Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Bikini Question: a Rebuttal

Recently, a post on modesty has been making the rounds. The article is simply the latest post to specifically target certain types of swimwear (namely, bikinis) as being objectively immodest, while also perpetuating a kind of false-modesty which operates under the premise that men need women to control their desires for them

The problem with the thoughts expressed in the article is that, though obviously and laudably well-intentioned, they’re not exactly in keeping with authentic Catholic teaching.
This rebuttal will attempt to explain true Catholic teaching on the subject of modesty, but before we go any further, two disclaimers:

 1)  In this post we will be operating under language and ideas which have been established in greater depth in a previous post on the subject, Modesty Once and For All. It’s not terribly long, but it is encouraged reading it if you don’t want to be confused. In addition, if you’d like to further familiarize or educate yourself regarding the theology presented in this post, check out two really excellent posts on purity at Bad Catholic Blog and Faith on the Couch.

 2) The information you’re about to discover is not widely popularized and is therefore likely to strike you as foreign. I’d encourage you to come at this post with prayer and open-mindedness. If you feel yourself becoming frustrated, feel free to take a step back, pray a little, and return to this post at a later date. The purpose of this article is not to educate you to true Catholic teaching overnight, but rather plant the seed for a greater knowledge of Catholic teaching to grow over a period of Holy Spirit-infused time.

Now, without further ado:

Lust and Attraction: the Same Thing?

Though the article does not specifically mention it, much of the information presented operates upon the findings of a widely popular study by Princeton University on men’s mental reactions to bikini-clad women.

The study showed images of women in various states of dress to 21 heterosexual undergraduates at Princeton University, each image being shown for only a fraction of a second. It was found that men tended to associate images of fully clothed women with third-person verbs (“She does”), but it also showed that men tended to associate images of bikini-clad women with first-person verbs (“I do”).
The conductors of the study concluded, based on the information presented, that men associated a personal sense of ownership with scantily-clad women and therefore were more likely to objectify them.
Now, as previously implied, the Church has a major theological problem with the conclusion of the study. Before we get into that, however, it’s worth pointing out some objective flaws with the study itself. A journalist friend of mine writes,

“The men in this survey were rated as hostile sexists in the test that determined who would be part of the study. These men, in the questionnaire before the study, said that [they believed] women are controlling and invaders of male space. 

[Also], these images did not picture the faces of the women. The heads were cropped off. If one is looking at an image with no face, one cannot make a human connection. When one views a sexualized, faceless body which is scantily-clad and in a seductive pose, it’s no surprise that one would view said body as sexualized. 

[Finally], the reactions of the men were sub-conscious rather than willed. A man, through use of his faculties, can will a proper, humanized response to such images. Humans are not animals. We have free will and use of reason.”

All of these are excellent points, particularly the third point that men have more power to control their impressions and responses than they’re often given credit for (more on that later).

However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that this study wasn’t flawed at all. Even if this were the case – and it’s not – the Church would still take major issue with the conclusion of the study. Why? Because the Church doesn’t view sexual attraction in the same way that the secular world does.

Basically, secular society wants you
to believe that all men are like this.
To a secular society, attraction and lust are the same thing. When a woman attempts to be attractive to a man (or vice versa), she’s also attempting to arouse lust. When a man becomes attracted to a woman, he’s lusting after her. The world sees lust and attraction as one and the same.

Therefore, when a study – however flawed – shows that a man is attracted to a woman wearing a bikini, the secular conclusion is that said man is lusting after said woman. With this lust comes a sense of ownership, a desire to possess, and a desire to objectify.

To the Church, however, lust and sexual attraction are two very different things. Lust, on the one hand, seeks to own, enslave, possess and objectify. It’s a warped and incomplete version of attraction which puts both the lusting and the lusted-after in the position of being tools or objects of use. Sexual attraction, on the other hand, is not only a necessity for any creature which reproduces sexually, it is also a divine call to serve.

See, when a man is attracted to a woman (or vice versa), it is his divine obligation to turn that attraction outwards and to use it as an impulse which leads him to serve her better; to communicate to her as best he can her dignity and worth as a child of God. This original purpose and point of attraction is strikingly different than the purpose and point of lust, hence the Church discriminates lust while openly endorsing attraction.

For this reason, when the data of the Princeton University study reports that men associate bikini-clad women with first person verbs (“I do”), the Church does not join the secular world in its conclusion that they’ve just discovered a biological predisposition for lust in men. 

Rather, the Church points back to its own understanding of the point of attraction, that is, a divine call to serve. Of course the men associated first person verbs with those women who they were more attracted to! When a man becomes attracted to a woman (and vice versa), his entire body signals him to love her, serve her, and communicate her dignity as a child of God back to her, all of which are calls to action on his part.

For this reason, a faithful Catholic has no reason to buy into the secular conclusions of the study (that bikinis innately lead men to lust and that men have a biological predisposition to lust).

Alright, but even if that’s true, aren’t bikinis still immodest?

Before I get into this question, I want to make something abundantly clear: this article is not to be taken strictly as a defense of the bikini. Rather, this article primarily seeks to further correct misunderstandings regarding the Church’s definition of modesty and dispel negative stereotypes regarding men and their chastity.

With this in mind, before we can speak to the supposed objective immodesty of bikinis, we have to explore what constitutes immodesty.

Pope John Paul II writes in Love and Responsibility that,

Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment… There are certain objective situations in which even total nudity of the body is not immodest, since the proper function of nakedness in this context is not to provoke a reaction to the person as an object for enjoyment, and in just the same way the functions of particular forms of attire may vary. Thus, the body may be partially bared for physical labor, for bathing, or for a medical examination. If then, we wish to pass a moral judgment on particular forms of dress we have to start from the particular functions which they serve. When a person uses such a form of dress in accordance with its objective function we cannot claim to see anything immodest in it, even if it involves partial nudity. Whereas the use of such a costume outside its proper context is immodest, and is inevitably felt to be so. For example, there is nothing immodest about the use of a bathing costume at a bathing place, but to wear it in the street or while out for a walk is contrary to the dictates of modesty.”

