Modesty was a big issue for me when I became Catholic. I had been a waitress and bartender from the age of 18 up until the year I started RCIA when I was 33. That is a long time.
When I was 21 I got a job working at Hooters and I worked there for 3 years. I worked there throughout the pregnancies and births of my two youngest kids. A lot of people have an issue with the fact that I’m not ashamed to say that I worked there. The people who I worked with have become some of my lifelong friends. Some have issues with my new life as a Catholic, and that’s ok, that’s their problem, but others are still my friends and love me for who I am regardless of whether they agree with me or not. When I found out that I was pregnant with my third child I was really freaking out. My ex-husband was addicted to drugs and my second child was only 3 months old. In many ways it was more of a crisis than being pregnant and not married at 16. The people I worked with all supported me and helped me when the baby came. Just like a family.
I never once considered myself an object and the only people who treated me like I was one were the feminists who would stand outside our doors to protest every once in a while. They were angry, not very cute, and all they did was yell at me about how I was allowing men to use me.
That idea was absurd to me because I knew what it was like to be used by men. None of those ladies knew a damn thing about me or my life and they didn’t seem to care about trying to get to know who I was. They were offensive to me because they seemed to think that I was a hooker, when in fact I was actually pretty calm at that point in my life, compared to other times. I waited on just as many women as I did men. Most of my regulars were families and I was just trying to support my family. For the first time in my life I was not really sleeping around. I was married with kids, I didn’t drink and I just was doing the best I could. None of them ever tried to see me as a person. Which is ironic because my co-workers and my customers did exactly that while the people claiming that I was being objectified were actually the only ones that were objectifying me by thinking that I was only my body and my job instead of a whole human being.
That is not to say that I learned anything that I needed to about modesty working at Hooters. I learned about being pretty and that pretty was based on society’s standard of pretty, which is anything but modest.
I had never been pretty. I was not one of those girls who grew up with boys lining up to go out with me because they thought I was pretty. They lined up to sleep with me, and that’s it. So, when I began working at Hooters, I barely had started learning how to fix my hair and do my make-up. I had worked at another bar and grill with an all girl wait staff in Houston. The girls there started helping me figure this stuff out.
By the time that I divorced my first husband, I didn’t work at Hooters anymore. I got a job bartending at a club. I knew how to dress and look to get attention from men and how to use that to make money behind the bar. Part of me did it for the attention and to make money, but part of me did it to be pretty. I really just honestly liked being pretty. It sure was a lot better than being ugly, which I had plenty of experience with. Plus I was a pretty good bartender and I had a personality that all added to my customers wanting me to make their drinks. It wasn’t all about my looks. I never flirted with men to make money; I just looked good, made good drinks and made people laugh. I never saw it as selling my body. I see it now, but that’s only because people who loved me explained it to me, not because of the feminists who yelled at me that I was what was wrong with the world. Those women were just crazy.
Never did I think “Oh, hey, I think that I’ll go and objectify myself.” I had NO idea what that even was.
Then, I became Catholic. At first I would still dress the same, not nearly as bad, because I did somehow know better, but I had this one shirt that was dressy but low-cut that I would wear to Mass. I would think of all the things that I would say to someone if they kicked me out of Mass because of it. When I first went to Mass at my parish before going to RCIA there was a sign in the Narthex that said they would ask anyone to leave who was not dressed right. It just made me feel unwelcome and defiant. I wanted someone to kick me out and prove that they didn’t want me there. It would confirm the voice in my head that was telling me that I was not cut out to be there and that I was fooling myself to think that these people would accept me as I was. Thank God that nobody ever kicked me out. I did get a lot of stink eye though. It reminded me of the looks I got from those protesting feminists.
I had no idea how to be modest. None. I didn’t even really know what modesty was. I read blogs and threads on Facebook and I came to the conclusion that it was anything that wasn’t pretty. Because the fact is , it doesn’t matter what you wear, men will be attracted to you. I know this from personal life experience. I used to get hit on more in the grocery store than I ever did working at Hooters.
That’s when I quit fixing my hair, wearing make-up, started wearing my new uniform of stretchy pants and t-shirts and gaining weight. In the 3 years since my confirmation I have gained 60 pounds.
Why? Because I feared being pretty and getting stink eye at Mass. It’s stupid, I know. I don’t give a crap about what people think of me any other time in my life, but when I step foot into Mass I have to fight all these thoughts bombarding me about what everyone is thinking of me, my kids, my clothes, my kids’ clothes, my kids falling asleep, my husband falling asleep.. etc. etc. etc. The voices were already there but all the comments that I’ve read from people on Facebook and the ones that I’ve heard in real life conversations about what other people wear or what other people’s kids are doing during Mass, have made them louder. I have this crazy idea that everyone in Mass is judging me. Self-centered as that is, it is a war going on in my head. Even worse, sometimes I’m the person that is doing the judging.
I was talking to myself one day at Mass and wondering why this lady thought it was a good idea to wear this short, skin-tight bright red dress to Mass one day and I suddenly heard this voice in my head say “Because she thinks it’s pretty.” That’s when I realized that I had become the kind of person, doing the kind of thing, that I feared the most. Me, in my clothes that are too big for me and my extra 60 pounds.
It has taken me months to hash this entire thing out, because it’s not an easy subject to talk about. This weekend I read Calah Alexander’s posts on the subject. She hit it out of the ball park.
These are the things that I got out of her posts and from my personal experiences in life:
*Men are responsible for how they look at women and women do not do them any favors by attacking other women instead of expecting their husbands to act like grown ass men and not objectify their sisters. They can do it, they really really can. In fact, I would say that most men are not the pigs that their wives or girlfriends make them out to be.
*A woman could wrap herself in an ugly carpet and some man somewhere will find that hot. So my jeans with bling on the back pockets aren’t any more scandalizing than an ugly carpet. It’s a matter of taste.
*The more that we put this crazy responsibility on women to stay “modest” so that men aren’t being torn apart having to look at all this beauty around them, the more we stress each other out to the point that some of us will eat our feelings to wrap ourselves in an ugly carpet of 60 extra pounds. It’s like the opposite of the “be skinny and perfect” craziness that magazines promote. Both are unrealistic.
*We need to quit worrying about what other people are wearing. If you have a friend who you love then it’s ok to bring it up if the subject comes up, but when it comes to strangers at Mass, mind yo business. You don’t know what that woman is going through, what her culture considers pretty or what war she is fighting in her head. Be glad that she is at Mass and keep your focus on God; you know the Person you are there to worship.
Body image is one place that the evil one attacks the most for a lot of women. We should be able to love and support each other as sisters instead of give each other stink eye for what we are wearing. And stop making public comments about how any other woman is dressed, anywhere, anytime. Because you do not know who is listening to you and might be struggling with this issue. Besides, that is gossip. Hate to break it to everyone, but it is. Even if it’s on Facebook in a private conversation or a secret group, it is still gossip. I know because I’ve had to confess it plenty of times.
Maybe someone at your parish doesn’t dress “modestly” in your opinion, but maybe she just trying to be pretty. Maybe she’s not trying to tempt all the men to lust after her. And maybe our problem with her is that we think she is pretty and deep down inside are kind of jealous of that. It is our duty to see the human being regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing.