Why modesty matters

Divine Child High School, the largest co-ed Catholic high school in Michigan, is located in Dearborn, part of the Detroit metropolitan area. The school is making news this week for their strict policy regarding the dress code at prom. When students arrive at prom, they will be handed a ‘modesty poncho’ made from brightly colored and patterned fabric to cover up if their dress is deemed immodest.

Teenage girl in modest attireBecause of the pushback they have gotten, the school has clarified that their intention was not to use the ponchos to shame students who broke the dress code, but rather to deter students from not abiding by the rules. They will, however, have shawls available for students who don’t follow the specific written dress code policies. “They’ve gotten a lot of media attention, which is too bad to me because they’re essentially just trying to help people to be modest,” said Fr. Matthew Spencer, host of St. Joseph’s Workshop on Relevant Radio®.

So why does Divine Child High School place such importance on modesty at prom? Why does it matter? “The Catechism speaks of modesty, and I think it’s really important for us to understand how modesty fits in with the whole plan of Jesus for our integrity as human beings. So you and I are called to a life of purity—purity of heart, purity of body—but it requires modesty,” said Fr. Matthew

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2521 Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

2522 Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

We are to veil what should remain hidden, “not because there’s something ugly about it and not because we need to be ashamed of our bodies, instead because we can’t reveal the deeper parts of us,” said Fr. Matthew.

“It’s about inspiring a person to realize that there is something within them that can’t show off no matter how much skin you show. And in fact, we want to inspire in others thoughts that are lifted up to God rather than leading people astray and focusing only on fleshly things. Modesty is an integral part of what it means for us as Christians to live our life. But it’s not only about physical bodies and it’s not only what we cover up or what we don’t cover up. Fundamentally, it’s about the way we look at our lives and the way we look at other human beings. And the way that in our words, in our glances, in the way that we interact with people we can cultivate modesty.”

Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate, says CCC 2525. “And that’s all that Divine Child High school is trying to do, right?” said Fr. Matthew. “Recognize we’re trying to create a climate of modesty and it runs very counter-cultural, doesn’t it?”

2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.

2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.