At this point, I understand if some of my readers may have to take a step back. This is pretty revolutionary thought!

First, immodesty has little to do with what is being worn and has everything to do with why it is being worn (intention) and where it is being worn (situation/environment).

Secondly, and perhaps more surprisingly, JPII is saying that immodesty cannot be present when an article of clothing is being worn in the way that it was created to be worn.
So, with this new and startling information in mind, we turn to the question of the objective immodesty (or lack thereof) of the bikini.

If worn with the intention of
arousing lust, even this stuff
is immodest.
Are bikinis immodest? Sometimes, if they’re worn in an inappropriate situation (church or the library are some particularly humorous examples) or if they’re worn with the intention of arousing lust. However, even when they are worn with the intention of arousing lust, they are no more immodest than any other article of clothing worn with the same intention.

Likewise, believe it or not, bikinis can sometimes also be completely modest, if they are worn in an appropriate venue (a beach, perhaps) and without the intention to arouse lust.
Therefore, to say that any article of clothing is objectively immodest is directly contrary to what the Church teaches regarding modesty, even if that article of clothing is the bikini.

What about men? Shouldn’t women help protect their men’s hearts against unchastity?

Ah, the old “let’s protect the opposite gender’s chastity for them” argument. Alright.
When we’re talking about sexual self-mastery, what we’re really talking about is the virtue of continence.

Pope John Paul II writes in the Theology of the Body,

“In order to reach mastery over this drive and arousal, the personal subject must devote himself or herself to a progressive education in self-control of the will, of sentiments, of emotions, which must be developed from the simplest gestures, in which it is relatively easy to put the inner decision into practice.” (128:1)

The journey to continence is one that each person must take largely on his or her own. Now, I understand this may sound harsh, but think of it this way:

If you wanted to get physically stronger, would you go around telling everyone else to stop working out so that you can look stronger by comparison? When lifting weights, would you lift five pounds at a time, once a month? Of course you wouldn’t. If you want to build up muscle, you have to work hard and not shy away from a challenge. Likewise, a man (or woman) cannot build spiritual muscle by hiding away or requiring everyone around him to dress in a way that directly supports his lifestyle.

To this argument, many people (including the writer of the original article) would argue that God “assigns to every woman the dignity of every man”. This is certainly true, and it’s a fair point. However, it isn’t conducive with protecting the dignity of men to cater or enable their sin. Allowing men to blame women for their lack of chastity, freeing themselves of responsibility, is not protecting a man’s dignity. It’s openly discriminating against a man’s dignity. To support the dignity of the human person is to encourage the human person towards spiritual and moral growth, but nobody grows if everyone’s constantly doing their work for them.

In a grander way, catering or enabling a man’s sin isn’t just discriminating against that man’s personal dignity, it’s discriminating against men everywhere.

Just one example of the truly terrible
theology that's out there.
As represented by the original article’s highly offensive chocolate cake metaphor, there exists a false stereotype which claims that men are, as a general rule, grimier, more carnal, and more predisposed to lust than any woman could ever be. The problem with this “chocolate cake” mindset, this “boys will be boys” mindset, this “Women should help men because men can’t help themselves” thought process is that it is damaging to the entire male gender. Sure, it might be a little easier for men to feign chastity if everyone around them is enabling and catering to their weakness. But in addition to stripping men of any moral responsibility, it also strips them of the nobility and well-deserved pride that comes with achieving continence for themselves. It forces men into a negative, self-hating stereotype which ensures that, no matter how much self-mastery they obtain, they will always feel gross or lecherous. On a personal note, I actually know of certain boys who have doubted their own masculinity when they don’t have major issues with lust, so potent is the stereotype that to be masculine is to be lustful. This is just one example which illustrates that negative stereotypes which belittle a gender – however well-intentioned – hurt everyone.

The darkest and most serious example of this is the fact that such “chocolate cake” mentalities directly contribute to rape culture. Think about it: telling a girl to avoid wearing a bikini to protect a man from lust is the same as telling a girl that, because she wore a bikini, she led a man into lust. And sadly, telling a girl that she led a man into lust because of the way she dressed is not a far cry from telling her that the way she dressed is what led a man to rape her.

Now this has all gotten very dark and heady, but hopefully by this point, you’ve discovered the seriousness of what we’re talking about.

To recap, saying that men everywhere have no choice but to struggle with unchastity is a false and hurtful stereotype. To say that women must take responsibility for men’s chastity puts unfair responsibility on women, absolves men of their own responsibility, and directly contributes to rape culture.

So what’s to be done? What’s the proper response?

The proper response is this: let’s all stop worrying about our wardrobes. Instead, let’s focus on modifying our entire culture with behaviors that directly combat unchastity.
Let’s reclaim attractiveness as a divine call to serve. Let’s remember it, own it, and be unafraid of it.

Women, love yourselves. Dress in a way that makes you feel dignified. If that’s a bikini, so be it. If it’s not, that’s also fine. As long as what you’re wearing is appropriate for the venue and is being worn with the genuinely holy motive of communicating your strength, worth, confidence, dignity and beauty to the world, more power to you.

Men, let’s start taking responsibility for our actions, thoughts, and desires. I promise you that you are capable of so much more than the culture tells you. I promise you that it is possible to become chaste relying on nothing but yourself and the Holy Spirit! I promise you that there is no greater feeling than being in the presence of a woman who may or may not be dressed immodestly and being able to look at her with nothing but love, chastity, and a desire to communicate her dignity to her in any way you can.

