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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Modesty Pyramid

I apologize for not posting yesterday as I had promised. We decided to put up our Christmas lights (although we won't turn them on until the Big Day) and clean up the front of the house, which was beginning to look like we were having some kind of permanent yard sale. In front of the house was a wicker trunk, a big plastic jug of coolant, a big plastic jug of windshield wiper cleaner, some half burned candles (left over from Halloween!), two different sizes of outdoor grill, a really large wooden picture frame, a bucket of cement with a big yellow pole in it that was used for display purposes at the church picnic and someone borrowed for a craft fair and returned again.

One wouldn't want to light all that up on Christmas Day.

Speaking of cleaning, here was the question we wanted to tackle:
If a woman chooses to dress in a tank top and skimpy shorts for her own sake, and not to tempt someone into sin (although it seems women have been tempting men into sin since the days of Eve, the poor lambs), and a man is then prompted into sinful thoughts, is it still a sin on the woman's part? Should women be required to dress modestly so as to not inadvertently cause men to have sinful thoughts?

The simple answer is "yes", although it has always bothered me that Eve gets so much blame, as though men never tempt women to sin. Would a woman even think to dress in a tank top and skimpy shorts for her own sake? Perhaps if the temperature was a hundred and three.

So I came up with this pyramid. It takes us from one extreme to the other and it is colored coded like our Terror Alert System. I hope it functions better than our Terror Alert System. What am I supposed to do, exactly, during Terror Level Orange? I already have duct tape.

I digress.

At the bottom of the pyramid is the useful, if unpleasant, word SLUT. This would be attire that has in mind only one thing, to seduce. Obviously we wish to avoid the bottom of the pyramid all together as when we linger there we are into double sin territory, as you are responsible for the sins you cause in others.

This applies to men, too! Once you've oiled yourself up for a magazine cover, you've landed at the bottom of the pyramid.

Next we have inappropriate dress. By this I mean when you show up at work with a low cut blouse and a mini skirt, or stroll through the supermarket (as a reader suggested) in your teeny bikini. The teeny bikini, even on the beach, may land you back at the bottom of the pyramid.
Remember this song?
"It was an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini That she wore for the first time today. An isty bitsy teen weeny yellow polka dot bikini So in the water she wanted to stay."

Good move, dear.

We move up the pyramid to BAD TASTE. This is a tricky one. As the saying goes, there is no accounting for taste. But one can be aware that everything that is written on a T-shirt is not an adage for public comsumption, or appropriate for your child to see or wear. One would hope men and women might get a clue that some clothing that is considered fashionable does not fit on a body fueled by Taco Bell. Bad Taste is further up the pyramid, because it is possible that it is not intentional.

Don't kid yourself into thinking that all Bad Taste is unintentional. I would be willing to bet (which is not a sin) that Paris Hilton does not wash her car on her hands and knees while eating a hamburger. We are literally back to square one.

Next, in light green, is dressing in a way that is attractive. Men and women are meant to find each other attractive. We don't have to live at the top of the pyramid. We want to look beautiful and handsome at the prom. We want to accentuate the positive, as the song says. Just don't accentuate yourself back to the bottom of the pyramid.

Modest dress is in green. Everyone looks good in longer sleeves, even if you have great biceps. Low heels are better for your spine. Shifts are very comfortable and often have those useful giant pockets.

Then we cross over the line to covering up so much as to look dowdy, until only our hands and faces show. The Amish and the Mormons. If you want to dress like that all the time, just become a nun already.

In the end we've become so paranoid about inappropriate thoughts and sinning that we can't even show our faces, walking around like a human tank make of cloth, a walking pile of fabric.

I hope this is helpful. Common sense would be helpful, too.


Sarah - Kala said...

It was worth the wait!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sister,
Thanks for your chart. I'll print it up and put in in my closet. I have a question about cats. I know they can't go to heaven but is it possible for them to be posessed demonically? I think my tiny kitten is. His eyes glow and he seems determined to eat the very flesh off my bones with his biting. If he is posessed, what can I do? Would filling my bad kitty spray bottle with holy water help?
St. Francis, pray for us

Anonymous said...

Are these things not also a matter of familiarity?

I've heard that in some Arab countries, store mannequins have been criticised for being too sexy -- although I have wondered myself if nipples on the men are strictly necessary (much like the real thing) -- but in the West we are much more used to these things.

When Britney Spears is all over the tabloids, nobody blinks an eye at a dummy in a clothing store.
In the 60s, mini skirts were considered obscenely short -- today we would think the same length quite conservative.

Familairity breeds contempt; things get boring, and slutty can stop becoming interesting for the ready to sin.

Anonymous said...

Sister Mary Martha,

Thank you so much for making Catholic Religious Education entertaining. Our family has learned so much from your blog. I will keep your pyramid handy for future reference when my children hit the teen years.

:) Tami

Anonymous said...

Oh come now, let's not feel too bad for Eve! She not only tempted Adam into sin, making her own sin worse, but she is responsible for our loss of paradise and why we are born into sin.

If it wasn't for old weak-willed Eve, we could all still be living in Eden.

It's all there in black & white.

Jennifer said...

I really like the pyramid- thanks for sharing- now the only worry is deciding where exactly what I wear fits on the pyramid. I think I'm OK now, but maybe what I wore in highschool would put me in orange...

Maggie said...

