MCFARLAND -- When talking about modesty, it is important to note that the body is not a bad thing, said Christine King, the founder of "Pure Freedom."
Rather, when we keep our bodies modest -- both in fashion and body language -- we can draw people to ourselves through a focal point that highlights our dignity and value as human beings.
King, a chastity and abstinence speaker from Neenah, Wis., spoke on November 12 to a small group of mostly parents -- many of them mothers, but also a few fathers -- at an event held at Christ the King Parish, McFarland, and sponsored by the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.
After the talk, the middle school youth in the religious education classes joined the group to view a fashion show presented by parish high school youth that featured modest fashions for young men and women.
Aesthetics of sight
In her talk, King explained that, in order to understand modesty, we have to understand how we interact through the world and how we discover the Truth through our senses -- primarily, through sight.
"There is a greater responsibility on women's shoulders -- fair or not fair," King said. "Women have a great part of this, because we're the keepers of modesty."
Men and women have different perceptions of the world, she said. God created men to have a greater connection to the visual aesthetic; in their wiring, they are drawn to the feminine.
"The flesh is weak," King said, quoting from the Scriptures. "It doesn't mean that the flesh is bad -- it's that He understood there would be this pull.
"God created us, body and soul. But it is our intellect, our will, our properly formed conscience, that has to keep this spiritually ordered for us," she said.
When we talk about modesty, we're not talking about hiding our bodies away, she said. Rather, the key is to keep it ordered.
"We're drawn to attractiveness," King said. "And we want to draw people to ourselves, but just to a different focal point, in a different way."
As an example, she pointed out the obsession many fashion designers have with baring the midriff on women. It's a natural draw -- it's a part of the body that is uniquely feminine, she said. But in a similar way as we keep a veil before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, keeping things covered that we want to denote a mystery, of value, we should keep the midriff veiled.
Seeing us for who we are
"It's not about the body being a bad thing; especially because, I feel, it's a good thing men find women attractive," King said. "What we need to do is keep it ordered for them."
The key, especially when talking with youth, is to not make it something that makes them stick out in a bad way. When we are first introduced to people, we create in our minds an image of who this person is, based on how they look and how they are dressed.
"If, in their first impressions, they feel they are perceived as someone who can't be related to, that they aren't even being given a chance, they feel as though others can't see them as who they are," she said.
"The biggest part is to tap into the truth that they are a witness to something bigger than the aesthetic," King said. "If they want anyone to see there's something more inside them, they have to give that person something more than the exterior."
It is important to set guidelines early, King said. One of the many things she has discovered over the course of raising her seven children is to never even start with two-piece swimsuits; layering can be a very "in" look; and to require belt loops on jeans -- if it has belt loops (and a belt) it can't be worn too low.
"There are certain things we can do as parents," King said, though she admitted that, at some point, no matter what you buy for the wardrobe, kids can still put clothes in their backpack and change at school.
"The important thing is, we need to understand it," she said. "If we don't know why we're starting this up in the first place, it'll be hard to stay true to it."
As well, she said that it is important to talk about it with your children and to build habits of talking about it. She said that she and her husband frequently make comments about characters' dress in television and movies: "What a shame that she's dressed like that."
"We need to say things, and to say it in a loving way," King said. "Put out there what you see, help them get a picture of what they're going to see as they work their way up in the world."
One suggestion is to put articles or magazines on a bulletin board or in the bathroom, where children or young people can read it with no parental pressure.
"They're not going to 'totally love this,'" King said. "But we have to find ways in our dialogue to help them find why they want to want this."