Isn’t this all just too idealistic? It is even possible to achieve such things?

Of course it’s idealistic! But isn’t all of Christianity? Isn’t the idea that you’ve been saved from sin by the Son of God dying on a cross and optimistic idea? Isn’t it utopian to spout off scriptures about “Peace on earth and good will towards men”? Of course it is, but we still believe and live those fundamental concepts of Christianity. Let us never sacrifice any aspect of Catholic teaching because it seems too good to be true.

Sure, we’re fallen. But, with God’s grace, we can achieve great things! We can be chaste, we can feel beautiful, we can be strong, and we can change our culture!


  1. I agree. I think your explanation of Modesty is spot-on. Yet in regards to the other article, as a man who has militantly struggled with lust in the past, I probably would have stated that all would've been easier if all the beautiful women around me would just dress a little...more. How could I make this happen short of wearing a sign on my chest that says, "Can't control sexual desires. Please refrain from arousing me with your skimpy dressed selves. Thank You."? Yet this obviously didn't happen. I had to do it on my own. The strength that I mustered to power through and regain my purity was my own (and God given of course). The path was difficult, but my own. If you can't handle the chocolate cake, look away, run away if you have to! Ultimately, the power of your own eye-lids is your own.

  2. I have to disagree, but only slightly. Although I will not go so far as to say that all bikinis are immodest, many are designed to arouse, even if the one wearing them does not intend to. John Paul talked about wearing bathing suits for the function of bathing, but one can bathe perfectly well with just a tad more fabric than a string bikini. In fact, if one is to, say, bathe in an ocean or jump in a pool, many of the "bathing suits" out there actually have a better chance of failing the wearer. They actually inhibit that function from happening with ease (ie. they fall off easily or the private parts of the body are accidentally exposed much much more easily). As a woman, I witness this happening to friends all the time. Most bikinis don't serve the purpose of bathing. Unless you are specifically laying down on a towel sunbathing. Some bikinis do serve the purpose of actual swim suits, but most today do not. I just don't think it's okay to use John Paul's nod to functionality as a sweeping acceptance of all bikinis. I think that is reading too much into John Paul that is not really there. When the first bikini was designed, normal fashion models refused to wear it. Not practicing Catholics or Christians, but regular models. Only a stripper agreed to wear it. Many of today's bikinis are much much less fabric than that. I think that should tell us something at least.

    1. It doesn't really tell us much, unfortunately, because at one point in history, women didn't wear pants and weren't allowed to show their ankles. Doesn't prove much. What's more, at the same time the first bikini was made, there were cultures that were wearing even less. There still are. Doesn't prove or disprove that bikinis are immodest. It has to do with our current culture. However immodest bikinis would have been when they were first invented, they are now commonplace. Knee-length skirts are now considered very modest and conservative – but it was not always so.

    2. It is very important to consider the time and culture. 25 years ago, lots of women were wearing stretch pants with nothing over them, these days, it's debated whether yoga pants are ok. And a couple hundred years ago, ball gowns had TIGHT, low tops, but ankles couldn't be shown.
      I used to think that bikinis were uncomfortable and wouldn't stay on, and then eventually I got one and it's so much nicer than a one-piece. Just tie it properly, it doesn't fall off. I play in the breakers all the time and it's not an issue.

  3. "To recap, saying that men everywhere have no choice but to struggle with unchastity is a false and hurtful stereotype. To say that women must take responsibility for men’s chastity puts unfair responsibility on women, absolves men of their own responsibility, and directly contributes to rape culture."

    This is a very dangerous and scandalous statement. Women today, as well as men, parents, or friends with friends, ALL have a moral obligation to not contribute to the sin of another individual. If good Catholic girls are aware of this, then they have a responsibility to make good choices in their dress, good intentions or not, at all times. It is a flawed argument that has also been used to defend nude beaches and it doesn't fly simply because of one reality: satan's ability to twist the Truth.

    It would be wise of you and charitable, knowing that your readers/followers and those who link your posts may be misled by your teachings and interpretations, to humbly research well your statements and check them with a theologian, or better yet a priest with a degree in at the very least, Moral Theology. Your writing is clear and logical, but is laced with false interpretations.

    It is a spiritual misnomer to proceed from the theory that building spiritual muscle must be developed only by subjecting yourself to the near occasion of sin. This is an excuse that helps us to maneuver through today's world. Yes, it is true that to be subjected to sinful opportunities allows us to grow in virtue, it is also true that we must proceed humbly and avoid the near occasion of sin at all costs, if possible. Total humility, as described by the saints, requires removal from lustful and other sinful opportunities, so as not to develop a false spiritual pride, a kind of "I can handle this, with the help of God" attitude. Rather, to be keenly aware of our inability (unworthiness) to handle anything and to cry out to God always for grace and help, is pleasing to Our Lord. The basic rule here is never speak in such as way as "I can handle this," but rather "God please help me for I am a sinner and cannot trust my sinfulness..." This is stated throughout the writings of many saints.

    Additionally, many holy, young priests are preaching quite clearly on this subject, and supporting the theory to ask women to dress modestly so as not to possibly arouse the priest or any man by their dress. I would venture to believe that the current young priests coming out of the rock solid seminaries have received good and clear instruction on this matter, and are qualified to preach in this way... by virtue of their vocational calling, their intellectual and spiritual formation, the authority granted to them by their bishops, strengthened by the grace of the priestly sacrament, and also their loyalty to the Magisterium.

    May the Lord bless your writing!

  4. "If you want to build up muscle, you have to work hard and not shy away from a challenge. Likewise, a man (or woman) cannot build spiritual muscle by hiding away or requiring everyone around him to dress in a way that directly supports his lifestyle. "

    Hm. OK. I see your point. Very well then, I'll begin a regular diet of watching porn, so as to strengthen my spiritual muscles to resist lust.

