Longskirt or leggings, let’s let dignity define us

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

A few weeks ago, I rocked a mid-length skirt that I love (thrifted nonetheless). Not long after, I was informed via the grapevine I had been dubbed a “longskirt,” a typical UD boxed identity for an individual who made certain life choices. 

Aside from the truth, or lack thereof, in this characterization, I was both amused and mildly concerned at such a quick judgment. 

As a Catholic institution, I believe that we ought to approach the issue of modesty with a different lens than the rest of society. By refocusing on human dignity, we can find freedom in our own choices and increase our respect (lessening our flat-out judgment) for the decisions of our fellow human beings. 

Flashback to camps and talks where the speakers pushed their negative opinions about shorts and told me to protect my brothers in Christ, while also telling me I was gorgeous — at least in God’s eyes. As much as these speakers tried, I don’t embrace modesty for their reasons. 

In fact, I feel a little attacked whenever these arguments are reiterated. Regardless, I still think modesty is an important concept that we each ought to grapple with.

Let’s be real, I obsess over outfits, and piles of clothing often cover my floor. But this is not without good intentions. Fashion is not superfluous. What one wears has a direct impact on one’s overall psyche, and it affects others’ lives as well. 

Clothing can cultivate virtue or vice. Sanctity percolates into all corners of life. A life of holiness includes “what you shall eat” and “what you shall drink” and “your body, what you shall put on,” as said in Matthew 6:25. 

But let’s get one thing straight: the human body is not bad — it’s breathtaking. Adam and Eve were the crown of creation, pronounced good from day one. Perhaps this is why the Sistine Chapel is painted with masses of naked people and Michelangelo’s David inspires awe. The bare human body is not immoral. 

Clothing doesn’t hide, but rather veils what is sacred to be revealed when holy and proper. Claiming that clothes are a means to prevent dirty thoughts, is a  mistaken view. The fall of Adam and Eve disordered our ability to genuinely love. It is difficult to view a person as someone to truly love when they are scantily clad. As a body-soul unity, what we see influences how we think and act. 

Pope St. John Paul II cast light on this in his Theology of the Body when discussing a related issue, “There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” 

The problem lies not in the assumption that nudity is profane, but that we are tragically distracted from the dignity of the person, viewing them as an object for our own enjoyment. Your idea of a short skirt shows too little of the wearer, not too much. 

Modesty is a virtue that helps one display an inherent worth and encourages one to see each person as a unique human being. 

As I pull on a pair of shorts in the morning, I dislike wondering, “Will men be distracted by my upper thigh? Am I a stumbling block?” 

While we must consider how our behavior affects others, my preferred internal crisis is, “Am I dressing with class? Am I showcasing my true self and dignity?” 

When I was told that it was my job to steer away boys, that didn’t sit well with me. This argument is not flat-out wrong, but the rhetoric is weak. 

I don’t think it’s permissible to wear whatever floats your boat. I also don’t believe in universal modesty standards. Claims that five-inch shorts are a cause of sin ignore that pants for women at all were pushing scandalous 100 years ago. Time changes what culture considers appropriate. 

Society ought not to be our guide, but it’s difficult to defend specific, numeric rules for every human, in every age.

When you dress prioritizing dignity, you are freed to feel confident, encouraging others to see your total self. Respect of the human person and rightly ordering our love is the underlying question here that must constantly be reevaluated. 

I’m not going to claim that my way of displaying modesty is perfect. My opinion is simply that — opinion. People can argue about the morality of leggings or showcasing collarbone for hours, and that’s an important debate we can have. 

Have standards, please. But in showing others the love, respect and dignity they deserve, you cannot be the arbiter of what they ultimately choose. So let’s not pick on others for leggings or long skirts, let’s focus on seeing them as they truly are. 

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