Modesty: Heart before hemline

For a lot of people the word ‘modesty’ is automatically associated with clothing and appearance. Most girls think of being told not to wear short skirts or low-cut tops… and our thoughts generally go no further. In stopping on the outside of our bodies, we stop on the outside of the concept. By neglecting the heart, we don’t pierce the reality of what it is to be truly modest. In fact, that’s the essence of the way in which we’ve become too caught up in the physical implications and drifted away from the true meaning of modesty.

Modesty is not synonymous with oppression.

It’s not a concept intended to hold women or hide women away under folds of fabric so they can’t be seen or heard. In fact, it’s entirely the opposite. Modesty is NOT just a matter of the hemline, but a matter of the heart. It’s not restricting, but freeing.

The word itself is defined as ‘the quality or state of being unassuming in one’s own abilities.’Where does that definition mention the body? The point is that the applicability to the body is merely a consequence of the applicability to the heart. Instead of using our femininity to achieve, we should acknowledge the reality that it is not by our own strength, but by God’s, that all things come about – ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’(Philippians 4:13). THAT is true modesty.

Before original sin, Adam and Eve were able to ‘see and know each other…with all the peace of the interior gaze’ (JPII – ToB, Jan. 2nd 1980). They didn’t associate their bodies with impurity or with shame, because their view of the world and of each other was in line with God’s. They saw God’s plan in their bodies, and that’s what they desired. The initial intention of modesty was not to hide the body, but to protect the heart.

Purity is not prudishness!

When the Sistine Chapel was restored several years ago, Pope John Paul II instructed the removal of the loincloths from several of Michelangelo’s nude paintings, which had been added by previous popes to cover what they thought was ‘impure’. And John Paul did so ‘in the name of Christian purity’ (Christopher West).Purity does NOT mean avoidance or aversion, because those two words imply quite the opposite: the need to remove yourself from a situation implies the presence of something to be avoided – something impure. Striving for purity in this way actually prevents the recognition of what’s truly pure.

The way we choose to appear to the world is our expression of the way we want our heart to be seen by God. Purity is achieved only when the two fall in line. If we desire to be pure but dress provocatively we are doing that desire a disservice. Likewise, no matter how many layers we cover our bodies with, an impure heart will still be seen by God. Covering up the flesh won’t stop you from acting provocatively if you haven’t challenged the human lust within us all which resulted from Adam and Eve’s original sin.

So, rather than being at the forefront of our impression of modesty, the physical aspects should stem from the internal aspects. If we gain a deeper respect for ourselves as human beings, and for our hearts as men and women, then from that emerges the desire to dress modestly, rather than simply surrendering to the pressure to do so. The way that you dress then becomes merely a natural, outward expression of your inner desire for purity and humility.

Modesty is not about guilt and shame, but about accountability and humility.


Esther Rich 2Esther Rich has a bachelor degree in Psychology from Oxford University, UK, and is currently completing the Sion Community Foundation Year, working on their youth ministry team. She loves Theology of the Body, Papa Francesco and a good worship band. She is passionate about empowering women to be who they were created to be, and blogs at “For Such A Time As This.”


  1. I love this, I call it “THE HEART AND THE BODY MUST BE IN HARMONY”. You are God sent may God bless you. I wish every woman knew this, so we wouldn’t be struggling looking at them.

    By mcn | 7 years ago Reply
  2. ” The initial intention of modesty was not to hide the body, but to protect the heart.”
    This is so beatiful.
    I really found myself into this words.
    Thanks Esther

    By Vanessa | 7 years ago Reply
  3. This was a Beautiful way you explained Modesty. Thank you for sharing & noticing there is a need to help young people (and parents) to understand. Also, one can read in the Catechism Part 3-Life in Christ, Section 2-The 10 Commandments, Article 9: The 9th Commandment. Pages 662-666. (Pages 601-605 in the Second Edition)
    2514 reads: St. John distinguishes 3 kinds if Covetousness or Concupiscence. 1) Lust of the Flesh 2) Lust of the eyes and 3) Pride of Life.
    2516 reads: Because man is a composite being, spirit and body, there already exists a certain tension in him, a certain struggle of tendencies between “spirit” and “flesh” develops.
    **The Apostle writes, “If we live by the spirit, let us also walk by the spirit.”

    I: Purification of the heart
    II: The Battle for Purity

    2521 reads: Purity requires modesty….Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.
    2522 reads: ….Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.
    **So you can see, the “Outward Appearance” does reflect on the “Inward Spirit”.

    By Erica | 7 years ago Reply
  4. Alot of women, (especially the younger women of this generation) may not realize or have been made aware of how they will draw the wrong kind of attention to themselves by wearing such revealing clothing. Perhaps it is from a man who is trying to overcome Pornography (it is a known fact there are many), or a man who is having problems with his wife. Perhaps it may cause a man to lust/sin by leading him into temptation. Now, think of these very same Men Praying the “Our Father” prayer to “lead us not into temptation”, what does that say to us women who attend Mass or other Church activities with revealing clothing? We have now most likely become a “Participant of that Man’s Sin”.
    A better understanding; by dressing provocative, you’re not only getting the attention from someone whom you may want from, but also alot of “Unwanted Attention” from other Men as above. As a Parent, we need to teach this to our daughters & Husbands teach to your Wives.

    By Erica | 7 years ago Reply
    • Wow, I’ve never made the connection between immodest dress and the Our Father. Sometimes it feels as though “unwanted” or negative attention are the only forms of attention to be found among men my age, This makes it very tempting to give in to too-tight clothing for the sake of feeling noticed or appreciated, even if it only lasts for a split second. Truly a game-changer for me. Thank you so much for your enlightening insight

      By Rachel | 7 years ago Reply
  5. Nice Blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.

    By nba即時比分 | 7 years ago Reply

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