    I've just made a manifestly silly suggestion, I admit. But if watching lots of women in skimpy near-underwear is good for my self-control, then why wouldn't it be even BETTER for my self-control if they took off their tops? And taking off EVERYTHING would be even better.

    I'm sorry, but the original suggestion was manifestly silly, too, and the whole article sounds like a thinly veiled plea for pleasurable visual stimulation for men. It's out of sync with 2000 years of Church teaching on modesty, though it is very much in sync with modern feminism.

    Not buying it.

    1. But that's not what he's saying. The author isn't suggesting you go out and find occasions to sin. He's saying they're inevitable, so work at building resistance.

  5. Brilliant comment, humble servant. Hat's off to you.

  6. Sorry Holy Fool, but I'm going to have to disagree too. I find this post largely illogical.
    I don't think that the original post related to the Princeton study and I disagree with the authors evaluation of the study. Under his logic, the less clothes someone wears, the more "attractive" someone becomes. That's contradictory to the JP2 quote he mentions later (the one from Love and responsibility). I think he misinterprets this quote as well, playing too close to the letter of the quote and not enough to the spirit of it. But this one is minor and forgivable.
    And then the question about women helping men to remain pure in thought. He quotes JP2 in TOB (and has a random Morgan Freeman face...) to highlight the importance of a person being master over their senses, but it does not mention that others cannot help. The author then takes this to mean that others have no obligation to help. I am a firm believer in the “assigns to every woman the dignity of every man...” quote but the author seems to believe that this quote promotes enabling men and blaming lustful thoughts on women. I don't think that's true at all. And why can he use two JP2 quote but reject another? He compares the "chocolate cake" analogy with the thought that "women must help men because men cannot help themselves." This is not a fair comparison at all!
    In a final analysis, I think this author interpreted the original post as saying "women are solely responsible for men's thoughts" when really she doesn't say that at all. She says that men are ultimately responsible and women have an obligation to help. (it works vice versa too by the way). A good quote from her article that in a way summarizes her whole argument is this: "...guys should be able to control their imagination and look beyond our bodies. That’s true, they should control it. But it’s important for girls to help them as they try and do so." This doesn't take the blame off the guys at all. I wonder what the Holy Fool would say about that quote, but he doesn't quote her article at all in his rebuttal.
    Lastly, he's right. It is idealistic. I'm very idealistic myself. But I also know human nature. If everyone was Catholic and followed these things, then great! But I know not all women wear bikinis for the right reasons. Some women actually want to provoke lust in men (though they may not necessarily know it). I think the original post was largely aimed at these women, and the Holy Fool made a butchery of it to be honest. I also know that I am a man who believes all the Catholic Church teaches about purity and tries with all his might to see the dignity in every women as a sister in Christ regardless of what she is wearing. But I know that it is extremely difficult and I will gladly take any help I can get.
    Sorry for the extremely long comment but as someone who works at a pool 8 hours a day I experience all this stuff personally and its a topic in which I am very interested.
    God bless you.

  7. I think this post is misleading because it seems to take JPIIs words and twist them. He says, "When a person uses such a form of dress in accordance with its objective function we cannot claim to see anything immodest in it, even if it involves partial nudity." But I do think that he would find a problem with strippers wearing next to nothing at a strip joint even though it fulfills its purpose. Why? Its purpose is to excite. It is reasonable to expect that it will do so.
    He says, "There is nothing immodest about the use of a bathing costume at a bathing place" but does not say that all bathing apparel is equal. It makes sense that a bathing suit would not cover as much skin as normal clothing due to function. You wouldn't be able to swim very well. But a bikini does nothing to enhance the function of a one piece modest suit. In fact, in a lot of cases, it probably decreases the function b/c it is more liable to fall off. The purpose of a bikini is to show off your skin, just like the purpose of the clothing worn at strip joints. Mother Angelica spoke on this at one point, saying that you have no right to wear a bikini and it IS in fact a sin.

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    1. "But a bikini does nothing to enhance the function of a one piece modest suit."
      YES IT DOES. It serves the function of being able to use the ladies room without trying to peel off a wet one-piece!
      "In fact, in a lot of cases, it probably decreases the function b/c it is more liable to fall off."
      Not true. I've never had a bikini fall off in any way, but I have had a strap break on my one-piece, and if you're tall one-piece suits crawl.. ahem... toward the the center of your backside and upwards. This happens far, far more commonly than a bikini top coming off, it bares you backside and it's horribly uncomfortable.
      "The purpose of a bikini is to show off your skin, just like the purpose of the clothing worn at strip joints."
      No, it's not, the purpose of a bikini is to swim with out having nasty wet fabric wrapped around your middle.
      If I was wearing my bikini to get attention and "show-off" my skin, then why do I wear it at an empty beach by myself?
      I wear it because it's the most comfortable, sensible thing for me to swim in!

  8. So, I suppose, as long as our intention isn't to arouse lust, we can all just go completely nude? Sorry, but that's kinda the conclusion I'm reaching from this post.

    1. From reading some of the comments, I suspect a lot of people haven't traveled. I don't understand the logic. Because some stars or women use their breasts to promote sex then all bare breasts are sexual? There are places where ankles and knees are "immodest" but a woman will whip out her breast to feed her child without a covering and people don't stare or assume she's trying to "seduce". I have to thank this author for his godly post and the common sense and Grace in it. Body's are sexual. But they're not ONLY sexual. If you see ONLY see sexuality in women's breasts, legs, hair, shoulder mouth.... any body part really, then whoa. I'm sorry that that is what you were taught. Because it is taught. There are places around the world were a breast is taught to be a thing that gives food for children. Just like a mouth is for speaking, smiling, sharing kindness. Both those body parts can be used in sexual acts, but are not uniquely sexual.

