by Leane VanderPutten
Part Two is here.
Femininity… Femininity and modesty…. what beautiful pictures these two words bring to mind! Pictures of gracefulness, poise, dignity, elegance, generosity, tenderness, softness, etc.
G.K. Chesterton say “The important thing for a country is that the men should be manly, the women womanly.” This comment of Chesterton’s represents a basic principle of social order that is so much needed at this time in our nation and in our world.
We are meant for a high calling in this world, to be an example of goodness, wholesomeness and faith in a world gone crazy. As women, we achieve this purpose with our special qualities of being a woman.
At the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1946, Janet Kaven had this to say:
“The deepest difference among human beings–far more fundamental than any difference of intelligence or ability, nation or race– is the difference of sex.
This basic difference is not merely physical but also psychological, coloring the total personality. In the whole range of her being – her mind, her senses, her emotions, her will, her interests and reactions – woman differs profoundly from man.”
These profound differences SHOULD be very visible to the eye…through the way the woman carries herself, the way she acts and talks and walks….and the way she dresses.
My girls and I like to approach the subject of modesty in a positive light. Although the reason for being modest can be negative (we don’t want to cause sin) we especially like to bring out what the amazing benefits are of being a modest, lovely woman.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent says “Charm of person is one of God’s gifts to women and girls. That charm is not lost, but enhanced, by modest dress.”
Pope Pius XII agreed with this, saying, “Your zeal, however, against immodest forms of dress and behavior must be not only destructive, but also constructive, by showing in practice how a young woman can, in her dress and deportment, harmonize the higher laws of virtue and the norms of health and elegance.”
He also says:
A young lady can be modest, cultured, sportive, gracious, natural and distinctive, without submitting to all the vulgarities of an unwholesome fashion.
Pope Pius XII on the youth and modesty….
“Independent of the use of dress to hide physical imperfections, youth asks from dress that it highlight the splendor that sings of the joyful springtime of life and favor – following the norms of modesty –that is, young ladies can wear modest dresses that attract young men in order to marry them.”
As we can see by these words of Pope Pius XII, the use of clothing is very influential and is a source of powerful communication. Let’s use it wisely!
Pope Pius XII declared: “It might be said that society speaks through the clothing it wears. Through its clothing it reveals its secret aspirations and uses it, at least in part, to build or destroy the future.”
What would you say that today’s clothing reveals about our country’s aspirations?
God has made the human body beautiful. Immodest attire neither contributes to the promotion of the human person nor to the establishing of the Kingdom. The modesty practiced by Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Saints is obtainable in this day and age and is necessary for us.
I found these definitions of “modesty”:
1) Freedom from vanity
2) Decency of behavior, speech and dress
3) Simplicity and moderation
Three simple points that cover a lot of character building.
Let me tell you a bit about my own journey into femininity and modesty. My beginnings were rocky when it came to enhancing my femininity.
I grew up in a big city, Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan in the middle of Canada. I lived in not a great neighborhood; it wasn’t horrible…but not great.
You see, we, my brothers and I pretty much had to fend for ourselves. My mom and dad worked full time. Mom was finally able to come home BUT I was already a teenager. So I was pretty much on my own all those years…I became a pretty tough girl. At least it seemed like it from the outside. I had to find my way in an atmosphere that definitely wasn’t conducive to femininity or modesty.
I went to Catholic schools all the way up through High School. It was right in the middle of a big city, girls and boys of all walks of life went to them….Protestant and Catholic. The Church was very liberal and was no help when trying to form young ladies into young women. Jeans, halter tops, shorts, tank tops, swimsuits were all the norm of the day.
I have five other siblings but it was mostly my three brothers (because my other two siblings were born much later) that I grew up with. We (boys, some quite big, and then the girls, too) played tackle football, Pom-Pom Pullaway (which was another tackle sport) and many other rather brutal games…at least for a girl. I was involved in Track and Field and won several awards. I wasn’t big, but I was fast.
When one of the classmates was asked who was the toughest girl in the class, he said it was a draw between Vivian (a big Italian girl) and well… lil’ old me. Now wasn’t THAT something to be proud of?! Yikes!
It’s true, I drew a certain amount of respect from the guys and gals around me…but it wasn’t a respect for my femininity, that is for sure! I had a tough exterior…because I was insecure on the inside, like a lot of young girls that age. We just manifest it in different ways.
As time went on and I was growing into young womanhood, I realized my physique was not perfect…perfect, you know, like those women on TV with the long flawless legs and the flat tummies, etc. I started to become very self-conscious. There is a lot of pressure to look that way, isn’t there, and vulnerable, young women, can easily fall into the trap.
This awakening to what I thought were huge physical imperfections was very hard on me. I loved swimming, I was involved in ballet, gymnastics, tap dancing and drama…but as time went on I found that each of these extra-curricular activities caused me to expose parts of my body that I did not want to advertise.
