The Mystique of Woman: Modesty at the Pool?

sheridan french

Sheridan French Ella Swim Dress, photo copyright of SheridanFrench.com

Still working on my jewelry shop on Etsy, I am on to the next project: the search for modest swimwear.

Every year I go through this, and as I have grown into a young lady, my sensitivity to the need to have a modest appearance at the pool has only increased. Before you throw your flip flops at me, I would like to share with you the backstory of the mystique of woman.

The Mystique of Woman

In the beginning, God made the nakedness of woman (and man) beautiful and good. In fact, it still is beautiful and good. But in the beginning, humanity was innocent. Man and woman had no sin in their heart, and only experienced perfect love and respect for each other. Man and woman valued the body as it was meant to be valued and the soul as it was meant to be valued, as parts of one whole human person of inestimable value. To display their nakedness was in no way wrong, as the body was created GOOD!

But when Adam and Eve committed the first sin, something radically changed. Humanity became in fact inclined to sin, tempted to misuse and abuse the good gifts God gave them. God in His goodness commanded Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness with clothing, because He knew that since our bodies and our sexuality are such great goods, we would be especially tempted to value the beauty of our bodies above the less immediately visible beauty of the entire human person. We would be tempted to lust- to look at each other as sex objects. God also knew that where humanity once had the ability to use reason to decide proper and improper times to use our sexuality, after the fall of man, humanity would become tempted to place emotions above reason and to lust after the nakedness of persons to which they are not married.

So God designed women’s bodies beautiful, but commanded that in our fallen state we utilize clothing to protect against lust–to protect the dignity and value of nakedness.

She’s a Big Deal- Body and Soul

swim

On the Bar tankini by Next Swimwear, photo copyright of swimspot.com

Now, as in the beginning, the unique sexuality imprinted into the feminine body is both beautiful and good. In fact, in an age where many degrading ideas about women’s bodies are being thrown around in our culture (that we are sex objects, that rape is okay, that women should be valued for the shape of their bodies), the Church proclaims all the more the great dignity of women! We live in a culture that separates the beauty of the body from the beauty of the soul, using women’s sexuality to sell things. We live in a culture that does not value or cherish women or their nakedness, but treats them as disposable. This is the, “It’s no big deal!” culture.

Well guess what… I don’t want my body to be “no big deal!” I don’t want the display of my sexuality to be cheap, free to whoever walks by me on the beach, any more than I want it on display cheaply in the supermarket or school. My body is meant to be appreciated in union with my soul– “the synthesis of human beauty, beauty of body and soul” (Theology of the Body 112:3). The Biblical book, Song of Songs, refers to the sexuality of woman as, “a garden closed,” and a “fountain sealed.” I am sealed off for my husband, and no other should gaze on the parts of my body which are intended to sexually excite.

Therefore modesty at the pool, as everywhere else, is necessary. This is both out of respect for myself and out of charity for those around me who may be tempted to lust after what God created for my husband alone. As Christian ladies, we not only are wise to protect ourselves from lust, but we have a responsibility to take reasonable measures to clothe our nakedness and prevent others from lusting–to present ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit, whole persons beautiful and pure in body and soul. When I look in the mirror before I go to swim, I have to ask myself if I am accurately representing that, or whether the way I choose to dress draws disproportionate attention to the physical. What do you see when you see me? Because if I am dressed in no more material than underwear, the psyche of my male viewers is designed to jump to thoughts of sex, whether wanted or unwanted.

Ruched Square Halter by Divinita Sole, photo copyright of divinitasole.com

Ruched Square Halter by Divinita Sole, photo copyright of divinitasole.com

 

Their Problem?- The Standard of Love

Does this mean that guys are just being pigs and shouldn’t make the ladies suffer for their high propensity for visual temptation? Absolutely not. And you can’t accuse me of supporting rape culture for saying so. Not all men want impure thoughts in their heads. There are two parts to this puzzle. It is the responsibility of each person to guard themselves from sin, and all sinners (including rapists) are to be held accountable for their own sins. But remember what Christ said about how we can cause also others to stumble by our own choices, and how it would be better that we be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around our neck than to do so. (Luke 17:2)

We don’t have the right to do anything we want, and we certainly do not have the right to engage in an activity that in normal cases has a reasonable expectation of tempting others. Such an action becomes our own sin of impurity. For example, I don’t have to cover my ankles in a society in which nearly no one would find bared ankles a source of temptation. But I do have to cover my belly, cleavage, and upper thighs in a society in which most males are visually stimulated by such. Males are meant to be stimulated by such–God designed men to be attracted to women’s bare skin in this way as a part of the blessing and intimacy of married love–and we are meant to keep that sexual exposure between ourselves and our married partners.

