Warning: Sensitive Material
Capitalism that is unhitched from Christian morality turns the human body into a commodity to be marketed, bought and sold. This is one reason why our culture has rapidly pornified. This is also why your high school daughter is running at track practice in nothing but a pair of underwear-sized compression shorts and a sports bra and no one bats an eye.
When you combine the unrestricted capitalistic commodification of the human body with women’s natural desire to be looked at by men (which is not a sinful desire when properly restricted), we can see why women’s dress in athletics has devolved from this:
The immediate cry is that it is impossible to “move freely” in more substantial attire. This is, of course, complete crap.
Exhibit A – If men can play volleyball in these shorts…
…why can’t women?
Of course, if you really want to destroy the They just dress like that because it’s easier to move! argument, you have to use the women’s beach volleyball team outfits versus the men’s:
Why do female athletes dress like this? They do so because they’ve been pushed to over time by the television marketing executives who broadcast the sporting events – because let’s be honest, women’s sports are kind of boring compared to men’s sports if you’re just looking at pure athleticism, hence the invention of volleyball shorts to get men interested in watching women’s sports.
I don’t think the marketing execs literally sat down one day and decreed women athletes were henceforth to dress like sluts. Saying It was the TV executives who did it! is just a shorthand way of saying that it was a progression: one female athlete dressed a little more risque, more men watched any future events she participated in, thus more advertising dollars rolled in, so the television stations covered more of that sport to cater to the advertisers, which led to more money for the athletes, whose advertising sponsors then required them to wear skimpier uniforms in order to gain more viewers…this is what I mean when I say women were pushed into dressing immodestly by marketing executives.
And though they probably didn’t come up with the idea of such skimpy attire all on their own, it likely isn’t that hard to “push” a lot of women into it, as most women have a natural desire to be looked at by men. To understand how this natural desire is harnessed by marketing executives, consider that one of the first things the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team did when they got back from the Olympics was pose nude as a group for ESPN’s “The Body Issue” (sorry, I don’t want to post the nude image here even though technically everything “naughty” is covered).
There is no word from ESPN on when we can expect a similar photo from the Men’s Volleyball team.
It’s not that male athletes are more moral than women when it comes to how they dress. It’s just that photos of the Detroit Lions draped nude over one another and sporting nothing but a few strategically placed footballs isn’t going to sell a whole lot of beer.
In fact, I googled “ESPN the Body Issue men” (for research purposes only, I assure you), and I found NO group nude shots of men. The men get the Women’s Volleyball team and the Women’s Water Polo team, and what do the gals get? That’s right, Prince Fielder. Gee, thanks ESPN (I jest of course – I don’t actually want to see nude groups of male athletes).
Why, this definitely wasn’t about marketing women’s sports to men as softcore porn at all! Ha.
But here is the much more serious fall out: Olympians and professional athletes set the standards for what younger athletes wear, and it becomes first acceptable and then required for them to dress immodestly. If a girl wants to play on her high school volleyball team, she will be required to wear those immodest shorts because they are part of the uniform.
This gives a parent two choices: allow her to play in the immodest shorts or pull her off the team. And since the attire for most girls’ sports is getting skimpier and skimpier, there aren’t a lot of other sport options that are much better at this point (girls’ basketball is still pretty modest).
My own rationalization has been this: I tried and tried when they were younger to bring this issue up to coaches and fellow parents only to get strange looks from them, so I gave up and gave in. My husband and I were discussing this recently, and he talked about averting his eyes, depending on where he’s sitting at volleyball tournaments, just before the serve when all those fifteen-year-old girls crouch forward in their volleyball shorts.
I got my own taste of that recently when I went to pick up my high school daughter from track practice on an unusually warm day; not only were groups of girls running in compression shorts and sports bras (my daughter kept her shirt on, thankfully), but the young men were shirtless in running shorts. I decided it was appropriate for me to look away from the half-naked young men running past me back up to the school.
To mention this to others is to get a defensive reaction – What’s the matter with you, are you such a pervert that you find sixteen-year-old boys in nothing but running shorts too sexual to look at without feeling that it’s kind of wrong to look? Anyone who questions the modesty of under-aged athletes in such skimpy attire is immediately shamed into silence by insinuations about their character.
But I do think it’s wrong. I don’t think we should allow our children to be marketed this way and I don’t think we should train our daughters to attention whore for the male gaze like this. The problem is that we are being trained to slowly accept more and more immodest athletic attire; we are first anesthetized to it by seeing it on television on professional athletes and then eventually it trickles its way down to high school and junior high athletes, where first it’s a few kids wearing it and eventually it just becomes part of the standard uniform. At what point do we as Christian parents draw a line in the sand and say, “No farther”? It’s not an easy and straightforward decision, but we should at least be aware of the underlying dynamics and understand that this is the end result of capitalism unfettered from morality.