    2. Yes. Say you got swarmed by bees. Removing your clothes because they're full of bees is totally appropriate.
      Say a person was going into shock and needed to be kept warm. You could take off your clothing if it would help them.
      Say a toddler is on the beach and takes on his or her clothes, there's nothing wrong or sexual about that!
      Say you live in a culture where public saunas or baths are normal. Nothing wrong with that. They don't view it as sexual.

  9. Belator Dei, graced001, and Therese: great points and good comments!

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. This article uses very twisted logic to justify bikinis using the Holy Father's words. There is no place that the Catholic Church says bikinis are okay and there are numerous times that She has condemned immodesty. What can be more immodest than a bikini?

    Sorry, but this article is absolutely false. Women are exhorted by the Church to dress and practice modesty AND men are exhorted to practice modesty in dress and custody of the eyes as well. It's a combined effort and one with a clear objective: the salvation of souls.

    1. 'What can be more immodest than a bikini?' Lots of things, I imagine. I always think that a one-piece suit reveals far more detail (and often highlights that detail, given that the fabric is tight, shiny, and eventually wet). After all, what does a bikini reveal that a one-piece does not? A bare stomach,and maybe a centimetre or two of the side of the torso, basically. Unless you are advocating a return to the 'modesty skirts' of years gone by, or the 'neck to knee' styles of earlier times, I really don't understand what the fuss about bikinis is compared to an ordinary suit. Or are the swim suits in the US very different from those here in Australia? Here, they are usually cut high on the hip, low over the chest, and backless. They are also very tight, usually or often all one colour, and made of a very clingy fabric. Bikinis, on the other hand, are often patterned (though not always) and may have ruffles, other details etc which tends to distract from the detail of the body it's covering. In Australia, where almost everyone lives within a few miles of the coast, and many of us have backyard pools, bikinis are 'standard' just as denim jeans are 'standard' - they're almost a 'non-statement'.

    2. Exactly, Sempre.
      As for what can be more immodest- any type of showing off is immodest. Wearing a bikini is not automatically showing off.
      Flaunting your wealth, try to get attention, etc, are more immodest than wearing a bikini unless you're wearing the bikini to try and get attention.

  12. Thanks so much for posting this! The "boys will be boys" mentality and "lust=attraction" fallacy ARE extremely dangerous in our society, and it's wonderful to see Catholics embracing and writing about the beautiful teachings of JPII on the Theology of the Body. I think we need to look out for each other as Catholics, but if someone is aroused in lust to the point of sin by the sight of a woman in a bathing suit (in the appropriate location, as your article points out) then I think the problem may run much deeper than an issue of modesty, and of course the issue lies not with the woman. Thank you again for your wise words!

  13. "But in addition to stripping men of any moral responsibility, it also strips them of the nobility and well-deserved pride that comes with achieving continence for themselves. It forces men into a negative, self-hating stereotype which ensures that, no matter how much self-mastery they obtain, they will always feel gross or lecherous."

    I wanted to jump up and cheer when I got to this part. Well said!

  14. Okay here's my problem with this. I don't think the Church is saying that clothes can't be objectively immodest. What if something was made for immoral reasons to be displayed in an inappropriate setting? I think we should look at why a bikini exists and then we'd have the answer to the question. But I do like this guys approach to the way we view modesty.

    1. Yes, the bikini was invented so that men could look at women in their underwear and decades later that is what all men get to do! A bikini is underwear, has anyone else noticed this? Putting it in different colors and hanging it in the swim suit section does not change the fact that it is better suited as underwear. So yes, it is objectively immodest, underwear has been quietly introduced as swimwear and many people bought into it. If a fashion designer introduced something that resembled a bra and began selling it as a shirt for women, would it then be perfectly fine and dignified to wear it to the corner store?

    2. Great comment, Michelle!

    3. Have you taken into account what underwear used to look like?

    4. Precisely, Magdalen! Look, Michelle, there can be no such thing as an 'objectively immodest' costume or piece of apparel. Such judgements must always be culturally and also to some extent individually based. Otherwise, you would be forced to say that, for example, the traditional costume of an Australian Indigenous woman must be immodest. They would traditionally wear a simple skirt of some kind but would be naked from the waist up. In white Australian culture, to walk around like that, even at the beach, would indeed be immodest. And usually when Aboriginal women perform their traditional dances they will cover up in deference to the modern Australian perception of what's appropriate. Not always, however: and when they don't, nobody (except perhaps sniggering schoolboys)thinks seeing their bare breasts is inappropriate, because it's only ever within that particular context. Now on many European beaches today, walking around topless is the norm and is not considered at all risque. How is that different? You may as well say that wearing no petticoat is immodest, because your great-grandmother would have thought so! Or showing your arms, or any part of your legs, especially without stockings. These are all cultural norms. When some migrants come to our country and insist on upholding the norms from their country of origin, many of us find this hard to deal with - because their belief is that a woman should not show her face in public at all! These are all cultural norms and not God's laws! When Jesus was on earth a modest woman covered her hair. When I was a little girl I was not allowed to enter a church without my head covered.

    5. Sure, it's all subjective! Michelle's comment was taking into account our subjective cultural norms. Yes, bikinis have become commonplace, but what I see as also commonplace is the idea that a woman must be sexually attractive/arousing in a bathing suit. Women I know who feel more comfortable covering up because of extra weight seem apologetic for the fact that (to their own estimation) they are not being sexually attractive in their bathing suits. How sad! In *our* culture, the only other items of clothing that resemble bikinis are a woman's undergarments, and women are almost universally embarrassed to be seen in them in *our* culture. In our culture, those items are sold for the sake of making a woman sexually attractive/arousing. Some bikinis are built for function, true. I've seen some sold in sporting-goods stores that are more like sports bras and shorts, and that do not appear to have the goal of being sexually arousing. But most do.