Beyond this, we are bound by charity towards our neighbors to lift them up to the highest degree rather than saying, “That is their problem.” As a drastic example, if I moved to a colony of people who do find baring one’s ankles to be risqué, it would be both prudent and pure (for my own sake) and loving (for theirs) to cover my ankles. In this way, modesty is a matter of love, rather than just hemlines. Certainly, standards of modesty have changed over time, but the rule of love has not. Just like it would not be right to place alcohol in front of a person who we know is having temptations towards abusing it, we must not display the lovely parts of our bodies meant to sexually excite men, when we know they will likely find that tempting.

Modesty Guidelines:

Holly bathing suit by Rey Swimwear, photo copyright of reyswimwear.com

Holly bathing suit by Rey Swimwear, photo copyright of reyswimwear.com

  1. Ditch the bikini. Period.- In a modesty survey on therebelution.com, 25% of responding males agreed and another nearly 60% strongly agreed that bikini swimsuits are immodest, i.e. a stumbling block to sin. A 23 year old male on the site advises young women, “If you understood the purpose of publications like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or the objectification of swimsuit and lingerie models, you wouldn’t want to wear a bikini.”
  2. If It Begins with a “B,” Cover It- bottom, breasts, back, belly. Some swimsuits leave the entire back (or most of it) exposed, and should be avoided. Make sure your suit bottom completely covers your back end, and consider wearing swim shorts or a skirt to veil your upper thighs and pubic area. Watch for suits tops that are likely to float up in the water and reveal your belly, and avoid plunging necklines or suits that show even the tops of your breasts. Cleavage on the beach or pool is just as problematic as anywhere else. Peak-a-boo cutouts and holes on your breasts, belly, or sides are designed for sex appeal and should also be left out. Remember, these parts of your body were created to excite and belong to your husband.
  3. Mirror Check- When trying on swimsuits do a mirror check in the changing room in many different positions. Remember that when you are swimming you will be engaged in physical activity and will be seen from a variety of angles. Some suits appear to have you covered when you are standing but dip and reveal too much when you bend over. Raise your arms up and down to see if your belly shows. Will the bottoms ride up while you are swimming? What will people see from below if they are underwater or above if they are up on the diving board? Almost 80% of guys in the modesty survey at therebelution.com appreciated the modesty of girls who wore shorts over their one-piece suit.
  4. No Strapless- Even if your suit is as cute as can be, it is not practical to believe that your suit will stay on your body properly if it doesn’t have straps. Don’t be that girl pulling up her suit every few minutes.
  5. Cover Up- One way to be more modest out of the water is to throw on a cute cover-up or shorts if your suit doesn’t already come with them. Remember that people see more of your skin when you are roaming about on land than when you are under the waves.
  6. Watch Your Pose- Sometimes it is not the suit, but the mannerisms of the girl wearing it which attracts inappropriate attention. Represent Christ at all times and don’t try to walk or act “sexy” in your modest bathing suit.
  7. When in Doubt, Throw it Out- If you are second-guessing whether there is a problem with the outfit, there probably is. Be better safe than sorry. Your value is too high, and the purity of those you are with is too important, to play games with your sexuality. It is okay if each summer your standards get higher and higher. Keep ’em high, girl. You are not cheap.
Juliet Swimdress by Becoming Apparel, photo copyright of becomingswimdress.com

Juliet Swimdress by Becoming Apparel, photo copyright of becomingswimdress.com

Share your thoughts and questions.

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13 responses to “The Mystique of Woman: Modesty at the Pool?

