4 Stages of Denial of the Sin of Immodest DressPosted By Raylan Alleman at Sunday, October 18, 2015
It is very refreshing today to see how much the issue of the requirement of modesty in dress among women and girls is raised amidst some of the worst conditions of dress in recent history. This is just a start toward regaining some dignity around the mode of dress of the young ladies of today, and as usual it will have to come from those in the Catholic Church. Among the religions who claim to be Christian, it is only the Catholic Church that has stuck to unchanging moral principles for its faithful to follow.
Still there are many Catholics who are in denial that the way a person (principally a woman) dresses could be an actual sin. In reading different replies and commentaries on the subject I have observed the following progression through some stages of denial of the sin of immodest dress:
1. I’m just dressing comfortably and fashionably
. This would seem to be the stage of a pagan female with no moral formation whatsoever. Unfortunately, Catholic teaching on the topic has been so sparse and vague that most Catholics have fallen into this way of thinking. There is really little, if any, thought given to any morality connected with dress. The utmost concern is if they are fashionably “in” so as to be attractive. Of course, that is quite natural. No one, except maybe some heroically virtuous saints throughout history, would want to appear unattractive. Yes, there were some female saints who deliberately made themselves unattractive so as not to cause others to lust. But for the most part, everyone wants to be attractive, and females in particular have a sensitivity about their appearance. Then the next major issue for most regarding dress is comfort. So, if the weather is warm, most females will dress in attire that covers less for comfort without considering they are revealing more of their bodies and the impact that has on men. Finally, the common thought at this stage is that regardless of how I dress “no one is looking at me,” meaning to say there are so many younger more desirable females around that I would not draw any man’s attention.
2. If men are lusting after me, it’s not my fault.
So then some of these girls and ladies will come to the realization that what they are wearing is actually influencing men’s attention. Of course, deep down they do know that they are getting attention which is why they do it. They want to appear appealing in order to attract a mate. Then they often do. But the realization often comes when they notice that their boyfriends’ and/or husbands’ eyes start wandering toward other women, and more often than not, it is toward those who are dressed in an immodest mode. The automatic question to that realization is “What’s wrong with that?” If it was OK for you to attract the man’s attention, any man’s attention, why is it wrong for another woman to do so? Now, it starts to hit home, and we start to come to a consciousness of the moral impact of the issue. Some will come to this through religious moral instruction of various types from sources such as ours and others like it. But the denial of responsibility remains because the fault is blamed on the man for lusting. The operative Scripture quote here would be “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:28) This is often the main perspective taught on this issue today in the Church toward “fixing” the hearts of men, and them being honorable toward women. That’s great as an ideal, but not nearly realistic. The fact is we are all fallen humanity, and normal men will be tempted by what they see. They can turn away when tempted, but they should not be forced into that situation because of careless inconsiderate females. This is why the Church has historically laid down concrete guidelines for appropriate modest female dress.
3. I’m going to protect my dignity
. This stage is also a very valid and true pursuit of an ideal. Women are to refuse “to unveil what should remain hidden.” (¶2521 Catechism of the Catholic Church) In this they are preserving their dignity so as not to attract merely the attention of lust. This is all true and a very good reason for dressing properly. It is the virtuous side of turning away from the potential sin. But if we stop at this as the only reason it sets up for an easy slide into sin. Because again we are all fallen and weak. So what happens when sloth sets in and she has a day when she doesn’t feel like she needs to protect her dignity thinking “Well what do I care of what someone else thinks of me?” If there is no sin involved toward the effect on others and it is all about her, she could easily fall into an error of behavior based on a false manifestation of humility.
4. I’m going to help my brothers out
. This is a bit of a new one I’m starting to see out there in comments and replies to posts in social media. We get the realization that men are not quite the pure and virtuous gentlemen they’re supposed to be. So, since they have such a grave weakness in this, we’re going to “help them out” by covering ourselves properly and dressing right. Still here it’s all about the man’s sin, and there is no sense of sin on the part of the girl and lady who is dressing immodestly.
It’s great to give the background and reasoning behind doing the proper things, but it’s most urgent to specifically identify behavior that should be avoided and the sin attached to it. This is principally important for parents in our formation of our daughters and teaching them to dress properly. It is also obviously important for Priests in their teaching from the pulpit as well as catechists who are giving moral foundation to students.
In all of these denials, there is no mention of sin on the part of the females. It is all about doing what they want, and then when prompted to exercise discretion it is because men are fallen and weak. One angle of sin I almost never see on this issue is pride. There is a clear element of pride in dressing immodestly where a female wants to “show off” her body and attract the attention of others to tell her how attractive she is.
But the larger issue the Church has always focused on is becoming an occasion of sin to another. And to be an occasion of sin deliberately is a sin in and of itself. It isn’t merely that she doesn’t get an opportunity to “help a brother out.” It is that by deliberately dressing immodestly she is committing her own sin. Colleen Hammond deals with this issue well in her book Dressing with Dignity:
Pope Pius XII addressed a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion” in 1957 and spoke to this very topic. “Yet no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of style may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: Style must never be a proximate [near] occasion of sin…”
The absolute norm that the Pope refers to is this: If a fashion is an inducement to sin for others, it is a sin for us to wear it. (emphasis added)
The term proximate occasion of sin—more commonly called the near occasion of sin—is basic Catholic jargon that Catholics used to learn in catechism class. So here is a review! Any person, place or thing that presents an allurement to sin is a near occasion of sin. A person is obligated to avoid near occasions of sin. (One is not obligated to avoid remote occasions of sin, which could include just about everything on earth.)
To wear the kind of clothing that can arouse unchaste thoughts or desires in others is to present them with a near occasion of sin. To wear that kind of clothing, knowing it has this potential, is a sin (either a mortal sin or a venial sin, depending on the degree of immodesty and the other circumstances).†
Mrs. Hammond’s book covers the issues of immodest dress comprehensively and is well documented with references to official Church teachings, numerous papal documents, and admonitions of the saints. I highly recommend this book for all Catholic families and encourage young people, especially girls to read it.
The issue and importance of modesty in dress among females isn’t simply a favor done to keep men out of trouble. It is a responsibility on their own part for their own sanctity. There are various good reasons why this virtue should be practiced, but the ultimate concern is that if it is neglected it could rise to a level of sin as grave as mortal sin for which souls could be lost. This is something we seriously need to emphasize to our wives and daughters.