    6. "In *our* culture, the only other items of clothing that resemble bikinis are a woman's undergarments"
      Have you ever touched a bikini, or actually picked one up and looked at it? It's completely different from a bra, made of different fabric and constructed differently.
      " In our culture, those items are sold for the sake of making a woman sexually attractive/arousing."
      No, actually, they're sold to support women's breast,to make sure your nipples don't show through your clothes, for hygiene purposes, and to protect delicate skin from rougher clothing.
      I'd be embarrassed to be see in my underwear because it's for hygiene and support/shaping purposes, not for swimming.

  15. The "what" of an action is every bit as important as the intention and the circumstances. This is basic moral theology. Also, no reasonable critic of the bikini has ever laid blame at the woman for the choices of the man, which is why the whole rape thing is a silly critique. It's about the near occasion of sin. Which I notice is missing from your piece. I think I remember Christ saying something of causing others to sin...something about a mill stone...either way, he seemed to think it was blameworthy to lead someone to sin

    1. Wearing a bikini doesn't make anyone sin. Men lust after women (and women after men) no matter what they wear.

  16. I've never seen the words of JPII so polluted in order to make a favorable conclusion. I guess I can understand some of the objectives trying to be drawn, but I find the whole post totally theologically inaccurate. Won't be wasting any of my Catholic blog time at this site again.

  17. Error in your logic, HF: You haven't proven that bikinis are appropriate bathing wear.


    On the brownies: Me laying out a tray of freshly baked brownies on the table doesn't justify anyone stealing them from me. But I can hardly be upset if my guests ask, "That looks delicious -- may I have one?"

    And it is the height of rudeness to put a tray of hot-baked desserts in front of a friend you know is on a diet, and claim you're doing them a favor in letting them cultivate their self-control.

    The healthy-snacks equivalent in swimwear: Wearing a bathing suit that sends the message, "I'm here to swim, not to show off my tantalizing figure; my suit is not going to fall off when I dive in the water; and all the body parts reserved for my husband's sole enjoyment are duly covered."

    Public parts and private parts. Leave your spouse a few privileges, eh?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. But what defines public parts and private parts? How much is too much? Not all bikinis will fall off in the water. Some of my "modest" swimsuits have done things I wish they hadn't when I jumped in the water – it happens! Bikinis that fit right shouldn't be more susceptible to this.

      What HF said is no such an argument that you can't poke holes in it if you want to, but it's not a legal document. You have to read it without taking it as proposed law. Interpret it as a whole. The Holy Fool is preaching moderation when it comes to declarations on modesty – don't pick one aspect of it and beat the heck out of it. Realize that there's more to modesty than declaring war on clothes that show more skin than used to be allowed. I think that's the point here. I'm not sure he really set out to say: ALL GIRLS SHOULD WEAR BIKINIS BECAUSE THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY APPROPRIATE SWIMWEAR. That's what I got.

    3. I don't know what bikinis look like in your part of the world, Jennifer, but where I come from, bikinis cover the private parts and the breasts. The only part of the body exposed in a bikini that is not exposed in a swimsuit is the stomach.

    4. I don't see why my stomach has to be private. We've all got one, people.
      Besides, I'm not inviting a friend over to to my house and wearing a bikini. I am wearing a bikini at a beach, where it's normal to wear a bikini. If my friend has a problem with bikinis maybe he should not go where he will be surrounded by women in bikinis.
      So this isn't like putting brownies in front of a friend on a diet, this is like a friend going to a buffet and telling them they should put the food away because it's tempting him.

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  19. I wanted to like this post but in the end I agree with the majority of the above comments. The author takes some truths and uses it to present flawed logic. All bathing suits are not created equal. Also, it is our job to help others avoid sin. I feel this article uses to many all or nothing scenarios. No, women are not solely responsible for a mans thoughts, but we don't need to run around half dressed and then dare them to look.

    1. I don't think that was the point, however. HF wasn't eliminating that responsibility, nor endorsing it. No extremes here: moderation.

  20. I'm realizing that this concept really has to be thought through. Rereading this a couple times, I stumble against a statement here or there that seems believable but bizarre. What ends up happening is I come up with a perfect example in my mind to disprove it, but end up proving your point before I've finished working it out in my mind.

    HF, I think your transitions from one thought to the next and the way you build your arguments could be stronger and clearer, but I really enjoyed reading this. Most people go to extremes when they think about modesty and this really reminds us to relax and just simply be modest. Girls know when they're dressing to draw the wrong kind of attention – it could be a whole lot simpler than all the rules.

    (I just have to add – yes, we have a responsibility for our fellow man, but we can't dress like every man we meet has a problem. So I challenge, how far do we have to go to make sure men aren't tempted? What's the standard?)

    Ugh, sorry, this isn't MY blog.... I'll let you do the writing. :)

    1. "(I just have to add – yes, we have a responsibility for our fellow man, but we can't dress like every man we meet has a problem. So I challenge, how far do we have to go to make sure men aren't tempted? What's the standard?)"

      This is true, and a good question. Magdalen, you also said in the paragraph just above this question, "Girls know when they're dressing to draw the wrong kind of attention – it could be a whole lot simpler than all the rules."

      I think you have disproved your own point. Girls (today) do NOT know when they're dressing to draw the wrong kind of attention. Thus you asked the question, "What's the standard?"

      I'm venturing to guess that you are young, perhaps 20-30. It's safe to say that many people today, even those who are well-formed Catholic youth, have a watered down perspective of modesty, influenced by the continuous images around them.

