April 2, 2005
| I was recently reflecting on what
it was that made me so interested
in modesty over the past few years.
To know me you would know that there
were quite a few years in which
I could be categorized as a "hoochi
mama." "Hoochi mama"
is a term I picked up from my little
brother who uses it to refer to
girls who dress a bit on the skimpy
side. As a teenager I never had
a figure that I was terribly comfortable
with, but in my early twenties I
finally had a body that I was willing
to show off, and accordingly, did.
Then I had a wake-up call.
I was talking
with a male friend who on a beautiful
May day confessed how much he dreaded
Spring. "How on earth could
you not love Spring?" I asked.
He replied that as a woman I could
not understand what it was like
to be a man who, after months of
winter's imposed modesty, was suddenly
bombarded with so much female flesh!
This was no ordinary guy but rather
a nice Catholic boy who made every
effort not to objectify women. "I
have to spend all of Spring and
Summer with my eyes on the concrete.
It's horrible!" he told me.
Sitting there in my micro mini skirt
and noticing for the first time
how his eyes darted from mine to
the pavement, I felt terrible. All
that time I had thought that being
"liberated" meant that
I could wear whatever I wanted when
it really meant that I was being
inconsiderate to those around me.
My turn to modesty had begun.
I now resolved
to change. But, I found, that can
often be difficult. Despite being
a "hoochi mama," I was
still one of the more reserved women
that I knew. Was that enough? Were
there not some kind of guidelines
for decent dress that I could simply
follow? Growing up in a Catholic
girl's school, we had to wear skirts
that were long enough so that when
Mrs. Moses ordered us to kneel,
our hems would brush the floor.
Now that was a rule, clear and simple.
But there were no such rules now.
Besides, it was virtually impossible
at the time to find a skirt that
came anywhere near that length!
So in contemplating its practical
applications, I found I had to further
contemplate a philosophical understanding
I began to
realize that in my "hoochi
mama" days, instead of showing
off my cool new figure, I was actually
degrading it by making it so easily
accessible to any viewer. Despite
some of the protests of my friends,
I began to realize that modesty
is not about sexual shame or a negative
attitude toward the body; instead
it is very much pro-body and pro-woman.
I learned was that the word modesty,
in its origin, simply means "to
moderate." When St. Thomas
Aquinas deals with modesty in the
Summa Theologiae he links
it to the virtue of prudence. Between
moderation and prudence, we can
thus understand better how to deal
with modesty in this day and age
where there are so few guidelines
concerning dress. To me, applying
moderation to this concept means
that on the sliding scale of today's
fashions the modest girl will land
somewhere in between the prude and
But there is
a small problem with this handy
ruler. To be somewhere in the middle
of the sliding scale of today's
fashions can still be pretty, well,
hoochi mama! In fact, that is where
I already was when I started this
journey. And like I said, I was
one of the more conservatively dressed
girls I knew.
led me to see that this immodesty
in our culture, was only the tip
of the iceberg. This was not just
a fashion issue, but a much deeper
problem with our current age.
of the sixties and seventies were
encouraged to take on a more male
nature, they abandoned and, in some
cases, suppressed the beauty of
female nature. By nature I don't
mean the body per se, but rather
what is greatest about women: things
like compassion, fidelity, warmth,
and a capacity to nurture. But today
we are to suppress all these virtues,
and be feminine in body only.
The Demi Moore
character in the movie "Disclosure"
is a great example of this new model,
a creature with the heart and head
of a man but the body of a woman,
which she is glad to use.
I think that
understanding and cultivating these
lost feminine virtues can help us
in our quest to act and dress better.
Like most virtues, modesty has to
be informed by other, greater virtues
or we run the risk of going overboard—or
slipping back into our hoochi mama
days. Yes, dressing differently
is a good start in reacquiring other
beautiful and necessary feminine
But this cuts
both ways. In order to be modest,
we need to work on a few of those
other virtues at the same time.
This is what was so interesting
to me about the encounter with my
cement-staring friend. My immodesty
was not just about me but about
a lack of consideration for him
and other men—at least, for the
men who were trying to be good and
not look at women as objects. If
I had been honest with myself, I
would have realized that by dressing
the way I did, I was hoping to have
all men fall in love with me—and
then they couldn't have me! What
kind of game was that? But the more
I tried to become virtuous in other
parts of my life (being honest with
others and myself, caring for others
first and cultivating my mind) the
easier it was to practice modesty
and with little effort.
But the greatest
reward for making these changes
has been something I least expected:
happiness. And since this is a "confession,"
I have to admit that the greatest
by-product of that happiness has
been to win the heart of a wonderful
man. Had I met him in my "hoochi
mama" days, he too would have
been too busy staring at the cement
to notice and fall in love with
Ryan Foley grew up in Boston where
she received a BA in English and
Art History from Boston University.
She is currently a stay-at-home
mother of three living in Central,
Texas, and also the author of Cheap
Dates of Boston: More Fun for Less