Great post, Sister! I use a similar method- when I'm dressing, I think, "am I well-covered enough to go to Mass or pray before the Blessed Sacrament without being disrespectful?" This usually translates into: shoulders & back covered (even if I have to bring along a cardigan or a shawl) and nothing too tight. It's a pretty easy litmus test.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

HEEEEYYYY!!! That was awesome. Can I steal it for my blog (I'll give you credit, of course!)?

Sister Mary Martha said...

Of course you can. Most people don't bother to ask.

Anonymous said...

Are Mormons really more dowdy than the Amish?

Anonymous said...

About the Eve comment -- a very conservative priest gave a homily on the Immaculate Conception at my kid's high school that challenged the whole 'blaming Eve' thing. He said that Adam actually shared more blame, because he failed to protect Eve from the evil presence of the serpent. If Adam was doing his job, protecting his wife, the serpent wouldn't have been there. Further, when Adam was confronted by God, did he say, "Yes, I sinned." and take his punishment like a man? No, he blamed Eve. The priest was pretty tough on him.

Not saying I agree with it all, I'm just telling a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

That might be an unfair slam at the Mormons. The fundamentalist Mormans do dress like Little House on the Prairie. But the normal ones dress just about like every other modest woman I know. Plus, they make mighty good neighbors.

Anonymous said...

OK, Raoul Duke, except look what it took for Eve to be tempted: the freakishly supernatural chatting up of a serpent, who just happened to be the devil himself. What did Adam succumb to? Another creature, a plain ol' human, just like himself. Who was weaker?

But the pyramid? Since the Amish consider buttons vain - and Mormons don't - shouldn't they be switched? After all, I can't imagine an Amish family prancing around onstage like the Osmonds. Compared to Amish, Mormons are downright flashy.


Anonymous said...

Now Sister,
I have to take issue with your choice of "mormon" on the second tier of your pyramid. First, I've had some jack Mormon relatives that well.... modesty wasn't necessarily a strong point for them, or for that matter, any of Joseph Smith's revelation in the Word of Wisdom. (A jack Mormon is a bad mormon i.e. drinkers, smokers, hiding the coffee pot when the home teachers visit etc.)

Second, it isn't Mormons (LDS) who wear the modern prairie garb that we saw during all those newsworthy tidbits this past year. Salt Lake City wants nothing to do with those FLDS polygamists down in Texas. Mainstream Mormon's aren't any more modest than say, your Methodist neighbors down the street.

But, I wish I had a similiar visual teaching device when my 17 year old daughter left the house this morning. Unfortunately she was dressed somewhere between the sixth and seventh lower tiers of the pyramid.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sister! We are having a HUGE snow storm here and as I watch all the "NO Sunday service" announcements for the Lutheran churches I can't help but see that they are all named after Saints. Aren't all saints considered to be "Catholic" Saints? And if so why do the Lutherans honor them enough to name their churches after them, but not enough to put stock in the church from which they came?

Thanks Sister!

Anonymous said...


After having 7 kids, and carrying around middle-age weight, I'd be glad to look attractive in anything!

Raoul: If Eve had not sinned the VASTLY BETTER thing of the Incarnation would not have happened. It more than makes up for the sins of our first parents, and even allowed them to go to Heaven! My kids sometimes complain about Adam and Eve. I tell them, we should just get over it and focus on the one person's sins we can control--our own.


Anonymous said...

Martha: You are RIGHT ON wrt Raoul! The Eucharist is a much better deal than the Garden of Eden.

And to all, don't be too tough on Sr. Mary Martha wrt her pyramid. Sometimes nuns go and make things up. The whole concept is sound, after all.

Jen said...

I love this--so much truth, but put in such a witty manner. Thanks for stopping by my blog!
God bless

Anonymous said...

love the chart! I aim for the top end of the attractive bar. Anonymous - I think it's time to go through the daughters closed and let her know which items are allowed in the house and confiscate the rest!

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly disagree the Incarnation is better than living in the paradise God intended us to. I think we can try to defend Eve all we want, but there is no escaping we are all born into sin because of her actions.

I consider it almost blasphemous to encourage alternate readings that try to shift -- there is a definite path to temptation and sin in trying to excuse the actions of people the bible tells us clearly were in the wrong. Was it Lot's responsibility to protect his wife?

It is without debate that modern men are the causes of war and greed and more than encourage women into sin -- but it's God's own word that tells us we had our paradise, and Eve was weak. We should bear this in mind -- the pain of childbirth is God's punishment for Eve's sin (Genesis 3:16).

Little Mary said...

"His eyes glow and he seems determined to eat the very flesh off my bones with his biting." Since no one responded to this comment about the kitten, I will. As a person who has had many cats over my lifetime, I think your kitten is teething and may just not be the right cat for you. All cats eyes glow. We had one kitten who bit a lot including my little children's toes when they were lying in bed, plus knocked over the garbage and climbed the curtains EVERY day. Nothing worked to stop her from being so wild until we put her outside. She has lived as a happy barn cat for the past 11 years. She doesn't bite people, she likes to be petted, but not picked up by anyone but my one daughter. I have found some cats just have different personalities and needs. Hope this helps.

American Niqabi said...

"In the end we've become so paranoid about inappropriate thoughts and sinning that we can't even show our faces, walking around like a human tank make of cloth, a walking pile of fabric."
I take offense to this. I don't wear my niqab/burka because I"m so paranoid. I do it because it pleases Allah, because it is a symbol of Islam, and because I love the confidence it gives me. Before I began wearing it, I was paranoid about every little zit, every pound that I gained or lost, etc. Now, I feel more free because I don't have to worry about all of that. Please do your research about what a burka/niqab means before posting about it.