I remember the last few times I had a ballet or drama performance, I was increasingly uncomfortable to wear what the event called for. The last play that I was involved with (and I usually had one of the leading parts) I instead chose to be just in charge of the stage props and the stage curtain.
This change in me wasn’t necessarily for the right reasons…yet. I was just horribly self-conscious. This self-consciousness actually saved me from a lot of grief. In hindsight I was able to see the Hand of God in this gift.
Thus began my modesty journey. Isn’t it amazing how God uses these very crosses that can be so hard to eventually become a tool for our happiness…If we just see it through, look for answers in the right places and have an open heart to these answers.
Many of my best friends couldn’t withstand the pressures of the times and fell for the first man that turned their heads. Each of these relationships started off on the wrong foot. This could’ve easily happened to me, growing up without the guidance needed.
Someone was indeed praying for me.
I want to pause here to remind all of us that no matter how badly we may feel about ourselves for whatever reason, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, mistakes we have made, what the negative people in our lives have told us, Our Lord is there for us.
He wishes to show us the way and often it is these very hardships that help us to reach UP and become the person God wants us to be….
So let’s not think of our trials as something negative. God’s Hand is in our lives and is leading us through them…
It was at this time, when I was about 19 years old, that, after working very hard at a job for many summers, I found myself the head secretary at an office that had a warehouse in the back. I was the only woman who worked there, except during the busy summer months, and the warehouse had several young men working full time.
Most of the time, I wore jeans to work…the guys thought of me as… pretty much….one of the guys.
Every once in a while, I got some sort of bee in my bonnet, and I would put on a dress. I don’t know what got into me….I guess that femininity was trying to peek out. It was interesting to see the knee-jerk reactions of these same coworker guys who didn’t give me a second glance normally.
As I approached a door, if they were around, they’d make the effort to scramble towards the door in order to open it for me. Well, now, wasn’t that interesting? A skirt…that’s all it took. I was the same Leane that worked with them day in and day out. ….they didn’t even notice me when I came to work on other days….”Open your own door:” was very much understood.
I was surprised with their reaction.. They also treated me with more respect, in general. It was very noticeable. At the time, I just made a mental note of it.
I grew up in the Novus Ordo, which was very liberal at that time, went to a Catholic school all my life, rubbed shoulders with priests and nuns and yet, when I came out of High School I did not know about the True Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.
When I was about 20 years old I was introduced to the Latin Mass. If there is one thing you notice when you go to the Old Mass the first few times….there is Someone special there. How do you know? By all the externals surrounding the Mass. The genuflections, the general silence and then the extreme silence during the Consecration. The reverence, kneeling while receiving, receiving on the tongue,etc. You don’t need a sermon to tell you that Our Lord is present. You see it through the externals.
You can bring little children to Mass and without saying a word, they know that something special is happening….Someone special is there.
I remember reading an article about the Latin Mass. It said that the liturgy will actually form who we are, if we give it enough time. The more we attend, the more It will change us on the inside..
Well, I feel the same way about our dress.
There is a saying….
“The body is the shell of the soul, and the dress the husk of that shell. But the husk often tells what the kernel is.”
What is that saying to us? Our externals matter. Our husk, our clothing, reveals who we are on the inside. And on the reverse, our mode of dressing, will work to change us intimately, too.
The virtuous person will manifest this virtue through the use of proper dress.
From Cardinal Siri:
“The clothes a person wears conditions, determines and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior such that from merely being worn on the outside clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind on the inside. So when a person changes their dress it will change how that person views her self-image. On the converse of that, if she has a distorted self-image, it will be manifested in her dress.”
“Women who go back to dressing like women find an inner change which occurs within them. They feel more feminine. Which is a good thing…femininity is a perfection proper to a woman. And those perfections are very admirable.
The virtue of modesty will attract a worthy man. A virtuous man turns away from what is immodest. So if a woman wants to attract a man it’s a matter of dressing like a woman.” -Fr. Chad Ripperger
After I committed to dressing modestly (and I took the bull by the horns and committed to dresses and skirts)…which I did before I met my husband and while I was working at a Catholic Shrine in North Dakota, I found myself slowly changing.
Automatically, without much notice on my part… I changed the way I sat, the way I held myself, the way I walked, the games I played, etc.
I thought it was quite amusing when, one day, as were sitting in the refectory, one of the respected elderly ladies, who was sitting across from me, said to her friend, and I don’t remember how it came about, that “Leane was the most mannerly and feminine woman that she knew!”
Who? Me? The toughest girl in class? The girl who dared to tackle even the biggest boy on the football field? It really was quite funny…but I was pleased. I liked this respect a lot more than what I got measuring up to “one of the guys” because women have an innate desire to femininity. They just don’t know it and are not taught how to embrace and enhance it.
