True modesty

Dear Anthony,

I am dating a woman I met on AMS that I am very attracted to. The problem is, I think I am lusting after her.  I don’t want to but I can’t help it.  She dresses in a way that I should probably have a problem with.  I like it and hate it at the same time.  Why is that?  And what should I do about it?  I am worried that I might not find her as attractive if she dressed differently.

I am very happy to see you struggle with this.  That shows that you have a desire for truth.  That’s good.

You are very vague about your dilemma, since you do not cite any examples about exactly how this woman dresses.  But I can guess what you are talking about.  I have had many men contact me about the struggle they have with the way the Catholic woman he is dating dresses.

Modesty is not so much about clothes as it is about intent.  It’s not so much what is worn, but how it is worn and the attitude that goes along with the presentation.

Don’t get me wrong.  Certain clothing is objectively immodest.  But for a woman to be immodest, she must be at risk of looking provocative.  So a woman who is not trying to be immodest, or believes that, in fact, she is not being immodest, can still be objectively immodest by the fact that certain clothing she is wearing presents her in a way that compels being noticed by men.

To lust after a woman is to desire her in a sexual, physical, and inappropriate way.  A man desiring to have sex with a woman he is simply looking at is, by definition, lust. It is a man’s responsibility to practice self-control and self-mastery in order to not be inclined to lust after a woman. Plenty of modestly dressed women are beautiful and desirable looking. A woman cannot be made to take full blame for a man desiring her.

Christian men are legitimately frustrated that they are exposed to women who are dressed provocatively.  Certain clothes on certain body types are going to be eye catching.  Women know this, and sorry to say, they have enough vanity at times to enjoy it.  It’s natural for a woman to want to be noticed and considered beautiful.  I highly doubt, however, that you can find a Christian woman who would say she is happy if a man lusts after her.

The dilemma is you have Christian women who live in a culture where they can get away with dressing all kinds of ways without knowing a fine line between modesty and immodesty, and men who have the problem you expressed; namely of loving it and hating it at the same time.  How can they not love seeing a girl dressed very noticeably?  (I refuse to use the word “hot,” but I’m sure many of you are thinking that is what I mean, and rightly so.)  But at the same time, he feels bad for being so seemingly shallow (or maybe he doesn’t think of that part at all).

The truth is, the clothes are not the only contributor, nor the worst of it.    Also contributing to the outward appearance is makeup and hair style.  And the worst of it is the attitude behind the appearance.

A woman may wear a dress that exposes her body, like a dress that is sleeveless, and shows her legs and knees.  How she does her hair and makeup, and how she conducts herself in that dress can make the difference between modesty and immodesty.  Even a woman in a pair of jeans and a long sleeve sweater can look provocative if she conducts herself in a manner that is meant to turn men’s heads.

I saw the movie “We Bought A Zoo,” which has the actress Scarlet Johansson in it.  She gets a lot of hype as being quite the gorgeous and sexy woman.  In this movie, however, she was hardly anything close to that.  She was not unattractive, but she surely was not sexy.  She was pretty, but surely not “wowing.”  Her character in “He’s Just Not That Into You” is totally about using her sex appeal to attract men.

The point is, a beautiful (even sexy) woman can successfully and quite easily conduct herself in a way which does not lure the eyes of men, nor stir their minds to impure or lustful thoughts.  In fact, a Christian woman should avoid doing any such thing.  They should be aware of what clothes they wear, and how their hairstyle and makeup combine with their clothes.  And they should definitely not have an intent to get noticed, via the way they walk, talk, or look at men.

All of these things contribute to immodesty.  It cannot be about how much flesh is showing.  How you conduct yourself publicly is also a contributor to immodesty.  

Perhaps it sounds like I am saying that Christian women should hide their beauty and dress frumpy and wear no makeup. On the contrary.  A pretty woman can be a pretty woman without flaunting herself.  Women must be honest with themselves about their vanity.  Many women have a strong temptation to vanity that leads to immodesty. True humility will allow a beautiful woman to admit her outward appeal potential and act accordingly in the name of the Lord.

Too many woman act in the name of themselves and tell others to just deal with it.  This is not a Christian attitude. Women must consider the effect they might have on men and be careful about their outward presentation and conduct.

A good Christian man does not want a woman he lusts after.  He might deceive himself in thinking he wants a “hot” woman. Those are not good Christian men.  What he wants is a modest woman who conducts herself in a manner befitting her faith, respectful of the one man who is the only man she wants to have admire her and have her in any sensual way.  She does not seek to purposely parade herself to the general male populace.  A man wants to know that she cares only that he desires her, not anyone else.

A woman can be modest and still look very classy and elegant, not trampy and seductive.  She can be beautiful without every man wanting her.  She can dress in clothing that compliments her body, without showing it off.  She can behave in all ways that show she is self confident in her looks, without assuming her looks are to be noticed and admired by all.

Modesty starts with the love of God and being thankful for how God made you.  It grows in an attitude of charity about how to present and conduct yourself.  Modesty in dating and courtship allows a woman to use her looks and charms to win the heart of one man, and is extremely careful to make him comfortable and secure that her looks are only for him.

If you are worried about how you lust after this woman you and are concerned that you might not be attracted to her if she dresses differently, then I am guessing you have a problem on your hands that might end the relationship if not addressed.  You can’t force her to change, but you can have a good conversation about modesty and share what you are experiencing by being with her.  Not matter how it ends up, communicating about such things is always the best approach.