Victoria’s Secret’s Underwear and the wrong modesty conversation

There are moments when being religious is pretty hard. Feeling connected with fellow religious people comes pretty rarely. On days like this, I wish I was an atheist and I could say there’s no God, because I really wish God answered my prayer about idiocy and ignorance. I know it’s petty to feel this way, but I find it degrading when I read stuff like this controversy on Victoria’s Secrets new Pink line, which is clearly for college girls and not for pre-teens like many Christian people are saying. But most of all, as Sheldon Cooper said, I weep for humanity when I read the dichotomy between being beautiful and trendy, and caring about what you wear in general, and being clever, dedicated, interested in the world outside of you. Why can’t a woman be both? When a woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus during the Passover, Jesus said the woman has done something beautiful to Him when everyone was thinking of the money you could have given to the poor by selling the perfume (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8…it’s so important it appears in all four Gospels!). He appreciated she prepared him for burial, which in a sense is a vain thing to do in the face of such a serious thing as Him dying for our sins, and useless in the face of the Resurrection anyway. Vanity is a sin in the Catholic tradition, but vanity implies excessive pride: there are degrees of fashionable behaviour between being plain and being vain, and that’s even assuming women tick all the boxes of modest clothing without failing. So, saying things like this is, well, patronising:

I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves… not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a “call me” thong?

Things are not mutually exclusive. We’re both body and mind, and there’s no shame in that. In fact, us Christians believe in the Incarnation, and all this emphasis on body = bad is borderline Gnosticism.

My values, intelligence, and self-respect are not hidden in my underwear choices, nor is anyone else’s for that matter, woman or man. In fact, they have nothing to do with anything we do, and everything to do with God, who created us as we are. The problem with underwear that is made with the implication that it’ll be seen by someone other than their husband is not the superficiality of the woman making the choice and caring about what men will think of her rather than thinking about being a doctor, but the assumed normalisation of pre-marital sex. Yet that’s not what people are talking about when rallying against this new line by Victoria’s Secret, even when Jesus had a thing or two to say about marriage (Matthew 19:1-12), and Christians are supposed to be the last custodians of the sanctity of it (or so everyone keeps saying).

Christians talk about modesty an awful lot, but often it’s less about purity of heart and more a socially acceptable way to regurgitate old misogyny in a way that makes us feel like we’re simply being holy. We can and must do better if we truly care about raising a generation of holy young women. 

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