    • Bob, no different than with women, men are held to the rule of love. They should refrain from any activity or type of dress that in normal cases has a reasonable expectation of tempting others. The question is, is there a reasonable expectation of temptation from the normal case of seeing a man swim without a shirt on? Maybe for young people due to the sexualization we have been exposed to. I don’t know. I bounce back and forth on this issue because it also depends on the build of the man. If you want to be extra cautious or feel that your chest is drawing too much attention, you can wear a rash guard in the water. A fairly inexpensive men’s modest suit can be found at http://bit.ly/13tMEMG.

      I do think however that keeping one’s shirt off for an extended period of time after a man exits the water is more problematic. I would ask that a man throw a shirt on when walking around at pool functions.
      Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

        • Sharon, the rule of love is simply that we must love one another. This is not different from the rule women are held to. Our purpose on Earth is to get to Heaven and to serve the Lord as best we can, and one thing that the Lord wants very much is the souls of our brothers and sisters. It is our business to help them along the path to holiness instead of becoming stumbling blocks for them. All people are held to loving one another by refraining from any activity or type of dress that in normal cases has a reasonable expectation of tempting others to sin.

      • Why does the build of the man matter? Different ppl are attracted to different body types. If different builds matters for men it should also matter for women. Something I’ve noticed in the modesty debate is that there seems to be a double standard for how men and women are treated. Both women and men can be tempted and have impure thoughts. This means that men and women are responsible for their own thoughts, no matter what clothing they see someone else wear.

        I don’t think there is anything wrong with modesty, I try to be modest myself, but I think that ppl are quickly judged by their clothing and not who they really are. We need to be able to see beyond the clothing to who the person really is.

        • Sharon, I would say that different builds do matter for women as well. Those who have more natural curves to their body need to take this into account when they chose their clothing. An outfit that may be modest on one person may not on another.
          Both men and women can be tempted, you’re right, but different things generally tempt different genders. For women, we *generally* tend to be more tempted by the emotional charms of a steamy romance novel, and men *generally* tend to be more tempted by what they see visually. That is why companies and products are marketed as such. Also, a man’s chest is far less sexual than a woman’s, for example. It’s not a double standard in my opinion. It is the standard of treating things as they are. And things aren’t always equal.

          You are totally right about judging people by their clothes! Whenever we see someone dressed immodestly, we should pray and love rather than judge who they are.

  1. I have a problem in another vein…a husband who keeps trying to get me to wear bikinis, more revealing clothes etc. It gets very irritating! He does not appreciate that I don’t like to draw that kind of attention.

    • Laura,
      That is a sticky situation! I would try to get at the root of why he wants you to wear those clothes. Validate his feelings so he doesn’t feel like you are interrogating him. He may just really appreciate your unique beauty and want to see more of it, which is a blessing! I heard one lady deal with this problem by asking her husband, “But hun, WHY do you like this on me?” And if the answer is because it looks sexy, then the answer had to be that she only wants to look sexy for her husband. She wanted to be ALL his. Did he really want to share her with other men, or for him to be the sole king of her heart? This may help him understand that you do this out of love.

  2. I think it has to do with him feeling good about being seen with an attractive “sexy” woman or something. He kept even wanting me to wear really skimpy shorts for running. He always goes back to spending a year in Brazil, where the swimwear is er…minimal and how he thinks people here are just too conservative, prudish etc.

    • 😦 I am really sorry Laura that you are put in that position. Pray, pray, pray through the intercession of Our Lady and St. Joseph for your husband to be able to understand so he can be the protector you need him to be.

  3. Pingback: The War of the Naked Women- There’s a Better Way to Improve Body Image | My Catholic Single Life·

  4. I love your article and thoughts on modest swimwear. I am a Mormon mom of 5 and want to be modest. I loved these ending lines to your post.
    “Your value is too high, and the purity of those you are with is too important, to play games with your sexuality. It is okay if each summer your standards get higher and higher. Keep ‘em high, girl. You are not cheap.”
    Thanks so much for sharing your insights. I am teaching the 12 – 18 yr. old girls about modesty on Wednesday and appreciate your post.

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