ugly" swimsuits that passed Mom's tests...covered the butt WELL (meaning those shorts or skirt bottoms), the top would have sturdy straps, avoiding any low v-necks (or anything that might show more in the cleavage area), not too "clingy," padded, or showing more than a sliver of stomach.
Well this year, I told myself, I was sick of it. Nobody my age wore stuff like that, didn't Mom know that? One piece swimsuits were certainly only for people over 30 (at LEAST). And yeah, all my past swimsuits weren't *terrible*, I had to admit, but I still gazed longingly at my classmates and people at the pools with their adorable bikinis, and you know....I just wanted to take that opportunity to be cute like that!
This was one of the years that I was a bit more independent with shopping.....Mom went along with me still, but we went our separate ways while browsing. I quickly raided the racks for a bikini....something cute, not too crazy, and something I could get past the "Mom test." I found a striped triangle halter bikini with a matching shorts bottom (the shorts would fly by Mom, that I was certain). I tried it on, smiled and was satisfied. I brought it to Mom (kinda having a speech ready), and to my surprise, she didn't really argue with me. She raised her eyebrows, and asked something like: "Are you sure?" I said yes, we got it and moved on.
I wore it exactly once.
And the entire time, I wasn't comfortable. I wore it just around my family, but I found myself constantly looking at my body and thinking about what everyone else was thinking about me wearing it. I tugged at the top every few minutes to make sure things were covered. I purposely stayed in the water most of the time so my one sister (the one who often gives me "tough love" of various sorts) wouldn't give me that weird look. And the whole time I just was frustrated: "Why couldn't I get past these awkward feelings and enjoy my swimming, when every other bikini-wearing girl could?"
The answer is surprisingly simple, and I'm entirely embarrassed that I went through such an ordeal just to learn this simple truth: because my Mother lovingly showed me a modest lifestyle from the time I was born, when I put on that bikini, I KNEW that something was not right and could not just simply shake that from my mind. I knew deep within my heart that I had pushed myself away from Jesus with my decision to reveal my body inappropriately. After that day, I promptly stuffed that swimsuit in my drawer, and just about a month ago, I sent it to the thrift store without a second thought.
To this day, I'm not sure why Mom actually let me buy the bikini that day. Maybe she knew that I would find this lesson for myself through the experience. Maybe she was just exasperated with me and hoped I would get through a "phase" I was in. I don't know.
I do know that our Heavenly Father guides us to a modest lifestyle because he loves us. I believe it is practically impossible to draw a line in which one side is modest, and one is not, but that when you dress yourself, when you speak, when you watch programs or listen to music, you know in your heart through Jesus if you are crossing the line from expressing beauty and having fun to the shame and guilt of separating yourself from your faith.
If you are new to modesty as a lifestyle, or are working to reclaim modestly like I am, I find it especially helpful to call as an intercessor in prayer our beautiful mother Mary. Jesus gave his beloved mother to us, and she will guide you in your daily choices so that you may find the way to modesty as a life style. Now we all stumble in our daily lives for this, but embracing Mary as a powerful intercessor, especially as women, to reclaim our femininity and beauty without soiling it by reducing ourselves and our lives to be satisfied by cheap pleasure.
I've taken to reciting the Hail Mary in times that I am tempted by anything related to modesty....most often, when I am shopping or choosing clothes for the day. I try to keep Mary and Jesus close to my heart, not pushed away, when I'm frustrated and need guidance on all things modesty.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.