      Anyone's feminine standard, no matter what the cultural norms are for dressing, could and should be our glorious Mother, herself, the Blessed Mother. Does this mean, that because culturally during her time, no woman wore anything above their ankle, that women today should also dress covered from head to toe? No, commmon sense tells us better. However, listen to and watch the men today - they are no different than those men from the beginning of human creation. Watch their reactions, and mostly their eyes. Then, dress sensibly and modestly.

      Modestly comes from within - a deep love and desire to please Jesus. A desire to shadow ourselves out of love, in this material and most fallen temporal world, will be contrasted when we are later revealed in our glorified state in heaven.

    2. I'm sorry, I don't see the connection between my two statements. It has been my observation that girls DO know when they're dressing to intentionally draw the wrong kind of attention, they just haven't been taught to pay attention to that feeling or have been taught (one way or another) to indulge it. Or they may not have been taught that there is a wrong kind of attention.

      I'm not saying that girls know that wearing a bikini to go walking down the street is not really appropriate; some of them may not see anything wrong with that, surely. I'm saying that they know their intentions.

      But how much they know this will depend on what kind of community they grew up in, I admit. So it's important for girls to understand that there is a time and place; and there is a sort of "dress code" in every situation.

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  22. Whilst I agree with the writer of this article regarding the difference between lust and sexual attraction I find the argument about the bikini particularly weak, especially in regards to the JP II´s words.

    The question isn´t whether weather a bikini is "immodest" and "sinful" the question that should be asked is whether a bikini is EDIFYING for the Church and for those observing by a beach or pool, both very public places. The answer to this question is obviously a resounding no and it takes some very twisted reasoning to conclude otherwise.

    1. Forgive me for being ignorant, please explain. How is it obvious? And how is a more "modest" swimsuit EDIFYING for the Church and for others?

    2. Hi Magdalen. Well, it´s quite obvious that in no public situation in our society -where there are men/teenage boys around- is taking off 95% of your clothing at all appropriate for a Christian woman.

      The point I was getting at about EDIFYING is that the question shouldn´t be whether it is allowed or not etc. but instead Christian women should ask themselves, and pray, whether by taking 95% of your clothes off are they contributing to a purer society? Are you building up respect for the woman´s body? Are you assisting those who struggle with impurity of thought that will inevitably see them? Is the Lord calling them to wear a bikini? I think these are better questions to ask rather than is something wrong or not.

    3. It seems to me that bikinis are appropriate at a beach, since it is normal and commonplace. So "quite obvious" must mean, in your estimation. Otherwise I'm quite unable to recreate your logical train of thought. According to your arguments, it would be perfectly logical to conclude, then, that it is better not to go to a public beach at all, since all swimsuits show off. Which I don't think you are promoting, but it seems logical, if we take the arguments you presented me to be true.

      A girl's behavior and her respect for her own body are what make a difference when contributing to a purer society. I hope I'm not presumptuous in assuming that you would agree with that. Where we disagree, I think, is how her respect for her body affects her clothing decisions. You would say that it would turn her away from bikinis; I would not make that connection. Your conclusion assumes that bikinis rob her of that dignity and respect. But how so? By showing too much? But how much is too much? What or who determines how much skin can be exposed before she loses her respect? And why does her own skin cost her her own dignity? She loses her dignity when she loses her self-respect.

      HF's argument, if I understood correctly, is that there are situations where bare skin is appropriate. I would say that the beach is an appropriate venue for bikinis. Modesty does not consist of people telling girls that they might be a temptation to people who have fallen into sin unless they're very, very careful; but rather, of girls being modest in their behavior and boys knowing their limitations. And vice versa. Girls can't know what particular area of skin or style of dress is particularly tempting from boy to boy, and boys can’t know the same from girl to girl. But they can know what form of dress is expected in a situation.

      And also, I'm a girl; and all I know is – I need help controlling my imagination. It's not something I like to talk about, it's not something I like to think about – seriously; guys are not the only ones who have those issues. I resent the image of guys as uncontrollable animals, because that would make me one as well. But, although it's tough sometimes, I can control my imagination, and anything that comes into my head unbidden is mainly because of what I've fed it and where I've allowed it to go before. I'd like men to be dressed appropriately and to act appropriately (but then you have to figure out what is "appropriate") to minimize the risk, but... my imagination is my own fault. I'm not an animal; I'm a rational being with the ability to direct my mind. Those who want to do those things, will; those who don't, won't. Temptation is inevitable, and comes sometimes even when there's no apparent cause. But it seems as though most young men don't say, "I find bikinis an extremely hard temptation to resist;" if they are against bikinis, they usually say, "Bikinis are an occasion of sin for some men."

      Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to me seeing your point of view is your own arguments. You don't build up your arguments, you simply say, "OBVIOUSLY," and if it was obvious, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

      But God bless you! I really respect the way you approach controversial issues, even though I disagree with the conclusions you've made. I’m sorry if reading this was tedious.

  23. I love this and agree with you entirely. People should practice custody of the eyes or stay off of the beach if they are bothered by what other people wear. :)

  24. Bikinis come in all shapes and sizes, from "dental floss" Brazilian-style bikinis to athletic Tyr-style two piece bathing suits.

    Most women, I suspect, who choose to wear a two-piece, wear something that falls somewhere in the middle of that continuum, and they're so ubiquitous that I don't think the average man looks twice anymore.

    It also seems to me that the women who shriek the loudest over this issue are the ones who have, to put it delicately, let themselves go. IMO, what they're really upset about is that other women look better around their husbands/boyfriends.

    They're the ones blaming the bikini-clad girls and the weak-minded men, but I think they bear some responsibility over this issue, too.

