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Teaching modesty in the classroom

I used to dress immodestly. It’s not easy to admit but I have the pictures to prove it. My “modesty conversion” as I call it comes in handy when the subject is discussed in class as it was today. One of the things I like to do is have the boys take an anonymous survey on their thoughts on women’s dress and then read the responses to the entire class. Here’s one of the most recent. Keep in mind, this was written by a 17 year old:

When women don’t dress modestly, it is hard to take them seriously and it feels awkward to be around because you know you are not supposed to look and it is really hard not to. When there is a girl that dresses immodestly I just want to get away from them, but it was not always that way. At one point in time I would want to get closer, and not in a good way. I wouldn’t want to help her be better, my intentions were evil. When a girl dresses that way, they put themselves in danger of being used. When I see a girl now, who is dressing like that, I want to tell them but I don’t out of fear that they will hate me or that I will embarrass them.

The other thing I like to do in class to inspire a discussion on the topic is play the video “The Evolution of the Bikini.”

Contrary to some people’s ideas, not all women dress immodestly on purpose. I never intended to dress immodestly in my youth. No matter how many fights I had with my mother about appropriate dress, I was immersed in the culture of Southern California and the theatre world that dominated my youth. I just didn’t know. I certainly didn’t know the effect it was having on my male peers or even the fact that modesty is a moral issue in the first place. Or that it had anything whatsoever to do with human dignity, respect, and justice.

My “caritas in veritate” (love in truth) moment came when a male friend of mine told me: I know you. You’re a good girl. But you’re giving the wrong impression and making it difficult for men. It was also a “veritas in caritate” (truth in love) moment. He not only told me the truth but did so in a kind manner. He was surprised that I didn’t know what I was doing. So it was a good lesson for him as well. But after that, my eyes were opened. I look back at some pictures and can’t believe how I used to dress. I see the immodesty of women these days and I can’t believe there was a time when I was utterly desensitized to it. I suppose that’s the nature of formation or deformation. I remember hearing Abby Johnson speak once and was struck by her comment that she didn’t wake up one morning, suddenly an abortionist. Her decline started very subtly, with the problem of modesty. Fascinating.

The question in class that usually arises is, “Who’s fault is it?” One student astutely pointed out that the responsibility for respect lies with both parties: men AND women. Women need to realize they have a responsibility to protect men from the temptations to lust after and objectify women and men need to stand up and protect the women in their lives by encouraging modest dressing, as my friend once did for me. Husbands, brothers, boyfriends, friends look out for the women in your lives. Overcome your fear and say something. St. Thomas Aquinas says the first reaction to truth is anger. After that initial reaction, perhaps the judgment will be made, as it was in my own case, that those who speak the truth to me are my friends.

After graduation, I often become Instagram friends with my former students. On a number of occasions I have reached out to girls and let them know their photos are immodest and have asked them to consider removing it. Every single time, I was thanked and the photo was taken down. We need to help and love each other in a true way and build each other up to the best version of ourselves: “No one lives alone, no one sins alone, no one is saved alone.” -Benedict XVI

Here are some links to check out if you’re looking for a classy bathing suit or dress wear: (Jessica Rey’s line from the video clip above)

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