I had the support of the community there at that time so it was relatively easy to be modest in that environment. But then my first big challenge came up. I had a two-week trip planned with my best friend, who was a Protestant, to go to my brother’s home several miles away to spend a couple weeks kicking up our heels.
We stopped and took pictures along the way….me in my dress, my friend in her jeans. We hiked on some of the mountains along the way. I did everything she did. She accepted me and the steps I was making…but I could tell she didn’t understand it…but she DID respect me for it.
There were questions when I got to my brothers and some uncomfortable moments…but I actually did it! I made it through that trip meeting all sorts of people, going to events and…dressing with dignity! And I never looked back. And I feel so blessed that I started my married life with modesty high on the list…what a blessing!
Let me also pause here to reiterate that our clothing is a very personal thing, along with the journey that goes with it. I am not telling you how to do it. I am not telling you how far to reach and to what extreme.
I also am not the last word on modesty and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But it is good to search our hearts and see what changes we CAN make in order to enhance the beauty, not of our bodies, but of our Catholic femininity. Not frumpy…but beautiful.
A couple of quotes…
“There is a difference between dressing attractively, and dressing to attract.”
“Your character is the picture and your appearance is the frame. The frame should complement the picture, not distract from it.”
It is a wonderful and beautiful challenge in this journey towards becoming more Mary-like in our day and age. And we will see many blessings come from it! Maybe some hardships, too, but all good things are wrought through struggle. It helps us grow in character.
Something for us to remember….No one gets the crown — without the conflict!
Pertaining to that, lest we recoil from the conflict….
From J.R. Miller written in the early 1900’s
“The daily temptations which make every true life such a painful conflict from beginning to end — bring us constant opportunities for growth of character. To struggle — is to grow strong. The soldier’s art can be learned, and the soldier’s honors can be won — only on the field of battle.
“If you would grow into the beauty of the Master, you must accept the conflicts, and fight the battles. You can live easy if you will, by declining every struggle — but you will then get little out of life which is truly noble and worthy. The best things all come after the battle — you must fight your way across the field to get them.. No one gets the crown — without the conflict!
Here is a quote from Brian Holdsworth, a Catholic husband and father, with a renowned Youtube channel “Women are by nature captivating and beautiful and there’s something in the essence of femininity that would be lost if they dressed like men.”
I started dressing modestly at the Catholic Shrine where modesty was the norm. I only brought along with me conforming attire. I didn’t have to agonize about my favorite articles of clothing going in the giveaway pile. That didn’t mean my struggle with that kind of thing was over. And I think my girls will attest to this. We have certain favorite pieces of clothing that are hard to move on from.
I will tell you this…each time I got rid of that certain piece of beloved clothing….and when I say get rid of…I mean to give it away, throw it away, get it out of reach so it doesn’t sit there to tempt me into finding excuses to dumb down my resolutions…. I was rewarded with a greater resolve and a deepening of the certainty that what I was doing was good.
I find that this part of my life, when looking on it in hindsight, has been one big reward. We’ve had our struggles, our bumps…but it has so much paid off. Each of my girls, and I have seven daughters, strive for modesty. They are firmly grounded on the road of Femininity.
And they are not a condemning, self-righteous, modest bunch. They love to dress lovely. It is a positive modesty. We dress for the seasons. We make accessories that look pretty. We invest in pretty scarves, in lacy overlays.
Truly, dressing modestly can be fun…if we are not focusing on the “cant’s” but on the “cans!” Imagine the legacy of that?? I have 41 grandchildren and counting…. And those little girls will grow up spreading the beauty of femininity throughout our broken world. God is good.
Not everyone will have this experience and have found the beauty of modesty later on in their journey. All I can say is…God supplies and goes more than halfway. My mom was much older when she began to dress modestly. And it still had its profound effect on me.
I thought she was crazy, sure! I was her biggest opposition…I’ll repeat that…I was her biggest opposition when it came to the modesty thing.
She preached at times. I disliked it and argued with her. But deep inside something was stirring….
And guess what?! God blessed her and helped her persevere and I grabbed on to the torch and am working on finishing her modesty journey.
We must never get discouraged. Our changes, no matter what season of life, affect everyone around us! They may berate us, but never mind. We are doing this for a beautiful and holy purpose and Our Lady will help us! And Our Lord will bless us! And maybe even bring those other people in our lives around….like my mom did with me.
“Boys and girls must be taught as tiny tots to love modesty. Even though they are too young to sin, they can and ought to be impressed with the beauty of modesty. Training in modesty is pre-eminently the function of the home, to be begun from earliest childhood.” -Archbishop Meyer of Milwaukee
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