    Finally, men who are apt to wander, whether it's only with their eyes or a full affair, are apt to do so regardless of what anyone's wearing, and women who crave male attention 24/7 will find ways to get it regardless of what they're wearing. it's not just modesty and clothes. The most modestly dressed woman can be very good at sending out overtly sexual vibes to the men around her. And there's reverse-modesty call for attention by drawing attention to oneself by making a big show about one's modest attire ("Look at me! I realize I'm such a hottie that I'm a total temptation to men, so I'm going to wear THIS! Check me out on my blog wearing THIS because it's so modest, come on, look at me being modest in my modest dress/twin-set/veil/whatever!")

  25. The editor of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour Smith, has said , "A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you." She is a global force in terms of women's fashion and trends. She is a woman stating this. I do not think she is trying to promote 'divine obligation to turn attraction outwards' for a greater good. I appreciate many of your points, but I am not sure that you are not being naive as to why women wear today's version of bikinis (string and swatches) or the thinking that goes in to the design and marketing of clothing such as bikinis or the mindset behind common comments such as "Whoa! That woman should NOT be wearing a bikini!" I also think that a piece of clothing such as the bikini is also a way women try to gain or exert power over not only men but other women.

    By the way, I am a woman writing this.

    1. Totally agree that women dress more for other women than they do for men. I also think women obsess over this "modesty" thing more than men do, and I honestly do think it's more out of fear their own husbands/boyfriends will find the other woman more attractive.

      I asked my husband about this and he said, sure, he looks at attractive women, but it's really very fleeting. Women are the ones who see a very attractive woman and obsess over it -- they compare themselves, they dwell on scenarios they've created in their own minds where their husbands/bfs are lusting after her, etc.

  26. Isn't there an element of charity here? I feel sorry for men in today's culture when custody of the eyes requires putting a bag over their heads.

    My definition of immodest clothing is items that would draw the attention of most people (male or female) to parts of the body associated with sex. If a woman's breasts and buttocks are hanging out, where do you think most people's eyes are drawn? If a man is wearing no shirt and a waistband that barely covers the crotch or skin tight pants or a bathing suit that outline his privates, where are the eyes drawn? The intention of the person can make the act sinful or not, but it in no way affects the objective standard of modesty.

    You seem also to forget that modesty is the guardian of chastity. I think fathers who allow their daughters to wear provocative clothing are derelict in their duties. Most girls don't understand the difference in sexual arousal between men and women and can be a source of temptation without even realizing it.

    I wonder what you think of the "Juicy Couture" line of clothing for little girls.

    1. Exposing those areas is in no way appropriate as you're walking around. On the contrary! But this definition of modesty that HF has presented in no way encourages such behavior. And realize that what constitutes as areas of the body that are associated with sex has not and IS not always limited to the areas you mentioned.

      I'm unable to agree or disagree with your opinion on the "Juicy Couture" line of clothing for little girls because I don't know what your complaint is, but I'd be interested to find out.

    2. I agree that sexualizing little girls (or boys, but that's pretty rare) is an ugly business, whether it's Juicy Couture playclothes or full-on Tiaras and Toddlers regalia. However, I think this is just as bad:

      I've seen the same modesty police mommies, however, praise this inappropriate toy.

      Let kids be kids. Put them in practical playclothes and let them use their imaginations. No need to sexualize, politicize, agendize, whatever-ize your kids.

    3. Bad example :) Breasts are only sexual if you forget why women have them - to feed their children. Our culture's insane fixation on them is what is wrong, but we can choose not to buy into it. There is nothing wrong with a toy that points out the normal function of mammary glands, and everything wrong with thinking it is perverted.

    4. There is no objective standard of modesty, that's why concepts of modesty are so vastly different from culture to culture and throughout history.
      A lot of bikinis show less cleavage than a one-piece, and ride up less in the back.

  27. I really like your post.

    I believe that 'jealousy'. 'pride' etc..are sinns more related to this issue than 'lust', at this moment in time anyway

  28. Why did bold the word "hostile"?

  29. I'm late to the party, but thanks for posting this. Other than nitpicks, I think you captured a lot of authentic Catholic teaching.

  30. What about all the guys who have no interest in controlling themselves oggling at women at the beach/pool?

  31. The author is very wrong on several points:

    First, JPII said "bathing costume", not specifically bikinis, and the point he was getting across is that there is appropriate dress for many different states of life and times in life. A wealthy businessman shouldn't dress like a blue collar worker. A priest like a layperson. A person shouldn't dress for Church like he might for a movie night. For work in a professional situation like for at home, Etc. But, nothing here speaks to as to whether something is immodest by degree instead of kind. For example, by your logic a woman could wear just little stars on her nipples and a G-string to the beach as long as she didn't intend to incite lust. That is ridiculous! On the beach one should dress as modestly as is reasonable while not being inhibiting the activity that is being engaged in. How is that approach not reasonable?

    Second, Sure a bikini is not "objectively" immodest in the sense you are talking about. You are correct that sometimes a person needs to be completely naked, for instance in a medical checkup. But the guiding criteria here is "Necessity" and "Proportionality". It is necessary to show more of oneself for a medical exam, as it is a serious health tool. There needs to be proportionality to it as well, you don't go naked for a dental checkup. Whereas on the beach there is a certain necessity for wearing less than normal, but you can't make the case that bikinis are necessary, can you? Also, recreation is not a very serious reason to show skin and thus it could justify a modest one piece at best, definitely not a bikini or God forbid a micro-bikini, where is the proportionality in that?

    Third, You say that men should take control over their carnal desires, great, I agree with you. But nobody should be putting anyone in a "near occasion of sin". That is what a woman who dresses immodestly around the average man puts him in. That is simply contrary to Charity and is sinful. Now of course if there is a high enough degree of necessity and due proportionality, that is a different case, but not otherwise.

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