The Importance of Modesty
First Published in ‘The Catholic Voice’, Ireland, May 2016
In order to see how important the virtue of modesty is, and to see just how deplorable the sin of immodesty is, let us look to what some of the Popes have said on this subject. On January 6th 1921, Pope Benedict XV, issued an encyclical letter called ‘Sacra Propediem’ on the Third Order of St Francis. In it he identifies two dangerous passions that affect people
Pope Benedict XV
“Now there are two passions today dominant in the profound lawlessness of morals – an unlimited desire of riches and an insatiable thirst for pleasures. It is this which marks with a shameful stigma our epoch; whilst it goes ceaselessly from progress to progress in the order of all which touches the well-being and convenience of life, it seems that in the superior order of honesty and of moral rectitude a lamentable retrogression leads it back to the ignominies of ancient paganism. In that measure, in truth, wherein men lose sight of eternal goods which Heaven reserved for them, they permit themselves to be more taken in by the deceitful mirage of the ephemeral goods here below, and once their souls are turned down towards the earth, an easy descent leads them insensibly to relax themselves in virtue, to experience repugnance for spiritual things, and to relish nothing outside the seductions of pleasure. Hence the general situation which we note: with some the desire to acquire riches or to increase their patrimony knows no bounds; others no longer know, as formerly, how to bear the trials which are the usual result of want or poverty; and at the very hour in which the rivalries We have pointed out set by the ears the rich and the proletariat a great number seem to wish to further excite the hatred of the poor by an unbridled luxury which accompanies the most revolting corruption.” (Sacra Propediem 18)
The Thirst for Riches and Pleasures
This thirst for riches and pleasures has continued unabated since Pope Benedict XV wrote this encyclical, and in order to maintain a certain level of comfort and to avoid poverty, many will resort to contraception and to abortion because the presence of a defenceless child is now seen as a threat to prosperity. Men have lost sight of the eternal good of the soul of each new child.
Pope Benedict XV, following on from his point about the loss of the sight of the spiritual realm, then speaks sadly of the immodesty of women.
The Blindness of so many Women
“From this point of view one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the indecency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toilettes as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly Author of purity. And We speak not of those exotic and barbarous dances recently imported into fashionable circles, one more shocking than the other; one cannot imagine anything more suitable for banishing all the remains of modesty.” (Sacra Propediem 19)
Sadly, Men and Women are no longer Shocked by Immodesty
The sad thing today is that most men and women are no longer ‘shocked’ by immodest clothing. We have become so used to it that we no longer blush and avert our eyes from immodesty. Pope Benedict then addressed himself to the Tertiary Sisters of the Third Order of St Francis stressing the importance of ‘holy modesty’.
“In what concerns specially the Tertiary Sisters, We ask of them by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labour for the improvement of morals.” (Sacra Propediem 21)
The Crusade against Immodesty
Pope Pius XI succeeded Pope Benedict XV and in 1928 he launched a crusade against immodesty. As part of this crusade standards were issued by the Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili, on 24 September 1928 which stated in relation to women’s clothing.
“A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.”
Those who dress Immodestly should not be admitted to Holy Communion
What may shock the women of today is that in 1930 a letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Council was issued which stated, “the immodest fashion of dress adopted by Catholic women and girls, which fashion not only offends the dignity of women, but conduces to the temporal ruin of the women and girls, and, what is still worse, to their eternal ruin, miserably dragging down others in their fall.”The letter was addressed to the whole world and included in the letter were some instructions which included the following.
“The parish priest should command that feminine garb be based on modesty, and womanly ornament be a defence of virtue. Let them likewise admonish parents to cause their daughters to cease wearing indecorous dress.”“Teachers must not receive in their colleges and schools immodestly dressed girls.”
“Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion … further, if the offence be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the Church.”
Immodesty is Gravely Offensive to God
Today there are those who falsely argue for the admission of the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion. How many realise that one should not approach Holy Communion if one is immodestly dressed? If immodesty is a sufficient cause to be barred from Holy Communion, then it is clear that immodesty is gravely offensive to God. How many priests are failing in their duty to the flock and to the salvation of souls by not pointing this out?
Catholic Fathers are the Guardians of Modesty in their Homes
Catholic Fathers, you need to study the mind of the Church with regard to modesty and you need to have a conversation with your wife and with your daughters in order to encourage them to dress with dignity. Catholic Mothers and young women, you too need to study the mind of the Church with regard to modesty and you need to have a good look in the mirror to make sure that you comply with this most important of virtues. Catholic young men, you need to study the mind of the Church with regard to modesty and you need to make sure that you learn ‘custody of the eyes’ so that you protect your chastity and do not encourage immodesty in the young women that you socialise with.
Pope Benedict XV’s words to the Tertiary Sisters apply equally to us. We need to promote modesty by our dress and manner of wearing it. We need to be models of holy modesty for others and together, we need to labour for the improvement of morals.